Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Week 3: May 18-22, 2018

Crew 2: Ridge Pole Mountain Rehab 

working with Nantahala Hiking Club

click here for the full photo album

As the month of May 2018 marches on, the third week of Konnarock’s Crew 2 draws to a close. Week 3 of the season featured an all-new adventure for the crew, an ambitious rehab project of a burned section of trail on Ridge Pole Mountain in the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, NC. The work site featured a daunting section of trail that has, over time, slid down the sloping, weeping bedrock. 

The tread itself had become limited to a slick, muddy scramble - and without mitigation the trail would have continued to wash downhill over the years. The challenge for the crew this week was to raise the tread up out of the watery mud and harden the walking surface to reduce further erosion. To make matters more challenging, this project sits in a federally designated Wilderness area, and therefore all motorized tools are prohibited. Though certainly not an easy project, Crew 2 accepted the challenge with confidence.

The adventure began even before any tools struck the earth, however. To get the trail crew rolling right, the Nantahala Hiking Club took everyone out for lunch at Thai Paradise in Franklin, NC. After being fortified with curries and other delectable dishes, Crew 2 drove on toward their destination, eventually reaching a hilly, muddy Forest Service Road that was entirely impassable by the crew van. Leaving the van behind, the team piled into the crew’s Forest Service truck and the next portion of the journey proved to be a bumpy yet exhilarating ride over rugged terrain and even a small stream crossing. 
However, success was not absolute - even with 4-wheel drive, the truck reached a steep section of road and lost traction, unable to proceed. Determined to overcome the obstacle, the crew members worked together to line the trail with brush, while the crew leaders set up the Griphoist rigging system to attempt pulling the truck up the hill. After problem-solving for over an hour, it became apparent that the truck would not be able to make it up the hill. Using a spotter for safe guidance, the truck traveled in reverse a ways backward on the trail, and Crew 2 set up camp at a modified site location that proved to be quite adequate. With plenty of excitement already under their belts, the crew set up camp quickly and proceeded to get some rest before the first work day.

The next morning brought a difficult task right off the bat - the task of hiking all of the tools from the camp site up to the work site, with a smaller-than-average crew of six. The necessary tools included the heavy Griphoist equipment, several 18-pound rockbars, and numerous sledgehammers - in addition to various slings and digging tools. 

Carrying these tools approximately 1.75 miles uphill was no easy job, but it was only the beginning of the work. Once the crew made it to the project site, work commenced on several tasks. Some crew members scouted for big, appropriately shaped rocks for steps and cribbing while others began crushing rock to make the ever-necessary gravel-like material needed for cementing structures into place. 

At several points, the entire crew needed to be mobilized to carry giant rocks using a rock net and sling combination. In between these demanding carries, some of the crew assembled a Griphoist set-up in order to drag large rocks up on to the trail from downhill. Due to the difficulty in locating material, it often had to be carried considerable distances. Even after this, many of the rocks need to be shaped using carbide-tipped hammers and chisels. The value of teamwork and mechanical advantage was on full display this week!

Another big thank you is in order for the Nantahala Hiking Club’s Paul and Rich - who each came out for a day to help bolster Crew 2’s numbers. Having just one extra person noticeably improved the production and work flow on the project. This was a great example of the partnerships between the ATC’s Konnarock crews and the local A.T. maintaining clubs - through mutual support they achieve more than either could do alone.

The quarrying and transportation of good rock never ceased throughout the week. Crushing rock was also a constant task. While these tasks continued in the background, several crew members worked on the construction work on the short section of degraded trail that formed the top priority for this project. 

Much of the work involved building a sturdy rock crib to lift the tread out of the mud. A series of rock steps on either side of the crib would complete the rehab work. This construction proved to be especially challenging due to the thick, oozy mud which never did dry out thanks to the weeping rock and the frequent rainy weather. Digging appropriate holes for rocks is not easy when the holes quickly fill up with water. 

The adverse weather even put a full stop to crew work at one point when thunder clouds rolled in. Crew 2 was forced to take cover downhill from the trail until the dangerous lightning conditions dispersed. Given the circumstances of a difficult trail section, plenty of rainy weather, and a small crew size, it’s quite impressive that a respectable amount of high quality rock work was done during just three days of work. By the end of the week, much of the section had been cribbed, and numerous steps installed. Many of the crew members were covered literally from head to toe with mud, but still smiling with satisfaction and crew camaraderie. 

Though the work was hard, and much remains to be done, the week was a big success. Besides wallowing in the mud during work days, Crew 2 found time to relax and enjoy good food and company back at camp in the evenings. Meals featured some spectacular salads (including a cinnamon-spiced fruit salad), and such exotic dishes as Italian Tuna and Rice. 

On the way back to Base Camp at the end of the week, the team elected to pack a lunch and stop for a picnic on the banks of the Nolichucky River in the Chestoa Recreation Area. This provided an especially scenic way to wrap up a solid week of hard work.

The crew also had one surprising wildlife encounter - a mouse (named “Otto”) popped up from under the hood of the van, then stowed away under the hood again, traveling at least 150 miles before reappearing at the Chestoa Recreation Area. Though perhaps not as exciting as a bear or rattlesnake encounter, this is definitely not something that one sees every day.

To wrap things up, it is imperative to thank this small but stellar group of volunteers for spending a week in damp, often rainy, muddy conditions while keeping great attitudes and putting in solid work. Thanks again to the NHC - both for the initial Thai lunch trip and for support in the field - this project would not have been so successful without club support.

The work on Ridge Pole Mountain, having gotten off to a great start, is far from over! Crew 2 will be returning for more heavy rock construction (and playing in the mud) at this project site next week. Stay tuned for the conclusion of 2018’s work on this challenging site during Week 4.

--Josh Reynolds, Assistant Crew Leader

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