Thursday, July 27, 2017

Week 9: July 12-16, 2017

Crew 2: Sinking Creek Relocation

working with Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

Week nine brought Crew Two back to Sinking Creek Mountain in southwest Virginia to continue construction on a multi year relocation project near the top of the mountain, picking up where they had left off Week 4. For more information on the relo, check out Crew Two’s blog from Week 8.

This week was unique in that the Crew hosted the ATC’s Conservation Leadership Corps, a summer internship program in which young people from diverse backgrounds can come together to experience different forms of conservation work. Also joining the Crew were a few alumni volunteers who were able to provide some pointers in the technical work required in this project.

As usual on Sinking Creek Mountain, the Crew certainly had their work cut out for them. One team worked to finish up the rock and earth steps from week four while the rest worked in the next rock slide rearranging rocks to route the Trail through it and then filled the path with crushed rock. The work was tedious and precarious at times, but before they knew it the trail came together. The volunteers agreed that it was much like a giant game of Tetris.
To reward the volunteers mid-week, Kathryn from the ATC office in Roanoke brought the Crew some delicious Mexican lasagna and ice cream to fuel the progress. Thanks Kathryn!

After working through the rock slide, the Crew divided themselves up among three separate projects. Two teams moved up to the switchback to begin work on a staircase and a crib wall to retain the upper leg just above the landing. Since the two legs of the switchback come together so closely, the crib wall will both deter hikers from cutting and armor the Trail even if cutting occurs.

The other team continued work on the steep exit just beyond the rock slide building a cribbed rock staircase. Both teams got a solid start on these technical projects and scouted out several rocks to be used on next week’s Crew.

As technical and labor intensive as the week’s work was, it was not without it’s rewards. At the end of each day, the volunteers enjoyed the plentiful blackberries growing in the pasture near the Keffer Oak.

Afterwards they would relax at the campsite at Joe’s Trees Christmas tree farm and had fun playing cards and watching the sheep and cattle roaming through the fields. One evening, they even got to see a bear as it sauntered across the field across the road.

The Crew ended the week in style with a refreshing dip in the Falls of Dismal, a popular swimming hole on the AT, on the way home. The swim was especially needed this as this week was the hottest of the season thus far. Afterward, they rewarded the week with pizza at Moondog Pizzeria in Whytheville. After a week’s worth of hard work, let’s just say they had no problem putting away five large pizzas and wings!

Thanks, Crew Two, for another successful week on Sinking Creek Mountain! HYAW!!

--Brian Allgood, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 9: July 12-16, 2017

Crew 1: Highcock Knob Relocation

click here for the full photo album

The final stint at the infamous Highcock Knob loomed ahead as Crew 1 departed from Base Camp and headed for Natural Bridge, VA for the 9th project week of the season.  With the forecast predicting a heat index close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the normally strenuous hike up to the relocation promised to be downright fearsome this time around.  Having analyzed the hazards of the job in advance, Crew 1 prepared by bringing even more water than usual and committing to ascend the trail slowly and deliberately. 

Comprised of a team featuring many new faces as well as a couple of alumni, the crew was finally met with the most difficult section of trail out of the three weeks spent at this project site.  This daunting section was the switchback where the trail had previously been pulled up out of the Pit of Despair and on to a rocky outcropping, resulting in the need to build three separate sets of stone steps at grades up to 35 percent.  Never one to shy away from a challenge, Crew 1 formed a plan of attack and prepared to trounce this trail section head on.

The hike up from Petite’s Gap was just as onerous as expected, with the heat and humidity combining to create a one-two-punch of pain.  Volunteers and Crew Leaders alike were drenched in sweat by the time they reached the top of Highcock Knob, but after a short break to replenish fluids and calories it was time for business.

Jerry and Josh started off with the weekly tool talk before outlining the initial task: a massive quantity of rocks needed to be quarried for steps before any construction could begin on the switchback.  Although there wasn’t too much time remaining in the first work day, volunteers got a chance to get their hands dirty with some rock-hunting and a taste of rock net transporting before it was time to call it quits. 

Having gotten acquainted with the project site, Crew 1 descended back to the vehicles and headed for the signature campsite off of the Blue Ridge Parkway: Watson’s Pond.  In typical style, the kitchen tarp provided for some of the more frustrating moments of the project week, especially considering that one of the paracord lines had been twisted into a knot of Gordian proportions by an unwitting volunteer from the week before (or was this a case of sabotage?!). 

Despite the need for some extra untangling, the tarp was installed without too much trouble and the rest of camp was assembled quickly, including the privy which was dug sans-shovel and with an aluminum can drafted as a shovel impersonator.  As it always does, Watson’s Pond proved to be an idyllic home for the week, with sun glinting off of the water just pleasingly enough to outweigh the discomfort of the resident biting flies. 

The work week really ramped up on the second day, as Crew 1’s ranks were boosted with some additions from the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club.  The rock-quarrying operation cranked into gear as Crew 1 divided into two groups and began transporting rocks that had been identified the day before.  This was no easy task, as many rocks weighed 500 pounds or more and several needed to be dragged uphill a considerable distance.  As difficult as it might sound to excavate and move such massive stones, the wonders of rock bars, rock nets, and teamwork made this mission achievable, although not without a lot of sweat and exertion.  

In the midst of all the activity, Jerry recruited a few helpers and pulled out the Griphoist for its first task of the season.  This seldom-used contraption takes a bit of time to set up, but enables a crew to drag otherwise immovable rocks using the mechanical advantage conferred by pulleys.  That’s exactly what the Griphoist was employed to do, as a truly gargantuan boulder was dislodged from the path of the relocated trail and dragged down to a lower positon (with the help of a few rock bar-wielding volunteers to guide it along the way). 

By the end of the day, the very tired and sweaty crew had made considerable progress in locating and transporting an array of solid step rocks to use on the switchback.  After hiking down to Petite’s Gap, the crew elected to take a well-deserved trip to Fallingwater Cascade to cool off in the clean mountain springs.  There’s nothing quite so refreshing as a waterfall shower after a sweltering day of trail work.  Having attained varying states of less-dirty-than-before, the crew members headed back to Watson’s Pond for a filling meal and some relaxation around the campfire. 

On the third day, Crew 1’s numbers were augmented to a record high (at least for this season) thanks to a larger than average contingent of Natural Bridge Club members in addition to Bethany, a Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) Ranger.  With so many workers willing to lend their skills and brute strength, the day promised to be a productive one.  Quarrying was still the main objective, as many rocks had been previously moved to the tread surface but still had to be carried to the site of the staircases. 

To expedite the transport of rocks from the upper end of the switchback to the lower end, the Griphoist was utilized once again.  This time, the full potential of the mechanical device was realized in the form of a highline system.  This configuration is very time-consuming to set up, but the rewards are great as it enables a limitless quantity of heavy rocks to be “flown” (zip-line style) in a controlled manner from one location to another.  

The use of the highline comes with its own safety hazards, including some tree climbing involved in setup and the risks inherent in any system that contains a thick wire rope held under incredible tension.  Strict safety protocols were thus observed throughout the operation of the Griphoist.  Thanks to the highline system, all of the rocks needed for steps on the lower two staircase sections were flown to the lower end of the switchback with very little human exertion required.  Meanwhile, Natural Bridge Club Vice President Doug DeJarnette was able to lead a contingent of volunteers in starting on the upper staircase while the highline was in operation.

With all of the step rocks finally positioned for easy access near their appointed places, the crew was finally able to start building in earnest on Day 4.  Although the Club turnout was much lower than the day before, Crew 1 had the benefit of a second SAWS Ranger, Stuart, this time around.  Dividing into smaller groups as usual, crew members worked on a variety of tasks.  One group continued working with Doug on the upper staircase - an incredibly steep section.  Another group worked with Josh on initiating the lower staircase, while Jerry led yet another group in construction of some cribbing for tree protection further down the trail. 

Even with the availability of step rocks achieved by two hard days of quarrying, step installation was far from easy thanks to the steep grade on the upper section and the preponderance of roots and protruding bedrock on the lower section.  Nevertheless, volunteers got to enjoy some of the classic problem-solving that goes into any rockwork project, in addition to the omnipresent task of crushing rock into gravel-sized pieces with sledgehammers.  By the end of the day, nine steps graced the upper switchback section, two steps formed the foundation for the lower section, a crib wall provided rock-solid protection for some tree roots, and as an added bonus the Citadel, formerly known as Pit of Despair #1 was finally completed after three weeks.  While the overall number of steps installed was less than other project weeks, the amount of work that went into quarrying and moving all the rocks means that materials are now staged for next year’s crew.  It should hopefully only take another week or two of Konnarock’s work to finish the Highcock Knob Relocation for good!

The final work day was followed by a glorious dinner spread provided by Natural Bridge A.T.  Club members.  The third incarnation of this dinner, delivered right to Watson’s Pond, proved to be just as delicious as the previous two--featuring BBQ, salads, casserole, brownies, and watermelon.  To make matters even better, this dinner featured a special guest in Mike Rieley, President of the Club. 

Having finished work for the week, Crew 1 departed from Watson’s Pond for the last time in 2017.  On the way home, the crew made a stop at the famous Bill Foot Footbridge, and was fully prepared to journey toward the Glasgow Dinosaur except for the fact that a massive blowdown barred the road and forced a change of plan.  Instead, the crew headed for Salem, VA and stopped for Sunday brunch at Mac & Bob’s.  With full stomachs and a week of hard labor under the crew members’ belts, it was a sleepy drive back to Sugar Grove.  Eventually, tools were cleaned and everyone got to take their long-awaited showers at last.

Special thanks to Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club for a stellar showing of volunteers this week.  Crew 1 could not have accomplished nearly so much work without all of this help - especially on such a hot and humid week.  Another thanks goes to Bethany and Stuart from SAWS for coming out to assist Konnarock during the project week.  Finally, thank you to all who volunteered with Konnarock, forming the body of Crew 1 and donating time and energy to the cause of maintaining the A.T.  

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Week 8: July 1-5, 2017

Crew 2: Massie Gap to Thomas Knob Rehab

working with Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

Week eight, Crew Two spent their second week in a row working in their home territory in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. For this week’s project, the Crew moved up to the Mount Rogers high country just south of Thomas Knob to perform some much needed rehab continuing north from where last year’s Crew left off.

Much of the A.T. from Wilburn Ridge to Thomas Knob is in bad need of repair from decades of heavy hiker traffic as well as the meandering Grayson Highlands ponies and longhorn cattle whose grazing is utilized to keep vegetation down on the balds. This traffic combined with the high amount of precipitation that the area receives has wreaked havoc on the Trail. It will undoubtedly require several more seasons of work to get the Trail in ideal condition, but fortunately it is one of the most scenic areas in which one could hope to work.

The particular segment that was rehabbed this week had turned into a gully riddled with social trails and wide spots. The solution was to build rock and earth steps all the way up the section to slow erosion. The Crew divided up into teams of two and installed steps through their sections where needed. Thankfully, they found there to be no shortage of rocks with which to build near at hand.

After installing steps, the tread was then smoothed out and rocks were removed between the steps. It is important to build trail that hikers want to hike or else they will create their own path around the less appealing spots over time, which is exactly what had happened throughout much of the section. To close off those social trails, Crew members drug out the ugliest rocks they could find to “junk up” the unnecessary paths and even transplanted a few blueberry bushes to naturalize the heavily impacted areas.

Being more than three miles from the trailhead at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, this project is a little more backcountry than Konnarock usually takes on. Thankfully, they were able to pull it off with some help from the U.S. Forest Service since Stephen and Jan hauled several loads of gear and tools to and from the campsite with a UTV at the beginning and the end of the week. Thanks to them, the Crew was able to backpack into their campsite and stay within a few hundred yards of the worksite to maximize progress. A tremendous thanks goes out to the Forest Service for their support this week.

Hikers passing by were impressed and perhaps even a little jealous of the Crew’s luxurious accommodations so deep in the backcountry. To keep the camp safe, folks from the local Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club hiked up each day to watch over the gear. One day, Marie from the Club even brought up some homemade shrimp ceviche to share with the Crew for lunch – a very tasty dish and a welcome change from sandwiches. A special thanks goes out to the Club for their help in guarding the camp.

This week coincided with the Forth of July, and the Crew was actually able to see some fireworks far off in the distance on Thursday evening. The resident lightning bugs also provided a light show of their own as well as occasional heat lightning from distant storms. Thankfully the weather held off until the fireworks had ended.

Speaking of weather, the Crew lucked out every day of the project since the only rain came at night – a rarity in the high country. This made not only for excellent hiking and working conditions, but gorgeous views as well.

Thanks, Crew Two, for a productive and enjoyable week of trail work in the high country! HYAW!

--Brian Allgood, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 8: July 1-5, 2017

Crew 1: Highcock Knob Relocation

working with Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

Konnarock’s 8th week on the trail took Crew 1 up north once again, past Roanoke and into Natural Bridge, VA for the second round of trail work on the Highcock Knob relocation in the James River Face Wilderness.  Unlike the previous week’s crew which was mostly made up of multi-year alumni volunteers, Week 8’s crew featured a mix of new faces and some alumni who hadn’t volunteered recently.  The careers of the volunteers ranged from lawyer to microbiologist - making for a diverse and interesting group of individuals who rose to the challenge of the project with plenty of ingenuity. 

After getting to the work site on Day 1, the crew made the first of many punishing ascents from the Petite’s Gap parking lot to the Highcock Knob relocation site.  The first hike of the week often feels the hardest, and the thick humidity and mid-80 degree temperatures made it altogether brutal.  Nevertheless, Crew 1 climbed to the work site and proceeded to work for several hours on tread definition before hiking back down and heading to Watson’s Pond to set up camp for the week.

The tarp was raised, the privy and sump were dug, and tents popped up along the Forest Service road bed and adjacent hillside.  To dissuade the fierce swarms of biting black flies, a campfire was quickly constructed with a little help from a bucket of carpentry waste wood donated by Natural Bridge Trail Club’s trails manager, Jason Hammer. 

A full day of work on Day 2 loomed ahead as Crew 1 gathered the next morning to stretch alongside members of the Natural Bridge Trail Club, who once again proved to be tireless co-volunteers throughout the week.  Whereas Konnarock stretch circles typically feature a wide variety of jokes, this week saw the addition of some brain-bending riddles thanks to one volunteer in particular.  Crew members were left to marinate on various riddles throughout the work day, while in the meantime they split into groups to address a number of trail tasks.

One of the biggest tasks of the week was to return to the area known as Pit of Despair #1, which was partially conquered the previous week but required substantial cribbing and more steps to ascend sustainably up the trail grade.  Just slightly further up the trail, another section was selected for step installation and a small group of volunteers worked on this separately from those engaged in the Pit.  Still several more volunteers interspersed with members of the Natural Bridge Club and continued working on sidehill tread redefinition.

Much to the appreciation of everyone involved, Pit of Despair #2, which was explored last week further up the trail, was sidestepped by rerouting the trail up and over a rocky outcropping rather than going around the outcropping.  This reroute was not without its own downsides or challenges, one of which was the yellowjacket nest that was disturbed by a club member during the work on that section.

Having stung and temporarily incapacitated a willing worker, it became clear that this nest in the middle of the trail route had to be eliminated.  To accomplish this dangerous task, Natural Bridge Club Vice President Doug DeJarnette and Assistant Crew Leader Josh armed themselves with cans of wasp spray and executed a carefully conceived battle plan.  The nest was soon dug up and exterminated, without any further injuries to the crew or club. 

Sunday evening saw the second incarnation of the famous Natural Bridge Club-sponsored dinner at Watson’s Pond.  Club members met the crew at the campsite with an assortment of BBQ, salads, fruit, and drinks.  This meal was just as fantastic as last week’s, and provided a great opportunity for volunteers to get to know the club that does so much for this trail section.

Throughout the next several work days, the first-time volunteers gained more comfort and confidence with the tools of the trade.  Working alongside more experienced crew members, the newer members soon blended in and the entire crew became a well-functioning team.  Much of the work consisted of hunting, digging, and transporting rocks.  Many of the rocks were enormous, intended for cribbing rather than steps.

Through the combined might of many human bodies and the assistance of rock bars and rock nets, this work steadily progressed.  Another constant task was the harvesting of crush-sized rocks from the sidehill excavation sites.  The unusual plentitude of small rocks for this purpose eliminated the need for much actual rock-smashing - a fact which saved a lot of energy but nevertheless may have dismayed some crew members hoping for the incredibly therapeutic experience of pounding big rocks into little pieces with sledgehammers. 

The site at Pit of Despair #1 came to feature an impressive stone structure including many steps and an awe-inspiring crib wall.  Collectively this area elicited a new name: what used to be the Pit of Despair was now The Citadel.  Loads of crush and many painstakingly positioned stones went into the creation of this section which will now withstand the test of time and hiker traffic.  Beyond the Citadel, the next area of step construction proved to be more difficult than intended thanks to several seams of bedrock intruding into the digging area.  Nonetheless, some creative positioning and cribbing made this area come to fruition as well, resulting in a subtle structure that blended with the trail and yet will still help to manage erosion. 

Further up the trail, sidehill was cleaned up thanks to a combination of crew members and club members, and the end of the work week saw some digging in the difficult area where the trail avoided the second Pit by going up and over the rocks.  The downhill slope beneath the trail is now littered with rocks of all sizes that had to be excavated in order to dig a trail.  A daunting staircase remains to be built next week to traverse this mound of rock, but this will not deter Crew 1 in any way, shape, or form.

Considering the intense heat and humidity during the week, it should come as no surprise that the crew jumped at an opportunity to cool off at Cascade Falls after work one day.  Though not quite the same as a real shower, the waterfalls and clear, cold pools were incredibly enjoyable as a way to wash off some of the sweat, dirt, and grime of the work days. 

The fun didn’t stop at Cascade Falls, as Crew 1 enjoyed several more campfires before the week was over.  One of these campfires featured a s’mores fest, specially made using foil packets and some occasional Reese’s cups.  The s’mores were followed by a round of glasses of milk.  That’s a first for Crew 1 this season… milk just sounded really good to everyone after eating those sticky, chocolatey treats. 

Another campfire fell on the Fourth of July and featured some added fun thanks to the addition of glowing bracelets brought by a volunteer.  The crew had plans to drive out to a suitable location to see some fireworks, but a thick and ominous fog descended into camp and clouds blanketed the sky.  As a result, several games of the classic “Werewolf” were played around the fire, and the after it started raining, around a small Tiki torch under the kitchen tarp.  Especially considering that entire work week was rain-free, this precipitation did not dampen the spirits of Crew 1 and many crew members went to bed wishing that the week didn’t have to end so soon.

The next day brought the return to Base Camp, but not without another burst of Crew 1 fun along the way.  The crew stopped at the impressive Bill Foot footbridge, named after a former president of the Natural Bridge Trail Club who helped to bring the bridge to reality.  The A.T. crosses the James River at this point, and the crew enjoyed the opportunity to see the scenic view of the River that only this bridge can provide.

Next, Crew 1 made a stop in Glasgow to see the famous Glasgow Dinosaur.  This seemingly life-sized dinosaur sculpture is the last of many former dinosaurs to be standing outside of a convenience store before they were stolen over the years.  As this final prehistoric beast was not looking especially healthy, it may be that Glasgow’s dinosaurs are heading for extinction - all the more reason to savor this undeniably unique landmark.  After leaving Glasgow, the crew made one more stop in Daleville for some delicious BBQ at Three Lil’ Pigs, some browsing at Outdoor Trails Outfitters, and some coffee at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea.  Never let it be said that Crew 1 does not provide a premier adventure to all who would care to join its ranks.  Undoubtedly, yet another adventure awaits when Week 9 arrives!

A special thanks goes out again to the members of the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club who joined for any part of the work week or dinner.  Another thanks goes to ATC’s Josh Kloehn for joining the crew on Day 1 to assist with the work.  And of course, thank you to all the volunteers who dedicated their time, energy, and spirited enthusiasm to the Konnarock Volunteer Trail Crew.  It is always inspiring to see people of multiple generations, different experience levels, and varied backgrounds all coming together and working for the betterment of the Appalachian Trail. 

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader