Mother Nature’s Party Dress

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Shenandoah National Park, October 15 – 16, 2022 — Mother Nature’s autumn soiree is in full swing.  She’s dressed in loud colors that evoke AC/DC cranked to the max.  She will keep the party rocking until the pumpkin lattes run dry.

The colors truly are spectacular.  These are from the Big Devil’s Stairs canyon and the south side of Compton Peak.

So what were we doing there?  It’s the third Saturday of the month – Hoodlums work trip day.  As always, we organized into several work groups.

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Our group was assigned to hike deep into the Big Devil’s Stairs (BDS) gorge to clear a cluster of massive live tulip poplars recently blown down by a possible microburst.

The lower half of BDS hasn’t been maintained in awhile because there is no access from the park boundary.  Most people hike to the second canyon overlook and then double back.  Few wonder down to the bottom where the views are nil and the trail is steep.

Before we get down to muscle business, let’s celebrate an encore appearance from a special Hoodlum.

Sam Keener became a Hoodlums regular just before the pandemic.   During lockdown we met twice weekly over Zoom for personal training sessions.  Later she joined the FBI, graduated from their academy at Quantico and is now a Special Agent.  Fortunately we’re fake hoodlums.  Besides, she’s one of us!  You can’t bust yourself.

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Sam gave me a FBI Pittsburgh Field Office challenge coin which is now front and center in my trophy case along with a chunk of the Berlin Wall and a piece of the foundation from Check Point Charlie – made famous by a Berlin Crisis standoff between Russian and American tanks.

Back to business.

The going on this one was rough.  The bind on each of them was such that these trees wanted to move like Superman, up and away.

We hacked at this cut for more than an hour without being able to muscle through.  Sam is a power lifter, so she makes the friction seem far less than it was.

Nearby, the other crew was slogging too.  The binds were unusual – side and bottom.

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Ultimately we walked down to the other crew.  The clock had run out.  We’ll be back with many more bodies to finish the job. This was much bigger than five people.

As we licked out wounds, Mother Nature flashed her jewelry in the form of this young timber rattlesnake.

Ole Jake No-shoulders was nonplussed by our presence.

On Friday I sneaked up early to pick up six chainsaw chains I’d left with the Stihl dealer for sharpening.

I spent the night in solitude at the Indian Run maintenance hut, aka Hoodlums clubhouse.  I had to hack my way in for the sixth time this year!  If only Mother Nature would stop throwing her party favors on the access road!  The hut does look like it would be fun to spend an evening there during the Christmas season.

Sisu

Tom Moran kindly contributed photos and videos to this post.

Saw, Dig, Pull

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My view of the Thornton Gap Entry Station

Shenandoah National Park, July 24 – 27 — The North District Crew Week was anything but usual.  For one, we tackled a variety of projects.  For another, I only worked three of the five days.  Now, it’s off to Manitoba to fish with my brother and nephews.

Usually crew week offers the opportunity to partner with the park service trail crews on big projects that are too big for either outfit alone.  This year everybody was everywhere all the time.

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We started with the great blowdown hunt.  While the remainder of the group took on some dirt work, Wayne Limberg and I searched for a tree tangle reported by a hiker on the Shenandoah Hikers Facebook page.  Shall we say it wasn’t where it was alleged to be…

On net we hiked about four miles on our search.  We found it about 200 yards from a trailhead parking lot.  It would have been a cinch if we had started three miles south of the initial reported position.

We managed to chew a lot of wood into sawdust, huge piles of it. 

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In the end, the old guys were bushed.

The next day we rehabbed the AT from trailhead parking south to the Byrd’s Nest 4 connector trail.

My last day was best.  A tree on the AT about 200 yards south of Compton Gap parking became a leaner last year and ended up in a near vertical posture.  This was too dangerous for volunteers to cut.  After consultation we and the park crew agreed that it should be pulled down.  This is how it happened.

Rigging the tree.

Dave Jenkins has a new toy.  It’s a motorized winch.  Beats a grip hoist any day.  But, sometimes things don’t exactly go according to plan.

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Ready to go.

Oh oh!  Nothing is happening.

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Ain’t technology great!  What else.  Check You Tube to find out what you did wrong.

Turns out the rope wasn’t wrapped quite the right way around the capstan.  A couple of twists made all the difference. 

But wait.  There’s more.

The tree had dug itself in.  Nothing a pick mattock could not tackle.

On the way.

One more time.

Boom!

All that for 50 seconds of sawing.

Job done.

Sisu

Trail Repair Update

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So much silt that we had to spread it downhill.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, October 30 – 31 — Mother Nature is splashing fall color all over the mid-Atlantic.  The leaf peepers are out in droves.  It’s just a tease.  Soon hard winter will muscle its way in and own the joint until the spring wake up.

Until then, we’ve got work to do before the ground freezes so hard-ass that that our picks and fire hoes just bounce off.

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Saturday:  Jessica Say has volunteered to be the next maintainer of the Pogo** Campground in Maryland,  It was a delight to take her on her orientation visit.  She walked the ground, toured the new tent pads, learned how to clean out a fire pit, and most importantly, how to take care of a composting privy.

She also will be maintaining an AT section further north in Maryland.  That’s a bunch!  Thank you Jessica for stepping up.

**Pogo Rheinheimer was a young man who loved the AT.  Sadly he was killed in a boating accident.

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Jessica at the Hoodlums trail maintenance workshop in September.

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Caroline loosens silt which is raked away.

Sunday:  Readers may recall that a couple of months ago a severe, localized storm was forecast to dump up to six inches per hour on parts of the park.  We don’t know what actually happened.  We do know the results.  Nearly all of our erosion control structures filled with silt.  Some were buried deep enough that they were difficult to find.

This compares to 2018 when the Park experienced nearly double its annual rainfall.  Then, these same waterbars and check dams were able to handle all that huge rain volume without problem.  If climate change features more intense storms, this could be an example.

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Readers will recall that a Virginia Conservation Corps Crew (AmeriCorps) rebuilt the upper two thirds of the mountain.

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The crew was unique in its all-woman composition, a circumstance they appreciated.

With two-thirds rebuilt, that left the bottom third for Caroline and me.

Our dilemma was to find a mutually agreeable time when we could finish the bottom third before the first freeze.  Fortunately, the bottom third is fairly flat requiring far fewer waterbars and check dams in comparison to the rest of the section.

We took turns on the tools – a pick-mattock and a McCloed fire rake.

McCloed:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLeod_(tool)  The McCloed is the Swiss Army Knife of trail tools.  It is a hoe, a rake, a light pick and a tamper.  Best of all, it stands up by itself.

Per Park policy, we’re using as few wooden and stone structures as possible.  Instead we’re installing swails known in the trail world as rolling grade dips.  These earthen mounds, when properly compacted last for years.  They are quicker to build.  The jury is still out on whether they are easier to maintain.

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All told, we put in six hours of solid work.

Next up is the last Hoodlums trip of the year, weather permitting on Nov. 20, and our annual Black Friday soirée to rake the leaves out of the waterbars to facilitate drainage.  The irony is that new leaves will wash in over the winter and we’ll have to rake them out again in the spring.

Stay tuned.

Sisu