Thursday, June 23, 2016

Week 5: June 1-5, 2016

(Crew 2 gets a turn at top billing on the blog this week, scroll down for the Crew 1 report.)

Crew 2: Standing Indian Mountain Rehab

working with Nantahala Hiking Club in North Carolina near the Georgia border

Click here for the full photo album.

Report from Assistant Crew Leader Justin Farrell:

The fifth week for crew 2 was a continuation on a three week project at Standing Indian Mt., this being the second week of three. Once again, we had a Service Learning group, but as opposed to last week, these folks were from Virginia Tech. 

 Several had just recently graduated and were going to receive their Masters and PhDs in their respective fields, and a few are still currently in the midst of earning their four year degree. It became very apparent that there was no lack of mental intelligence this past week, which was even more impressive because none of the volunteers were over the age of 25. Also, the crew leaders very much appreciated the group's craving to learn and the positive attitude they brought with them.

This was a continuation of last week’s project, so once again the crew’s objective was to slow down water and erosion on the gullied-out ridge top of Standing Indian Mountain. 

The project now has the unofficial nickname of “Standing Blister”, due to the toll the hike takes on the volunteers’ feet, but thankfully the crew leader, Dr. Dave, was always ready with his blister kit. 

Not to be slowed down by a few measly blisters, the crew took on the task of moving several monster sized rocks. ("Monster-size" is an official trail work measurement, usually meaning hundreds of pounds). A few of the rocks took the whole crew to move, but thankfully we had a coxswain with us to lead the folks in the movement of the rock, and grant us with the extra energy we needed. 

After those ginormous rocks were moved by the crew with the brute strength of an ox, the rocks were placed in the ground as steps ever so precisely, like a sculptor creating a masterpiece. The crew not only bonded over these tasks, but at the end of each day there was a group reflection to process the day's happenings and to ponder what the near future would have in store for each individual’s life... which was most often moving more obstructive rocks, literally and figuratively.

At the end of the week, the Nantahala Hiking Club treated us to Thai food in Franklin, North Carolina. As I sat and ate, I saw many smiling faces, except for those who had ordered something slightly too spicy, but afterwards we went to Dairy Queen to cool our burning tongues and that’s when I saw all faces reflecting high spirits. It was the perfect way to end a week of difficult manual labor deep in the woods.

This crew was able to complete several more high priority steps along the Appalachian Trail, and not only does Konnarock appreciate their work, but many hikers offered their thanks as well. Hopefully Virginia Tech will join us again next year, but whether or not they return to the crew, these students will be an asset to whomever they decide to serve. 

Thank you crew 2! OWWWW!

Crew 1: Highcock Knob Relocation

working with Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club in the James River Face Wilderness in Central Virginia

Click here for the full photo album.

Report from Assistant Crew Leader Brian Allgood:

For Week Five’s project, Crew One headed up to Central Virginia to the highest point in the James River Face Wilderness: Highcock Knob. This is a challenging relocation project that will likely require several more years to complete. The objective of this relocation is to eliminate the dangerously steep section of trail on the north side of the knob by installing a long double-legged switchback. Many hikers (including several crew members) reported slipping and falling on the steep, slick tread of the current trail--proving this is a worthwhile relocation. 

The work site is located about an A.T. mile north of Petite’s Gap which is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The site can also be accessed by a combination of the abandoned Marble Springs Trail and the A.T., making for a slightly longer and steeper hike on the way in, but the hike out is all downhill. Both options prove to be fairly strenuous hikes, especially when carrying heavy tools.

The crew’s campsite this week was a particularly nice spot next to the beautiful spring-fed Watson’s Pond. At night, *most* crew members enjoyed being sung to sleep by a symphony of frogs. The drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to and from the trailhead each day was incredibly scenic, and passed several overlooks with far-reaching views of the mountains and valleys far beyond. In the mornings the valleys were covered in fog - a truly spectacular site. 

As previously mentioned, the new trail will be a double-legged switchback. The difference between the working conditions on the two legs of this switchback is night and day.

The upper leg is mostly straightforward traditional sidehill digging, with little cribbing or rock work required. The work on the lower leg is highly technical and tedious, requiring extensive rock work with almost no simple sidehill digging. The crew had many problems to solve, but were able to come up with creative, sustainable solutions.

During the first two work days, most of the crew worked to finish up structures and solve a few problems on the section of trail that had already been started on the lower leg. This included the installation of several steps, an extensive amount of crib work, and creating a seemingly endless amount of crushed rock to fill in the cribbed sections. In addition, several large chunks of bedrock were shaped to better accommodate foot traffic. Crew members who had never dug sidehill got to acquire this skill by working with the local Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club on the upper leg.

At the end of the second work day, the crew was treated to an amazing feast provided by the NBATC. The club drove all the way up to the crew’s campsite with one heck of a spread, including delicious homemade BBQ and a ton of awesome sides, refreshments and desserts. Good times and conversation were had by all. The crew was truly humbled by the hospitality of the club. We can’t thank you all enough!

Refueled from the night before, the crew was ready to knock out one more tough day of work on the lower leg. Since all the loose ends had been tied up on the section of trail that was previously started, the crew was able to begin working on brand new trail. From that point on, all of the construction consisted of extensive cribbing. Much of this work was very tedious due a very deep layer of duff and high amount of large roots where the base of the crib wall was installed. Two teams worked on the wall while a few people jumped ahead to begin excavating trail on the climb beyond the wall. At least two people made crush at all times. 

The crew made it out just in time to avoid a thunderstorm while still getting in a full work day. That being said, the crew avoided the rain all week while in the field. A few minor showers occurred while the crew was in the shelter of camp, but nothing major until the final night. The crew experienced quite a light show from their tents while buckets of rain fell and thunder roared.

The crew ended the week with a scenic detour the final morning to check out the James River Foot Bridge. This is a significant landmark on the A.T. since it is the longest footbridge on the trail as well as the lowest point in Virginia, and is cleverly named to honor NBATC hero Bill T. Foot. Click here to see a recent story about the Foot Bridge highlighted by local TV station WDBJ7 in their "Appalachian Trail By County" series.

Good job, Crew One, for toughing it out and putting in some awesome work on this challenging project!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Week 4: May 21-25, 2016

Crew 1: South of Stecoah Gap Rehab

working with Smoky Mountains Hiking Club at the southern end of the Smokies in North Carolina

Click here for the full photo album.

For Week Four’s project, Crew One headed back down to Stecoah Gap, NC for further rehabilitation efforts in the section south of there. The drive to and from the gap is long and scenic only allowing for three days of work, but what a productive three days they were!

After the long drive down on the first day, the crew had just enough time to establish camp, hike in the tools, and assess the project so the crew could get right to work the next morning. Work resumed where Week Two’s crew had left off on a series of log steps in a switchback. Not many materials were left over from Week Two so more logs and stakes needed to be cut and crush needed to be made. Once that process was underway, three teams of two went to work placing and setting the log steps. Once working quarters became too close, a team dropped down to another area in need of a series of log steps. Volunteers were able to swap tasks every so often to give everyone a chance to install a step.

 After the log work was finished, a team led by Konnarock veteran and rock work expert, Clark, jumped down the trail for some rock work in two different sections. In one spot, a small staircase was constructed to make the climb over a large chunk of bedrock safer. In the larger of these two projects, a rugged section of trail traversing a rock field was cleaned up and made smoother, and several steps were built.

Meanwhile, another team worked on a short relocation just below the previously mentioned switchbacked log staircase to bring the trail up to a safer, more sustainable grade. This required some sidehill excavation as well as a small rock crib and a few more log steps at the bottom to stabilize the area where the new trail traversed a sloped piece of bedrock.

During the evenings this week, the crew was able to enjoy the pleasant temperatures by relaxing around camp while long time K-Rocker, Cool Breeze, played his pennywhistle. Breeze has an impressive and eclectic repertoire of songs gathered other the course of more than 30 years of practice. One night, the crew had fun playing “name that tune”.

Other entertainment was provided by Jim and Tony’s dishwashing routine. Let’s just say Tony is a real stickler for clean dishes and is very passionate and vocal about it. Jim just likes to get things done in a quick and efficient manner. He liked to give Tony a hard time about taking forever to wash each dish, and Tony liked to explain in great detail what he was doing and why it was important. To make a long story short, when they finally finished no one could deny that Konnarock’s plastic dishware sparkled like never before.

Another large priority this week was to install a new switchback to eliminate a steep, root-covered, heavily eroded climb or descent (depending on the direction of travel). This unsafe, difficult-to-navigate spot had been a problem for many years. The digging was tough due to the thick layer of roots and the many rocks of varied shapes and sizes that one often encounters in sidehill excavation.

Other than the overall slow nature of the digging, no major issues were encountered until the time came to connect the upper leg to the lower. Since the mountainside was so steep and the duff layer so thick, a proper trail could not be dug where the switchback landing was to be. This issue was not encountered until the eleventh hour on the last day. It was imperative for the switchback to be completed since this was the crew’s last week in the the area, and the upper leg had already been tied into the preexisting trail. Crew Leader Jerry’s solution was to build a “western style” landing out of the plentiful rock slabs that had been unearthed during the sidehill excavation. Thankfully, all other teams had finished their projects so everyone was able to pitch in and make everything come together in an epic power hour beyond compare!

The crew celebrated this tremendous feat with a well-earned and much appreciated dinner at the Wildwood CafĂ© in Fontana Village courtesy of our friends in the Smokey Mountains Hiking Club. After dinner, the crew enjoyed checking out the famous Fontana “Hilton” Shelter and an evening stroll out on the dam - a pleasant way to end the week.

As productive and fun as this week was, it would not have happened without a great crew and great teamwork. Thanks everyone for the good times and hard work!

Crew 2: Standing Indian Mountain Rehab

working with Nantahala Hiking Club in North Carolina.

Click here for the full photo album.

From Assistant Crew Leader Justin Farrell:

The fourth week for crew 2 was the start of a three-week project on Standing Indian Mountain in North Carolina, just 10-15 miles North of the Georgia-North Carolina border. 

Our crew was blessed with an amazing cast of veterans from the University of Central Missouri Military and Veterans Success Center, with trail names such as Butters, Beer Run, PawPaw, Iron Mike a.k.a. Magic Mike a.k.a. Sawyer, Canada, Spot, Lt. Dan, and Stockdale.

The first day consisted of a 2 ½ mile hike, with an 1100 ft. elevation gain, all with tools in hand, which everybody took with a positive attitude that one would expect from military veterans. After the strenuous hike to the top of the mountain, we started work with various tasks.

Our main purpose was to slow the erosion due to water in gullied-out sections along the ridge top by placing check steps to slow that water down. The trail was also being crowded out by beautiful yet pesky rhododendron and mountain laurel, so a few brave souls were tasked with cutting many of those down. I believe those folks now understand why it is called “Rhododendron Hell”.

The UCM folks had an added agenda since they were doing this as part of a Service Learning project, which was a fantastic experience for Crew Leaders Dave and Justin to be a part of. They had separate objectives they wanted to achieve outside of Konnarock’s goals, and in the process, everyone was able to learn something about each other that they didn’t previously know. Every night there was a group reflection, which was an exceptional way to process the happenings of the day, some good, some bad, and ruminate on more profound thoughts about life, personal and broad. Although some of it was emotionally taxing, we all felt surprisingly refreshed at the end of the week.

Along with being a wonderful memory for everyone involved, this crew also did an impressive amount of work, despite the hike being more of a trudge. Several check steps were installed, and the trail received a much needed facelift due to the hundreds of feet of overcrowding trees that were cut back. Thank you again Crew 2! We hope to work with you all again in the future! OWWW!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Week 3: May 13-17, 2016

Crew 1: South of Scales Rehab
working with Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club with the help of Hardcore and Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club.

Click here for the full photo album.
From Assistant Crew Leader Brian Allgood:

Week Three for Crew One was not just any ordinary week. This week the Konnarock Crew hosted Hardcore, a Trail Days event in which hikers can sign up to participate in two days of trail work.

Traditionally, this event has been led by Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club, but was handed over to Konnarock this year since no large scale work requiring serious man power was needed in Eastman’s section this year. This is largely due to Hardcore’s good works in that section over the past 15 years.

That being said, the extra hands were greatly appreciated and vital in rehabilitating this year’s chosen section because it was in need of some serious work! 

The work took place in Konnarock’s home stretch of A.T. in the Mount Rogers High Country, just south of Scales. The trail was badly braided, heavily eroded, and deeply gullied. Heavy foot, pony, and cattle traffic as well as a relatively higher level of precipitation and lack of trees are all contributing factors to trail erosion in this sensitive area. 

The goal was to bring the tread level up and to prevent further erosion by installing both rock and log steps, check steps, water bars, and grade dips. The braiding problem would be fixed by junking up social trails with rocks, debris, and transplanted blueberry bushes to discourage traffic of any kind.

The crew spent the first two official work days setting the stage for the event. This included flagging where steps would be installed, scouring the area for suitable rock, and then rolling, hopping, or carrying the rocks to their designated locations to be installed over the course of the following two days by Hardcore. The black locust logs, which had been cut during the two “off days” prior by especially committed volunteers and staff, were also carried up to their designated sites.

 Special thanks goes out to Evan Blevins and Stephen Hmurciak of the US Forest Service (Mount Rogers NRA) for hauling in 4 tons of gravel and enough black locust logs to build 84 steps!

These were very labor intensive days because heavy materials were being moved all day with little down time. In addition to all of this strenuous prep-work, the kitchen tarp had to be re-pitched three different times after being blown over by the especially high winds this week. That in itself was a difficult task!

The crew this week was no ordinary crew, and this was no mistake. Some of the most highly skilled and experienced Konnarock veterans were recruited for the event to act as crew leaders. Each crew member was given a section of trail and was in charge of leading a group of 4-6 Hardcore volunteers to complete the work in their designated section. 

The Hardcore volunteers consisted of mostly current and former thru-hikers with varying levels of trail building experience. The less experienced folks were able to acquire new skills while experiencing firsthand what actually goes into quality trail work. Many of the Hardcore alumni even reported learning something new!

Although very cold, windy, and sometimes rainy during the preliminary work days the weather slowly cleared and warmed allowing for the project to go off without a hitch. Everyone was able to celebrate back down at basecamp with home cooked barbecue prepared by our amazing camp coordinator, Janet, with the help of members of Mount Rogers A.T. Club. They definitely worked at least as hard if not harder than the actual crew during this project! A special thank you goes out to them.


At the end of it all, an incredible amount of work was accomplished. About a quarter-mile of trail was completely transformed. The high quality of the work is the perhaps the most impressive part of this job considering the large scale, varied levels of volunteer experience, and short amount of time spent on the project. 

This simply would not have been possible without the help and guidance of our beloved Konnarock veterans. Thanks guys, you really stepped it up on this one! A huge thanks also goes out to Tennessee Eastman, Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club, the U.S. Forest Service, and all who took the time to volunteer this week. The hard work that was put into this event, both behind the scenes and on the ground, will pay off for many years to come.