Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Week 12: July 30-August 3, 2016

Crew 1: Sinking Creek Mountain Relocation

working with Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club near Newport, Virginia

Click here for the complete photo album.

For the final week of the 2016 season, Crew One revisited Sinking Creek Mountain in Southwest Virginia to continue construction on a relocation near the top of the mountain.

Since the new trail is routed across several boulder fields, and the work in these spots is more tedious and technically challenging, the Crew has been focusing their efforts in these areas. This week, they certainly had the right team for the job.

All of the Crew consisted of alumni and included several current and former leaders on other trail crews: Leah Bradley of the Ice Age Trail, Billy Williams of the Mountains to Sea Trail, Artie Hidalgo of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, former Konnarock Assistant Crew Leader Davis Wax, and of course Clark Britt who has basically been the unpaid third crew leader on Crew One all season.

Also on the Crew were John Tatara, a 17 year Konnarock alumnus and volunteer at the ATC headquarters office in Harper's Ferry; plus Rachel Moses, Michael Arthur, and Steve and Joyce Hicks - all returning for their second or third year. Needless to say, a considerable and surprising amount of progress was made.

The week kicked off with Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club’s Corn Boil, an annual potluck of epic proportions where the Crew made sure to pack in as many calories as possible to fuel them through the week. The amount and variety of food that was served was downright amazing, not to mention delicious. A HUGE thanks goes out to RATC for inviting the Crew to their event, especially before they had accomplished any real work. Rest assured, they earned it over the next few days.

A gap had been left from week eight where a massive piece of slanted bedrock had been uncovered in the first boulder field leading up to a steep ledge covered in large tree roots. In order to build, the base of the structure would need to be pinned with rebar so the Crew had pack the hammer drill and generator up the mountain. They were lucky to have Davis, who was in the middle of a thru-hike, to pack the 50 lb. generator up the steep ascent.

This project in particular proved to be quite a technical challenge and required a great deal of rock shaping. Thankfully, Artie was willing to share his wisdom and knowledge with a few others throughout this project, and together they turned a mess into a masterpiece of a staircase.

A few other lingering projects from week eight needed to be tackled as well including installing some retaining gargoyles on a series of stone steps and finishing up an extensive crib wall.

The rest of the work took place in virgin territory, through the next two boulder fields. The trail was nearly completed through one, and a solid start was made on the other. As stated, no one imagined what a productive week it would be considering the nature of the work.

To aid progress, RATC showed their dedication as usual by making an appearance each day. Several folks from the Virginia Regional ATC Office in Roanoke also came out to help. A special thanks goes out to both parties as their expertise is always appreciated in the field.

Though the Crew worked hard this week, they also had plenty of fun around camp at Joe’s Trees Christmas tree farm feeding the farm animals and passing the time with good conversation with old friends. Thanks again to the folks at Joe’s Trees for letting the Crew use this wonderful spot.

On the way home, since the rain prevented the Crew from going swimming, they decided to have a bowling tournament in Blacksburg followed by lunch at Bull and Bones Brewhaus - not a bad way to end the week!

Thanks to the especially great group of folks who came out this week, whose unparalleled dedication and expertise made it possible for the Crew One to finish the season strong, and more importantly, injury free; and to all who took the time to volunteer this season to continue to make the A.T. what it is. Simply, the Trail would not exist without you all. It’s been a good one, see you next year!

Crew 2: Backbone Rock Relocation

working with Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club near the TN-VA state line

Click here for the complete photo album.

This week for Crew 2 was another returning project from earlier in the season at Backbone Rock in Tennessee. We were working with the Tennessee Eastman Club to relocate a very steep section of the trail that goes up at about a 50% grade, to a mellower, sustainable grade. 

This is one of the more physically tasking projects we have had this year, with the hike starting off with approximately 160 stairsteps, about a mile and a half up a ridge at a considerable grade, and the work for the day was constant sidehill digging. Crew 2 was whooped by the end of each of these days, but thankfully we had a reprieve from our sore muscles and bones in the form of a creek at the bottom of the mountain. This creek’s maximum occupancy was tested this week, since we had ten volunteers and two crew leaders that basked in it each day. 

Our campground was a special treat this week as well for a couple of reasons. There was an open field with a hill to watch the sunset and stars each night, there were blackberries ripe for the picking, and the sounds and sights of nature were abundant as well.

The Tennessee Eastman Club showed their appreciation for the volunteers with an infamous barbecue from one of their club members. We ate pulled pork sandwiches, macaroni salad, cole slaw, baked beans, and banana pudding. We also went into the town of Damascus one night and ate at place named Bobo MacFarland’s, where a few of the daring volunteers ate chicken livers, and some of the more daring volunteers were hoping to get on stage and sing karaoke. Unfortunately or fortunately for the audience, we had missed karaoke night by just one night.
On the last day of the week, we had a special celebration, with this being the last week of the Konnarock season! There was plenty of adult beverages to go around, and several familiar faces from the season showed up to join in the festivities. We had a slide show from the season, and a special award was given to all of the staff for an injury free season! It was a very special time for everybody, and it was great to see all of the folks from different crews, clubs, organizations, etc. all enjoying each other’s company.

Not only did crew 2 this week wrap it up with an injury free season, but we were also able to dig an impeccable 940 feet of new trail! A big appreciation goes not only to Crew 2 this week, but to everyone who volunteered with us this year. We hope to see you all again next season. Thank you Crew 2! OWWWWWWWWWWWW!

Week 11: July 22-26, 2016

(Crew 2 gets top billing on the blog this week, scroll down for the report from Crew 1 at Seng Ridge)

Crew 2: Rockfish Gap Rehab

working with Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club in Central Virginia

Click here for the complete photo album.

This week Crew 2 came back to a project that we had started earlier in the season at Rockfish Gap in Virginia with the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club. Our mission was to finish a staircase at a very crucial place on the trail.

Rockfish Gap has several facets of importance: historical, the location where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets the Skyline Drive, and it's also the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park. Check out Crew 2's entry from Week 9 for more detail about the significance of Rockfish Gap.

Thankfully, to help us along, we had piles of pre-cut rock and other rip-rap that had been dropped off before we arrived. Crew 2 was a small but mighty crew this week, with only five volunteers alongside the two crew leaders, but I am proud to say that we were able to get the job done and more, even with the weather being around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with full sun exposure and little to no breeze.

Needless to say, we were a little more liberal with long breaks in the shade this week. To help us out with this weather, we stayed at Lake Sherando campground and had a lake to swim in at the end of each day along with a hot shower to sooth our sore muscles.

When there is work to be done, there is also play to be had, and we certainly did that in a multitude of ways. One of the nights, the club was so gracious as to have a Hawaiian themed cookout for us, fully equipped with Hawaiian shirts and leis. We ate pineapple chicken and ham, and for dessert we had a pineapple upside down cake.

Another night, we all went in to town to eat at the Chinese buffet. This was a must since we had one volunteer from Russia who had never been to a Chinese buffet, and this is an essential part of American culture. Thankfully the speed bumps back at the campground didn’t cause anyone’s dinner to come back up, and we were all quick to bed after that.

Last but surely not least, on the way back to base camp we stopped at the D-Day memorial in Bedford, VA to learn a little bit more about American and World history.

With the busy week we had, we were able complete the project and more with a total of 33 rock steps--and even had time to put in a log step down the trail a ways. Again, Crew 2 really appreciates all of the volunteers for toughing out the extreme weather conditions and getting the job done! 

These steps will be here for years, and countless numbers of visitors will hike on them. Thank you Crew 2! OWWWWWWWWWWW!

Crew 1: Seng Ridge Relocation

working with Carolina Mountain Club near Hot Springs, NC

Click here for the complete photo album.

Week Eleven’s project brought Crew One back down to North Carolina for the final time this season to continue construction on the Seng Ridge relocation. For more details on the project, check out Crew One’s blog for Week Six and Week Nine.

The majority of work on this relo has mostly consisted of sidehill excavation with a little rock work here and there. This week, however, the Crew got into a little more rock work than weeks past. Instead of picking up where they left off week nine, the Crew decided to begin the week by building a structure where the new trail would join an old abandoned jeep road to fix a potential problem posed by a seasonal spring flowing into the roadbed.

Since Cherokee artifacts were found in the vicinity during the planning phases of the project, the Crew was under strict orders for disturbance to be as minimal as possible when building trail through the site. This restriction posed a unique challenge, but the Crew was able to adhere to the guidelines by building a causeway using only materials gathered from the roadbed and unearthed during sidehill excavation.

This low impact alternative to a turnpike will allow for the water to flow through the gravel under the tread way, both stabilizing the the trail and making it safer in icy conditions. In addition, a small series of rock steps were installed to harden the tread descending into the causeway.

Several Crew members rewarded a job well done that evening with a short hike out to Blackstack Cliffs to enjoy the sunset. There, they would also find an expected treat in the form of some wild blueberries growing right on the outcropping. Never has a sunset been so sweet.

The following day, the Crew moved on to some sidehill, working back toward where they had left off week nine. As far as digging conditions go, the Crew had no complaints – dry, crumbly soil with relatively few rocks. That is not to say that a few giants lurking beneath the duff layer didn’t have to be persuaded down to tread level with a sledge.

In the midst of the digging, the Crew was greeted by an unexpected visitor – a curious timber rattler. Just goes to show that one can never be too cautious when working on the trail. The Crew had another interesting wildlife encounter two mornings in a row when the Crew was serenaded by the haunting cries of a pack of coyotes nearby during the stretch circle. Perhaps they were summoned by Crew member Jim’s calling since he is a self-proclaimed coyote whisperer.

As work progressed, the Crew would find a few more rock projects as they worked through an area with a few large scattered boulders. The stone work was not only nice change of pace from sidehill digging, but will also make for a more interesting hike.

Once again, the Crew lucked out with the weather this week. The only precipitation occurred while the Crew was under the safety of the kitchen tarp. To everyone’s delight, the water draining off the tarp provided the opportunity for some hand and face washing.

As always on this project, the Carolina Mountain Club came out in full force to dig some trail on the final day. That evening, the Club treated the Crew to an excellent dinner in the well-known A.T. town of Hot Springs, NC at the Spring Creek Tavern. The meal really hit the spot after one heck of week’s work! We cannot thank the Club enough for their support and hospitality.

This week’s Crew was one of the smallest of the season, but proved to be quite a hearty bunch. They must be because by the end of the week, 600 feet of new trail had been completed including a 33-foot-long causeway and several steps! For seven people in three days, one could not ask for more.

Great week, Crew One. HOO-YAH!