Thursday, August 3, 2017

Week 11: July 28-August 1, 2017

Crew 1: Jump Off Rehab

working with Nantahala Hiking Club

click here for the full photo album

After getting a solid start last week, Crew 1 returned to the Nantahala National Forest for the season’s penultimate project week, Week 11.  Once again, the burned ridge adjacent to the “Jump Off” cliff face was the target for the crew’s efforts.  Just 4 miles trail-south of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, this section of the A.T. was badly damaged in wildfires last fall. Without urgent attention, the trail is at risk of washing off the slope. 

Perhaps inspired by the fierce heat that must have consumed the Jump Off during the fire, Crew 1 made a point of stopping at the delicious Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack in Asheville, NC on the drive down.  Having adjusted their tastebuds to the blazing conditions soon to come, the crew then continued past the NOC, where several more crew members joined the caravan, bringing the total number up to seven (including crew leaders).

The crew was especially small this week, but in some ways this was just as well since the quarters on the switchback where most of the work took place are so tight.  The goals for the crew were to finish replacing a steep log staircase that had been devastated by fire and erosion, and then to tackle the seemingly impossible task of shoring up a short stretch of trail that was so eroded that one could reach a hand up underneath the tread surface.  

Having had its previous log crib burned out, only the thick mat of rhododendron roots (mostly now dead) and some compressed leaf litter were keeping this trail section afloat.  Below this trail disaster was a steep slope of loose soil and scorched rhododendron - not a place that one would want to slip. 

The first work day of the week began with the arduous climb up from the Forest Service road campsite to the A.T. - a 1-mile bushwhacked trail with a lot of slick elevation changes and rocky footing.  Having finally reached the project site, the crew leaders formulated a plan of attack and divided into groups.  One group set about the demanding task of splitting some very gnarly black locust logs into usable material - both steps and stakes.  

Other members worked to transport the split log pieces down the trail to the site where they would be installed - sometimes by hand and often with the support of a freighter pack.  Still others worked hard with draw-knives, hammers, and pulaskis to peel the bark off of these materials - thus making them viable, rot resistant building supplies.  

Several members of the Nantahala Hiking Club showed up in the midst of this process and lent their brute strength to help transport many of the logs.

Over the course of the next day, much more work was accomplished.  In spite of some mechanical issues, with the Crew 1 chainsaw, Jerry felled yet another locust tree thanks to the help from club member Paul for bringing a backup saw and a part to repair the chain brake on the crew saw.  

In the meantime, several crew members picked up where last week’s crew left off on the log staircase below the Jump Off.  The old, charred steps and stakes were systematically pried out of the ground and replaced with fresh, level stairs. Thick locust stakes were hammered into the earth to secure each step - a task requiring tenacity and good sledgehammer aim.  Another set of crew members began to install another set of log steps just below the Jump Off cliff itself, thus making the rocky climb slightly less dangerous than before. 

Crew 1 got a well-appreciated break from the wilderness after the second work day when the Nantahala Hiking Club took the crew out for dinner in Andrews, NC.  Once again, the Monte Alban Mexican Restaurant provided some massive portions of satisfying food for all.  After the meal, the crew leaders opted to bring the team back to Scoops Creamery (discovered the week before), for some more incredible ice cream, courtesy of the Scoops signature auger that custom-blends all manner of toppings (from fresh fruit to Krispy Kreme doughnuts) into the ice cream.  After this food-filled evening, Crew 1 was sufficiently fortified for another day’s work.

The third work day was mainly devoted to starting construction on the crib for the “floating” section of trail past the big log staircase.  This is an area that requires an unconventional approach, and so Jerry formulated a plan to build a mix of a crib and a gabion, which will ultimately look something like a picket fence wedged up against the side of the trail and filled with rock and earth.  This is a massive undertaking, especially considering the difficulty in getting the building material from above the Jump Off cliff down to where it was actually needed.  

The full crew was harnessed for the majority of this work, which included carrying 12’ locust logs and lowering them down the cliff with the assistance of a belay rope.  Furthermore, the Honda portable generator and the Milwaukee rock drill both had to be packed all the way up from camp - a task that several volunteers heroically opted in for. 

In order to set log cribbing in this area where so much soil had been displaced, there was no choice but to set 1” thick rebar pins into the bedrock and set the logs on top of this.  The rock drill was wielded by several crew members in order to successfully drill on the uncertain footing of the slope.  Having epoxied the pins in place and painstakingly lowered the 12’ logs down to the crib site, crew members worked together to maneuver the logs into place while Jerry wielded the chainsaw to notch them. 

The ultimate result looks very promising - the two logs sit almost seamlessly side by side to address the roughly 24’ section of degraded trail.  Some humongous locust stakes were then hammered into the ground to secure these big logs temporarily, thus securing the trail enough to leave it over the break.  Next week’s project will hopefully see this awe-inspiring construction project completed, although much work remains to be done. 

Having made considerable progress on this engineering marvel, the crew was able to put in a few more log steps before it was time to tool up and prepare to descend.  Considering that this was the hottest day of the week, the crew decided to take a trip to the Nantahala River for a dip in the cold, crisp waters.  Sweat, charcoal, and even a bit of fatigue were washed away in the churning rapids of this beautiful waterway.  A mouthwatering camp-cooked meal of chicken-and-lentil stew finished off the evening, leaving the crew tired from a hard week of work but feeling pleased with all of the successes along the way.

The fun didn’t quite end there, though.  Crew 1 made a couple of stops during the long drive back north, including a visit at Old Grouch’s Military Surplus store in Clyde, NC and then lunch at the legendary 12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville, NC.  The excellent barbecue at this establishment was the perfect way to top off a successful week under challenging conditions.  

One more week remains for the Jump Off… and for the Konnarock 2017 season!  Crew 1 will return for one last time this summer with one last group of determined volunteers, and no doubt the season will be concluded in spectacular fashion with one more round of rehab on this burned trail section.

Many thanks to Bill, Jerry, Dave, and Paul from the Nantahala Hiking Club for their assistance on the project - especially their connections which got Crew 1 out of a tight spot with a broken chainsaw.  The club’s generosity in taking the crew out to dinner is also greatly appreciated.  The final big thank you, as always, goes to our crew volunteers who tirelessly worked in tough conditions on this project.  Thank you all! 

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader

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