Hoodlums Trail Maintenance Workshop

IMG_7673

Shenandoah National Park, September 16 – 19, 2021 — Trail maintainers don’t grow on trees.  We make ’em.  The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has a good track record of teaching the variety of skills volunteers must know to do the needed work; in the right way, and safely – everything from the use of traditional tools and chainsaws to rigging.

IMG_7696

For more than 30 years, the North District Hoodlums trail crew has organized a skill development workshop in September.  The workshop is designed to train people, from fresh first-timers to those with advanced skills, for the challenges they can expect to encounter doing trail work.  We can accept up to 30 participants.

IMG_7710

For sure, trail work isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t an amateur sport either.  The necessary tasks, techniques and procedures are spelled out in manuals and policies.  Knowing what to do and where and how to do it are important if your goal is to protect and preserve the physical trail itself.

Above all is safety.  We use heavy tools, sharp axes and pruning saws, rock hammers, and chainsaws.  We lift heavy logs and rocks.  We skew older.  While we are covered by workman’s comp; it’s best not to test its limits.

Workshop preparation starts a year in advance when the workshop coordinator reserves the space in the Mathews Arm campground.  S/he reviews the lessons from the previous year and discusses them with the various leaders within the Hoodlums crew.  During the summer with September on the horizon people apply, projects are identified, and project leaders appointed.

Several of us came up early to help split firewood, collect and organize the needed tools, and generally help our fearless leader.

EDIT-DSCF7688

Photo by Mike Gergely

For the past 15 years Mark Nebut, who is a professional chef, and his brother and sometimes other family members have cooked scrumptious meals to which we look forward with great anticipation. Note the Coleman propane coffee pot.  This is big time glamping for us.

Other brother Dave Nebut recently took charge of the workshop as our organizer in chief.

20210918_144301

Photo by Mike Gergely

We divided into three work groups.  The advanced and novice groups continued our summer project on Compton Peak.  I led the basic (first timers) group on Pass Mountain.  Ironically, we were working on the first and last mountains in the north district.

The basic group totaled six including me.  We gathered at the Beahms Gap parking lot where we introduced the group to the tools we’d be using and the work we’d be doing.  First the work was demonstrated, then the group members each attempted to replicate the results themselves.

We cleaned or replaced 30 check dams and 24 waterbars.

We also built a rolling grade dip.  That’s a waterbar (drain) that is made of a dirt swale instead of logs or stones.

All told we racked up six hours worth of high energy work which was emblematic of this crew’s enthusiasm.  It was a fun day.

What do you do after a day of hard work?  What else?  Gather around a campfire and share stories.  We made a decent dent in the wood pile.

Sunday featured a half day of classes on how to build a rolling grade dip, the use of string trimmers and swing blades, and on crosscut saws.  The lunch that followed capped the day.

IMG_7656

The Thursday before the workshop was my lucky day.  An Appalachian Conservation Corps (ACC) crew needed a project and I had one ready to go.

The section I maintain sustained some serious damage from a microburst storm right after Hurricane Ida.  The sandy soil had silted up the water control structures.  Immediate repairs were needed to prevent severe erosion.  My Hoodlum colleague Cindy Ardecki helped lead the project.

IMG_7648

The ACC crew is an all-woman AmeriCorps group composed of recent college graduates in subjects such as forest ecology, bio science, environmental science and the like.  Listening to their conversations was fascinating.  Most of them joined the ACC for the experience and help deciding on the direction they wanted to pursue for their careers.

The crew cleaned and repaired waterbars, built rolling grade dips and cleaned and replaced check dams.  Their work will make a huge difference.

IMG_7706

Beauty and the Beast

Breaking news:  The section I’ve been maintaining since 2015 now has a co-maintainer.  Caroline Egli joined the Hoodlums this summer.  She’s eager to learn more about trail maintenance and I can use the help.

After the workshop we hiked what is now our section and discussed the recent work and the work that needs to be done before winter.  For example, once the leaves are down, the waterbars have to be raked out to keep them open.  I normally do this on Black Friday.  Beats shopping.

Otherwise, most times you’ll find us working either the Friday before or the Sunday in conjunction with Hoodlums work trips.

IMG_7675

Once in awhile the views from Skyline Drive are simply spectacular.

Next up:  A hike of the PATC AT 240 from Rockfish Gap to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA.  It starts Friday.  The purpose:  Put a dent in the COVID 15 muffin top.

Sisu

The page turns.

IMG_7563

2021 PATC Ridgeerunners absent Sara at the Blackburn Trail Center on Aug. 26.  L to R:  Witt Wisebram, me, Chris Bowley, Darrel Decker, Kaela Wilber, and Branden Laverdiere.

Shenandoah National Park (mostly) August 26 – September 14, 2021 —  Come Labor Day the summer chapter in our trail story ends and the page turns toward autumn.  The cast of characters is down to one.

When the five o’clock whistle announces the Labor Day weekend wind down, the clock runs out for five of our six ridgerunners.  For them it’s time for next steps.  Two have taken seasonal work with the mid-Atlantic AT boundary monitoring team.  They check surveyor’s monuments to ensure that the bench marks and the witness trees are still there and search for encroachment on federal land.  One headed for Vermont’s Long Trail and there bumped into the ridgerunner who had her job in 2016!  Small world.  Witt returns to endurance running.

Branden is the last man standing, at least until Halloween.  Until then, he’ll patrol Maryland’s 42 miles during the week and spend weekends caretaking at Annapolis Rock.

This year’s team was particularly noteworthy for their dedication, teamwork, innovation, and extra effort.  Everyone associated with them will miss their enthusiasm and presence.

Meanwhile a lot happened before the story ended.

IMG_7620

Chris reported this rat’s nest on the AT in the middle of the north district.

I had time to kill while waiting for Chris to catch up and swamp for me.  Sawyers are not allowed to saw without an assistant – to call 911 when we screw up.  That gave me  time to recon the blowdown and develop a plan of attack.  Along the way I was saddened to discover that my favorite tree in the park had passed.

I first discovered it on a foggy walk in April 2013.  Hikers spend more time looking down than up in order to keep from tripping on the ever present rocks and roots.  In the fog that day, the old oak startled me looking very ominous, reminding me of the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series.  I’ve loved it ever since.  Soon we’ll be sawing up its bits and parts and nature and gravity slowly reclaim it.

IMG_7628

Chris’s did a great job using his folding saw to clear as much as possible to make it easier for hikers to pass.

IMG_7629

Chris acted as the swamper and moved most of the pieces out of the way.

The rest was a simple matter of converting gas to noise by chopping the thing up from left to right.  Now it’s history.  Elapsed time:  10 minutes thanks to the recon.

Is that it?  No!  There’s more.

20210909_145748

You stood tall next to the AT at Beahms Gap until you succumbed to the emerald ash borer.  Now you’ve got to go.  Since you can’t do it on your own, Mr. Stihl will help.

There’s a teaching point here.  Note how the tree is lying across the trail.  What you cannot see and neither could I is the tree’s crown.  There was too much vegetation in the way.  Here’s what happened:

20210909_145930

The part of the trunk on the left side of the photo should not be expected to rise.  The tree was once very tall and the majority of its weight was across another blowdown parallel to the trail.  That blowdown acted as a fulcrum allowing the trunk to rise when cut.  Once in the air I could see clearly what happened.

This is not particularly dangerous.  We are trained to watch for possibilities like this.  Nevertheless, the day you think you’ve mastered the art of bucking blowdowns, you should think again.

20210909_150002

Another blowdown in the history books.

IMG_7633

The next stop was dropping my friend Crissy at a central Virginia trailhead.  She’s walking 500 miles before moving to Colorado to be with her father who is ill.  I’ll join her in a couple of weeks to hike the last half.

IMG_7635

You’d think there would be enough nature on the trails, but noooooo. Backyard buck is chowing down on the landscaping to build strength for the mating season.  Note the cat in the chair.

IMG_7636

While the deer was destroying the flowers, the guard cat could not care less.

Next steps:  Tomorrow brings trail work with an all-woman Virginia Conservation Corps crew followed by the Hoodlums annual instructional workshop on trail maintenance.

Sisu

Hoodlums Crew Week

IMG_7439

Two rock hammers and a rock bar.  Guess what we did?

Shenandoah National Park, August 1 – 7, 2021 — The park is tinder dry, but the moderate temperatures and low humidity made up for the dust exploding in our faces as our picks loosened the dirt and the rocks we needed to move.

We were there for our annual Hoodlums Crew Week, an opportunity for us to tackle big projects requiring time and muscle.

IMG_7430

This time we continued our restoration of the CCC’s work on the AT on the north side of Compton Peak.  The primary objective was to replace a ragged set of steps with something more elegant and practical.  This staircase had to be torn out and rebuilt.

The crew totaled six permanent members and four more who augmented us on various days depending on their availability.  We had to dig up and move almost everyone of those rocks.  That’s what they call a heavy lift.

We lived at the Pinnacles Research Station, our normal crew week hangout, but occupancy was limited to four inside. We had a bug proof enclosure outside where we could socialize and the deer came to visit.

IMG_7411 2

On Sunday I came early so Chris Bowley, our ridgerunner, could join me to do so some overdue weeding, after which we joined the others for dinner and beer.

IMG_7427

Monday and Thursday featured an assist from a Virginia Conservation Corps group made up mostly young folks who are between high school and college.  They helped carry logs we planned to use for our project, built a couple of check dams, and also weeded some overgrown AT sections for us.

IMG_7384

They also helped take out of commission an illegal campsite near the Compton Gap parking lot.  It was a combination campsite and outdoor latrine.

IMG_7428

IMG_7418

After cleaning up the TP tulips and burying the feces, we moved a ton of logs and sticks to make the area unusable.

Campsites that are noncompliant with backcountry regulations are proliferating at an alarming rate  throughout the park.  The culprit is social media, particularly an app called “Guthook.”  Hikers can leave notes and GPS locations visible to all users.  Once a site is established, with the aid of the app, it attracts evermore users until the vegetation is dead and the dirt is bare.  That’s when the erosion starts.

Previously the rangers would try and camouflage the sites, but now hikers can find them with laser precision and easily remove the camouflage.  The next step is denial with dead timber too large for one person to move alone.

IMG_7455

We also found that a popular boulder was being used as a bathroom where children sometimes explore.

IMG_7459

Not anymore.

Everything starts with the foundation.  Dig ’em in deep and they’ll still be there in 50 years.  Also building with larger rocks, aka BFRs, helps prevent bears from flipping them in search of bugs to eat.

This is a behind the scenes look at the reality of setting a step.  Ultimately the entire staircase has to fit together.

IMG_7461

It’s tiring work and the team has to continuously think and talk it over.  Sometimes it looks like chaos.  Sometimes it is.

Ultimately it’s like a giant puzzle.

IMG_7474

Steps 1.0 begins to form.  This configuration would ultimately be scrapped.  Too many voids, the tread wasn’t wide enough.  Most of all, they were ugly.  If it looks bad, it is bad.

IMG_7487

Final version.  If it looks good, it must be good!  We ultimately removed about a third of the steps making the trail much easier to use.

Meanwhile, further up the trail other work was happening.  This is how old men and women get stuff done!

IMG_7496

At this point, we’re returning the tread to its original location.  The rocks we’re digging up were the original CCC rip rap.  Here the trail had become two lanes with the old rip rap in the middle.  The trail from Panorama to Mary’s Rock has done the same.

IMG_7497

We also cut logs to supplement the rock rip rap.  Rip rap is waste rock and other materials used to help keep the tread from expanding; thus preventing erosion.

IMG_7501

We got a lot done.  In fact, we’re about two-thirds of the way through the project.  With luck, we’ll be finished with this trail by year’s end.

IMG_7495

Sometimes unusual things happen.  A woman leading a horse wondered off a nearby horse trail that briefly coincides with the AT.  We helped her get turned around and heading in the right direction.  The AT is foot traffic only with a very few marked exceptions.

IMG_7509

The last day, we split with one group weeding the Pass Mountain blue blaze trail.  I took on an AT section south of Rattlesnake Point.  This was taken after the head was refilled with string.  Crew week over.

IMG_7520

The weekend wasn’t over yet for me.  Sunday the Bears Den hostel was having a hiker festival.  I grabbed my grandpa’s crosscut and set up a station where people could slice off a chunk of log for themselves.  The results were entertaining.  I would carefully explain how the saw works and how important it is that the sawyers each pull, not push.  Let’s see what happened.

Testosterone is not your friend guys.

We had no idea a wedding had just happened.  The happy couple got a unique souvenir and an unusual photo for their wedding album.  The did a good job too, an omen?

The little guys did ok too.

Sisu

The Ridgerunners are at Full Strength

IMG_7068

Brandon can drive with his eyes closed.

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

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

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

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

IMG_7076

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

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

IMG_7081

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

IMG_7121

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

IMG_7083

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

IMG_7092

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

IMG_7115

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

IMG_7135

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

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

 

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

IMG_7094

The mountain laurel are ready to pop.

IMG_7140

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

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

IMG_7149

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

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

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

IMG_7160

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

IMG_7176

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

IMG_7158

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

IMG_7162

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

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

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

IMG_7165

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

IMG_7163

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

IMG_7170

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

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

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

IMG_7173

1960s vintage bike.

IMG_7171

Water and snack break.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisu

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

 

 

 

Black Friday Hike

263D3273-E829-4443-A995-CD2D6243CBDA

Stone walls evoke a certain nostalgia for hopeful yeoman farmers long since passed into history.  The truth is that most of these walls were built by slaves who enjoyed no hope at all.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland, November 29, 2019 —

It was Black Friday and all through the world, the shoppers were teed up to give it a whirl.  The hikers instead would rather not fight, we would go walking with nature’s delights.  And so we did.

The ever-flexible Gang of Four tentatively planned a Black Friday outing.  This iteration was minus two.  Alexis and Catherine were out of state at family celebrations.  Being working journalists, their free time is limited, especially in news-rich times like these.

Tina and I decided we were going anyway.  Her demonstrated determination on this trip and others earned her the trail name “Bulldog!”

We decided to do the Maryland Road Scholar route.  It’s rich with Civil War history, mostly gentle, and has a nice viewpoint.  At nine miles, it’s just long enough for a good workout with delightfully civilized start and stop times.

ED8FFBC8-9A35-461F-97FE-9B6AFA837518_1_201_a

Note the knit cap.  I could not resist noting, as a Red Sox fan, I have several.

After dropping a vehicle at the end point in Gathland State Park, we displaced northward to Washington Monument State Park.  There we dashed up the hill for a quick selfie at the monument to memorialize the start. 

The weather was a crisp 34 F with a light wind.  The scattered clouds feathered some of the sun.  They ultimately evaporated allowing the sol’s rays to befriend us as the temp climbed to the day’s high of 46 F.

67D12198-84C1-4475-941E-2AE2765DAE8E_1_201_a

Lambs Knoll communications towers, reached just after lunch.  From the Dahlgren Chapel.

The route is rich with trail candy.  The first highlight is the Dahlgren Chapel, at Turner’s Gap, immediately followed by the Dahlgren campground, then Fox Gap, Rocky Run Shelter, the White Rocks viewpoint; with an end at Crampton’s Gap.  The lot of it is on South Mountain, the site of several Civil War battles.

BD1FF41B-6F3E-4B15-B562-410058B1EEAA

The campground features showers, tent pads and picnic tables.

Big blowdown at Dahlgren Campground.

402D4F87-044F-464D-8E6E-E97BB370B2C3

The circumference of this blowdown was in the neighborhood of 30 inches.  For scale, the longest bar I have for my chainsaw is 20 inches.

532B053D-91BB-4489-AD8E-1C7103C0F445

Another view.  It’s the devastating work of the emerald ash borer.

We’ve recently had severe winds which knocked down several trees and large limbs.  We were able to clear three small blowdowns with my hand saw.

07FBC85C-49DA-428C-8B94-37A022C67DD5

The “Bulldog” on the attack.

9AB2064E-59BA-43B7-BA1D-E8AB48E8037F

White Rocks viewpoint.

Just after the viewpoint we found an 18-inch blowdown.  That’s way too large for my hand saw, so I reported it to the local trail maintainers.

37531303-7280-47BA-91BE-882956775277_1_201_a

What was this camper thinking? The stuff seems carefully arranged as if cached for later or for someone to find.  Love the socks.

The hike was almost over except for the walk out.  There we were, loping along, looking forward to our traditional post hike burger and a beer, when off to our right was this.

Weekend warriors have a some redeeming values.  For one, they’re out there trying to appreciate nature.  For far too many of them, that’s about it.  Their ignorant behavior overcomes the rest.

For anyone in the ridgerunning world, it’s easy to deride these guys – yes, they’re almost always men. The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor and this exemplifies one of the reasons why.

Women weekenders have few exceptions, they always take a more informed approach.  They do their research, plan ahead, prepare and take care to leave wildlands better then they found them.

Bubbas, on the other hand, are a literal mess.  They fit several cultural identities and stereotypes – lumber-sexuals, cammo-sexuals or ammo-sexuals; preppers and survivalists; middle-age boy scouts; or sometimes the unfortunate homeless.

In no case are these folks educated and aware of how to Leave No Trace.  In every case and  everytime I stumble upon a mess I have to clean up, I ask myself, “What were you thinking?”

The perp who’s the subject of this rant left a 1960s vintage Optimus 8 stove.  I had one in the early 1970s.  The food selection included military MRE packets, sardines, Ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, coffee, a spoon, and assorted other stuff.  Way too much for even a four-day hike if the hiker started Thanksgiving eve.

Here’s the issue.  Had this person planned ahead and prepared, Maryland’s rules would have been familiar.  They are posted at every trailhead, online, and in guide books.  No camping or fires except at designated shelters or campgrounds such as Dahlgren. This was an illegal campsite located less than one-third of a mile from the Crampton Gap shelter which has lots of good secluded campsites.

The current fire danger is high and insufficient space is cleared around the fire ring.  Lastly, you pack it in, you pack it out.  Otherwise it’s animal food.  The volume was approximately three gallons which we wrapped in my pack’s rain cover.  Bulldog schlepped most of it out.

B183B492-44A3-4121-8723-BE31E78AE6BB_1_201_a

After our burgers and beer, the sun was dropping as fast as the temp when we shuttled back to my car at Washington Monument.  Fade to black, Friday.

Sisu and Bulldog

 

A tale of two hikes on the Appalachian Trail

IMG_3790

Me, Mary and Joanne at Nutter’s Ice Cream, Sharpsburg, MD for a pre-hike treat.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland. June 27 – 28, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail is not all work.  Sometimes it’s a truckload of fun.  So it was this week with two different gravel-crunching adventures.

IMG_3791

Making a last gear check in the Penn-Mar Park parking lot.

My ridgerunner friend Mary decided to hike the 47-mile four-state challenge to celebrate her 45th birthday.

Her plan:  Ridgerunner colleague Joanne would support her by car.  Roughly speaking she would hike the first quarter alone.  I would join her for the second quarter, and  her colleague Witt, the current speed record holder at 9 hours and change, would trot the last half with her.

The adventure begins on the AT in PA at the Mason-Dixon line, then passes through MD and a corner of WV at Harpers Ferry.  It terminates where the trail breaks into Virginia territory.  To be official, the hikers have 24 hours to git ‘er done.  The average successful hiker uses close to the entire time.

fullsizeoutput_1f96

It doesn’t count without the predawn selfie.

IMG_3797

Crack of dawn start.

IMG_3802

She’s a blur at Pen-Mar Park.

IMG_3804

She’s off!

IMG_3807

Joanne met Mary at road crossings along the way.  Staying hydrated on a hot day was paramount.

IMG_3809

Blister repair at the I-70 footbridge.  “Dr.” Joanne officiating.

Unfortunately, this is the last known photo.  After handing off Mary to Witt at Washington Monument State Park, about 8 miles later they encountered unforecast thunder, lightning and hail.  The tenderizing effects of head-banging hail caused Mary to call the game at 32 miles.

%FzLXCuxRz+K9+U%WQBV%Q

Flash forward one day to the long-planned first hike of the season for the Gang of Four (minus one).  Our plan:  Annapolis Rock where Mary was on duty as ridgerunner/caretaker.

Green Briar Lake in the background.  Catherine with a Ninja pose and Tina photographing a camera-shy copperhead wedged in a crack in the rock.

KvKDSzi1R1KwW7FgjZ4m6w

Mary, none the worse for wear, warns hikers of the copperhead.

pD6kEM3WQtmcqQJvjQN83g

Best part of the day at Dan’s Tap House.  We missed you Alexis.

Sisu

 

An Ugly Start to the Summer

IMG_3730

Bucky

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Northern Virginia, May 20-24, 2019 — Usually the trail is an undramatic place.  Hikers come and go.  Some even dig cat holes to go in.

This week opened uneventfully and hopeful of good times to come.  I met the short-season Maryland ridgerunner at the Greenbriar State Park visitor center where the rangers with whom we work have their offices.  Bucky was issued his radio, parking permit, apartment key and other such stuff.

IMG_3726

Bucky’s room.  Packs explode when you open them.

We met Mary, his ridgerunner partner, at the apartment.  We drove around pointing out landmarks and key areas.  Then we adjourned to Dan’s Tap House for juicy gourmet burgers before bounding up the mountain to Annapolis Rock where Bucky will spend his first shift as caretaker.  Mary will be patrolling in Maryland.

The sundown faded toward black as Bucky and I arrived at Annapolis Rock.  As the last of the sunset peepers were sliding down the hill towards home, we stowed our gear and made the rounds.  We found only one camper, a thru hiker.  He actually properly hung his food bag on the bear pole.  Score!  After securing the sagging tarp over the picnic table, we called it a day and dove head first into our respective dream worlds.

We woke to the thunderous snoring of Jake brakes and the throbbing pulse of commerce rushing along I-70.  The interstate is invisible from the view point, tucked in behind a low ridge.  When the wind is quiet, its presence is as undeniable as is the drag strip across the valley.

With the crack of dawn piercing the tent walls, we raked the sand out of our eyes and adjourned to the ridgerunner office/picnic table for breakfast.  Two packs of instant oatmeal and a Jet Boil coffee later, it was time to inspect the rock.

Following orientation, we hiked to the Pogo campsite about two miles up the trail.  First we stopped at the Black Rock overlook and scoured the area for trash.

fullsizeoutput_1f31

The desecration of Black Rock and other places is a pastime for local high school kids.  I’m certain Shawna wasn’t present when the perp misogynistically memorialized his conquest.

61331955_2329234233800646_7685918081557725184_n

The good news is that it didn’t last long.  Mary followed up the next day with a bottle of Elephant Snot and a scrub brush.  Bingo.  Like it never happened.

We also checked out Fox Gap where a Civil War skirmish was fought.  New graffiti topped the old.

60876245_2329234513800618_3765478230190981120_n

Once again, Mary and her trusty Elephant Snot to the rescue.  (Learn more about Elephant Snot here.)  All in a day’s work for a ridgerunner, right?

Now it’s time to interrupt this friendly story for a  brief trip to the dark side.

This hiking season has already been marred by a tragic event.  One hiker was murdered and another maimed and nearly killed when someone who was deranged stabbed them.  Click here for details: (How safe is the Appalachian Trail).

The AT attracts 3 million visitors annually.  They represent a cross section of society with all that entails.  Normally hikers are pretty mellow, but this tragedy elevated concern within the hiking community, especially for unbalanced and misogynistic behavior which was reportedly exhibited by the accused killer.

Earlier in the day, a hiker complained to us about another hiker variously called “Yogi Beer,” “Renegade,” or “Air Quotes.”  Bad actors often change their trail names to avoid authorities.  Judging from reports of his behavior, Yogi Beer appears to be a raging alcoholic and possibly bipolar.  He had been aggressively harassing women.

With this in mind, Bucky and I were enjoying the brilliant weather while hiking to the trailhead — Bucky to pick up a bale of wood chips for the Annapolis Rock composting privies and me to my car so I could meet the Northern Virginia ridgerunner for his orientation hike the next day.

Three hikers stopped us to complain about a guy called, you guessed it:  Yogi Beer.  They had first-hand knowledge.  One of them had been concerned enough to snap Yogi Beer’s photo.  We immediately filed an incident report and shared the photo with law enforcement rangers, trail officials and the other ridgerunners.  (Details not shared here to protect the innocent because some of it may be hearsay.) With that, we thought we were done with the dark side.

In the interest of chronology, let’s put the dark side on hold for a minute because we’re not done.  It will be right back after a bit more of our friendly story.

IMG_3733

Witt

Each of our ridgerunners is an expert backpacker.  Occasionally a resume stands out.  Witt has thru-hiked the triple crown – Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.  He also as held the FKT (fastest known time) for the Arizona Trail and is the FKT holder in Maine’s 100-mile Wilderness.  ( Info on the National Scenic Trails System)

Unfortunately for Witt, ridgerunners are more commonly evaluated by the number of contacts they make and the amount of trash they pick up.  That’s slow going for a guy who’s used to moving in the fast lane.

IMG_3738

Along the way we noticed an unusual arrow made of sticks pointing to a path in the woods.

IMG_3739

Somebody wants us to follow the yellow brick road, right?  Naturally we did.

IMG_3735

About 100 yards in we discovered a sign for a hiker hostel.  Unfortunately it’s on National Park Service land, about 20 feet inside the boundary according to the marked trees.  We informed the folks who deal with these issues.  The owner only has to move it off park service property and it’s good.  Commercial ads/promotion isn’t allowed on federal land.

IMG_3740

Stacking rocks has been a thing for awhile.  Cairns and rock art are inconsistent with Leave No Trace principles.  In short:  Leave only foot prints (not rock stacks, painted rocks or graffiti) and take only photos (not flowers, feathers and antlers). Leave those for others to see.

IMG_3743

Boom.  The rocks were widely scattered.

IMG_3744

We hiked 12 miles.  The trash collected was moderate.  Best highlight:  We opened the tool cache at David Lessor shelter.  We immediately noticed a field mouse.  A second later a juvenile Black Snake became obvious.  We left mother nature to her business.  If they could get in, they could get out.

Now we’ll return to the dark side. When we left we were dealing with Yogi Beer.

Turns out Witt and I may have passed a hiker who turned up in an incident report for threats and sexual harassment.  His photo was familiar.  Not long after learning that, a report came in about an abusive hiker at a nearby hostel.

Believe me.  This volume is highly unusual.  Unfortunately, there’s more!

thumbnail3

So, there I was at home in my favorite chair, quietly sipping coffee while reading the New York Times early Saturday morning. The phone rings.  It’s Mary at the Ed Garvey shelter in Maryland.

thumbnail2

She’s found a mess.  The guy in the tent won’t get up.  He doesn’t appear to be under the influence.  She wants to educate him to pack out his trash, not to mention properly hanging his food and not to make the mess in the first place.

thumbnail

Raw chicken is in the mix.  This could attract animals including bears.  Then we’re dealing with a different problem.

Since the camper rolled over and would not get up, she moved a distance away to observe, radioed the Maryland Park Service and waited for the ranger.  Before the ranger could arrive, the guy packed up and left.  She cleaned up the area.

Enough already?  Damn right!

Of note.  Sexual harassment on the trail isn’t a universal experience, but its frequency is way too high.  Sometimes it’s subtle as when one of our women ridgerunners quipped that all she needed was another septuagenarian man-splaining how she should hike.  Other times males go out of their way to tell women they don’t belong on the trail alone or they aren’t strong enough to hike long distances.  Sometimes it’s much more sexually suggestive or worse as when someone attempted to rape a hiker I know.

This is shameful.  Men need to step up and stop this behavior.  We need to own it and step in when we see or hear it.

Incident Reporting:   http://appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/report-an-incident?fbclid=IwAR2dlPHezWWPQy17qyRHUBqR21UWz-GyyrA7xtHD9FgXgZmrtxGLhZ7l73U

Sisu