Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Week 6: June 14-18, 2018

Crew 2: Justus Mountain Relocation

click here for the complete photo album

Greetings, loyal readers, volunteers, and trail enthusiasts one and all! The sixth Konnarock Trail Crew week has come to a close, and with this, the 2018 season is officially halfway through. This milestone was reached with Crew 2’s second consecutive trip to northern Georgia - this time with a focus on the AT at Gooch Gap, near Dahlonega. Again, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club (GATC) proved to be an invaluable partner for Konnarock in addressing the trail maintenance needs on the GA section.

The main project at Gooch Gap was the construction of a log staircase on a particularly steep section of sidehill along the recently built relocation, in order to harden the tread and check erosion. Despite the lack of suitable black locust trees on site, GATC members made the job easy by cutting logs off site and hauling them to Gooch Gap while Konnarock was in between project weeks. Thanks to this prep work, the log construction could start right away when the crew arrived.

The work at Gooch involved two main phases. One group of volunteers and club members stayed right at the road access point and worked to debark the locust logs, cut them down to size, and make copious stakes by splitting short log sections into narrow pieces and then sharpening the ends. This was an enormous amount of processing work to be done, but thanks to the combined forces of GATC and Konnarock, it didn’t phase the group in the slightest.

Meanwhile, a smaller group worked with crew leader Brian Allgood on the construction of the steps themselves - just a short hike down the A.T. from the road access. Carrying the logs from the road access to the step site would have presented a challenging logistical situation, but luckily GATC came through with one of their own signature inventions - named the “Zebmobile”. This welded, wheeled device proved to be a safe, stable and ergonomic way to transport numerous logs from one place to another.

Installing the locust log steps proved to be a time consuming process, since the design for the site involved the use of saddle notching all pieces of the staircase and cribbing together. This involved notching process will result in a very solid structure that should stand the test of time. As always, a huge quantity of crushed rock was required for locking steps into place and filling in behind them - so several volunteers devoted their energies to this task.

While the log staircase was the principal goal of Week 6, this week was unconventional in that Konnarock did some degree of hopping between the step project at Gooch Gap and the relocation at Justus Mountain (about a 10 minute drive away).

The second day of the Konnarock week coincided with GATC’s big monthly work day, when many prospective club members come out, work alongside seasoned members, and get their first introduction to trail maintenance. The opportunity to work with the Konnarock Trail Crew is an added draw for prospective GATC members, and provides a great opportunity for these valuable partners to collaborate and learn from one another.

In this case, GATC brought out about 30 members - prospective, new, and veteran - and commenced with a talk by the club president and a tool safety talk by the district supervisor. The large combined group then split into teams and worked to even out some rough sections of sidehill tread along the Justus relocation, in addition to constructing several sets of rock steps in strategic points along the trail. Seeing a great number of individuals working together on the Justus Mountain relocation provided a great reminder of the way in which the A.T.’s existence is dependent on partnerships between so many dedicated people.

Meanwhile, a rotating group of Konnarock volunteers spent many hours working on the continued rock demolition involved in widening a section of bedrock trail that was pushing hikers into a dangerous slipping hazard. Last week, the Milwaukee rock hammer drill was used only in its chipper configuration, but for Week 6, the crew tried a grand experiment of using feathers and wedges - traditional masonry tools used to split and shape large rocks - to break up the solid bedrock and widen the trail.

This task involved using the Milwaukee to drill holes into the bedrock, where the feathers could be inserted, and the wedges pounded in with hammers to create fissures and break up the rock. This work involved a lot of trial and error, and patience on the part of volunteers. Though it was a great learning experience and resulted in some success, it ultimately became more fruitful to return the drill to chipper mode and break up the remaining bedrock jack-hammer style.

By the end of the final work day, the crew had returned to Gooch and made substantial progress on the locust log staircase. Approximately 13 beefy, cribbed log steps were installed with accompanying rock gargoyles. It is hard to see the amount of different tasks and components that went into these steps from simply looking in hindsight. The remaining steps remain to be constructed next week.

When they weren’t hard at work, the Konnarock Crew found time to enjoy the sights and sounds of their temporary GA home. For the second week in a row, Crew 2 stayed in the gymnasium building at the Camp Merrill Army Ranger training facility. Unlike last week, a new group of Ranger students were in session this week - so the crew was graced with the occasional music of low-flying helicopters, gunfire and explosions as the new recruits underwent their training.

 While the sounds of battle were a bit different from the typical soothing wilderness balm of crickets and birdsongs, staying at Camp Merrill had some unexpected perks - such as the delivery of a box of extra MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) for the lucky members of the crew.

In other musical genres, long-time Konnarock volunteer Cool Breeze provided plenty of entertainment with his signature penny-whistle - whether it was evening jams with other musically inclined crew members or a morning wake up call of “Reveille.”

Crew 2 also enjoyed a trip to the secluded Black Falls, a spot on the Etowah River which Bruce of the GATC pointed out to Konnarock the week before. This beautiful waterfall and swimming hole provided an ideal place to cool off and wash the sweat away after a hot, humid Georgia work day. There’s nothing quite like the shower of a natural waterfall to cleanse oneself of fatigue.

Of course, a trip to Georgia would not be complete without a night at the idyllic home of Tom Lamb, trail supervisor of GATC. Located on an oxbow of the Etowah River, Tom’s house provides an unparalleled launch point for a scenic and relaxing tubing trip (or several). In addition to tubing, the Lamb Experience included a bonfire, some excellent grilled salmon and other side dishes, homemade beverages and local neighborhood bluegrass talent.

 Most of the crew opted to sleep in the yard, awakening to a freshly prepared breakfast the next morning. Breakfast featured Tom’s homemade biscuits, served with a side of mustard in the tradition of Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade.

After tearing themselves away from Tom’s little piece of paradise, Crew 2 hopped back in the vehicles and began the long trip back north to VA. The trip featured one last stop at the famous 12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville, NC, for a fantastic BBQ lunch. The consumption of such fine cuisine was a fitting way to end another successful Konnarock crew week.

This blog post would not be complete without giving a huge thank you to the dedicated volunteers who gave their time and energy to the Konnarock Trail Crew this week. It is always inspirational to see what a group of strangers coming together for 5 days can accomplish, building both friendships and trail structures. Major thanks as well to all of the GATC members who came out during the week to work alongside Crew 2. The hospitality of the Georgia club is legendary and this was on full display this week with another unforgettable end-of-week bash at Tom Lamb’s house.

Only one week remains in the humid domain of north Georgia, just miles away from the southern terminus of the A.T. Tune in next time to learn about the conclusion of 2018’s southernmost project, which just might feature even more excitement than the adventures thus far?

What will happen when Crew 2 stays at Camp Merrill, just a couple miles away from the impending spectacle of the counter-cultural Rainbow Gathering? This looks to be no ordinary Konnarock week in the making… if there was such a thing as an ordinary Konnarock week to begin with. No doubt there will be stories to be told afterward, but one thing is assured - Crew 2 will not leave without completing some high-quality trail work on this legendary Trail that brings so many people together.

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader

Friday, June 15, 2018

Week 5: June 6-10, 2018

Crew 2: Justus Mountain Relocation

working with Georgia Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

It’s June now, and another Konnarock crew week has come and gone. Week 5, to be exact. As Konnarock nears the halfway point of the season, another tale of trail building triumph can be recorded in annals of history.

 This week, Crew 2 took its furthest drive yet - approximately six hours south to Justus Mountain, near Dahlonega, GA. Partnering with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, Crew 2 prepared to begin the final campaign on completing the Justus Mountain Relocation.

The relocation has been several years in the making, and although the new trail section was officially opened earlier in the year, some finishing touches remained to be put on.

Most of these final improvements consisted of additional rock work - namely the addition of base steps to most of the stone staircases on this trail section. Base steps, buried almost completely beneath the ground at the base of a staircase, serve to provide an insurance policy against future erosion, while also stabilizing the entire staircase.

 Besides the base steps, several new steps, with accompanying gargoyles, had to be installed. In addition, a wet, muddy seep area had to be mitigated, and a spot where a large stump was leading the trail to widen and creep downhill. Finally, a protruding hump of rock had to be removed from one trail section to reduce a slipping hazard. To address this area, the Milwaukee Hammer Drill and accompanying portable generator had to be hiked into the field.

The crew was smaller than average, with just three volunteers plus the two crew leaders. Luckily, GATC members turned out in considerable numbers to bolster the ranks of the crew. Thanks to the teamwork between Konnarock and the club, work accelerated quickly beyond the initial expectations for the project. 

Base steps were installed rather rapidly, with a team of hardy individuals pounding rocks into gravel-sized crush so that all steps could be appropriately locked into place. Of course, the creation of solid, sustainable steps requires the use of some enormous rocks, and the crew members worked together to move and set these massive objects with a mix of teamwork and the invaluable rock net. It didn’t take long before all the base steps were done and other projects could commence.

One of these latter projects was the construction of a small section of rock crib wall to harden and raise the tread where hikers had been forced to hike downhill by a protruding stump in the middle of the trail. After reducing the height of this stump with a combination of chainsaw and pulaski action, the real work of building the structure began.

 It quickly became apparent that if the area was to be made sustainable, a considerable amount of work was needed to locate and move massive, more-or-less flat and rectangular rocks. A tremendous amount of crush was also required. Requiring about two full days of work, this crib was not an easy task, but ultimately it materialized thanks to the patience and hard work of several crew and club members.

The second major additional project was the mitigation of a spot where a seep was trickling water across the tread surface - leading to muddy conditions that promote rapid erosion. A large contingent of the crew tackled this project with enthusiasm - several members provided a constant stream of crushed rock and the rest of the group worked on moving and setting massive stones to build a step-over open culvert.

This was an ambitious structure to construct, requiring technical finesse in order to get the water to flow just right over a stone-lined bottom and safely off of the trail. Thanks to great, well-coordinated teamwork, the structure was completed in just one day! An impressive and sustainable solution to the drainage issue will help this relocation survive for decades to come.

While they weren’t busy building rock structures, the Crew 2 found plenty of time for fun in Georgia. For one thing, the “camping” accommodations for the week diverged considerably from the norm. Instead of a primitive spike camp on a Forest Service dirt road, this week the crew stayed at Camp Merrill, the US Army Ranger training base, where the mountaineering phase of Ranger training occurs.

Crew 2 enjoyed luxury accomodations at the camp’s gymnasium building - sleeping in a multi-purpose room on army cots, with access to showers and flushing toilets. The crew cooked dinner on the truck’s tailgate in the gymnasium parking lot - a different kind of wilderness experience! The lodging accommodations were quite comfortable, but did present some unusual phenomena such as the soothing sound of helicopters landing and taking off nearby at all hours, and the occasional wake-up call provided by ranger instructors doing their early morning exercises in the gym.

Crew 2 was also treated to a beautiful and secluded waterfall and swimming hole thanks to the guidance of Bruce of GATC. This was a fantastic way to cool off at the end of a hard work day. And a week in Georgia would not be complete without the end-of-week extravaganza at the abode of Tom Lamb, GATC’s trail supervisor. Besides a fantastic spread of food and beverages, the Tom Lamb experience featured tubing on the Etowah River thanks to the house’s strategic location right where the river forms an oxbow. Crew 2 stayed at the Lamb residence on this final evening of the crew week before heading back north in the morning. A final lunch stop at Scratch Pizza in Johnson City, TN provided the icing on the cake for this Konnarock adventure.

Many thanks to the small but mighty team of Konnarock volunteers who devoted their time and energy to working on Georgia’s A.T. section this week. As much as this week featured more luxury than usual, the work was still hard - made no easier by Georgia’s plentiful bugs, snakes, and poison ivy.

 A huge thanks, of course, must also be given to GATC for their constant field support which provided a boost to the 5-member Konnarock crew - thank you all members of GATC who came out to help the crew. The hospitality of Tom Lamb in sharing his food and house was also abundantly evident to all members of the Crew and helped to make this week a fun and fantastic experience for all.

The adventures in Georgia, however, are far from over. Next week Crew 2 will be returning for another week at Camp Merrill, this time working at the nearby Gooch Gap Relocation. Will the work be completed as planned, or will the Konnarock Crew inadvertently get recruited for Ranger training? There’s only one way to find out - tune in next time on the Konnarock Blog to find out!

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Week 5: June 6-10, 2018

Crew 1: Highcock Knob Relocation

working with Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

Week 5 has come and gone and it was nothing short of fun! Crew 1 headed back to Highcock Knob near Natural Bridge, VA to continue working on the relocation project that is planned to open in another week!

We continued finishing up the bigger structures along the trail, putting in rock steps, retaining walls and also started doing heavy tread definition, and cutting into where the relocation meets the AT on the southern end.

We had a smaller crew of 4 volunteers, all but one who have been involved with Konnarock before. Despite a smaller crew we got a great deal done, with the help of the fabulous NBATC (Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club) volunteers. We also had some help for a day from JR, the Ridgerunner for the area. The weather turned out to be ever in our favor, as it didn't rain, except while we were in our tents at night. It got a bit humid on our last 2 work days but nothing Crew 1 or NBATC couldn't handle.

The crew enjoyed the campsite at Watson's Pond, enjoying a few campfires and smores throughout the week. Some of the crew took a dip in the pond and the spring was also a place of refreshment after a long hot work day on the trail. The food was a highlight for everyone with the pesto sausage pasta being the crowd favorite. We had some special breakfasts with Jerry's banana pancakes and another morning of eggs, grits and spam with help from "The Bard of Highcock Knob", returning volunteer, Jim.

From the first work day we had little groups working on different segments throughout the trail. There were mini groups setting rock steps, finishing a crib wall and crushing lots of rock to raise the tread. The rock nets were heavily used as there were plenty of large rocks to find, move and carry, for the structures built.

As the week progressed and structures were getting completed, more people got to work on digging tread. There were a handful of spots on the trail that needed slough removed and the backslope redefined. Some volunteers cleaned up backslope where there were big rocks protruding out and small rocks in the backslope that would eventually leave an ugly, unstable backslope. 

The sidehill digging at the beginning of the relocation took a lot of hard work and patience. Doug from the NBATC and Simon with our crew got to do some crosscut work to remove a large fallen tree from the trail. There was a group working on an open culvert on a section that gets heavy water damage.

The week finished out with most of the culvert done and the trail at the southern end of the relocation finished. The crew enjoyed another delicious dinner provided by the NBATC, a spread of hamburgers, hot dogs, homemade avocado salad, cornbread salad and brownies and cookies. It was a great evening of meal sharing and fellowship around the campfire, a well deserved treat!

Our final morning we took the morning slow, enjoyed our coffee in front of the pond, before cleaning up camp. Before coming back to camp we took the crew on quite the adventure at the "Dinosaur Kingdom II", a little park in Natural Bridge, VA that was an interesting twist of Civil War union soldiers and dinosaurs. It was a one of a kind experience that will not be forgotten.

Our last stop was a very pleasant lunch stop at the Foot of the Mountain Cafe that had a very large menu with a fantastic view of Purgatory Mountain right off the interstate. If you are ever driving through Buchanan, VA, stop by this cafe, it will not disappoint!

Another highly successful Konnarock week of fun, trail work, camping, and camaraderie. Thank you to all the volunteers that worked on Crew 1 this week and the dedicated volunteers with the NBATC!

--Julia Smith, Assistant Crew Leader

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Week 4: May 26-50, 2018

Crew 2: Ridge Pole Mountain Rehab

working with Nantahala Hiking Club

click here for the full photo album

With the end of May, the first third of the 2018 Konnarock season officially draws to a close!  Rest assured, this milestone was reached in spectacular fashion by Crew 2, as they journeyed back to the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, NC for a second week on the muddy slopes of Ridge Pole Mountain.  It just so happened that Week 4 corresponded with the northbound fury of Tropical Storm Alberto.  While Week 3 on Ridge Pole seemed rainy and muddy, it may as well have occurred in a desert in comparison to this wet and wild crew week. 

The project for Week 4 was a direct continuation of the work that was started on Week 3 - rehabilitating a degraded section where the trail had crept down and eroded along a stretch of sloping bedrock.  In order to prevent continued degradation, the goal was to build a combination of rock cribbing and rock steps to shore up the trail and prevent further erosion - while also making the traverse safer for hikers. 

The forecast looked grim from the outset, but none could have foretold just how constant the precipitation would be.  The rain wasted no time in starting during the drive down from Base Camp, but mercifully it slowed down to a near complete stop during the dicey truck ride on the soggy Forest Service road to reach the camping spot.  As soon as the crew arrive at the site, the rain began, and it scarcely stopped again the remainder of the trip (although the degree of rainfall did vary).  Some crew members were soaked merely from camp setup tasks like pitching tents and digging the privy.

The real challenges began with the start of the work days.  Fortunately the rain was light the first work day, but the trail was slick and muddy and numerous seeps in the sloping bedrock ensured that any holes dug would quickly fill with murky water.  Despite the adverse conditions, Crew 2 leapt into action with a flurry of crushing rock, carrying rock, and work on installing steps and cribbing.  

The Nantahala Hiking Club provided fantastic support to the crew in the form of Rich and Debbie, who came out to work with the Konnarock members during the first work day.  These two club members spent an entire day operating the Griphoist winch to quarry and drag massive rocks up from the downhill side of the trail.  By the end of the day, a huge pile of building materials had been amassed.  Without this valuable assistance, the crew would surely not have accomplished as much as they eventually did. 

With work days 2 and 3, construction on the crib/staircase continued, made difficult by the sloping bedrock below.  The rain, which had been tolerable the first day, by this point had developed into a steady downpour that never ceased.  The wind had also picked up, and a thick fog enveloped the work site.  Essentially, Crew 2 was working inside a cloud at around 4500 feet.  

These conditions facilitated some interesting building experiences such as underwater rock-chiseling, as crew members struggled to chip away at the bedrock at the bottom of water-filled holes.  

Transporting heavy rocks using nets had to be done with extreme caution, as the tread surface had become exceedingly slippery.  At a certain point, even the best rain gear soaks through in these conditions, and that was definitely the case here.  Boots sloshed full of water and leather gloves became muddy, slimy, and quite frankly disgusting.  Working hard proved to be the most effective way to stay warm.  Soggy, weary, but definitely not defeated, Crew 2 worked full days in the rain to complete as much work as possible.

By the third and final work day, considerable progress had been made, thanks to a rotating team of step builders and a supporting cast of crew members who constantly smashed rock into gravelly crush while others hunted for material.  Starting yet another day in the pouring rain proved to be psychologically taxing, but there was no avoiding the work since all the tools remained on top of the mountain and had to be retrieved no matter what.  Once up at the work site, the crew ended up working just the same as before.  

At a certain point, when you reach a level of wetness that can’t really be surpassed, it doesn’t really matter any more.  It might as well be swimming.  An additional morale booster was provided in the form of a text message from San Ho of the Nantahala Hiking Club, promising hot showers, home-cooked dinner, and  and dry refuge for the night at the end of the day.  With this heavenly future in mind, the rain-drenched members of Crew 2 gave one final push, working just as hard as ever.  Bag after bag of crush was dumped into the emerging structure, and by 3pm on the third day, the staircase was complete - surpassing the expectations of even the crew leaders themselves! 

With victory achieved, it was still too early to claim Mission Accomplished.  A brutal 1.75 mile tool carry down to the campsite, in pouring rain, provided the first of several final ordeals.  Carrying heavy tools including rock bars, sledgehammers, and Griphoist components (with only 7 crew members to do it) was no easy task.  Upon reaching camp, the crew set about breaking down camp in the rain and packing the truck to the brim with personal and group gear.  At this point, after roughly 3 days of constant rainfall, the conditions on the Forest Service road had deteriorated considerably, and many crew members expressed concern that the truck might not be able to make it out without getting stuck.  Nevertheless, there was nothing to do but try.  Piling into the truck at last, the crew buckled up and held on tight for a wild ride like none other.  The energy, excitement, and tension in the 4x4 truck was palpable as the engine roared and the vehicle bumped and bounced its way down the road - successfully reaching the gate without getting stuck a single time!  The Konnarock van, however, which had been parked at the gate, required a helpful push from a volunteer before it was able to gain enough traction to move. 

Dripping wet and soaked through, the victorious Konnarock crew arrived at the home of San Ho and Gwen to find hospitality beyond anything they could have expected.  Hot showers, and dry clothes preceded a multiple course dinner and a chocolate raspberry cheesecake baked by NHC’s own Paul.  The crew members were then invited to sleep in several guest rooms and lofts in the spacious house.  Coffee, fruit, and muffins greeted the team in the morning.  It all seemed too good to be true - and yet this is perhaps just a good indicator of the kind of appreciation and hospitality which a club like NHC can show people who choose to spend their time improving the A.T. for all to enjoy. 

With spirits and bodies rested and warmed, Crew 2 departed the final morning to head back to Base Camp.  The trip wouldn’t be complete, however, without one more stop at the famous Scratch Pizza in Johnson City, TN for some stone-oven, wood-fired Trust Pizzas.  After filling their stomachs once again, the crew eventually completed the journey back to Sugar Grove, VA and proceeded to unpack and clean tools and gear - with plenty of stories to share!

This week really epitomized the spirit of volunteerism that characterizes the A.T. This week’s volunteers cannot be thanked enough for their hard work and good attitudes throughout a trying work experience that could very accurately be deemed miserable by any reasonable person.  Likewise, the generosity and support of the Nantahala Hiking Club was on full display this week, with both work support in the field and the glorious hospitality of the last night.  Many thanks to all who participated in this project week.  Thanks as always to the Camp Coordinators - Janet with her legendary Base Camp dinners and Becky with some fantastic field meals (“Taco Dress Up” will go down in history).  With Week 4 complete, the Konnarock Crew Staff will take a much-appreciated 5-day break and resume the trail construction adventures afterwards.  Stay tuned for the continuing 2018 escapades of Crew 2 next time in an all-new project and an all-new state: Georgia!  Until then, if you can, take a moment and simply appreciate how great a phenomenon it is to be dry. 

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader