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!

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