Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Week 3: May 19-23, 2017

Crew 1: Buzzard Rock Rehab **Damascus Hardcore Project**

working with Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

Week 3 of the Konnarock Trail Crew season was no ordinary experience for Crew 1.  This was the week of the annual Damascus Hardcore trail crew event, a Trail Days tradition celebrating its 17th year.  

Originated by the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club under the charismatic leadership of Bob Peoples, Hardcore (properly pronounced in the Bostonian “Hahd-cohw”) is an opportunity for current thru-hikers to give back to the AT and learn about trail work.  

After 15 years, Tennessee Eastman met their own goals for the program in their state and passed Hardcore off to ATC’s Konnarock Trail Crew in partnership with the Mount Rogers Trail Club.

For 2017, Hardcore took place on the bald upper slopes of Whitetop Mountain, the second highest mountain in Virginia (5518’).

The Buzzard Rock formation was the focus of the project, where existing stone steps on the trail had blown out and shifted over time, making for challenging and potentially unsafe footing. Other areas of the trail had become considerably gullied in the absence of drainage and trail hardening structures.  The required work was ambitious indeed, and worthy of the extra crew capacity that Hardcore would bring to the table. 

To effectively manage a large group of thru-hiker volunteers, many of whom had no prior experience with trail work, an all-star team featuring multiple-year alumni of the Konnarock volunteer program was recruited for Crew 1.  Each Konnarock volunteer would serve as an assistant crew leader in his or her own right, leading small groups of hikers on sections of the trail. 

To prepare for the arrival of the Hardcore crew, Crew 1 spent two days on Whitetop quarrying rocks suitable for the construction of sustainable stone staircases, check steps, and water bars.  Selecting and transporting well-shaped rocks weighing hundreds of pounds was no easy task, and required a tremendous amount of strategy and teamwork.  

To make matters more challenging, the crew was exposed to the punishing weather conditions on the unprotected slopes of Whitetop, which included two thunderstorms, marble-sized hail, and white-out fog - not to mention some blazing sun on a few rare occasions.  Although the presence of lightning forced Crew 1 to temporarily seek lower ground on several occasions, the indomitable team returned to work as soon as safely possible to maximize preparations for the big event. 

On the third day the hikers arrived, accompanied by members of Tennessee Eastman and the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).  Working like a fine-tuned machine, Crew 1 divided into strike teams according to plan, with each Crew 1 member leading 2-4 hikers.  After covering safety and proper tool usage, the teams dispersed to their sections and proceeded to install some quality structures.  

Copious digging was accompanied by ferrying buckets of gravel provided by the US Forest Service.  With the extra muscle provided by the Hardcore participants, Konnarock was able to accomplish an astonishing amount of work -  considering that half a day was lost to rain, and even when it wasn’t raining a dense white fog carpeted the entire work site. 

In between the wet, clammy, yet productive work days on Whitetop, Konnarock and the Hardcore team were treated to two catered dinners from Damascus’s In the Country restaurant, served by members of the Mount Rogers A.T. Club at Beartree Campground.  

ATC’s Virginia Regional Director Andrew Downs and Bob Peoples himself each said a few words to the participants before official 2017 Hardcore t-shirts and patches were distributed to all.  Though everybody and their gear was damp and chilled by the elements, spirits were high and many hikers shared their appreciation for gaining an insight into the methods and exertions of trail building.

For their part, the central Crew 1 team camped in a separate site at Beartree where they could sit around a modest campfire and reflect upon the day’s work each evening.  By the final day of the Konnarock project week, the hikers and club members had moved on, and Crew 1 ascended the misty slopes of Whitetop one last time to put some finishing touches on two staircases so that they would be left in suitable condition for hiking traffic.  

Able to focus their efforts on these few structures, the crew moved fast and by lunchtime had built the staircases to a suitable state of completion.  As the winds accelerated and yet more rain started to fall, Crew 1 packed up tools before making the week’s final hike through the soggy fields of the Whitetop bald.

All told, Konnarock led the Hardcore trail crew participants in the installation of over 70 stone steps and 6 stone water bars. Literally tons of rock and gravel had to be transported by human strength in this undertaking, and this amount of work could not have been accomplished in the allotted time without the generous contributions of every volunteer.  29 hiker volunteers chose to spend two days in very adverse weather conditions giving back to the AT.  The consistently positive attitudes throughout this difficult and strenuous work is a testament to the spirit of volunteerism that continues to animate and sustain the AT so that all may enjoy it. 

A big thank you goes out to all the current thru-hikers and Hardcore alumni who donated their time and energy to this project.  Thanks also to the members of the Tennessee Eastman Club, Mount Rogers Club, and ALDHA for their participation in the event.  Finally, a special thanks to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Forest Service staff Evan Blevins and Stephen Hmurciak for delivering a ton of crushed gravel so close to the work site.  Through the combined and coordinated efforts of all parties involved, the 2017 Hardcore program achieved major accomplishments and the trail at Buzzard Rocks will benefit for decades to come.

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader

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