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

I love PEOPLE!

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You think we were tired!

The AT and My House, April 12 – 17, 2022 — It’s been people time recently – lots of interesting people and even more fun.

The week opened with a visit from a German public radio producer, her lovely children, and her colleague.

It ended with a day spent with Caroline and her dad.

In between the Hoodlums April work trip brought out 31 people, a record for this time of year.

The time of year is important.  The weather went from sunshine Sunday to snow on Monday.  Weather this time of year is a crap shoot.  We got lucky.  It’s going to be in the high 60s again later this week.  Go figure…

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Susi Weichselbaumer and her children were lovely.  We haven’t had little kids in the house since we bought it.  Fortunately we found some of our daughter Liisa’s old Duplo Lego toys.  Susi works for Bayerisher Rundfunk, Bavarian Public Radio in Munich. She and her kids travel the world having adventures for the radio.  The name of their program (radioReisen) translates to Radio Travels.  What a gig!  Mom, you’re amazing!!!

Susi contacted the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in search of an AT adventure.  As we corresponded, I thought it might be fun to host them, get to know them and fit the hike to the family.

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I invited them over and pitched a tent in the yard.  The girls packed one of my packs with two schlaufsacks and had a short camp out after which we made SMORES around the fire pit.  If stickiness is any measure, they were happy.

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Susi’s colleague Arthur gave the crosscut a go.  The girls sawed off a couple of pieces as souvenirs.

A couple of days later we trekked up to Annapolis Rock for a picnic.  Adventure complete.

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Meanwhile, my wife and a bunch of Lashley Lounge/Gang of Four friends popped in to see the newly renovated Mormon Temple which towers over our neighborhood.  It will be open to the public for a short time before its rededication.  Secrets inside?  We won’t tell.

That was the week.  Now for the weekend.

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Dawn cracked on the Hoodlums meet-up with a breeze that chomped at us with a seasonal reminder.  We were delighted to see some pre-COVID stalwarts return to the fold.

This group broke into work parties that cleared blowdowns on several north district hiking trails. Another group continued tread work on North Marshall.

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Sporting my new prescription Z 87+ prescription but dorky safety glasses, I led a group of seven down a side trail called Jeremy’s Run.  That’s creek to most folks.  It’s in a designated wilderness so only muscle powered tools are allowed.

It was like a war story.

There we were.  Armed with my grandfather’s crosscut, a bow saw and a couple of Silky Big Boy 2000 folding saws.  Yes that’s a Japanese brand of professional pruning saw, not a Harry Potter Quiddich broom.  We launched what the military calls a movement to contact.

Movement to contact:  Cross the line of departure into the backcountry.  Search for the enemy.  Find the enemy.  Maneuver and destroy the enemy.

What’s the enemy?  The enemy is blowdowns.  Here’s our after action report:

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We made contact almost immediately after entering the backcountry.  This little one must have been an enemy scout.  We needed to demonstrate practice and teamwork.  Rachael dispatched it without fanfare.

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Must be getting closer to the main body.  We unlimbered the big saw.  With the team taking turns, Jim Grant’s crosscut dispatched this enemy outpost posthaste.

I wish my grandfather could see and hear this.  This saw was the best you could buy at the time.  I hope he would be proud that it’s still productive.

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The secret to success it taking turns.  That way nobody gets tired.  This crew had a seven limber arms in the bullpen.  We used all of them.

Missed you Sam Keener.  Sam is the only Hoodlum with a good excuse.  She was running the Boston Marathon.  BTW, she smoked it.

We didn’t always use the heavy artillery.  The lighter silky saws did their share.  Slo mo on the replay.

Ana clears an obstacle!

The outer defenses are defeated.

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Lunch prior to the main objective.  These are grad students from the Johns Hopkins school of public health taking a needed break from thesis season.

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Happiness is…

All told, we made four stream crossings and hiked down to the fifth.  The water is about 12 inches deep.  Don’t fall in.

The wedges keep the kerf open so that it doesn’t close and pinch the saw.

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The objective.  In total, we defeated nine blowdowns.

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Clearing the battlefield.

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Victory party at the Elk Wallow picnic area.  First in two years.  You go Hoodlums!

R&R at the Hoodlum’s home base, the Indian Run Maintenance Hut.

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This is better than the sunrise at Campobello.  Eat your heart out Teddy.  That’s my morning coffee on the reflector fire wall.

A little drama in the morning breeze as Steve’s tent decided to take itself for a walk.

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Turn the page to Sunday.  Marching in, we found a benchmark for the original AT which was moved away from Skyline Drive a long time ago.  It’s amazing what you can find without the summer vegetation choking the view.

Let’s switch gears from trail crew to the AT section that Caroline Egli and I maintain.

If you recall, last month we cut logs to replace rotting drainage structures.

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We were joined by Caroline’s father.  The first thing we did was camouflage an illegal campsite by spreading dead fall and leaves over the bare spot.

We replaced rotted logs.

Sometimes twenty-somethings vent a little.  It’s about a couple of good guys who downplayed how tough busting rocks was for the North Marshall crew with whom Caroline worked the day before.  You tell ’em lady!

She said she was strong!  She drove the pick clean through the log.

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Good time had by all!  That’s why I love this life and these people.

Sisu

Hoodlums spring cleaning!

Caroline is a beast!

Shenandoah National Park, March 19, 2022 — The daffodils are up and so is the Hoodlums trail crew.  Yesterday 26 Hoodlums gathered in three different places to begin spring cleaning on the north district’s hiking trails.

The three groups gathered at the North Marshall trail head, Piney Ridge and the Pass Mountain blue blaze trail.  My assignment was to report to North Marshall where Caroline and I won the bonus prize of breaking big rocks into little ones with sledgehammers!

Ultimately fate spared us and our mission changed.  We were dispatched on a blowdown search and destroy mission.  So, that’s the story we can tell.

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Photo by Mike Gergely

The Pass Mountain crew, led by Head Hoodlum and north district blue blaze district manager, Noel Freeman, removes a large locust blocking the trail.  The trail is in a federally designated wilderness, so muscle-powered tools  are required.

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While everyone else was “working,” Caroline and I were eating blowdowns for lunch with my Stihl MS 261 with a 20″ bar.  That’s the military equivalent of an 8 inch howitzer.

Our itinerary included a big honker on the Gravel Spring hut blue blaze access trail, a smaller one on the AT near the Keyser Run parking access trail and several near Beahms Gap and Neighbor Mountain.  We left for our first objective at 0920.

A hiker told us the blowdown at Gravel was near the bottom so we used the fire road to get closer.  Oops.  Not so fast.  The tree broke apart after we sawed it.  Made it easier to move for sure.

The tree we were after was a hundred yards up hill from the hut.  The double trunk and the slope made bucking this one a little more challenging than normal.  The base was about 20″, making the salami slices large and heavy.  Caution required.

We’re not fake news.  Not every chunk we moved went as smoothly as the one at the top of this page.

In this case, Caroline is the “swamper” or sawyer’s helper.  Her job is to caddy the saw, and help remove the debris.

Ultimately the path was cleared.  The two blowdowns near Gravel Spring consumed nearly an entire tank of gas.  In comparison, I can usually saw for an entire day on a single tank.  We finished at 1140 and drove to Keyser Run parking for lunch.

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Our next objective seemed fairly simple, but it wasn’t.  The fall created several spring poles,  live trees bent over and held down.  Spring poles can be very dangerous.  The amount of energy stored in any one of them can be shocking.  Don’t let the size of these saplings fool you.

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Caroline checks out one of the spring poles.  She was surprised at how much energy was released when I demonstrated an improper cut on one of the tiny ones.

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The first blowdown at Beahms Gap.  It was a single cut.  The rest were similar.  Nothing found on the hike over Neighbor Mountain.  Time out:  1530.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Mother Nature never seems to run out of blowdowns.  That said, Caroline was disappointed that she didn’t get to bust rocks.  Maybe next time…

Sisu

The final act. The curtain falls.

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Shenandoah National Park, November 26, 2021 — While Black Friday shoppers ravaged suburban malls and cyber stores, we five chose a day of service to prepare a bit of the AT for winter.

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I packed the car while the turkey was cooking yesterday.  The chainsaw comes along for the ride in case it’s needed to obliterate a blowdown too large for a pruning saw.

An unanticipated snow squall nearly forced us to stop at one point on Skyline Drive in the park. 

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Not much snow.  Most of it melted, but it did cover the tool cache when we picked up some tools.

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We hiked to the top of the mountain and then fanned out to rake leaves out of the waterbars.  The power of five did the job in two hours.  That’s 10 hours of labor, about average, so it all makes sense.

We want the leaves out so they don’t freeze and dam the flow of water through the waterbars which are features that shunt rain and snow melt off the trail to prevent erosion.

After work we retired to the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville, VA for wood fired pies.

This is the last required maintenance of the year.  Next up will be the monthly inspection hike in December looking for damage and blowdowns.

Sisu