Channeling my inner 3-year-old

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Shenandoah National Park, May 23 – 27, Spring Trail Crew Week — Three-year-olds love to splash in water and play in the mud.  That’s what we did all week.

The upper part of the trail to White Oak Canyon is full of springs. The trail is always muddy.  It follows that hikers don’t like to get mud on their shoes.  Therefore, when they encounter mud, they hike around it.  The trail grows wider and the environmental impact spreads.

Last year the park service trail crew tried to improve the drainage, but winter frost heaving did a job on their work.  This year, with our help, it was time to dig it all up and start over. So we ripped up 224 feet of rock wall and built it back using a different technique.

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 It was muddy – and we loved it!

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The structure we built is called a lateral drain.  In this case the water seeps in from multiple sources all along the length of the trail, so the ditch catches and directs it to a place where we can get it out of the way.

The ditch is dug and the rock gets lapped-stacked for stability.  The rock on this section came from a commercial source.  Call it an invasive rock species.  There wasn’t enough natural rock to do the job.

So much for the pick and shovel work.

We live at the newly renovated Pinnacles Research building which is an old CCC facility.  I was there earlier this month for the Leave No Trace master educator course.

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When we’re done working, we load up the government van the park service provides and head back to Pinnacles.

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The first one dives in the shower while everyone else grabs a beer.

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When we’re clean, we head to town for dinner when we don’t BBQ.  Millennials aren’t the only people with their heads up their phones.  Our excuse is that we’re off the grid in the park, so we read email and catch up on the news when we can.  At least that’s our story – an we’re sticking to it.  With no TV or WIFI, once we’re back, it’s early to bed.

Sometimes we work with logs.  They’re faster, but don’t last nearly as long as stone – maybe 15 years with luck.

Debarking logs improves their life in the ground by removing the medium by which bugs and other rotting agents grow.

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A young woman was hiking down the trail only to look up and be greeted by this guy (serial killer-looking maniac).  Imagine the look of panic on her face!  I was rolling in the mud laughing.  BTW, he’s a retired State Department Russian expert!

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Once debarked, into the ground they go.  These are long-lasting locust logs BTW.  (For all my friends, including Karma, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year – the water might be welcome about now.

We always love working with the park service trail crews.  In this case, some may remember Eric “the human crane” from last year.

Our partnership with the park service, working side-by-side, is close and mutually beneficial.

We finished up Thursday morning.  With time on our hands, we wondered over to the Elk Wallow trail (between Elk Wallow and Mathew’s Arm campground) to remove several blowdowns blocking the trail.  One took an entire hour to slice up.

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Calling home from Skyland where we ate dinner last night.

Contrast.

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Didn’t know I was doing an Oreo commercial – honestly!IMG_4264

The MacLoed. The Swiss Army knife of trail tools.

 

 

 

 

Da Bears (Den)

Bears Den Hostel and Hiking Center, Bluemont, VA – Saturday, November 21, 2015 — Sometimes pop up projects just happen.  The PATC supervisor of trails was jawing with Glenn, the Bears Den caretaker.  “Ya got any work?”  “Yup.”  And so another adventure begins for the North District Hoodlums Trail Crew.

So there I was, minding my own business when in comes a “flash” email looking for volunteers for Saturday.  Bears Den needs firewood and urgent repairs to one of its hiking trails.  Who can come?  Sawyers bring your chain saws.  “Let’s rally!”

Now what can you say at a time like this?  A chance to fire up my chainsaw…  This is better than playing baseball in late October.  Woah dude!  Don’t ask twice I’m there. I love extra innings.

Fortunately we’ve had a prolonged indian summer here in the mid-Atlantic.  Unfortunately we became way too comfortable with unseasonably warm weather.

Of course the weather pattern was going to hold.  What was the chance it would be subfreezing Saturday morning … No need to guess.  It was 26F according to my car when I pulled into the parking lot.

Everyone was shivering as we organized our work parties.

We had three sawyers and split into two parties while a larger crew marched off to repair a badly eroded trail.

The swampers got some help from one of two Scout troops camping on the Bears Den grounds. We were bucking the hazard trees a professional crew of arborists dropped earlier this summer as mentioned in this post:  https://jfetig.com/2015/07/29/on-the-road/

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Lunch is always better when enjoyed outside, especially since the temp jumped the shark back to early autumn.

 Now to split the damn stuff.  Fortunately, Glenn has a hydraulic splitter.

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At the end of the day, we tramped down to Bears Den rocks for a zen moment  Thus ended another Hoodlums excellent adventure.

 

Cowboy Candle

This is a cowboy candle.

This is a cowboy candle.  More about that in a bit.

Shenandoah National Park, Mathews Arm Campground, September 18 – 20, 2015 —  Come September mother nature begins nodding off as she contemplates her year’s achievements and a well-deserved winter rest.  Her spring creations are mature now having flourished in the embrace of warm summer sun and slaked by rain.  It’s time to lengthen the nights, turn down the heat and prepare to swaddle in blankets of white.

With the humidity having been wrung out of the autumn air, my car pulled in just after 8:30 p.m. Friday evening.  I’d been helping with a thru-hiker event at an REI store in Virginia that nailed my feet to the floor until after six — dead into the locked jaws of outbound D.C. area traffic.

The penalty of “rush hour” tacked a vexing extra hour to my trip, thank you very much! Traffic is the only thing in Washington that isn’t in a hurry.

As I shut off my ignition, it was dead dark and I was much later than I wanted to be. I still had to find a spot, pitch my tent, cook the a la foil steak resting in my cooler, and get some rest before the starting gun popped Saturday morning.  The night was warm with a gentle breeze that allowed me to snooze on top of my sleeping bag.

The workshop is a cooperative effort between the Hoodlums trail crew and the Shenandoah park rangers.

The workshop is a cooperative effort between the Hoodlums trail crew and the Shenandoah park rangers.

Our workshop is an excellent training exercise limited to 30 participants.  They are divided into three groups classified as novice, intermediate and advanced trail maintainers.  People come from other geographical areas and maintaining clubs to take part.

I led an intermediate level group of five to build check dams and water bars on my section of the Appalachian Trail.

I led an intermediate level group of five to build and rehab check dams and water bars on my section of the Appalachian Trail.

So much for the work.  The best part is socializing at the bookends of the day.  We each contribute to a kitty so that we can hire caterers from Pennsylvania who have been with us for years.  All we have to do is schmooze and have fun.

The Park Service sets up an awning for us.  Thanks to good weather we didn't have to use it.

The Park Service sets up an awning for us. Thanks to good weather we didn’t need it.

We have a convenient fire pit.

I could get used to car camping.  Unlike backpacking, if you think you might need it, you just pitch what ever ‘it” may be into the trunk of your car.  That’s why everyone brought a cooler full of beer!

Saturday night is the only “official” night of the workshop. One of our rituals is torching a “cowboy candle.”  A log about three feet long is chainsawed into eight standing and numbered sections.  Everyone bets on the upright they think will be the last one standing.

This year about 90 percent of us bet on pillar number seven.  It was up wind and seemed a bit thicker than the others.  Wrong!  It was the first to go.

This year about 90 percent of us bet on pillar number seven. It was up wind and seemed a bit thicker than the others. Wrong! It was the first to go. 😦

As we cheered for our cowboy candle favorites, the breeze sharpened in a way that signaled that we were on the doorstep of a new season.  From now on, the year will age quickly.  For that reason, we have only one more monthly work trip left in our regular season.  Sometimes there’s a November encore trip, but that’s nature’s call as much as anything else.

It could have been the food, the friends or even the beer, but on Saturday night I snuggled into my trusty sleeping bag and was lost in dreamland before my head dented my inflatable pillow.  The morning dawned crisp.  I turned up the collar of my fleece as I shivered in line for coffee.

Steve Dannenfeldt and his daughter Shelby were in our group.  Steve oversees the trail atop Compton Peak where my section terminates.  His trail leads to the columnar basalt formation about which I've previously written.

Steve Dannenfeldt and his daughter Shelby were in our group. Steve oversees the trail atop Compton Peak where my section terminates. His trail leads to the columnar basalt formation about which I’ve previously written.

Unfortunately people in three separate groups were stung by yellow jackets.  Paperwork!

Unfortunately people in three separate groups were stung by yellow jackets. Paperwork!  I was delighted that our  group didn’t find any.

Ridgerunner Coordinator

Yours truly with the 2015 Potomac Appalachian Trail Club ridgerunners.

Yours truly with the 2015 Potomac Appalachian Trail Club ridgerunners.

Blue Ridge Summit, PA — No good deed goes unpunished.  In my case, the “punishment” is really a delightful reward.  Last month I was asked to manage the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s (PATC) ridgerunner program. I couldn’t wait to be thrown into that briar patch!

Although I love being a grunt on the Hoodlums trail crew and overseeing my AT section, I’ve been searching to expand into a leadership role within PATC and this one is perfect for me.

These ridgerunners are highly trained, independent, experienced and motivated.  Serving them is a high honor.  If you could meet them in person, you’d know exactly why.  You’d break your pick for any one of them.

The Ridgerunner’s primary role is to be an ambassador from the trail to those who use it.  They are there to help and encourage, especially desired behaviors such as practicing the Leave No Trace ethic.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ridgerunner for more. Ridgerunning is a rewarding experience as readers know who recall the blogs I wrote while ridgerunning in Georgia this past March.

Each ridgerunner patrols a defined section of the PATC’s 240 miles of the AT.  The length of their service is dependent on the where their patrol section is and the funding provided by the partner agency responsible for that section.  They aren’t paid a lot, but that’s not really the point.

As for the good deed — I prepared a report for various senior AT leaders about my experiences and observations in Georgia. The report was widely circulated, and I think someone thought, “Okay wiseguy.  You brought it up.  Now step up!” I accepted in a nanosecond.

Here is a link to that report:  https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D3624411_94596663_20574  Those who read it will learn a bit about what I leave out of my family-friendly blogs.

Looking ahead to upcoming challenges, the number of AT thru hikers and visits to the trail is expected to dramatically increase next year in response to two Hollywood movies — Reece Witherspoon’s “Wild” which involves hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail and Robert Redford’s “A Walk in the Woods” which is based on Bill Bryson’s popular book about hiking the AT.  “A Walk in the Woods” opens Labor Day weekend.

Historical data tells us to buckle up and  expect a huge increase in the number of inexperienced and inadequately prepared hikers. For my part, I’d rather be part of the solution than be part of the problem.

Meanwhile, I look forward to hiking with these great ridgerunners on patrol in, what for us, is the real world.

Several friends and acquaintances have congratulated me on my pencil drawings lately.  I can draw, but not nearly that well.  The featured image for this post was taken with my iPhone and processed by an app called Pencil Sketch.  I’ve used this artful feature for more than a year and absolutely love it.  I created the renderings that follow just to show you some of the tricks it has up its sleeve.

This is the original photograph.  The various renderings follow.

This is the original photograph. The various renderings follow.

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BFRs. What are they good for?

BFRs. Yup, Big Effing Rocks! What are they good for? In Appalachian Trail maintenance, most everything.

The Hoodlum work crew had another great weekend, our final regular outing until March.

The work group to which I was assigned built two check dams and a water bar on the Pass Mountain trail – a blue blaze trail in Shenandoah National Park.

This video offers a little bit of insight into the work we do and the fun we have doing the work and afterwards.

The water bar we are constructing in the video was much needed to help keep the trail in good hiking condition.

Hikers sometimes wish the trail was in better condition with fewer rocks and less erosion. Rest assured there are a ton of volunteers up and down the full length of the AT working had to keep it in the best condition possible.

If you think the rocks are bad now, imagine the AT without erosion control and other maintenance.

All erosion control structures require building material. Stone is best, but simple swales only require mounds of dirt. Logs, particularly extra hard woods such as Ash are long lasting substitutes when stone isn’t available.

If stone is preferred. Than BFRs are the best you can get.

Rock potentially lasts a lifetime. Moreover, if the stones used are ginormous enough and set deep into the trail tread, the bears have a hard time digging them up to get at the grubs that take up residence underneath. Yup, the bears love to play three card Monte with big rocks. Sometimes they even score a treat.

Chunking BFRs around is hard work with dependent mostly on brute force and ignorance. You really only need one smart person who knows where the rocks should go for best effect. That means I’m pretty much qualified be a rock technician, but not for the engineering jobs.

Erosion control structures on the AT come in a simple variety. Check dams are perpendicular to the trail with the purpose of slowing down the water flow. They should stick up a few inches and require frequently cleaning to ensure sediment doesn’t render them useless.

Water bars are set at a 45 degree angle to the trail direction. Their purpose is to direct water off the trail. Check dams and water bars frequently work in coordination with one another

Parallel drains are canals/ditches that run parallel to the trail tread for some distance until they reach a point where water can be sent away. Sometimes the trail tread is raised and the canals are made of carefully fitted stone.

Steps help prevent erosion or may simply improve the hiking experience by adding safety or by making the trail easier. Stone is preferable and more durable, but logs and compacted dirt or gravel work.

You’ve all seen the ladders and rebar in New England. Those are special cases.

Sometimes dirt swales are dug and the spoil is mounded and compacted to form a check dam or water bar that works fine as long as it lasts.

If you live close to Shenandoah National Park, consider joining the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and channel your inner 12-year-old. Become a Hoodlum Trail Crew member. It’s fun!