Black Friday = Green Friday

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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. Warriors betting they won’t lose yardage tackling a foreign-made discount TV at the local mall’s 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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?

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Keeping track.

We also cleared the path of several large branches knocked down by a recent storm.  After three hours, we were done with 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.

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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

PBS Travels with Darley

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Shenandoah National Park, Hawksbill Mountain, May 24, 2018 — My friend Karen Lutz is the mid-Atlantic regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  As such, she’s forgotten more about the Appalachian Trail than most people will ever know.  That’s why she was asked to appear on “Travels with Darley,”  a travel program that airs nationally on Public Television.

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Karen is a bona fide expert.  Her resume opens with a 1978 thru hike, especially prominent because so few women thru hiked 40 years ago.

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Karen’s original hiking boots are enshrined in the Park’s Big Meadow visitor center museum. We paid respects at this shrine to (grave of) Karen’s youth on our way to lunch.

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The day’s itinerary was a march to the top of 4,050 foot Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park.  It’s also the last 4,000 footer headed north on the AT until New Hampshire.

The program’s topic was all the wonderful things a tourist can do in and around Culpeper, Virginia.  Hiking on the AT is only one of them, and thus only a part of the subject at hand.

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Darley and Karen making tracks.

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Television production is tedious work.  Endless b-roll has to be shot to serve as transitions between topics or video wall paper to cover voice-overs. You can never have enough in the editing process.

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Karen and Darley did a lot of marching shots that will be used to stitch together parts of the AT segment.

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Lots of starts and stops on the way up.

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The folks involved in the shoot were many including Darley and her three person crew, plus writers from the Richmond, Virginia PBS station and representatives from the Culpeper chamber/tourism organization.

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Getting ready for the summit interview.  They hid Karen’s mic in her hat – clever, but a hat is not something Karen normally wears.  She’ll probably hear from her friends.

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During the actual interview, the mob hung out at a nearby outcrop where I busted a guy from Maine whose dogs were off leash.  Dogs must be on leash to protect wildlife from harassment, but also to protect the dogs from from the bears, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and snakes who can inflict far worse on the dogs.

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Channeling Ansel Adams before heading back to the cars.

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It’s a wrap.  Stay tuned for the air date.

In the National Capitol Region, the program airs on Maryland Public Television and Howard University Public Television.

Sisu

 

Windstorm Cleanup

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Shenandoah National Park, Sunday March 11, 2018 — About ten days ago a nor’easter ripped through the mid-Atlantic on its way to hammer New England.  Large trees were snapped and uprooted like toothpicks, dragging down power lines as they crashed to earth.  Widespread power outrages bloomed in the winter storm’s aftermath.

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Our own electricity in the big city burbs was out for four days thanks to a big old tree that landed in the wrong place.

Soon word spread of massive blowdowns all along the Appalachian Trail, especially in Shenandoah National Park.  What’s a dedicated trail maintainer gonna do except saddle up and ride toward the sound of cracking tree trunks?

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This tree snapped near its base, and in the process, blocked a four-way trail junction.  Bucking this 20-inch tree was an interesting puzzle requiring careful attention to safety and a step-by-step approach.

fullsizeoutput_154bStep one was trimming away the smaller branches and reducing the blowdown to its bare structure.

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Step two is getting the main trunk on the ground where it’s safer to chop it up.

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Step three is reduce the main trunk.  Here, with a top bind, after an initial cut about eight inches deep, wedges are driven to keep the cerf from closing and trapping the saw in the cut.

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Wedges in, the job can be finished.

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Step four is get the slash off the trail and out of the way.  Best of all, we converted a lot of chainsaw gas into sawdust.

Job. Done.

All told, we cut six blowdowns on the section I maintain.  The subject tree was on the southern end.

After that, we moved to the Indian Run fire road which is the access to the Hoodlum’s maintenance hut.

We quickly picked off three minor blockages on the fire road.

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Of course there’s always “that one.”  This 12-incher was draped in vines and it was hollow making it a bit more sketchy to cut.

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The approach was to trim away the vines and branches before dicing up the trunk from the top down.

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Like dicing vegetables for roasting.

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Sliced into small enough chunks to drag off the trail.

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Ten obstructive trees were gone.  Then we found this.  This tree is a good 20 inches alone.  It has a twin right behind it. That’s a twofer.  It’s also a “leaner.”  The angle isn’t bad, but this multi-ton tree’s top is hung up requiring care to safely bring it to justice.

The day was getting late.  Fatigue proved the better part of valor and a safety rule red light, so we left the remaining trees for the Hoodlums to tackle on Saturday.

Sisu

 

A Remarkable Blowdown

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Shenandoah National Park, October 20 – 21, 2017 — Imagine finding a 50-year-old locust tree prostrate on your favorite picnic table like a drunk passed out in a dark alley.  Most of us didn’t know this stately friend had a problem.  Regardless, there it was.

The Hoodlum’s crew weekend was off to an exciting start.

We suspect the last gasp of one of the recent hurricanes was responsible for doing a number on this poor tree that used to live at the Hoodlums trail crew hangout at Indian Run.  The tree’s lush leaves fooled us.  Termites had found its heart.  It was weakened and didn’t need much to do it in.

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The dead picnic table wasn’t the locust’s only victim.  Our recently repaired reflector fire took a glancing blow significant enough to pop a few rocks loose.

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On its way down or on a bounce, the dearly departed tree crunched our backup picnic table too. To add to the misfortune, we replaced the wood in each of the picnic tables only a year ago.  Damn!

The good news is that the Indian Run maintenance hut suffered no damage. Amen!

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Hasty clean up cleared usable space.

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The fire was built on schedule.

The Hoodlums worked Saturday as scheduled on various trail repair projects with a small work party assigned to clean up this tree.  Bottom line:  We’ll have enough firewood for a next year.

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I was in the park earlier on Friday to work on the AT section I maintain and to get ready for a large work party assigned to help me finish rehabbing its erosion control structures and remove two blowdowns.  After all of the leaves are down, I’ll make a trip to rake them out of the waterbar drains and put this puppy to bed for the winter.

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A dirt waterbar called a grade dip.  We’re getting away from using logs and stone whenever possible.

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A downed apple tree in an old orchard through which the AT passes.

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My guess is that a bear was climbing the tree an broke off a large limb.

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There were dozens of apples on the ground.  This is unusual because the bears and deer love them and normally by this time, they are no longer on the market.  The mast (food) has been excellent this year.  The immediate area is full of oak and hickory trees and the nuts, apples and berries have been overstocked in contrast to two years ago when there was virtually nothing because of drought.

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The potluck theme was Oktober Fest.  IMG_1726

The kraut and brats were yummy.

 

 

Want to dance?

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Julie Johnson, who commutes from Manhattan, drags a log she named “Betty,” up Pass Mtn. for use in a waterbar.

PATC North District Hoodlums Trail Crew, Pass Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, August 20, 2016 — Hanging out with the Hoodlums this weekend prompted a thought.

What is it about the Appalachian Trail that would cause people to commute hundreds of miles to maintain it; to hike it?  Why do so many report deeply personal relationship with this trail?

There are as many answers as there are hikers.  Here’s a possibility.

Some say the trail has the personality of a curvaceous vixen whose shapely turns first catch your eye on centerfolds in coffee table books.  She holds your gaze.

At the same time you imagine the possibilities, her earthy voice whispers on the wind, “Come with me. We’ll be amazing together.”  Smitten, you follow her irresistible come-hither with stars in your eyes and dreams of conquest.

Not so fast. Be careful of those sexy charms.  This babe may have legs that run from here to there, but a walk in the woods with this little number can suck you dry and empty your will to keep on.  Know that she turns from sultry to frigid ice virtually overnight.   See her tears fall in torrents that become rivers in your path. Be aware that she may not leave you laughing when she goes.

IMG_4914Date this honey and you’re in a high maintenance love affair. It’s more than the constant stroking, the sweet nothings or minding the flowers.  You’re in it with all of her friends including the bear who dug up my waterbar in search of a meal.  The hurt is high with this one.

She likes her suitors looking good.  Before you know it, you’ll own mix and match backpacks, tents and sleeping bags.   Guess how many base layers, flash dry shirts and pairs of Smart Wool socks I have.  I am ashamed to admit that my hiking boot closet would make Imelda Marcos jealous.

Heaven help you when you start owning your own personal trail tools – Pulaskis, MacLoeds – and Stihl brand anything is on your Christmas wish list.  I hear that she’s impressed by bigger saws.

Words like Jet Boil and Pocket Rocket soon replace GE and Tappan in the kitchen.  I mean who needs stainless steel when titanium is lighter.  Hell, Mother Nature even throws in the granite for free.

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She’s not a cheap date though.  Betty needed a lot of polishing before she became but one more piece of jewelry decorating the trail. This expensive jewelry habit is essential.  Keep it coming or Ms. AT’s beauty and charms quickly erode.  Costume pieces may be okay from time to time, but this girl likes to receive big rocks, especially on special occasions. Forget one and she can get ugly.

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In spite of all this, like a 1940s taxi dancer on a steamy Saturday night, the trail has no shortage of suitors.  Even the guy with the halo had to stand in line for his turn to dance.

Oh yes.  You probably guessed it.  The Hoodlums had another great outing.

Weedwhacking

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A ray of light perfectly aligned with my eyes under my hammock fly this morning at 6 a.m.

Shenandoah National Park, June 17-19, 2016 — It was North District Hoodlums trail crew work weekend.  I usually go to the park on Friday early to work on the section of the Appalachian Trail for which I am overseer and personally responsible.  Saturday we do crew work.  Sunday we clean up any odds and ends we didn’t get done on our AT sections.

It’s been raining like crazy on the east coast for the past month. In fact, it’s only recently warmed up.  Add water to vegetation and you get jungle!  Jungle is habitat for the ticks that are the vector for Lyme Disease.  What to do about that. The only logical thing is to chop back the jungle.

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Weed whacker Man – a superhero if there ever wasn’t one.

I spent two whole days week whacking.  First was my trail.  Second was a section that belonged to a dear fellow who left us for the charms of Milwaukee.  Did I mention that it was hot?  At least there were two of us the second day – we are a crew, right?

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The idea is to cut the salad back about double arms length from the center of the treadway.  The hikers should not touch vegetation as they walk.  No vegetation.  No ticks (well, almost).

I have an informal campsite on my section.  No fires allowed people.  They build them anyway and risk the fine.  I break up the fire rings by tossing the rocks a long way away.  This knucklehead obviously had an unsuccessful fire, not to mention ample signs of raging diarrhea.  Poetic justice.  Damn right.  I’m sparing you the shxtty pics, but I always document the scene of the crime.

The third week of June is prime thru hiker season.  Time for the annual Hoodlums hiker feed.  We cooked burgers and hot dawgs for about 30 thru hikers.  Turns out that they were all very nice folks.  That’s not always the case this late into the season.

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Sometimes we see dramatic views.  Worth a whack so to speak.

Love the evening ambiance.

Next up:  I’m about to hike 55 miles through northern Virginia with Denise, the friend with whom I hiked Georgia.  She’s here and off the trail on “vacation.”  After that, I’ll be out for 240 miles with this year’s group of excellent ridgerunners.  Can’t wait to get moving!

Leave No Trace!

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Overlooking the Shenandoah River Valley. About the only dry sunshine we enjoyed.

Shenandoah National Park, May 1-5, 2016 — Some hikers are pigs.  No doubt about it.  I saw plenty of that on my AT thru hike.  Being involved with ridgerunning has driven it home like a pile driver.  That’s why I signed up for the Leave No Trace Master Educator Course taught by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

We’ve got to get better at helping people do the right thing when they are in the back country or it will evolve into a place we don’t recognize.  Educating those who use the great out doors is important.  So for me, I’m already in with a dime so why not a dollar?

In addition to trashing the woods, some folks can’t resist making the maximum impact they can.  Most times they are simply ignorant.  These folks can be educated.  Others not so much.  There is a “no rules for me” crowd that is killing it for everyone else. If the trend continues, future generations won’t have a lot left in a pristine state to enjoy.

Now you know why.

(If this weren’t a family-friendly blog, I’d show you some outrageously gross behavior.)

Pinnacles featuring mouse-proof storage!  Rededicated the previous day.

Saturday night I reported to the newly renovated Pinnacles Research Center in Shenandoah’s central district to kick off five days of advanced Leave No Trace (LNT) training designed to teach us how to train LNT trainers and to give more effective classes ourselves. The idea is to help instill an outdoor ethic – good behavior when nobody is watching.

The group was small.  Seven students with two instructors.  The course is mostly practicum in the field with each student required to present a training session on one of the seven principles of LNT.  They are:  1)  Plan ahead and prepare.  2) Travel and camp on well-used surfaces.  3)  Dispose of waste properly.  4)  Leave what you find. 5) Minimize campfire impacts. 6) Respect wildlife.  7)  Be considerate of other visitors.  If you’ve read this blog, you’ve found it has touched on these concepts plenty of times.

My fellow students were a delight.  Each cares a great deal about the outdoor environment.  Their diverse backgrounds included a college student who works at a Scout camp in the summer, a professional Boy Scouts of America scouter, a county park environmental educator, a Vermont Green Mountain Club summit steward, a college professor and more.

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All told, we were a good humored lot that could not stop talking shop.

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This forecast proved to be optimistic.

We would suffer the first day indoors followed by three nights and four days tramping through Shenandoah’s Hazel Mountain wilderness area.  Weather forecast:  Liquid sunshine garnished by warm and cold temperatures with wind and thunderstorms on the side.  Yum!  At one point the weather abruptly changed to pea-sized hail and the pellets stung the hey out of my bare arms.

Along the way we slept in four-person circus tents and prepared meals from scratch.  These are not my favorite ways to approach backpacking.  I like to be in control and don’t like the time and mess required to do dishes in the back country.  Nevertheless, this arrangement turned out to be simple, efficient and actually facilitated some of the lessons we were studying.  It reminded me of being in the Army and Boy Scouts.

Our group.

Our field kitchen.

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Deeelicious!  Pasta, broccoli, cauliflower, salmon and cream cheese.

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Last night.  At Birds Nest 3, a hut on the AT.  Discussion on how we planned to apply our newly acquired skills.  It rained buckets and hour later.  No.  That’s not a whiskey bottle.  It’s a water bottle with a filter on top.  We wished it was whiskey.

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Cooking at shelters is a bit easier.

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Cleaning up and turning in NOLS equipment back at Pinnacles.

The scenery alone is worth the time.

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Shelters are designed to concentrate environmental impact in a few places.  Sometimes you can’t make it to the next shelter.  If you can tell I was ever there, then I did something wrong.

To bear or not to bear a Bear Canister

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The Appalachian Trail in Georgia, March 2016 –The bear canister debate can get intense.  A lot of people like to troll this subject. My intent is not to rip the scab off that wound or relitigate the question here.  I’m only reporting observations I made last month as the hiking season started in Georgia.

The fact is, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, that human interaction with bears is increasing on the southern 500 miles of the AT and the ATC is recommending that hikers use bear canisters from Springer Mountain to Damascus, VA.

Last year I had the occasion to be a ridgerunner in Georgia during late February and March. This year fortune granted me the opportunity to hike the state again with a friend as she launched her thru hike. Comparing bear canister use between these two years is interesting.

The conversation on the trail about protecting food from bears also changed some over the course of the past year.  This is what I heard and observed.

As a ridgerunner I was issued a Bear Vault BV 500 (there are other brands) because my duties required camping within the bear canister-required zone in the Blood Mountain area.

I hate to say it but most hikers who showed up at Woods Hole shelter were ignoring this U.S. Forest Service requirement. They were unaware that the local bears had learned to shake food bags off the cable there.

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In total, during my time in Georgia last year, I saw a very small number of bear canisters over the five week period I was on the trail.  This one was at the shelter on Springer Mountain.

After conversations with hundreds of hikers over the past couple of years, my guess is the majority of thru hikers don’t take bears all that seriously thinking that what ever happens, it won’t happen to them.  Moreover, most hikers don’t understand bear behavior well enough to recognize the many different ways bears might be attracted and habituated to human food.

With the number of hikers rapidly increasing, especially the large numbers starting in the south, this is unhelpful – mostly to the bears.

So, last year the ATC initiated a Leave No Trace-inspired effort to promote the use of bear canisters.  Remember what the rangers say:  A fed bear becomes a dead bear.  Progress?

I arrived on Springer March 8 and spent the night talking to hikers and waiting for my friend to toe the starting line the next day.  The first thing I noticed was three bear canisters.  As we hiked north, I noted about a dozen or more or so.  These were carried by older hikers – certainly they were over 30.  They’d heard about and taken the ATC’s advice seriously.

Bears are always a topic at the beginning of a thru hike.  For most, the question more about whether bears are a legitimate threat to them, not whether their habits can be a threat to bears.

A lot of hikers said they had considered food protection but had decided that the canisters were too heavy (mine weighs 2 lbs. 9 oz.), or that they would occupy too much space in their packs to make hauling one worthwhile. At around $80 retail, they are expensive too.  Several implied they would rent them if that were an option.

Beyond canisters, people were debating whether or not the Ursack – made out of Kevlar, the material that bulletproofs bulletproof vests – was a better bet.

Ursacks are lined with a thick plastic bag that functions much like a Zip Lock.  This helps protect the contents from moisture and reduces the aroma signature.  Depending on size, their costs range from $55 – $90, so they’re not cheap either.

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The white bag is an Ursack.  It must be tied to a tree to be effective.  My Bear Vault is in the far background.

Ursack’s are approved in certain areas but not in others, including the AT.  It seems that even though bears can’t chew through them, they can still crunch up the contents and get a small taste – and that does not solve the problem.  There’s some argument about how varmint proof they are, though their website says tests show they stand up.  No doubt supporters would offer supportive arguments.

The attraction of Ursacks lies both in reduced weight and the amount of space they take up inside a pack.  Being pliable, unless you’re using their aluminum shield, they are much easier to pack around.  In other words, you can jam more stuff in your pack.

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Bear canisters are designed to be left on the ground, yet some people still use the bear cables, poles or boxes when they are available.

The Bear Vaults have grooves in the sides designed to aid strapping to the outside of a pack.  This doesn’t work so well with most internal frame packs. They easily strap on top of some Granite Gear packs.  I saw one in Georgia and liked it.  Unfortunately I was too dim witted to get a photo.

Although we’re not going to see the masses rush to embrace bear canisters or Ursacks in the near future, it appears the conversation about not habituating bears to human food is growing and more positive. That direction, in my view, ultimately helps serve the coexistence of both magnificent bears and intrepid people. I’m cautiously optimistic over time.

Full disclosure.  I bought a Bear Vault BV 500 this year and hiked with it in Georgia.  I also have a sow with cubs resident and often seen on the AT section I maintain in Shenandoah National Park.  I frequently hang my hammock and camp over night on my section when there’s a lot of work to be done. In that context alone, using a bear canister makes sense for me and my momma bear.  Sisu

The Secret Word

Standing near the old apple orchard.  The saw is for cutting logs used to construct waterbars and check dams.  The red pants are Kevlar chainsaw chaps.

Standing near the old apple orchard. The saw is for cutting logs used to construct waterbars and check dams. The red pants are Kevlar chainsaw chaps.

Shenandoah National Park, October 17 – 18, 2015 — Remember the secret word on Graucho Marx quiz show “You Bet Your Life?”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Bet_Your_Life I have a new one for ya.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “lumbersexual” is a Metro-sexual who has the need to hold on to some outdoor based rugged-ness, thus opting to keep a finely trimmed beard. Sometimes their wardrobe includes plaid flannel shirts and leather work boots.  Well, this weekend was my best imitation – or maybe was I just testing my latest Halloween costume idea…

2015-10-17 09.25.26This was the final regularly scheduled Hoodlums work weekend of the year. I took a crew of four including myself on my AT section to finish the rehab started earlier this year.

My arrival was timed for dawn plus a few minutes to beat the traffic.  It's peak leaf season the the peepers cars clog Skyline Drive bumper to bumper for all 105 mikes if the park.

My arrival was timed for dawn plus a few minutes to beat the traffic. It’s peak leaf season the the peepers cars clog Skyline Drive bumper to bumper for all 105 mikes if the park.

This morning it was 28F when those of us who camped at Indian Run popped out of our mummy bags. I slept toasty and warm. Hated to get up but for the warm coffee.

This morning it was 28F when those of us who camped at Indian Run popped out of our mummy bags. I slept toasty and warm. Hated to get up except that the thought of hot coffee twisted my arm.

I spent this morning inventorying all the erosion control structures on my trail. Along its 1.3 mile length, it has 58 waterbars, 45 check dams, 3 swailes, 14 stone steps, 20 feet of stone retaining wall and one stone culvert.

I spent this morning inventorying all the erosion control structures on my trail section. Along its 1.3 mile length, it has 58 waterbars, 45 check dams, 3 swailes, 14 stone steps, 20 feet of stone retaining wall and one stone culvert.

The Appalachian Trail is administered by the National Park Service.  it’s budget is based in part on the amount of infrastructure that must be maintained.  All 2,189.2 miles of trail are being inventoried by its various overseers like me.  I think they are going to count a lot of “stuff.”

2015-10-18 11.08.34Milam apples were the most common type grown in the area.  Not sure these are those.

My trail skirts an old apple orchard that was part of a farm when the land was condemned to create the park.  You can see were the bears have trampled the vegetation enroute to their Oktober apfel gorge fest.

My trail skirts an old apple orchard that was part of a farm when the land was condemned to create the park. You can see were the bears have trampled the vegetation enroute to their Oktober Apfel Fest.

Autumn is slowly asserting itself. The colors are shifting from the the energy of spring toward the reds and greens of the Christmas season. Snow and a quiet winter sleep are just over the horizon.

Autumn is slowly asserting itself. The colors are shifting from the the energy of spring toward the reds and greens of the Christmas season. Snow and a quiet winter sleep are just over the horizon.

For more on lumbersexuality see:  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article4277725.ece