Friday, July 20, 2018

Week 9: July 11-15, 2018

Crew 2: Brown Fork Gap Relocation

click here for the full photo album

Nine weeks down, only three more to go! Week 9 is complete and Crew 2 can proudly boast of another successful trail-building expedition on the Appalachian Trail. For this week’s work, the crew returned for a second stint on the Brown Fork Gap Relocation, located just trail north of Stecoah Gap in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina. 

The goal for the week was to make continued progress on re-routing the A.T. around a particularly steep and degraded section climbing toward Brown Fork Shelter, replacing the old trail with a sustainably graded alternative.

Crew 2’s ranks swelled considerably in comparison to the week before, featuring a mix of new faces and returning alumni volunteers. The group eagerly delved into the work on the very first day after a four-hour drive from Sugar Grove, although the quarter-mile, 55 percent-grade bushwhack trail to the A.T. was bit of a rude welcome.

Even so, the crew persevered past the difficult hike and the project commenced with a tool safety talk and then a sidehill digging demo by Assistant Crew Leader Josh Reynolds. After learning the fine nuances of digging sustainable trail that sheds water and gently follows the contours of the hills, the crew opted to climb a bit further to visit Brown Fork Shelter (built by Konnarock many years ago) before finally returning to camp.
Camp life on the Green Gap Forest Service Road’s log landing was a classic Konnarock mix of backcountry “roughing it” (Leave No Trace, trench privy, greywater sump, etc) and “glamping” ease (coolers full of fresh food, camp chairs, vehicles on site). Tent space is a tad on the cramped side at this particular site, but this didn’t trouble the crew, who quickly went from being merely strangers to forging bonds of friendships in the hot furnace of manual trail construction. 
The hard work really kicked off on Day 2, when the crew ascended the infamous access trail once again and divided into groups to address a number of essential tasks. One group immediately started continuing the sidehill digging that had begun the week before, working with a combination of rogue hoes, loppers, and fire rakes to create high quality full-bench trail. This is no easy job, as the repetitive motions required are both physically and mentally taxing. Even so, digging the trail right the first time is one of the most crucial parts of trail building, which negates much of the future maintenance needs that would be required for a poorly built trail.

Meanwhile, a second group of daring individuals tackled a series of stumps that were left in the tread corridor when a number of trees were taken down the previous year to make way for the relocation. Pulling stumps with deeply embedded roots would be practically an impossible task if it weren’t for the miracle of mechanical advantage. Using a TU-17 Griphoist winch set in a 3:1 configuration and working in tandem with a hand-swung pulaski, the team was able to pull three stumps over and out with very little trouble. A triumph of brains over brawn!

While stumps were being ripped free from the ground and raw earth was cut to sidehill, yet another group worked on continuing the rock staircase that rounds the switchback - one of two short sections on the relocation where the grade had to ascend steeply enough so that steps became required to mitigate erosion. Five massive steps were installed during Week 8, and many more remained at the start of Week 9.

As always, the rock construction required a division of labor between crush production (handmade gravel), rock hunting, rock carrying, and digging/setting. The general rule of Konnarock is that if one person can move a rock on their own, it’s not big enough to be a step. As a result, teamwork is absolutely essential for rock work - perhaps best epitomized in the use of a rock net by teams of anywhere from three to eight people depending on the size of the stone in question.
This was no ordinary stone staircase in that many of the individual rocks were given names by the volunteers. Conjoined twins Erik and Erika, Jesse, Jimmy, Mama Luke, Lobster, Barack and Michelle all found fitting new homes on the switchback of the Brown Fork Relocation. Several more, including Ivanka and Aunt Bee, sit staged and ready to be installed next week!

Throughout the week, the crew members traded off on tasks so that everyone got to experience a mix of sidehill digging and stone staircase construction. In addition, one extra project was created as a result of pulling stumps. One stump was close enough to the critical edge of the trail so that pulling it from the ground created a large crater that pulled away part of the trail’s edge.

Due to the instability of the edge, the solution was more complicated than merely filling the hole with crushed rock. Instead, the construction of a small rock crib wall was needed. A small group of volunteers dedicated themselves to this detail-oriented task, spending just about a full day on the structure. The result is a stable, elegant retaining wall that most hikers will likely walk over without the slightest thought given to the work that was invested beneath their feet.
By the end of the third work day, a great deal of progress had been made on the relocation. Sidehill was almost complete for the entire length of the new trail, stumps were removed and the resulting craters filled and mitigated, and seven new rock steps were installed on the switchback area. It’s not a stretch to think that Crew 2 may be opening this relocation to the public after a third and final push on Week 10!

The week wasn’t all work, however. As always, Crew 2 found ample time for fun in between the bouts of trail work. At camp in the evenings, the crew was treated to a variety of new games including volunteer-created, quick-thinking “Lord of the Things” and a modified version of the game of deception, “Resistance”. The crew was also treated to a dramatic reading of a lengthy poem written by the Bard of Highcock Knob, Jim Young (a Konnarock volunteer who published his own book of poetry based on his experiences).

After the third full work day, the crew left the campsite and drove into Robbinsville, NC, accompanied by Ox of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, for a dip in America’s #1 Lake (according to the local billboard), Lake Santeelah. After days of hard work in hot, humid weather, the opportunity to wash off the sweat and grime in this beautiful body of water was unparalleled.

The swimming was made even more fantastic than expected, however, by the surprise gift of inflatable pool toys by a volunteer! A giant sharpie marker, Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Man, and “Rock Lobster” turned a great experience into a truly unforgettable one.

As icing on the cake, Crew 2 was treated to dinner in Robbinsville at the much-loved Lynn’s Place Restaurant by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Ox, Mark, and Janet of the club joined the crew for a delicious meal accompanied by many stories and much laughter. It’s always a huge plus when volunteers can meet the people of the maintaining clubs, who devote countless hours every year to keeping the A.T. in good condition for all to enjoy. This week was yet another great example of how the clubs show their appreciation for the work that Konnarock volunteers do, and highlights the value of the partnership between the local clubs and the ATC.

This may seem like a fitting place to end the adventure, but wait - there’s more! The next morning, camp was broken down and packed into the truck once again, but one more side trip remained for the way home. The crew elected to make a stop at nearby Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which features the largest stand of old-growth timber east of the Mississippi.

The massive tulip poplars in this ancient grove reach upwards of 25 feet around at the trunk, and some exceed 400 years of age. A 2-mile hike around the popular Memorial Loop provided ample opportunity for the crew to enjoy these serenely gigantic trees while learning more about the unique management practices in federally designated Wilderness areas.
After leaving Joyce Kilmer, Crew 2 drove for a few hours before stopping one more time for some lunchtime culinary indulgence at Papa’s and Beer Mexican Restaurant in Asheville, NC. Freshly made table-side guacamole and the restaurant’s signature salsa bar made this a fitting way to end an excellent Konnarock experience before making the final leg of driving back to Base Camp. With an especially creative crew, the usual weekly t-shirt ceremony also featured a short skit written and performed by the crew members. It’s safe to say that Crew 2 went all-out for glory in trail work this week, setting the bar high for the next three weeks!

To finish things off, a big thank you goes out to the fabulous volunteers who gave up a week of time to come out and do hard manual labor on the A.T. - a decision that some would deem the very definition of insanity. Little would such people suspect that it’s possible to have so much fun while working so hard.

The attitude of the group can make all the difference and this crew was certainly no exception in blending fun with work in superb fashion. All the the hard work and patience with the sometimes difficult conditions is appreciated. Another thank you is for the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, especially Ox, Mark, and Janet who came out for a day of work with the crew as well as treating the crew to dinner on the last night.
Only one more week remains at the Brown Fork Gap Relocation! Will Crew 2 succeed in finishing the work, culminating with the painting of new white blazes? Tune in next time on the Konnarock Blog to find out!

--Assistant Crew Leader Josh Reynolds

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Week 9: July 11-15, 2018

Crew 1: Sinking Creek Relocation

working with Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the complete photo album

Hello to you and thanks for checking out Konnarock Trail Crew's blog. Both crews have been having an awesome 2018 season, having a great time doing some real cool trail building and you should come out and volunteer with us!

Crew 1 has finished up a highly productive and very exciting Week 9 on Sinking Creek Mountain! We had a full crew this week and were able to get a lot of work banged out on our 2nd last week on the Sinking Creek Relocation. 
We had a large crew of mostly seasoned trail builders with a few new people who will plan on coming back after an amazing experience with Konnarock. We were able to divide and conquer on multiple projects from building rock steps, retaining walls, log cribbing, high-lining, and of course, crush making. 

Our camping at Joe's Trees Christmas Tree Farm was enjoyed by all, with really huge, very tasty meals, some treats from volunteers and our friends who own Joe's Trees, games of Werewolf every night, plenty of stories shared, laughter, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Our group consisted of Clark, Sandy, Billy, Matt, Terry, Martha, Abigail, Anastacia, Simon, Michael and Brian along with a few RATC folks (the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club), and Laura, ATC's VP of Conservation and Trail Programs. Everyone gave 100% on the trail and Jerry and I were thrilled to have such an eager and hard-working group of volunteers. We appreciated every single person who came out to do some trail building with us whether it was for a day or the whole week.
The first day after hiking the 1.5 miles uphill, we broke up into groups and put everyone on a specific project. We had volunteers using the rock drill to split more rocks to become steps, people working on finishing the trail through the boulder field, adding steps and rock retaining wall, and fixing a switchback, adding a drain and a bottom rock retaining wall to it. 

Day 2, our first full work day, groups continued their work, we started "flying" the rocks that were split to the trail where the steps would be put in. We also flew rocks to be used as gargoyles for the steps so hikers will use the steps and so the rocks will be supported from the outside of the steep section of trail. I was so impressed with this crew and the work getting done in both the quality and the quantity every time I'd make my rounds to check in.

Each evening back at Joe's Trees everyone was chipping in with dinner preparations and then ended the day with a fun game or two of Werewolf (woo-hoo!!). If you've never played Werewolf--come join Crew 1 and learn how to play! It's my favorite!
take photos. 

The next day, we were visited by Laura who got to lend a hand on all kinds of fun trail work from splitting rock with rock drills, feathers and wedges, working the griphoist, moving rocks on the highline, and landing rocks. She did an awesome job out there and I'm excited that she plans on coming out on crew for a whole week next year. 

We appreciated having her come out to support us and learn some trail building skills! The rest of the crew was hard at work, doing the highline, moving rocks from our big pile we made, putting them along the trail where they would become steps, crushing rock and finishing up the switchback.

Construction of the rock staircase was finally underway our 4th workday and we had 3 mini teams working up and the down the trail. Jerry worked on chainsawing some fallen locust trees to use for a log crib wall needed on a little narrow section of trail to prevent trail creep in the future. I took a group of volunteers and worked alongside RATC folks on this log crib wall while the rock staircase teams did their thing! 

There were volunteers hauling bags of crush for steps that were built the previous day. I think we have enough crush for the rest of the staircase with that huge pile! What an amazing group of volunteers we had this week. Many many steps were set, the log crib was built, along with another mini crib, and we had one more day of work left before heading back to Sugar Grove.

We hiked up one last time to get a few more hours of work in on our final day and again I was amazed by the work that the volunteers did in just a short time. Jerry did a final count of our work while everyone helped carry tools and gear back up to stash them for the next few days before coming back one more week. 

We took a group photo in front of the Keffer Oak tree on our way back and then headed to Bull & Bones Brewhaus in Blacksburg, VA for a cold beverage and a delicious lunch! A much deserved treat! Got back to base camp for end of week cleaning and celebrated our successful week with dinner and the t-shirt ceremony.

We got 35 rock steps built, generated a large pile of crush we will use next week, finished the boulder field, built 2 log crib walls, built multiple rock retaining walls, a few drains and played many fun games of werewolf! What a terrific week it was! 

I can't thank the volunteers enough for the work they accomplished and for making it such a fun week for all! Thank you of course to RATC for your hard work, and Laura for working with us for a day. I had a really great time and am blown away by our crew, the work, the people, everything! Thank you for the jokes and all the new info about Buffalo. I really appreciate it ;)

Thank you to all! And thanks for taking the time to read about our week!

Crew 1! HOO-YAH!!!

--Julia Smith, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 8: June 30-July 4, 2018

Crew 2: Brown Fork Gap Relocation

working with Smoky Mountains Hiking Club

click here for the full photo album

Happy Fourth of July week, loyal readers of the Konnarock blog!  On July 4th, the 2018 trail season officially reached its two-thirds mark.  Besides celebrating the independence of the United States, Crew 2 had the pleasure of celebrating another successful week of trail work on the A.T.  

Week 8 involved a pleasantly short drive (compared to Georgia) down to the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina for a project at Brown Fork Gap.  With an especially small group of volunteers, the crew elected to leave the crew van behind and pile into the Forest Service truck, thus saving gas and allowing the crew leaders to trade off on driving. 

The work at Brown Fork was the continuation of a relocation started at the end of the 2017 Konnarock season, with the goal of taking the A.T. off of a very steep, fall line section that is terribly eroded and would require an inordinate amount of work to properly rehabilitate and stabilize.  Besides being unsustainable, the old A.T. section is also downright uncomfortable to hike up.  For both of these reasons, the best course of action was deemed to be a reroute of the trail along a sustainable grade.

Before any work could commence, however, Crew 2 had to complete the crucial task of establishing a camp that would suffice for Week 8 as well as the following two weeks.  This involved driving up a narrow Forest Service gravel road and pitching camp at a wide log landing.  Hanging the kitchen tarp proved to be quite the challenge - perhaps the crew has gotten rusty after three weeks of tarp-free camping at the Army Ranger Camp in Georgia.  

Nevertheless, camp was eventually squared away and the crew proceeded to hike tools up a truly brutal bushwhack trail (measured at 55 percent grade) to reach the A.T.  The overall hike from camp to work was just about a mile, with the bushwhack forming a quarter-mile of the journey.

To accomplish the necessary relocation, the crew needed to brush up on techniques for digging sustainable, full-bench sidehill trail.  This precise method of constructing new tread is the gold standard for the A.T. and results in a trail that gradually follows the contours of the hills and allows for water to shed harmlessly in sheets without forming gullies.  While some volunteers had built sidehill trail before, others had not, and so the work began with a sidehill demo by Crew Leader Brian Allgood in addition to the usual tool safety talk.

Once the team was up to speed on sidehill technique, the digging commenced.  Wielding a mix of rogue hoes, pick mattocks, fire rakes, loppers, and one wandering pulaski, the crew members worked hard to excavate down to mineral soil and build tread with just the right hint of outslope.  This job proved to be very difficult in certain spots, as a number of extremely rooty and rocky areas were uncovered along the flagline.  

Characterized by repetitive, more or less continuous digging motions, sidehill construction can be argued as one of the most physically taxing trail work tasks.  Add in some very hot, humid conditions and a preponderance of biting insects, and you have a situation that many would deem unpleasant.  Did Crew 2 back away from this difficult scenario?  Well, of course not!

There was more to the Brown Fork relocation than solely digging sidehill, however.  The new trail route includes one switchback, which necessarily climbs at a grade that is well above the recommended 8-12 percent. In order to mitigate this steep section, the installation of steps is unavoidable.  So, while some of the crew worked continuously to dig the new tread, another group of volunteers worked on constructing a series of rock steps around the curved switchback.  

This work involved unearthing and moving some monumental stones - with only a single pony rock bar to supplement pick mattocks.  The crew also had only packed one mini-sledge, but it was constantly employed making crush to cement the rock steps into place.  

Despite a limited array of rock work tools, the week’s work resulted in 5 high quality, rock-solid steps that will definitely stand the test of time.  Next week, with the addition of more rock steps will further solidify this switchback.  If rocks run into short supply, log steps will likely complete the climb.

Crew 2’s relatively small numbers were augmented this week by the constant presence and support of an ever-reliable Konnarock ally: Ox of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club.  Ox camped with the crew for several nights and worked alongside the rest on every work day.  While the work support alone was helpful, Ox went above and beyond by providing some extra treats to the crew after work - namely several trips to local towns and sites.  

The hot and sweaty crew members were able to cool off on several evenings, visiting Fontana Lake one evening and Lake Santeelah (voted America’s #1 Lake!) a second evening.  After cleaning up in the respective lakes, the crew had the luxury of eating at two fine establishments: Fontana Village’s Wildwood Grill and Robbinsville’s Lynn’s Place.  A mix of Ox’s and the SMHC’s generosity made the excursions possible.

As Week 8 drew toward its end, the crew was able to proudly gaze upon several hundred feet of newly dug trail in addition to the well-built rock steps.  Crew 2 packed up on the final morning feeling satisfied, but also quite eager to say farewell to the no-see-ums and black flies for a while.  Despite finishing up the work for the week, the Konnarock adventure still had a couple more highlights along the way back to basecamp.  

First, the crew made a stop at nearby Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and hiked the famous Memorial Loop, which traverses one of the largest remaining stands of old-growth forest on the east coast.  The most impressive trees in this ancient grove are the tulip poplars, some of which are over 300 years old and 20 feet in circumference.  After soaking in the grandeur of this unique spot, the group drove for a while before making one final stop in Asheville, NC for a fantastic lunch at the Mela Indian buffet. 

As always, Crew 2 enjoyed a fun, safe, and productive trip in classic Konnarock fashion.  None of it would have been possible without the generosity of the volunteers themselves, who devoted a week of time, energy, and enthusiasm to the continued maintenance of the A.T. All who worked deserve a big thank you.  

Thanks are also in order for SMHC’s Ox, both for his considerable contribution of work and for his multiple dinner treats.  His presence and generosity added greatly to the experience of the volunteers and the overall quality of the week, and demonstrate the value of the partnerships between the ATC and the maintaining clubs which together keep the A.T. in good shape for all to enjoy. 

Thus concludes Week 8! The Konnarock Crew staff now contemplates a double meaning of Independence Day as they begin the season’s second 5-day break.  After some much valued R&R, Konnarock will reassemble for the final 4-week stint of the season, with many exciting adventures sure to await.  As for Crew 2’s future, the Brown Fork Gap relocation will get another hefty dose of trail work on Week 9.  Who knows - by the third week at Brown Fork, some brand new white blazes might be in the cards!  Stay tuned for the next thrilling account of Crew 2’s daring forays into the Appalachian mountains. 

--Assistant Crew Leader Josh Reynolds