Endless Blowdowns

Shenandoah National Park, January 12, 2021 — It was 23 degrees at the Compton Gap parking lot. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So we were masked and armored to the best of our ability against the cruelty of winter.

The reason we were there is as mundane as the presence of Nature. The never ending parade of trees blown down across hiking trails had marched on. In its wake were a list of barriers to breach. There we were. Armed with fuel, oil and a Stihl chainsaw, ready to assault and clear what might be described as potholes on the hiker superhighway.

Think about it. We’re the Hoodlums Trail Crew. Masks are totally apropos.

We managed to clear 5 blowdowns from the AT. As the day warmed up, we were as overdressed as any group of rookies that ever were.

We’d never encountered a blowdown like this until today. Then there was another one just like it. Blowdowns are like puzzles. The first time wasn’t perfect. The second was a charm.

We salami sliced this beautiful red oak because it was covered in poison ivy. Didn’t want to manhandle a large log.

After clearing five blowdowns on the AT, Wayne and Dave headed for the Elk Wallow Trail to test this ancient two-person crosscut. I drove to Jenkins Gap to checkout the AT section for which I am responsible.

Woops. Found a five-incher across the trail a few feet north of the stone steps for those who know this area. Everything else was clear so took the time to clip green briar and blackberry which are easy to see in winter. These brambles are vicious, ripping hikers skin and clothing. Some can grow a foot per week in summer. Hope I made a dent in their progress.

Same blowdown looking south.

Day’s end. Relaxed. Off the grid. At one with Nature. It was like riding into the sunset.

Sisu

Trail Design Workshop

6E7100AD-6E15-48FE-89A5-E751376EA4FE

Determining the slope angle.

Shenandoah National Park, December 2 – 3, 2020 —  We gathered for our sustainable trails design, construction and rehabilitation field training in the Compton Gap parking lot where we engaged in initial introductions, orientation and safety talk. 

3017E748-9914-4669-9DB0-12412296112E

We were leaders from the park staff and PATC who are involved with backcountry trails and the park’s historic legacy.

As each of us spoke in turn, the sharp wind assaulted our clothing like a rusty razor shaving a drunken sailor’s belly.  It attacked the tiny gaps, exploited thin layers, nipped exposed skin, and stung our nerve endings with the efficiency of a serial killer wielding an ice pick. 

Still, we focused on the subject at hand, sustainable design, restoration and maintenance of Shenandoah’s hiking trails. 

Did I mention that the wind chill was cold?

A53CE623-2F8B-4449-AFF7-FA274395308B

After the preliminaries we crossed Skyline Dr. and began marching on the AT up the north side of Compton Peak.  The trek leads to a nice viewpoint to the west and to the east the best example of basalt columnar jointing in the park.  Needless to say this section of the trail is popular and receives a lot of traffic.

The route was originally built by the CCC and some of their stonework still stands although, after 80 years, is breaking down.  Our mission was to learn how to identify it and sustainably restore it for another generation to use.

EC98B966-3377-433A-B6B4-3F2DC7BCE036

Brinnon Carter, Cultural Resource Program Manager, discussed CCC trail design.  Those who have hiked on the north side of Compton know the trail passes two very large boulders.  That, it turns out, didn’t happen by accident.

Along the way we discussed water/erosion management, design criteria including selecting ascending and descending grades and other design criteria such as the amount of traffic and two-way traffic considerations.  Most of this is not new, but the review fit the context of the primary purpose of the workshop which was to identify and preserve the CCC’s work.

A99B9460-FCA3-4A33-B1F8-E3CBB25D64EC_1_201_a

In the afternoon we walked to the north boundary kiosk discussing the merits of keeping the trail on the old roadbed and ways of aligning it for a more esthetic hiker experience.  Some Myron Avery’s old maps were informative. 

While Benton MacKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail, it was Myron Avery who scouted the route and got it built.  He also was the founder of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  For more, click here.

7D34E243-4EFF-4D2E-A4B4-887EFDAE676F

The stillness of the second day’s dawn at Thornton Gap was remarkable in contrast to day one.  While the ambient air temperatures were similar, the wind was elsewhere afflicting other people, and thankfully not us. 

3527036D-F1BD-48E3-8EB9-646461B5313A

Stephanie passed out excellent homemade cookies to help fuel our climb to 3,300 foot high Mary’s Rock.  Info on Mary’s Rock here.

Our purpose on the climb was to examine the CCC’s crib walls and learn how people and nature have caused changes over the previous 80 years.  The question was how to catalogue, grade and monitor them for maintenance and restoration.  Climbing while masked didn’t prove to be a hardship.

385FB100-8C5E-4F93-9F99-92F8B040066A

We stopped several places to look at examples of the CCC’s work and learned how to identify it and assess the condition.  Along the way we found two of these painted sticks abandoned at different places along the trail.  I brought one home to burn in my backyard fire pit.  Please, Leave No Trace!

4C90067C-0436-4A25-8E76-A877D6B4398A

Lunch was pleasant absent the wind.  The program featured a well-known local comic.

After lunch we moved southward to the White Oak Canyon parking lot.  From there we examined the Skyland horse, Limber Lost and a bit of the White Oak Canyon trails.  The last is one of the busiest in the park.

C5C5B44F-91F6-4D44-AC80-9A31CA2C65E9

You can discuss the placement, effectiveness, merits and demerits of a waterbar ad infinitum. 

3AE46A47-8787-4C51-AF00-F5BC8B173D59

Limberlost Trail is the only ADA handicapped accessible trail in the park.  We divided into groups and walked along entertaining discussion questions, the answers to which were debriefed to other groups.

711A712F-E865-465B-8279-3BBAB3EF588F

Once back in the parking lot we filled out a matrix informed by our group discussions.

1589327B-5F9A-4371-A285-BE936326C5A2

The workshop finished with each of us briefing back to the group what we had learned and its future application. Meanwhile there is a ton of CCC work to find, identify and catalogue.

Sisu

A special crosscut returns to service.

EE5115FA-5804-4E6E-A8B1-75809FB250D8_1_201_aShenandoah National Park, Sunday, May 31 – Jim Grant was my grandfather.  He’s been gone for 42 years, but he lived again today.  No, Mr. Grant wasn’t reincarnated in the flesh.  His memory reawakened in the form of a newly restored four-foot crosscut saw he once owned.

It was there to tackle a huge blowdown on the Little Devils Stairs trail.  The objective was a long dead, 26-inch, double trunk tulip poplar.  Venus Foshay, my fellow Hoodlum trail crew member is responsible for that trail and she requested reinforcements.  Sam Keener and I answered her call.

Following our safety discussion, my grandpa’s precious saw bounced lightly on my shoulder as we headed down the Keyser Run fire road to the intersection with Little Devels Stairs.  Along the way, I thought deeply about what my grandfather meant to me.

img030

Me with my grandpa.

I imagined my grandfather hoisting that very same blade to his slender right shoulder.

AC5BDA7F-B531-441E-9C52-71448DF7314E_1_201_a

It would have rested on his black-and-red-checked Filson Mackinaw coat, steadied by is work-gnarled hands swaddled in his trademark deerskin mittens with the green woolen liners that I still have.

39B90427-DCEA-4D98-B941-238CEE5AAF8E

The blowdown was a monster.

86F67F7C-0A3D-46F3-9706-FA22BE13160A

The smaller trunk was broken off and offered an easy bottom bind cut.

D24F1C9B-7D8D-44D0-96CE-7B1E6682F341

Sam won the trophy photo.

The larger trunk presented tricky top bind for a crosscut saw.  It would require two cuts.  Normally you can make reverse keystone cuts and roll the billet out of the middle.  In this case the proximity and angle of the root ball would force the billet to bind.  We knew we were in for an “Oh joy!” day.

CD919943-CBCE-4565-9351-82C5BE94EE40_1_201_a

After amputating the smaller trunk, we applied muscle to the larger one.  To maintain safe social distance we used the saw in single sawyer mode and rotated as our arms tired.

5949D2DB-313E-41EE-ABCB-A3B39F0682B4_1_201_a

I have at least 10 wedges in my car.  I only brought three because the tree was site unseen.  We had to be creative to keep the kerf open.

1596411F-B5C8-45CA-BEF3-ED9604338EEB

We sawed from both sides to keep the cut level.

97662E88-7434-4B49-AC5C-935561F9A0F7

The “easy” part was over.  This is where the real battle began.  We thought we could lever out the billet with a log.  WRONG!

3091C66C-B811-4C10-986A-BE998D12255C_1_201_a

While Venus hiked and drove back to the Piney River tool cache to get a couple of rock bars, Sam and I hiked to the bottom of the trail to clear a second blowdown.

381833DF-FC41-4700-99D2-0DC9C31D980E_1_201_a

Social distancing was a problem all day.

1837664C-2F89-4ECA-B887-93D22D6585DD

Little Devils Stairs is one of Shenandoah’s picture book hikes featuring several waterfalls, many creek crossing and lots of rugged scrambling.  She’s on the trail, by the way.  With this many rocks, I’m befuddled why the AT wasn’t routed through this canyon.

17F7A7DC-2341-4146-8A5F-F789A2BC56F1

Rock bars are all about brute force and ignorance.  It’s all muscle.

41D4C44B-CD22-4D1C-BE46-B32E7F9F0881

Almost there.

7D2FE3A9-977F-49D7-9D3A-FAE0C33B6373

Success!

C3F164B0-E9E3-47F8-978D-2A1FE9105C72

Sam’s look says it all.  Thank heaven she’s a power lifter.

1A12EB29-BE63-4718-9AB1-E8F0CCAFAE27_1_201_a

Victory.  All that for this.

_____________________

Here’s the backstory.

I thought all of my grandfather’s tools and gear were lost to history.  Family legend was that my mother sold everything when she moved her elderly parents from International Falls, Minn. to her home in Greeley, Colo.

Last October.  Location:  My brother’s garage in Loveland, Colo.

Me.  “Wow!  A crosscut saw.  Where’d you get that?”

Brother.  “That was grandpa’s saw.”

Me.  “I thought mom sold all of his stuff when she moved grandma and grandpa out here.”

Brother.  “Not this.”

Me.  “What do you plan to do with it?”

Brother.  “I was going to hang it on the wall.”

Me.  “No way.  I could use it.  I have a friend who restores old crosscut saws.  I’ll ask him to fix this up and I’ll put it to work clearing trails.  Grandpa would like that.”

Brother.  “Ok.”

IMG_4531

Me.  “I’ll make a box and ship it today.  Where’s the nearest UPS store?”  The truth is that I wanted to get it out of there before he could change his mind.

The story added a new chapter today.  But, where did it begin?

_____________________

James Grand circa 1920

International Falls, MN circa 1920.

Who was Jim Grant?

James Earl Grant was my namesake.  Growing up, he was “Big Jim” and I was “Little Jim.”

Jim Grant on his favorite rock - Copy

Favorite fishing rock.  My brothers and I have caught a lot of walleye there.

Jim Grant was a lumberjack, teamster and avid fisherman who immigrated from Alberta, Canada to International Falls, Minn. to cut trees for the Minnesota and Ontario paper company, now Boise-Cascade.  We’re not sure when.

Jim Grant and car

Born in 1900, Jim Grant was a good and kind man who had lived his life well. A third-grade education limited his opportunities, but he worked hard and made the most of those that came his way. He lived to be 78 before succumbing to prostate cancer.

In reality Grant was my mother’s stepfather.  He had once asked my grandmother to marry him, but she declined and later said yes to another man, also a Canadian.  Her husband, John Wesley Jordan, died at age 30 of kidney failure in 1930 as the Great Depression sunk its jaws into the Northern Minnesota economy.  In those days there was no safety net.  She was 30 with three children and they struggled.

After arriving in International Falls with his two brothers, Walker and Clarence, Jim Grant cut and skidded pulp wood in Minnesota’s north woods until he was drafted in WWII.  In the war, his age and lack of education led to work as a hospital orderly making beds and emptying bedpans at Camp Carson, Colo.

He loved Colorado and regaled me in childhood with stories of his Rocky Mountain adventures and tall tales of ghost towns like Cripple Creek.  Later on when I was stationed at that very same Army post, the first place I went was Cripple Creek where I imagined his stories playing out among the mining relics.

Fortunately Jim Grant was a patient soul who truly loved my Grandmother.  When he returned from his WWII service, he proposed a second time to my widowed grandmother and she accepted.  He never could have become my hero without that unfortunate chain of events.

IMG_4563 2

After the war, he purchased the saw I now have.  It is a Simonds Crescent-Ground, One-Man Crosscut Saw model 223.  The aux handle can be moved to the far end allowing for two-person use.

I found the saw in excellent condition, still sharp with very little surface rust.  It wasn’t used enough to completely erase its factory markings which is how we know the model and approximately when it was made in Fitchburg, Mass.

Link to Simonds Saw Catalog

The catalog says that this saw “will stay sharp longer than any one-man saw made.”  It also notes “Large hand hole in handle permits sawing with mittens or gloves in cold weather.”  That would have been practical because most of the timbering was done in winter when the lakes and dirt logging roads were frozen solid.

The light usage suggests he didn’t do much lumberjacking after the war.  We know that he found less strenuous employment on the papermill loading dock where he worked until retirement in 1965.  Thanks to a strong union, he had earned health insurance and a modest pension that he and my grandmother could live on in their own home for the rest of their lives.

B6211E39-7CED-4669-BBAE-FA1764FB6D62_1_201_a

Today Jim Grant’s Simonds model 223 was reborn as a working tool in Shenandoah National Park.  When my time ends it will pass to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club where it will enjoy a long and noble life thanks to, and in memory of James Earl Grant, lumberjack.

Sisu

 

 

 

Shenandoah. At last!

EB7C116A-5F61-4993-81DA-12FBD2287102

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. May 27, 2020 — The park is open, sort of.  Skyline Drive, the 105-mile-long ribbon of a road that curls along the crest of the Blue Ridge, is open for traffic.

With the exception of a small number of public restrooms, all other facilities are closed including campgrounds.   The trails, except the most popular trails where social distance can’t be maintained, are welcoming footprints.  The huts/shelters remain off limits for use.

This limited opening makes sense.  Reports say the primary means of COVID-19 is respiratory droplets inhaled when people congregate in small spaces.

Imagine up to a dozen people sleeping in an AT shelter with one of them who arrives late in the evening, asymptomatic with corona virus, infecting those sleeping nearby.   The same logic applies to crowded communal picnic tables and for visitor centers.

The good news is this. After nearly three months, volunteers may now return.  For awhile I thought the most useless card in my wallet was my dormant Shenandoah volunteer pass.

73B002C0-FFCA-493B-8CEC-C09E7B8F9885_1_201_a

On Saturday the entry stations opened and we were turned on again.  Fearing a Black Friday-like run on the park, most of us opted to pass on the weekend.  I chose Wednesday to return because I was committed Monday and Tuesday, and heavy rains are forecast for Thursday, Friday and early Saturday, a day on which I am unavailable.

Saturday the Maryland ridgerunner and I will be pitching the caretaker tent and stringing the rain tarps at Annapolis Rock.  It is always a more sane exercise in better weather.  This annual ritual is two months late, delayed by the pandemic.

Back to the park.

F96D8DF8-77C7-4EBA-B530-44F3665C5751_1_201_a

Ready to crank on a foggy day.  The aggressive weeding of previous years has retarded the growth of jewel weed which is the bane of string trimmers.  The width of the corridor is needed because certain briars can grow a foot per week and the width buys me time to return before the trail is impeded.

EBB5E860-C897-4A9B-9A24-B2EF5C28ACA8_1_201_a

Eight hours later.

92C809E3-6E3C-4537-BEF0-7692556CBC38_1_201_a

Just around the corner.  When you’re running a string trimmer, your head is usually down.  You’re wearing a helmet with face shield which further impedes vision.  Then you look up.

7E759D66-ED8C-4D2E-8231-A0BA2E3C65EF_1_201_a

Black birch is easily dispatched with a folding saw.

11FCF823-CC68-49B9-A515-ABB9379645A3

The aesthetics were amazing.  Wild azalea blooming.  The laurel will start soon.

9ADA6E45-CC87-40FC-9574-04F1B6B8A4DA_1_201_a

The tall grasses grow quickly.  People often ask why we remove the weeds and make such a racket in the process.  The answer is simple, Lyme Disease.

Animals use the hiking trails to get around just like people do.  The mammals such as deer, bear, coyotes, squirrels, and rabbits pick up ticks which drop when engorged.  Their babies instinctively crawl up on the vegetation to seek a host of their own.

972C895C-BB1B-4D20-A265-B1D9F2A4ED28_1_201_a

Remove the vector.  Reduce Lyme disease risk.  Mowing tall grass reminded me of harvesting wheat.  Weeding is arguably the least enjoyable, but probably the most important task trail maintainers do.

0F64C3E3-D43C-4287-8BC6-D7009734B3BB_1_201_a

75CDA5DB-064A-4DA1-92F5-A8EE7194E100_1_201_a

Just over the hill from the last photo.

98812510-EBD9-42EC-85A2-ECCD341A57EE_1_201_a

Trusty Silky Big Boy 2000 saw to the rescue.  I thought about coming back dragging a chainsaw for this one, but for one, it would be a long carry for two minutes work – literally a long climb for a short slide.

Secondly, we’re going to attack a large blowdown at the bottom of Little Devils Stairs Sunday using a crosscut saw that is special because it once belonged to my grandfather.  Not sure there would be enough time or energy left over when we’re done to climb half way up Compton Peak to make, honestly, thirty seconds worth of noise.

679AF7AB-A74E-4878-9758-DDCD90675B97_1_201_a

I always check the campsite above the spring on Compton.  It’s now official.  The park trail crews have been defining its perimeter with logs to help contain the site and limit spreading.

People are inherently predictable.  Anyone who has been a ridgerunner can tell you where you’re going to find the TP.

Speaking of ridgerunners, they were defunded in the park this year because thru hiking was discouraged and park gate receipts were dramatically down.  Tuesday and Wednesday a fellow maintainer and I counted 14 thru hikers.  The noobs are making a mess.  Help!

7B35763A-33DD-4983-995A-C6B89FFC4C48_1_201_a

There’s a reason I always carry potty trowel.  All told I buried two deposits this trip.  As previously reported, there are more noobs in the woods now and it shows.

08F74B84-AAC5-4866-8B02-EBEB22C5ECDA

Long day.  Sweaty and tired.  The COVID beard is coming along.  String trimmers turn the weeds, which include poison ivy, into pesto.  I’m coated with it.  Time to get a shower.

DFC3CBC3-7C82-4A72-BE9C-92499AB44728_1_201_a

Spring in the park is awesome!  Did I say I love this job?

Sisu

 

 

 

Hoodlums October Work Trip

IMG_4395

Nine a.m. safety briefing at the Piney Ridge ranger station.

Shenandoah National Park, October 19, 2019 — Beautiful autumn weather welcomed around two dozen Hoodlums to our October work trip.  The turnout was as brilliant as the weather.

IMG_4397

After roll call and introductions we divided into four work parties – two on the AT, one for general maintenance, and one to construct a lateral drain.  Two crosscut crews attacked blowdowns in wilderness areas on the blue blaze side trails.  One of the crews cleared 29 down trees.

IMG_4399

Constructing a drainage dip.

My work party did general tread work on the AT section from Jenkins Gap to the Hogwallow overlook.

IMG_4414

In total we cleaned all the waterbars and check dams, replaced four log waterbars with drainage dips, and removed four blowdowns.

fullsizeoutput_2666

We took advantage of the perfect weather to break for lunch.

fullsizeoutput_2668

As we completed our work at Jenkins Gap, we met two thru hikers finishing their hike.  His partner was camera shy.  They were constructing a 2,192.0 marker out of leaves to memorialize their finish.  We were delighted to congratulate them.

The pot luck theme was Oktober Fest.  Everyone supplied their favorite German delights.

November encore?  Stay tuned.

Sisu

 

Hoodlums Crew Week

fullsizeoutput_206b

Butterfly on short final for thistle pollen.  They have been abundant this year.

Shenandoah National Park, August 18 – 23, 2019 — Every year the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Shenandoah trail crews organize crew weeks.  That’s when members can work closely with the park’s professional trail crews. It’s good for morale and camaraderie.  It’s also fun to play in the dirt like a five-year-old.

The five-day experience couples the satisfaction of teamwork and hard work with the joys of barracks-style living – nine people sharing a single bathroom and rush-hour-like  kitchen congestion.

fullsizeoutput_2059

On the way to our work base in the park’s Pinnacles area, I stopped at my AT section at Jenkins Gap to refresh a flaky blaze.

fullsizeoutput_206a

First you need exterior grade white paint, a brush and a scraper.

Next you remove the old paint and just enough bark to help the paint stick.

fullsizeoutput_2060

Andy Warhol would be proud (I hope).

fullsizeoutput_205a

Raiding the tool cache for tools needed for the the week.

fullsizeoutput_2066

Loaded van, ready to rock and roll.

Monday we split up for a range of jobs.  Mine was on a “weeding” crew for an overseer who has been ill.

For arm chair trail maintainers, weeding translates to a roaring string trimmer frapping poison ivy into an evil green pesto that coats exposed skin like white on rice.  Need I say more?

It’s hot, sweaty and buggy work, all necessary to remove habitat for the ticks that cause Lyme disease.

fullsizeoutput_2057

Day two dawned with the full brutality of mid-Atlantic summer heat and humidity.  It was so hot that the burning crosscut kerf spit fire and brimstone.

We teamed up to rip our way through this 18-inch blowdown.  It’s in a federally designated wilderness near the park’s western boundary.  By definition, power tools cannot be used for trail work in wilderness areas, hence the muscle power.

IMG_4129

Anna, 65, and Mary, 68, proved age is no limit.

IMG_4120

The guys had several bites at the apple too.

fullsizeoutput_2065

Half done, but the heat index was oppressive.  We were working at least 1,500 feet lower than the ridge above us where the temp would have been 10 – 15 degrees cooler.

fullsizeoutput_2054

Shortly after we snapped this victory photograph, one of our members showed symptoms of heat exhaustion.

In this case the symptoms were: dizziness, dark urine, fatigue, transient nausea, vision issues and lack of coordination. Skin was cool and normal color, but she wasn’t sweating much.  Heart rate and breathing remained within a normal range under the conditions.  Her awareness and alertness (A/O) score remained at 3 for the entire time.

IMG_4137

Treatment included moving the patient into the shade, soaking her with water, placing chemical cold packs against her carotid arteries, taking her vital signs, and ultimately getting her to sip a liter of Pedialyte.  In total she drank 2.5 liters of Pedialyte and water.

We radioed Shenandoah dispatch about 15 minutes after the onset of symptoms for a backcountry EMT.  Her symptoms were worsening.

We knew it would be awhile.  The plan was to continue treatment until the EMTs could arrive or, if she improved sufficiently, to walk her out over the mile-and-a-half down hill to the trailhead.

Unfortunately emergencies in the backcountry are never trivial.  Help can’t arrive easily or quickly.  We coach our ridgerunners to prepare to be on scene without help for up to three hours in a worse case scenario.  Depending on the nature of the injury, that’s a lot of time for bad things to happen.

After an hour, our patient improved and felt strong enough to attempt to walk out.

The EMTs were still on the way, so we radioed dispatch that we were walking out.  We met the EMTs and park rangers at the trail head where they were preparing to hike in with the guide we had sent ahead.

Our patient was assessed and monitored for almost an hour before being discharged to our care.

A law enforcement ranger who responded paid our team the ultimate compliment.  “It was,” he observed, “nice to see people in the backcountry who were properly prepared.”

Amen to that.

The next day’s weather forecast was for molten metal falling from the sky, so we decided to take a zero day which would allow us to slip behind the public access curtain to see what we could learn. Our thanks to Rebecca Unruh, the ranger who coordinates our volunteer activities.

fullsizeoutput_205e

The park archives are an amazing collection of records and artifacts dating back before the park’s creation in the 1930s.

fullsizeoutput_2055

What’s in this box?

fullsizeoutput_205f

Original maps.

Next stop, Rapidan Camp. The camp was President Hoover’s country (very rustic) retreat.  It was the model for Camp David, the current presidential retreat, located about 150 miles north in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park.

fullsizeoutput_2064Our zero day ended on a Sundae.

fullsizeoutput_2056  Throughout the year we partner with the National Park Service rangers.  Dave Jenkins is responsible for trail maintenance in the northern half of the park.

IMG_4168

Building a drainage dip for a wet spot.  We are shifting from hard-structure waterbars (drains made of wood and stone) to dirt mounds variously called swales, rolling grade dips, or as the trail maintenance manual (p. 65) calls them, “drainage dips.”  They are more natural and have less environmental impact.

IMG_4149

The dirt is raked down hill and hard tamped into a mound set at a 45 degree angle to the trail forming a ditch-like structure.

IMG_4164

We also cleaned and repaired serviceable log and stone waterbars.

IMG_4157

Some people pose with trophy animals.  We, on the other hand …

IMG_4187

Last project.

IMG_4185

Closeout discussion with Ranger Rebecca Unruh at our barracks.

IMG_4188

Final portrait.  One more crew week in the books.

Sisu

 

 

The 2019 Ridgerunner Season Begins

IMG_3560

Sabine and Mary at Annapolis Rock, Maryland with Greenbriar Lake in background.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, April 1 – 14, 2019 — Dawn cracked to reveal a chilly drizzle like the warmth a Sunday school teacher might project showing a little leg through clouds of petticoats.  Right place.  Wrong idea.  Can’t see that much, so up the mountain we marched. 

Mary is a veteran ridgerunner some readers will recall from last year’s blog entries about her service in Shenandoah.  This season her Maryland tour is seven-months long.  She will be reinforced by another ridgerunner from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  She started on the auspicious First of April. No joke.

Sabine will be in Shenandoah National Park through early September.  She arrived a tad early to observe and get to know Mary before launching her own long march toward autumn on her 102 miles of the AT she’ll be patrolling some 55 miles southward.

20190401_1845221Earlier Mary had kicked down winter’s door, Hoovering up the off-season detritus like a caretaker opening a musty summer house long dormant.  That’s bags of trash to the uninitiated. 

On her first morning sweep of the Pine Knob shelter she found two backpacks apparently  abandoned on the floor.  No note.  That’s more common than one may imagine.  People get tired, wet, quit, and abandon their gear all the time.  Regardless, they were available for animals to rummage.  She decided to wait and see. 

On her evening swing they were still there, so she packed them out tandem style to the Greenbriar State Park visitor center. 

The knuckleheads called the park looking for them late in the evening.  They’d been day hiking from the Pennsylvania border.  Unfortunately the packs weren’t available til morning.  Sorry guys.

IMG_3570

Off we marched to begin patrolling the area between Annapolis Rock and the Pogo campsite.  Trash picking was easy.

IMG_3568

Pogo, where a tree fell atop one of the iconic fire pits.

IMG_3562

Ridgerunning is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to find – tent poles, plastic container and a rubber band slingshot.

IMG_3566

IMG_3567

Painted rocks have become a trend in the hiking world.  We found one at Black Rock that seems to advertise a lake front development in Maryland.  There will be follow up with the developer.

IMG_3571

Drying out.  Caretaker tent graciously donated by REI.

IMG_3576

Senseless vandalism.

IMG_3577

Photo:  Mary Thurman.

IMG_3575

Please pad your anchors and save the trees.

20190406_2109261

Somebody actually tried a bear hang instead of hooking their food bag on one of the tines.  This method actually makes it much easier for the bear to get the food. 😦

Sabine’s OJT at Annapolis Rock was complete.  On to Shenandoah.

IMG_3586

Shenandoah day one starts in the backcountry office for orientation, paperwork and equipment issue.  Then it’s a hike to check the north boundary kiosk.

We made a side trip to hike the cult-like Piney Memorial Trail and paid our respects to the fallen.  While there, the ridgerunner janitorial instinct kicked in.

IMG_3588

The first overnight is at the luxurious Indian Run Maintenance Hut which is available to the ridgerunners when in the area.

IMG_3589

First showdown with a hanging tangle.  She drew her clippers faster than Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and cut that sucker down.  Note the full trash bag.

IMG_3592

Foundation of what was once intended to be a restroom for a “colored” picnic area that never was built.

IMG_3593

Taking a break on a handy rock.

IMG_3598

Second night at Gravel Spring.  Not sure if the tree is apple, cherry or otherwise.

IMG_3596

Sabine’s trail name is “Foureyes.”  Not what you’d think for a hiker who’s done the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail while in between earning a PhD in physics.

IMG_3600

Some people come to the trail ignorant, thoughtless and unprepared.  Yes, it’s what it appears to be.  Digging cat holes to bury other people’s feces is one of the more unappealing aspects of the job.  You have to want to protect the trail with all of your heart to do this work.

Third night at Pass Mountain.  The tree blew down on a campsite before the camper was there.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Really!

IMG_3623

Watching the hawks atop Mary’s Rock on a brilliant day.

fullsizeoutput_1ea0

Final night.  Rock Spring.

fullsizeoutput_1ea1

Final day.  Welcome to Jurassic Park. Come right in.  Ummm, I mean Shenandoah National Park …  May your hike toward autumn be a pleasant one.

Susu

 

New Ridgerunning Season Coming Soon.

IMG_3501

Kensington, MD, March 12, 2019 — The snow drops are up!  As sure as daylight savings time, snow drops are a natural alarm clock announcing it’s time to get ready for a new season on the Appalachian Trail.

Here’s the starting line up.  Our first Shenandoah National Park Hoodlums trail crew work trip is this weekend.  As reported here, there’s still plenty of storm damage to clear.

No fooling, our first ridgerunner starts in Maryland April first.  The second ridgerunner begins patrolling in Shenandoah on April 8.  The remaining four are scheduled for mid-May.  Project ahead two weeks and we’re there. So, let’s get ready to rock and roll!

We’ve been getting ready for awhile.  The budget was submitted last year.  The application deadline was January 31.  Hiring occurred in February.  The last of the supplies and equipment arrived last week.

IMG_3449

First to arrive was six Bear Vault BV 450 bear canisters.  These are the half-size canisters with a four-day capacity.  They are very difficult for a bear to open or break.  I’m certain Yogi and Boo Boo hate them, but I can all but guarantee that Mr. Ranger loves them.

Why bear canisters?  The number of human-bear encounters is increasing each year.  The 2018 reported incidents are at this link:  ATC 2018 Bear Incident List

D50B1748-477F-4BC5-B9CC-B7B9A10CE55F.JPG

Some of these incidents included stolen food bags and damaged tents.  Fortunately there were no injuries though there have been nasty injuries and even a death in previous years.

Bears become food conditioned because careless backpackers, day hikers and others leave food or food trash at or near shelter areas and campsites.  Ultimately bears learn to identify shelters, tents and backpacks with food.

IMG_2367.JPG

Camera studies by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service show the first place bears go in camp is the fire pit because people toss food trash thinking it will burn.  It does not burn completely so the residue continues to attract bears long after the fire is out.

Once bears associate humans or places where human’s congregate with food, the potential for trouble compounds when bears lose their natural fear of people.

Bear canisters make it difficult for a bear to get a food reward.  Ridgerunners uniformed presence on the trail affords them visibility.  The weight of the example they set by carrying bear canisters complements the educational component of their mission.

IMG_3502.JPG

We experimented last season by having some of our ridgerunners carry BV 500 canisters loaned to us by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  They voted unanimously for the smaller version.  Comparison of a BV 450 and the larger BV 500 on the right.  The stickers help tell them apart.  The reflective tape helps find them of an animal decides to bat one around.

IMG_3503

Additional equipment includes 12-inch folding saws, clippers, SAM splints, and work gloves.  The rope and tarps help cover the caretaker area at Annapolis Rock.

fullsizeoutput_1de2

Meanwhile I have recovered from off-season Dupuytren’s release surgery.  I have two more impacted fingers on my other hand and hope they can wait until September.

img_3957

Next stop.  Setting up the caretaker area at Annapolis Rock.  Can’t wait.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Clean up

fullsizeoutput_1d5b

South District, Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail, November 30, 2018 — The east coast got smacked with an early season snow storm a little more than a week ago.  The Washington area escaped major impact, but it hammered the south district of Shenandoah between Stanardsville and Waynesboro, VA. and cities to our north.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

Photo courtesy Shenandoah National Park

Heavy snow and high winds crushed the softer trees leaving hundreds of them blocking  Skyline Dr., the road that runs 105 miles from one end of the park to the other.  The park trail crews report that the downed trees resembled a military abitis that runs for miles along the road.  Abitis definition at this link.

Leave it to the park crews to painstakingly clear the road quarter mile at a time.  Each tree must be bucked and chipped.  That’s a slow process.

Meanwhile, enough of Skyline, from Swift Run Gap south, had been cleared to permit the PATC to begin clearing the AT.  The supervisor of trails in coordination with the south district manager called for sawyers and swampers.

Sawyers are club members certified by the National Park Service to safely operate a chainsaw.  Swampers help the sawyers by removing slash and trunk rounds from the trail.  The plan was to attack the afflicted area from both ends.

As the supervisor of trails reported yesterday:  “We met at Swift Run Gap at 8:30am today and had 22 PATC members ready to work. Ten were certified chain saw operators including six District Managers.

We were limited as to parking shuttle cars because of the clearing of Skyline Drive and this constrained the amount of trail we could cover. The AT is clear from Swift Run Gap to Simmons Gap a distance of nine miles.

There is another group working from Rockfish Gap north and I don’t have any information on their progress right now. The main problem appears to be further south toward Rockfish Gap where the blow downs are quite severe.

Skyline Drive is not open for other than emergency travel and the clearing is very slow. The park maintenance crews and back country trail staff are responsible for that clearing. We will schedule another work trip later this week.”

IMG_3323

Sawyers are distinguished by their red Kevlar chaps.

We divided into crews.  My crew consisted of three sawyers and three swampers.  We worked northward from Powell Gap to Smith-Roach Gap – about a mile and one-third. Other crews worked elsewhere.

The swampers were all experienced trail overseers and knew how to get after the work at hand.  They brought their pruning saws, loppers and other trail tools which allowed them cleared several blowdowns by themselves.

IMG_3329

With one exception, our blowdowns were smaller trees snapped or bent over across the trail.  These are tedious to clear, our three two-person sawyer/swamper teams worked quickly and efficiently.

IMG_3328

This is one blowdown we tackled with two sawyers, one on each side.  Hidden within these tangles are branches loaded with weight called spring poles.  They can whip around hard enough to cause serious injury when their energy is released.  Sawyers are trained to find them, but they are hard to read in tangles like this.  Each sawyer reported being surprised by more than one, including me.

IMG_3322

All told, our crew removed 27 blowdowns in just over one mile.

fullsizeoutput_1d5c

Sawyer PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) consists of leather boots, Kevlar chaps, leather gloves, helmet, face shield, and ear muffs.

Stay tuned for follow on trips.  We’ll be at this for awhile.

Sisu

 

Black Friday = Green Friday

fullsizeoutput_1d4f

Shenandoah National Park, Black Friday, November 23, 2018 — Everybody needs a ginormous boob tube to watch foooball and swill cheap beer, right?  When’s the best time to score one?  Black Friday, of course.

Everybody who needs more stuff, raise your hand. Mall warriors betting they won’t lose yardage tackling a foreign-made discount TV at the local running of the fools, please do the same.

Guess what?  There are alternatives.  Turn off your phone.  Go outside.  Volunteer.  Make a change. Be productive.  That’s what two of my friends and I did and what a day we had.

The curtain rose on a leaden sky, accompanied by a biting wind.  We linked up at the Jenkins Gap trailhead parking at a leisurely 9:30 to avoid suffering Washington’s mad dog, crack-of-dawn, Black Friday shopping traffic.

Bright sunbeams were piercing the cloud deck like metaphorical knitting needles as we pulled our gear out of our SUVs. The day ended in warming sunshine.

KellyPhilJim

There were three of us.  Kelly, me and her husband Phil.  We were armed with a shovel, a McLoed fire hoe, and a pick-mattox respectively.

The plan, march 2.3 miles to the top of Compton Peak and work our way back to the cars.  In between we’d clear waterbars (drains) of debris, improve those needing work, replace at least one, and clear blown-down trees and branches blocking the trail.

IMG_3294

The first order of business was to test the frozen ground to see if we could actually dig.  If we not, plan B was to take a long hike.

fullsizeoutput_1d50

Ice formed a crust about an inch thick.  It was easily cracked by our tools.

IMG_3304

Some waterbars needed only to have the leaves raked out.  Others, like this one, had silted up and needed extensive rebuilding.

IMG_3302

My resident bear sow ripped this waterbar apart discarding the rotting log off to the right.  The park’s policy is be more environmentally gentle and avoid, where possible, using wood and rock in building trail structures.  This swale, sometimes called a “grade dip” replaced the log.  Grade dips actually require less long-term maintenance, so what’s not to like?

IMG_3305

Keeping track.

We also cleared the path of several large branches knocked down by a recent storm.  After three hours, we were done, with enough time remaining to take a little stroll.

We drove one car south to the Hogback overlook trailhead, leaving one at Jenkins to which we could return.

IMG_3306

What we’d hoped would be a pleasant walk turned into another three-hour maintenance trip.  In all, we found 10 trees blocking the trail.  We removed three with the small folding saw we had, trimmed a couple like this one making it easier for hikers to pass.  The rest we reported.

We finished up having turned Black Friday into a green one; also knowing the overseer for this section would soon be in need of elbow grease aplenty.

Happy Green Friday!

Sisu