Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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 

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