Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Week 11: July 28-August 1, 2017

Crew 2: Brown Fork Gap Relocation

click here for the full photo album

There is something about breaking new ground on a relocation project to which nothing else can compare. Perhaps it is the feeling of a fresh start, a second chance to make the Trail what it should be, or seeing a well designed trail form from chaos into fruition. Or perhaps it is the feeling one gets halfway through a week of digging, working the same muscle groups over and over to exhaustion, through the frustration of hitting a giant rock or matted and tangled root mass just when one begins to develop a rhythm, that can bring a grown man to tears. 

Whatever the case may be, all of these things are part of a phenomenon we have come to know as “sidehill”, which is what Crew Two’s work mainly consisted of during week eleven’s project. Sidehill is exactly how it sounds – digging a trail that wraps around the side of a hill – and has proven to be a much more sustainable alternative to trail that goes straight up the fall line. Sidehill alignment provides more opportunity for rainwater to drain off the edge, making the trail less prone to erosion –so the tread will last longer and require less maintenance.

This relocation will be the first of two scheduled relocations to remove to A.T. off a steep section of fall line alignment just north of the infamous Jacob’s Ladder located about 2.5 AT miles north of Stecoah Gap, NC. These two relocations will replace the fall line section with two long switchbacks making for a much less steep, more optimal grade. Let it be clear, however, that there is no plan to relocate the Trail off of Jacob’s Ladder itself due the narrow property corridor as well as its historic value as an original AT route flagged by Benton Mackaye and Myron Avery.

The week began with a gloomy, rainy drive down to North Carolina to the Crew’s Forest Road campsite. The campsite, situated on a log landing next to a clear cut, did not look so inviting at first. However, by the following morning after the skies had cleared, the view revealed itself. Perhaps the campsite was not so bad after all. The weather following the storm left the skies clear and the winds mellow. To the Crew’s delight, this unseasonably cool, clear weather would become a trend throughout the week.

As mentioned, the AT through the area is known for its ruggedness. To avoid hiking up and over Jacob’s Ladder everyday, the Crew was able to hike in on an old skid road followed by a treacherously steep bushwhack up to the AT making it at least a shorter and perhaps arguably sweeter alternative. If nothing else, it was a great way to get the blood flowing in the morning!

After the strenuous bushwack, the digging would commence… and would continue… and would conclude at the end of the day with no end in sight. As monotonous and painstaking as digging sidehill can be, it is also very rewarding to look back upon and be able to walk through the work at the end of the day knowing that progress was made.

As much as they tried to avoid hauling the heavy Griphoist winch and all its accessories up the mountain, Crew 2 had to give in as they encountered an unavoidable tree that needed to be removed. The stump pulling gave a few tired volunteers a break from the endless digging, and a chance to try something else. Afterward, the digging resumed.

Joining the Crew for multiple days as usual was “Ox” (AKA Franklin LaFond) of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club. “Ox”, a thru-hiker-turned-trail-maintainer, is always a pleasure to work with. Over the years, he has accumulated many stories from his travels and trail maintenance and is a fountain of knowledge about all things trail related – not to mention he takes us out to dinner! Thanks, “Ox” and SMHC, for everything!

Although the Crew size was small this week, the work that they did accomplish was of very high quality which is what matters most. Small crews certainly have their benefits as everyone gets to know each other a little better than most weeks which can make for a stronger bond. Everyone had something unique to add to the conversations each night which ranged from thru-hiking, to Konnarock in the 90’s, to fantasy novels. Once conversation subsided and the weary volunteers retired to their tents, the cicadas and crickets could be heard having a conversation of their own.

Thanks, Crew Two, for a smooth week and a solid start to this much needed relo! HYAW!!

--Brian Allgood, Assistant Crew Leader

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