Michaux State Forest

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Stuffed bear at Michaux State Forest headquarters.

Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania, June 1 – 5 — Contrast is the name of the game.  This year the predicted rains never came.  Last year it never stopped raining.  This year the temperatures were in the low-80s.  Last year hypothermia lurked around every corner as the rain-soaked thermometer registered in the high 30s.   In both cases, the hikers were in good spirits, the rocks were happy, and so were we.

Ridgerunner recruiting this year has been a proverbial bear.  Qualified seasonal employees are in short supply.  Thanks to a stroke of luck, two ridgerunners will share the season in Michaux.  Chrissy has the first part.  Wendy has the second.  Chrissy will return to close out the season.

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After meeting the the state forest rangers, we encountered our first blowdown almost straight out of the door. We quickly hacked a path through the branches leaving the bigger stuff for the chainsaw folks.

Our first night was spent at Tom’s Run Shelter.  The crowd was convivial.  We saw several people using bear canisters.  Everyone took advantage of the bear poles to protect their food.  Given the increasing number of bear incidents, this is an excellent sign.

With early morning temperatures in the low 60s, hot coffee is still a welcome treat.  That season is about to end as the summer heat and humidity sets in.

Our section of trail in Pennsylvania is only 37 miles long.  It packs some respectable hills, so it’s not a snap. 

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A line of thunderstorms was expected to pass about lunch time at Birch Run.  Several hikers ducked in for lunch and some decided to stay.  Fortunately the storms never materialized.  We pressed on for a total of 18 miles to Quarry Gap, probably the most famous and aesthetically pleasing shelter on the trail.  It is famous for its flowers and kitschy decorations.

Sadly one of the twin shelters at Quarry Gap got bonked by a blowdown.  Most shelters are built like bunkers and can withstand a significant hit.  This was Wednesday.

By mid-day Saturday repairs were well underway.  The PATC north chapter mobilized to sneak repair materials in via the “secret squirrel” side trail.  By nightfall, almost like new.  Photos courtesy of the PATC north chapter.

Meanwhile, other members of the north chapter were organizing at nearby New Caledonia State Park to prepare a trail magic feast featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salads desserts, and soft drinks!  After the work day, the crews descended to polish off the fixin’s.

Ours wasn’t the only trail magic.  A well-intended generous soul left water near a road junction.  We left it overnight, but cleaned it up on our way back to New Caledonia.  Trail magic should not be left unattended, even if it is water which, unlike food and sugary drinks, does not attract animals.

A hiker’s favorite sign.  This is trail magic done the right way.  This guy comes out several times a year to cook hot dogs and serve snacks at the Old Forge picnic area.  He retrieves his signs when the day is done.  I loved his dogs last year and my dreams were fulfilled that he’d be there again this year.  Before we left, the pavilion was full of hikers.

Our chunk of Pennsylvania has its scenery.  Eponymously named Rocky Mountain is our signature site.  In other places pine needles carpet the straightaways.  

Houston, we have a malfunction.  I’m still adjusting to switching to ultralight equipment.  This Zpacks frame has had its issues.  One reason the gear is lighter in weight is that it simply is not as rugged as the heavier traditional equipment.  In this case, the design is flawed.  Now both sides have been repaired with zip ties.

Graffiti continues to be a problem, although not nearly as bad as it was last year.  “Sunshine” seems to be this year’s problem child.  The first instance is in PA.  The second is in NJ.  We’re looking for you girl. “Pyro” last year’s biggest jerk has been painted over everywhere except in this one spot where someone seems to have had a sense of humor and maybe is trying to message others.

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Literally rubbing out graffiti can be a sport.

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The patrol ended with the last piece of microtrash at Penn-Mar, aka the Mason-Dixon line.

Sisu

Ridgerunner One

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Shenandoah National Park, April 29 – 30, 2022 — The first ridgeunner who comes aboard each season  inherits the park radio call sign, “Ridgerunner One.”  The second follows as “Ridgerunner Two.”  This year “Ridgerunner One” is John Cram from Seattle.

Each season, the first stroll we take is from Compton Gap to the north boundary kiosk where we check to see if the permit box is full.  Along the way we stop at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut for which the ridgerunners have a key.  They check it each time they pass for signs of damage or other issues.  They also do the same for the AT-adjacent rental cabins and maintenance huts in the park.

In John’s case this year, some glitches led to a late start and a short first patrol from the north boundary to Panorama at Thornton Gap.  At least we covered the whole north district.

Along the way we cover all  the items that are part of the ridgerunner’s weekly report which includes a hiker count, blowdowns, the amount of trash picked up and other things.  They learn quickly that TP tulips are as prolific as other invasive plants.  They apply their folding saws and clippers to remove minor trail obstructions.

They also report campsites less than 60 ft. from the trail and remove illegal fire rings.  No fires are allowed in the backcountry other than in fire pits established by the park itself.  Note the trash that didn’t burn.

No ridgerunner has ever been more zealous about demolishing fire rings than Lauralee “Blissful” Bliss.  I want her to know that, like a momma bear teaching its cubs, I’ve taught her enthusiasm to every ridgerunner I’ve trained since.  Your legacy lives on!

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There’s never a shortage of blowdowns.  Last year they were mostly red oak and ash.  This year, the ash are dominating so far.  Ridgerunners photograph each one, record the GPS coordinates, and enter the data into an smart phone app that compiles their weekly reports.  The poles and hat are for scale since ridgerunners and hikers are notorious for improperly estimating the size of downed trees.

On the way over North Marshall, we noticed the no camping sign had been vandalized.  The reason why was on top where a large new campsite had been established.  “Honest officer, I didn’t see any ‘no camping’ sign.”

The wild flame azalea and mountain laurel are budding on the south side of Compton Peak.  The full bloom photo is from May 21st last year, so we’re about three weeks away from some spectacular flowers.

The view from North Marshall clearly shows “green up” as spring slowly creeps up the mountainsides.

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We spent Saturday evening at Gravel Spring Hut.  About half the crowd was thru hiking.  Almost everyone was sporting a bear canister.  That’s a huge victory and a credit to the amount of bear education the AT Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service have been doing.

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Serendipity is one of my favorite words.  John walks in and to his total surprise meets his old friend  Cheryl.  They originally met in North Woodstock, NH at the Notch Hostel when he was hiking southbound on the AT.  Without doubt he was surprised to see her on his first overnight as a Ridgerunner.  AT trail magic doesn’t get better than that.

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Our fortunes changed on Sunday.  We made it almost all the way to the Elk Wallow wayside before the cold rain began pelting our Goretex.  The store is open, but the grill is closed until Memorial Day.  So, we settled for ham sandwiches and a dry spot under the breezeway.

The bright side is for insiders.  Chugging up the extra long Neighbor Mountain traverse out of Elk Wallow is much easier without a greasy burger and fries combo riding high in your gut. Serendipity?  Maybe.

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The rain soon morphed into fog and the afternoon into lazy foggy climbs.

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The day ended around six o’clock with a gimme blowdown at Thornton Gap.  I know the backstory behind the cut that didn’t count, but I’ll never tell.

Up next.  Gravel Spring privy on Friday and an encore appearance by a very special guest star.  Stay tuned.

Until then…

Sisu

Breaking News.

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Appalachian Trail and Annapolis Rock, Maryland, April 1 – 7, 2022 — This just in:  The end is near if seven months away counts.  This will be my final season as the PATC ridgerunner lead.  After that, Dan Hippe will take responsibility.  We want to get it right, so Dan will shadow me until November 1.  Then it’s his show.

Dan is a recently retired geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  He has extensive backpacking and outdoor leadership experience.  As I told one of my friends, “He will take good care of the troops.”  Of that I am certain.

I originally promised five years.  We’re now in year eight and new blood is due.  It’s also best to get off the horse before you fall off.  Not sure that would be anytime soon, but to be fair, it’s time.

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Meanwhile Dan has been out there helping as we prepare Kasey Kohlmeier for her season.  Here we broke up an illegal fire ring at Black Rock.

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If the last is the saddest day of the ridgerunner calendar, then the first is the most promising.  The new season is fresh and the possibilities are endless.

We gathered at the recently renovated “barn” to haul the caretaker tent and other gear up to Annapolis Rock.  There we spent a couple of days learning the ins and outs of the caretaker’s responsibilities.

The site is up.  The sunset spectacular.  My new tent is sturdy.  The REI-donated tent and the rain tarp survived the strong winds over the next several days.  Count success where you find it.

The usual mess at Black Rock.  It is a popular spot, mostly with locals.

Hiking back from Black Rock we found an unfortunate man who face-planted, suffering a bloody nose and some ugly wrist abrasions.  He passed concussion protocol, so we encouraged him to stop by AR where we patched him up.  We also found a heart rock someone had propped against a tree and fresh bear sign.  Of course the view of Green Briar Lake never disappoints.

On the way out we destroyed an illegal fire ring at group site 3, locked the tool box, noted damage caused by the ATVs belonging to the first responders and held up our trash collection as a trophy.

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After a couple of days off, we were at it again.   This time from Penn-Mar/ Mason-Dixon line to the Raven Rock Shelter. The forecast was ominous – two inches in less than 24 hours.  But, we got a dry start up the rocky approach to the shelter.

Along  the way we cleared six blowdowns, some small like this one.  Others in the six-inch class.  We stopped at the hot mess known as High rock.  It’s county property, not the AT.  Someone said it’s a rock with Tammy Faye Bakker make up, a generational reference to a TV preacher couple only a Boomer would appreciate.  Of course privy maintenance was front and center.

Stopped at the Raven Rock overlook.  Yes, there was a fire ring.  Found another spirit tree.  Someday I’ll do a blog on those.  I have dozens of photos in a folder.  Paid homage to a fallen soldier.

The rain pounded the area overnight and as we hiked.  In total two inches worth made a river out of the tread.

The stream crossing at Raven Rock Rd. was a bit iffy.

When we stopped at the Pogo camping area we discovered the South Mountaineer trail crew had delivered the prize of prizes.  The old pit latrine is GONE!  Earlier this week I sent these photos to the 13 people who have previously been ridgerunners in Maryland during my tenure.  Nobody cried over this stinking portal to hell.  It’s been replaced by a composting privy up hill.  Privy photos by Dave House.

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Have to own up.  I slipped on a wet rock and smacked my hand.  It’s all good now, but it hurt like hell at the time.

Sisu

I love this job!

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Shenandoah National Park, Hoodlums Work Trip, Saturday, July 17, 2021 — If variety is the spice of life, any break from the drudgery of policing up trash, cleaning privies, camouflage noncomplient campsites, breaking up fire rings, and taking notes adds to the flavor of the ridgerunner experience.

We always invite our ridgerunners to join trail maintenance activity. It breaks up their routine and helps them learn more about what it takes to keep our hiking trails open and serviceable.

It was early on Saturday morning when I waved to Sara at the Gravel Spring parking lot where we were to rendezvous and join some Hoodlums to work on the two-and-a-half-mile Pass Mountain Trail. The trail spans the distance between the Pass Mountain Hut and the park boundary at Hwy. 211. We would be joined by ridgerunner Chris Bowley and fellow Hoodlum Greg Foster.

Our job was to clear 16 reported blowdowns while another group of four would chop weeds overgrowing the trail. Since the trail is located in a designated wilderness area, only muscle powered tools are allowed.

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On the way to meet the others at the Panorama parking lot, we chainsawed this blowdown which we had left in this condition two weeks earlier.

From Panorama we spotted a car at the bottom of the trail at Hwy. 211; then shuttled up the Pass Mountain Hut access road so we could work down hill thereby saving energy with a gravity assist.

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From time to time, team ridgerunner took on team Hoodlum in the crosscut classic.  Let me tell you a secret, the old guys have much better technique.  This wasn’t our first rodeo.  The ridgerunners got to do something that you don’t see or do every day and they got pretty good at it.

Crosscut saws are incredibly efficient. That efficiency helped build this country. This particular saw was purchased by my grandfather in 1945. It works as well as the day it left the Simonds factory in Fitchburg, Mass. Simonds has been in the cutting tool business since 1832.

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This 14-inch ash was the last large blowdown we found. After this one, there were a couple of smaller ones.  By the time we got this far, lightning was cracking all around us as we hurried to get off the mountain. 

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Most sawyers really don’t like clearing the smaller logs.  They live for the big honkers that present a challenge and bragging rights.  When I saw this tree, my morale shot sky high.  This would make us sweat, but it would be fun.  Instead it was more than a match.  The yellow arrow is the reason why. 

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This was a huge tree.  The main trunk was more than 36 inches in diameter before it split into four large trunks.  At some point before the tree fell, a combination of ice and wind probably bent over the trunk designated by the arrow.  As nature would have it, the bent over trunk was now vertical.   At 12 inches, it was big and heavy enough to behave in unpredictable ways once we started bucking the blowdown.

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It took a lot of force to bend this live tree.

We pondered what to do before deciding to lop away the poison ivy and leave the tree for the park service professionals.  The upright trunk put this blowdown well beyond my experience and expertise.  Better safe than sorry was top of mind.

Yesterday the park service professional trail crew managed to cut the higher trunk blocking the trail.  The other, featuring the upright, was left in place as too dangerous under the circumstances.  At least now it will be easier to climb over.

By the way, the count for the day was a little off.  We cleared 19 blowdowns and left the one.  That may be a record.

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We finished around 2:30 p.m.  With deep hunger and time to spare we drove to the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville. Their wood fired pizza oven makes tasty pizza.

For Sara and me, the day’s total was 20 blowdowns, but wait!  There was one more waiting for us at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut where we spent the night.

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We ate snacks, sipped beer and listened to the rain patter on our tents.  The reflector fire kept the bugs away while we reminisced about the days events.

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The three of us went to Sara’s favorite restaurant for breakfast.  Shall I say the apple doughnuts are yummy?  They are.

After dropping Sara off at Beahms Gap to contiunue her patrol, Chris and I schlepped a chainsaw and a string trimmer up to AT section I maintain on Compton Peak.  I weeded and cut logs.  Chris camouflaged a new noncompliant campsite that is, ironically, 200 yards from a legal one.

With that, the weekend work was done.  Blowdown total:  Twenty one.  The sense of accomplishment:  Priceless.  That why I Iove this job.

Sisu

 

The Ridgerunners are at Full Strength

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Brandon can drive with his eyes closed.

On the Appalachian Trail in Southern Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland, May 29 – June 6 2021 — Memorial Day weekend broke windy, cold and wet, the trifecta of misery for those who tramp around the woods with their house on their back. 

Nobody likes to walk in the rain when the temperatures are hovering around 40 and the wind is popping.  It is a recipe for hypothermia at worst and guaranteed discomfort at best. 

Branden and Kaela shuttled me to Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  The park is the northern boundary of the 240 AT miles that the Potomac Appalachian Tail Club maintains.  There I would meet Darrel Decker and we would hike southbound to the Mason-Dixon Line where his responsibilities terminate. 

After leaving Darrel, I planned to hike solo another 20 miles to my car at Washington Monument State Park in Maryland.  From there, after a zero day, I’d return to rendezvous at Raven Rock Shelter with Kaela who would be hiking in from the Mason-Dixon Line at Pen-Mar Park.  We would then hike south to where my car was stashed. The net AT mileage for me would be about 80.

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This is the official halfway sign between Georgia and Maine.  When I reached this point in 2014 I recall my emotions deflating as I realized that after months of punishing effort I was only half done.  By then I understood the enormity of repeating the challenge.  Pulling up my socks and getting my head in order for another long march was not a small challenge.  In that single moment, I understood why so many people give up and quit.

Darrel is a repeat customer.  He was a ridgerunner in the Michaux State Forest for the club in 2009, 10 and 11.  That experience and time between service is rare and valuable.  He will be able to tell us what’s changed since he was last here.  One thing he noticed right away is the expanded sprawl of tent sites associated with the shelters. 

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Veteran ridgerunners know how to find and haul trash.  He found a bunch. 

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The rain was mostly light and intermittent.  The tread conditions were good though wet rocks are always slippery.

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Damp camp at Burch Run.  I like the patter of rain on my tent fly until it’s time to pack up a wet tent.

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Lunch break at a campsite.  Needless to say we found plenty of trash, especially in the fire pit.  It amazes me that people think that foil among other things is combustible.  Truth is that they don’t think.  They just do.

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Recording a blowdown on the smart phone app we use for reporting.  Not all of them are conveniently located next to a road.

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Quick stop to clean up the Rocky Mountain Shelters.  The sun was welcome; the cool weather even more so.

Spent the might drying out on a tent pad at Quarry Gap.  One young hiker was reminded of the Hansel and Gretel story.  This place was too good to be true, he reasoned.  Would the witch eat him?  I told him I thought he was safe because I heard that the Inkeeper had a freezer full of hikers left over from last year.

 

Tumbling Run.  Snoring or non-snoring.  Strictly “enforced.”

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The mountain laurel are ready to pop.

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Welcome trail magic at Old Forge picnic area courtesy of a former thru hiker.  I scarfed two hot dogs, a Gatorade and a bag of chips.

After our mid-morning snack we marched on to the Deer Lick Shelters and then to Pen-Mar where I continued northward and Darrel reversed course.

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Once across the border into Maryland, adjacent to the AT there is an municipal park known as a graffiti hot spot.  Not Banksy is spreading up and down the AT which is spitting distance away.  Maintainers will remove this with a product called Elephant Snot which essentially is jellied acetic acid formulated to eat spray paint.

I rarely get to hike solo.  Hiking with someone tends to focus attention on conversation and away from nature.  Hiking alone tunes the senses to your surroundings.  Also, as someone who maintains trails, I pay a lot of attention to the tread, weeding and developing problems.

This year I’ve noticed hikers by-passing even the smallest inconvenient rocks, rises and roots.  They are creating social trail by-passes in the process.  It matters because erosion can develop and what is supposed to be a narrow pathway can become a dirt autobahn in no time.  We have ways of deterring social trail development with stacked rip rap or brush.  Just another job to put on the task list.

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Of course the cicadas are out in force.  I can attest that the world’s largest orgy is LOUD!  Of note, some areas are chock full of them while others have none at all.  Can’t come up with any correlation as to why.

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After four days with Darrel and one by myself, I welcomed a zero day with Sophie the shedding lap cat.  Zero stands for zero miles hiked, by the way.

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Here we are, off the grid, hiking to Raven Rock from Wolfsville Rd.  The waving fiddleheads were soothing in the rare absence of cacophonous cicada pick up lines blaring from the branches overhead. 

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No, that’s not an IV line.  It’s a water purification system.

Kaela struggled into Raven Rock hauling 30 lbs. of trash gift wrapped in a cheap green plastic camping tarp she found.  She was daunted by the prospect of dragging that mess another 30 miles.  She earned her ridgerunner challenge coin with this effort. I was reminded of my own travails as a Georgia ridgerunner where similar trash hauls happened.

This scenario is exactly why I like to hike with new ridgerunners.  Call it OJT, spring training or what you will, the old guy knows a few tricks like the one where you take the trash to the nearest road and cache it to be picked up later.  The spring was on the way to the road, so when we went to get water, the green tarp and its contents came along for the ride.  I picked it up two days later and the dumpster is its new destiny. 

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Occasionally a little adventure.  We cautioned a couple of very tired and reluctant thru hikers to relocate their tent which was pitched next to three dead trees.  With high wind gusts in the overnight forecast, we were in no mood to medevac people in the middle of the night.  We shared our concerns with the Maryland Park Service which can fell the potential widowmakers.

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We ate dinner with four lovely ladies from the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club who are hiking the AT in sections.  Their accents, smacking of cheesy grits and buttermilk biscuits, reminded me of friends it turned out we share in common. After momma nature turned out the lights, they built a fire and talked well into the night.  When I got up at six thirty, they had already beaten feet.  You go girls!

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People like to camp at an interesting rock formation about a half mile south of Raven Rock.  In Maryland dispersed camping is illegal so we have to “clean it up.” 

Three years ago Kiki Dehondt and I tossed about a million rocks into crevasses between boulders thinking we could eliminate the fire rings.  (Kiki and his fiance will appear in this space soon.) 

We were right and wrong.  Now the campers build fires without the benefit of a fire ring.  We bagged the ashes and scattered them in the woods before covering the area with leaf litter.

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1960s vintage bike.

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Water and snack break.

When we reached the Cowall shelter, I noticed Kaela was really hungry.  Since my car was a quarter of a mile away and knowing the town of Smithburg was just down hill from there, I offered to buy Kaela , whose trail name is Pizza, an eponymous lunch.  We couldn’t find an open pizza place so we refueled at a Mennonite grocery and deli.  After hiker food, it was glorious.

Next I dropped Kaela to finish her patrol; then headed to Devil’s Race Course to snatch to cached trash and on to home.

In training we tell the ridgerunners that they are about to meet the dark side of the trail.  That side has many forms from the often bureaucratic to the rarely malevolent.  In addition to help search for a missing hiker who ultimately turned up in a Gettysburg bar, Darrel and I encountered a hiker who said he’d been bitten by an aggressive dog at the Pine Knob shelter in Maryland.  He said he would report the bite to the National Park Service AT incident line: 866-677-6677.  Later Kaela and I found the dog.  It was not friendly and the owner was unconcerned about it.  We moved on and notified the the right folks.

Protecting food from bears is important.  A bear conditioned to human food becomes a safety problem and sometimes must be put down.  “A fed bear is a dead bear,” the saying goes. 

I’ve previously written about bear canisters and Kevlar sacks.  I noticed the Georgia ladies were using Ursacks.  The one depicted is properly tied to a tree.  The problem is that bears can always crush your food and sometimes they can get in. 

Fortunately every shelter in the PATC section has a bear pole, bear box or cables to help hikers protect their food.

The forest is a magical place.  You never know what you’ll find be they witches, beasts or fairies. 

Sisu

Oh, Shenandoah. So many stories.

Oh, Shenandoah,
I long to see you,
Away you rolling river.

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Shenandoah National Park, April 17 – 26, 2021 — The park was full of delight and disappointment this past week, marked by old friends, a new beginning and a sad ending.

The week started with the first full Hoodlum work trip in 18 months. My first thought was family reunion.

Socially distant safety briefing.

First night at Indian Run in 20 months for me.  Somebody is appropriating a bunk mattress for use in his tent.  The “Princess and the Pea” was my first thought.

Work continues on the AT restoration project on the north side of Compton.  What we thought would take a couple of years may be finished this year if we can have a crew week with the park trail crew to rebuild a large flight of stone steps.

The rip rap on the side encourages hikers to stay on the tread and helps prevent erosion.

Ringnecked snake. This is a big as they get.  It was released unharmed.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-necked_snake

Just a couple of days later, the new long-season ridgerunner stepped into the on-deck circle.

The ritual pose at the north entry kiosk on the AT.  It’s his first official act.

The pandemic disturbed our normal routine.  Chris spent his first two days on Zoom for Leave No Trace training.  I’ve always wondered how you dig a cathole through your living room carpet.  Apparently it’s virtual with a backyard practicum on your own. 

So, we got a late start.  A nasty weather forecast predicted high wind and frigid temperatures.

The first-day orientation occurred on the second day where we met with the head of the backcountry office who coordinates the ridgerunners’ day-to-day activities.  The park rules, radio procedures, general expectations, equipment issue, living arrangements and a host of other topics are fire-hosed at them at full force.

As noted, the weather was brutal.  Sabine, our 2019 ridgerunner, was hiking in the park while waiting for her partner.   Her gear was at its cold weather limit, so she popped in for a warm up. 

FIRST PATROL

We started with unattended trail magic.  NO!  This parking lot is not the place to food-habituate bears or any other animal.  Well-meaning but ignorant has hell.

A stroll up Compton. 

The class we took three months ago taught us that the CCC scouted boulders like this and then routed the trail to connect them. 

Examination of a collapsing crib wall to be repaired later this year.  This damage is from falling trees knocking loose the upper layer of stones.

Breaking up a fire ring and later camouflaging a noncompliant campsite near the Compton summit.

A good ridgerunner has a good eye for trash.  I’m standing on the AT.

North Marshall noncompliant fire ring. 

One way I size up new ridgerunners is how far they are willing to carry rocks without prompting.  This guy is an all star.  I learned this from Lauralee Bliss.

The idea is to make it more difficult to reestablish the fire ring.

Fire ring removed.  Ash pit camouflaged and a log place to cover the soot scar on the rock face.  Nice work!

Take a break. 

 

Original AT marker!  Very rare.

Summit of North Marshall.  Spring is definitely visible.

Hikers beat up the trail.  The ridgerunners are the eyes and ears of the maintainers.  This is a project the maintainer can fix with a little muscle and a pick-mattok. 

This is a noncompliant campsite adjacent to an overlook.  The rangers have piled logs all over it year after year and the users pull them off.  Maybe time to iceberg it.  That means burying rocks as a means of area denial.

Practicing the chopsticks method of TP tulip extraction.  Ladies, use a pee rag or kula cloth, please.

Met up with Sabine at Gravel Spring.  She’s wearing every item of clothing she brought.  Did I say it was cold?

Loading the last of the trail trash into the car.  Headed for the dumpster.  End of patrol.

Sabine headed for my house to wait for her partner to arrive.  Meanwhile my daughter is moving and bought some stools for her kitchen island. Ever the physicist, Sabine cut the stools down to size with scientific precision.  

Flash forward a couple of days.  A park visitor was missing.  Rangers hiked into Gravel Spring a couple of days earlier with laminated posters; asking the ridgerunner to keep an eye out and post one at the next shelter.

No avail.  Our phones lit up with notifications from the park service to volunteer to help search. 

Joining dozens of professional SAR organizations, PATC volunteers mobilized and pitched in.

We bushwacked briar and blackberry thickets until the deceased was found outside our search area.

Good crew.  Hard day.  So sad.  It felt good to be of service to a fellow human being and his family.

National Parks are special places.  They have been set aside that way.  Sometimes they serve us.  Other times we serve them.  This has been a peek between the covers of a book whose story continues day by day. It is not a simple story of delight and disappointment, old friends, and a sad ending.  It is simply what happens behind the scenes.

Sisu

 

We’re back at Annapolis Rock!

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, Saturday, May 20, 2020 — We’re back!  Today we set up the caretaker camp – pitched the tent and strung the tarps – at Annapolis Rock.  In a normal year, this is the first ritual of the season. Obviously this year is different.

The long-season Maryland ridgreunner is the first to start on April Fools Day and the last to finish on Halloween.  Aptly chosen dates once one experiences what happens in between, from naivete to the spirits of the dark side.  It’s a long season with all that the full range of human behavior has to offer.

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Putting together this camp is one of my favorite ways to bond with a ridgerunner.  Most years I spend up to four days there working on OJT and otherwise coaching them on how to manage the site.  Stringing ropes and setting up tents isn’t fun wearing a mask.

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We start with the tent, an REI Big House generously donated by the co-op.

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It’s always somewhat of a mystery.  We read and reread the directions for each step.

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We put a sun tarp over the tent and fly so shade it from the UV so it will last a little longer.  We average four years/tent.

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“Ok.  How do I organize all the stuff in this tool box?

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Done.  Tarp strung over the picnic table.  We’re an all weather operation now.

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Some noobs left us a present at the picnic table.  Really.  You can’t put it in your pocket and carry it out?

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Social distancing at the overlook was “iffy” at best.  We’re not in the public health business.  Hiking is an “at risk” activity.  It’s also a pass/fail IQ test.  Have at it.

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I love irony.  The Annapolis Rock trailhead parking on Rt. 40 was recently expanded.  In return, the busy highway’s shoulders became no parking zones.  The Maryland State Trooper in the circle had more than 30 tickets to write.  Yes!

Tomorrow my grandfather’s crosscut saw sees action for the first time since the 1940s.  We’ll be tackling some large blowdowns in Shenandoah National Park with this priceless, to me, artifact that has been passed down by my personal hero.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

 

The Maryland ridgerunner starts.

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Washington Monument State Park, Maryland, April 1, 2020, — It’s that time of the year when mid-Atlantic ridgerunners begin their seasons, but how times have changed.  This year we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.  That changes everything we do.

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The new reality is grim.  Safe social distance is the only way we can reduce the rate of infection so that our hospitals are not overrun with patients requiring critical care.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland.  Greenbriar lake in the distance.

The popular trails are overcrowded to the degree that hikers are at risk; especially so at the signature locations.  Most of them are relatively small sites and visitors are incapable of maintaining appropriate social distance from one another.

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Wes’s orientation at social distance.

The club, after much deliberation, honored the Maryland Park Service’s request to hire one ridgerunner for the April – October season.  Normally we have two in Maryland, a second one for a shorter season from Memorial Day – Labor Day.  This year the Conservancy withdrew its share of funding, so the club and the state of Maryland could only afford to pay one.

Collectively we are concerned that if we withdraw from the trail we will not know what’s going on.  Even if hikers are banned, people will still be out there.

Our first principle is to keep the ridgerunner safe.  Among other factors considered, we learned that, with the enormous noro virus outbreaks over the previous several years, not one ridgerunner has ever been infected.

Since the virility and vectors of transmission are similar, we reasoned the ridgerunners could keep themselves safe by observing the proper protocols.  The ridgerunner also lives alone.  No one is to enter his apartment until the state gives the all clear.  He has a N-95 mask and gloves.  Moreover, he will not sleep in the field until the governor lifts his ban.

Even the uniform has changed.  No AT ridgerunner patches or hats.  Only PATC livery.

To sum it up, normally we hire six ridgerunners.  This year we plan three.  One in Maryland, one in Northern Virginia and one in Shenandoah, if and when the park brings on its seasonal employees.  Already the season’s start has shifted from April 8 to May 10 at the earliest.  Should the park close, it might not reopen in time to have a season.

The good news is that there are fewer hikers on the trails.  On March 23 Tina and I hiked this section and the lot was full.  On April one, it was empty.  On our first hike to Annapolis Rock we counted less than half the number on March 23.

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Wes discovered the true synonym for ridgeruner is janitor.  The day started as expected.  Plenty of trash to collect along the way.  This is near Pine Knob shelter.  The tin can spells rookie.  If you pack it in, please pack it out!

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Naturally there were illegal fire rings to break up and what’s a ridgerunner without a frying pan found on the trail?

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Leave No Trace principles say take only pictures and leave only footprints.  Rock stacks are not on any list of allowable behavior that I know if.  Sometimes it’s fun to see how far you can throw them.

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We have ridgerunners to help protect the environment and property.  Not sure the sentiment here was to resist park service rules or the current federal administration.  Either way, graffiti is unwelcome.  A little  Elephant Snot  will make short work of this.

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After picking up four gallons of trash in and around Annapolis Rock, we drove to Gathland State Park to point out the back trail to the Crampton Gap shelter; then on to Weverton Cliff to end the day.

One ridgerunner on duty.

Sisu

Road Scholar Closeout

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Last “Hike the Appalachian Trail in Four States” Road Scholar group for 2019.

Maryland and Virginia, October 26 – 27, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail year has a rhythm.  It’s base line begins to pulse the first week in April.  It’s then that our ridgerunners in Maryland and Shenandoah National Park take the field.

Then comes third week in April when the Hoodlums trail crew, like brass and strings, liberates its tools from cold storage to repair the minor chords of winter.

By Memorial Day, we’re in full swing with all the elements – ridgerunners, trail work, and leading hikes – in motion.

Halloween week is the coda that signals the off ramp from our three season journey.  The last ridgerunner on the entire trail completes their season then, and the Road Scholars close out their final hike with us.

After that, it’s not necessarily silent.  The Hoodlums might have a November encore, or not.  We might do some winter hikes, the Gang of Four continues to march, but it’s improvisational.  Everything else after that is meetings and budget-related stuff designed to make it all possible again next spring.

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Washington Monument State Park, MD, the starting line in Maryland.

The start of Road Scholar hike on Tuesday was crisp with a little knife edge to the wind.  Mary Thurman was all smiles.  At 5 p.m. her season would conclude.

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Fox Gap battlefield site where a docent explains civil war ammunition.

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Picking and eating wild grapes along the edge of the battlefield.

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Trick or treat?  The Maryland trail crew was working just ahead.  They left plastic Halloween bones to fool Mary.  Didn’t work, but everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

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Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter.

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We always inspect the shelter for trash and discarded gear.  Size 38 waist trousers anyone?  We deduced that the guy got soaked in the rain and didn’t want to carry heavy wet pants out, so we did it for him.  They’ll be washed and tossed into the hiker box at the Conservancy HQ in Harpers Ferry.  The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor.

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White Rock viewpoint.

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Season over.  Mary hightailed it to a mutual friend’s house in Virginia Beach.  Safe travels my friend.

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Lunch the following day at Sam Moore Shelter in Virginia.

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Mother Nature is signaling that it is time to turn the page.

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The AT in Washington Monument State Park, MD

Adios.

Sisu

 

It’s a wrap for the last ridgerunner standing.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, October 18, 2019 — It’s that time again.  Our longest ridgerunner season is running out of altitude and airspeed.  The sprint to the finish line is underway.

Friday, Mary Thurman and I struck the caretaker tent, packed it up and hiked it down the mountain to the ridgerunners rustic apartment at Washington Monument State Park. There it is interred in a closet for a long winter’s rest.

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At first we thought something had gone terribly wrong. The tarp protecting the tent from UV rays was in shreds.

Had a bear attacked it?  Vandals?  Actually high winds the previous night destroyed the sun-weakened tarp which had valiantly done its duty.  Now dead, its dumpster-destined remains are nothing more than worthless weight on the hike out.

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Mary was relieved to find the tent intact.

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Packing up.

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Tool box locked.  Site secure.

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It was a brilliant day on the rock.

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Farewell visit to the viewpoint.

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Reflecting on how the season opened last April with Sabine Pelton who patrolled Shenandoah National Park.

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Out-a-here!  The final two weeks will be spent on patrol or tenting in one of the Annapolis Rock tents sites.

Until next year.

Sisu