Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Week 11: July 26-30, 2019

Crew 1: PATH Staircase Rehab

working with Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers (PATH)

click here for the complete photo album

July comes to a close with the successful completion of Konnarock Week 11, the penultimate trail building expedition for the 2019 season!  This week proved to be a unique experience for Crew 2, as some funding and scheduling issues resulted in a project swap relatively late in the game.  

The crew ended up staying and working locally in the area surrounding Sugar Grove, VA, home of the illustrious Konnarock Base Camp and the US Forest Service Work Center for the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.  Thanks to the local work and lodging arrangements, Crew 2 was able to devote a full five days to trail work, without sacrificing time to travel. 

These five days were spent well, as Week 11 was a 2-for-1 special with two separate projects, both within easy driving distance of base camp.  The first project was a complete rebuild of a set of log steps where the Appalachian Trail crosses Teas Road.  The existing steps, which climb directly up a steep bank out of the road, had suffered from a combination of rot and washout over the years, resulting in an uncomfortable climb up some very high steps.

The crew sprang into action on day one, ripping out the old log steps and preparing fresh material by debarking and splitting black locust logs that were harvested locally from the Sugar Hollow Pond site near base camp.  

Both the tape measure and the infamous line level - considered tools of sorcery by some - made multiple appearances to determine the optimal step heights and spacing in order to install a new staircase with steps that wouldn’t undermine like the old ones did.  Gradually, step by step, a new stairway ascended the grade.

The project wasn’t without its unique challenges.  Due to the close proximity to traffic on the road, Crew 2 had to employ traffic safety measures courtesy of the local Forest Service staff, who provided road signs and safety vests.  At least one crew member was constantly on duty as traffic spotter - calling out the approach of vehicles and serving as an additional signal to drivers to slow down. 

Another challenge was the steepness of the grade, which at times seemed insurmountable and at one point required the crew to disassemble and rebuild several steps - a task that can be demoralizing, but which the crew took in stride, eager to build the highest quality staircase possible in the long run.
While part of the crew worked on the main staircase, other members tackled some side projects, such as installing a second, more gradual staircase up above on a steep section of trail.  Other tasks included fixing a very high step across the bridge on the other side of Teas Road by adding several steps below it, and brushing the corridor where vegetation was overgrown.

By the end of the second work day, the Teas Road steps had been completely overhauled and were a beauty to behold!  No undermining will plague these carefully spaced stairs, and the rot-resistant black locust logs should hold up for at least a couple of decades.  Best of all, these steps are a joy to climb up and down, being doubled in number from their predecessors (from 7 steps to 13) and limited to a maximum of 8” rise.  Basking in the satisfaction that comes with completing high quality work, Crew 2 prepared to embark on a second project.

The second site for Week 11 was just south of Chatfield Shelter near Atkins, VA, where an isolated section of extremely steep trail required a rock staircase.  The top section of this steep grade still features some high quality rock steps that were constructed in the distant past, but the lower two-thirds of the slope needed extensive rehab, as many former steps had blown out over time.  To make the most sustainable improvement to the site, Crew 2 set about tearing out what remained of the old, off-kilter steps so as to completely rebuild from the bottom up.  With a good sized crew and some experienced volunteers, the team was able to divide and conquer the integral tasks of rock work: making copious amounts of crush, hunting and carrying suitable step rocks, and of course the actual digging and installation of one step after another. 

Fortunately, plenty of sizable rock exists at this site.  However, finding rock of just the right shape and size is always a tricky job that requires a mix of analysis and judgement.  As the rock hunters soon exhausted the easy pickings next to the staircase, the team eventually had to search further away and carry the heavy stones - weighing hundreds of pounds apiece - longer distances.  Thanks to the indispensable rock net and a great deal of teamwork, the crew was able to provide a continuous supply of usable step rocks to the installation site, where they were carefully positioned and then cemented into place by packing crushed rock into the cracks. 

The work was slow and at times painstaking, especially as the work ascended higher to a point where the trail pinched between a dead birch tree and sheer bedrock.  The narrow pass required the construction rock cribbing to shore up the trail and prevent the ground from washing away beneath hikers’ feet.  

In spite of the challenges, though, Crew 2 built some beautiful steps and burned a lot of calories carrying material for what ended up being 20 brand new rock steps.  Though work remains on the section to tie in with the existing steps up above, the crew made a fantastic first pass on this project and laid a mighty foundation for future work. 

Speaking of calories, although many were burned, this was not the crew week to lose weight on. Staying at base camp, Crew 2 took full advantage of the kitchen facilities to prepare some 5-star meals, including three hot breakfasts featuring everything from scrambled eggs to cinnamon apple pancakes to my own “yankee grits.”  The kitchen bustled with activity as this self-motivated crew of foodies embraced each meal with gusto.  Even the no-bake chocolate cheesecake made an appearance.  To top the week off, the crew enjoyed a relaxing base camp bonfire with s’mores - a perfect finish to a week which featured luxury accommodations but no lack of hard work. 

Both projects this week were sited within the maintaining range of the Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, also known as PATH.  Crew 2 was privileged to have the assistance of two PATH members - David Atkinson who volunteered a full week with Konnarock, and Jim Baum who personally maintains the Chatfield shelter section and spent several days working hard with the crew.  The partnerships between the AT maintaining clubs and the ATC’s volunteer trail crews allow for the exchange of ideas, learning of new skills and techniques, and perhaps most importantly the sharing of great experiences on the AT between people who might never have met outside of these circumstances.  As always, it’s inspiring to see all these enthusiastic people coming together for the shared purpose of improving the trail for all to enjoy.

A quick word of thanks is also due to the US Forest Service Sugar Grove Work Center staff for providing a truckload of gravel, as well as traffic safety guidance and equipment for the Teas Road project.  Ending each day safely is a top priority, and this week added to Konnarock’s excellent record. 

Unconventional though it was in some ways, Week 11 proved to be an extremely satisfying week, as the crew knocked out an entire project at Teas Road and made fantastic progress on the second near Chatfield shelter.  Now, only one week remains for the 2019 season.  Tune in next time for this year’s final voyage of Crew 2, north to Battery Cliffs to build some more safe and sustainable trail. 

--Josh Reynolds, Crew Leader

Week 10: July 18-22, 2019

Crew 2: Spy Rock 

working with Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the complete photo album

Crew 1 journeyed north once again, this time to start a three-week project with the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club (NBATC). This year’s NBATC-Konnarock project is unique in that the crew is building brand new trail – no rehab and no relocation of existing trail.

The crew and Club volunteers were tasked with building safe access up to Spy Rock – one of the best blue-blazed viewpoints in Central Virginia.

Before the crew hit the ground, hikers had a choose-your-own-adventure challenge to get up to the summit of Spy Rock. There was no existing trail or established way to get to the 360 degree views. Numerous routes had been climbed/hiked-in over the years and none of them could be hardened or improved to offer the safe access the NBATC-USFS-ATC partnership was looking for.

A brand new trail route was flagged, cleared by NBATC Club volunteers, and ready and waiting for our Konnarock-stars to dig in, get dirty, and dust off the hammer drill & generator.

In addition to the side trail construction, another high priority task was on the docket. A globally rare plant population finds its home on top of the granitic dome of Spy Rock, within the rock crevices and low spots. With time, increased visitor usage, and trampling the rare plant community has taken a hit and the number of thriving plants has dramatically decreased.

With the help of ATC, NBATC, and the USFS a plan was designed and approved to set metal rods into the rock to create a low rope barrier that will (hopefully) limit visitor trampling and access, essentially cordoning off the majority of the rare plant habitat while still offering hikers enough area to enjoy the amazing views. This work was completed within the first two days of the Konnarock week by Conner McBane, ATC Natural Resource Specialist, and a handful of dedicated and sunscreen-lathered NBATC volunteers.

Due to the rock dome nature of Spy Rock the crew came prepared with a generator, hammer drill, sections upon sections of 1” and ½” rebar, and enough masonry adhesive to fill up your bathtub. NBATC volunteers were gracious enough to fell a couple larger black locust trees before the crew arrived to help with quick log step construction. Most of the heavy gear used by the crew was driven most of the way in on a UTV by the USFS, saving the backs, minds, and hydration levels of volunteers and staff.

As the crew days ticked by the days were filled with the sounds of the rock drill and generator as rebar was set into the rock to support log steps, rock steps, and rock cribbing. The work was slow, but the terrain and materials involved required it. By the end of the week two major step construction projects were well on their way to completion.

One can’t forget to mention a certain Mr. Sandy Bell. Some might know him as a retired Navy Command Master Chief Diver, others may know him as one of the committed Hardcore-Konnarock volunteer crew leaders, or as the guy who knows every. single. knot. Due to Josh Reynolds taking a week off for a wedding, the Konnarock crew staff was down one leader.

Sandy stepped up and took the reins of KNRK1, the well-marked Konnarock crew van, and acted as an Assistant Crew Leader to Jerry Kyle for the week. Some volunteers, after working with the volunteer Assistant Crew Leader, remarked how Sandy should come out of retirement and become ATC staff as a trail crew leader in 2020.

A huge thank you to one of the best A.T. Maintaining Clubs around, NBATC, for all of their support and generosity during this crew week. They helped with materials, lining up USFS UTV support, brought out Club volunteers every day to work with Krock, and of course for the crew dinner and drinks at the camping area. Just as big of a thank you goes out to Sandy Bell, and all of the other Konnarock volunteers who came out and suffered through some hotter-than-hot days to complete some serious work. Thank you!

--Josh Kloehn, Resource Manager

Monday, August 5, 2019

Week 10: July 18-22, 2019

Crew 1: War Spur Relocation

working with Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the complete photo album

On week 10 the Konnarock crew returned to War Spur for the third and final time this season. The project is a mile long relocation which will likely take a few seasons to complete, and we’ve made some really great progress over the past few weeks.

This week we had a small crew of four volunteers, but that didn’t stop us from getting some awesome work done and having a great time. Most of the work this week involved lots of sidehill digging, crushing rocks, and cutting through the super-thick mountain laurel jungle that our new trail will be going through.

The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) came out and worked with us some this week as well and they helped us pull out tons of huge stumps. Not only did RATC come out and help us work, they also invited us to the infamous yearly Corn Boil.

There was probably enough food there to feed the entirety of Sugar Grove and everything was so delicious. I tried to get a little bit of everything on my plate and at one point had to keep shoveling food into my mouth as I worked my way down the line to make room. We all fell into a food coma by about 7 pm.

Another fun thing we had the chance to do was walk back up to Wind Rock and catch a gorgeous sunset up there. The overlook is only a 10 minute walk from our campsite so some of us went a few nights in a row. What a great week!

--Sarah Ellsworth, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 9: July 10-14, 2019

Crew 1: Gooch Gap Rehab

working with Georgia Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the complete photo album

This week Jerry and I ventured down to Georgia for our trial run on a new program we're currently calling "Konnarock Lite". The idea is to offer a shorter, beginner-friendly taste of the Konnarock program to engage new volunteers.

For the first half of this week, we met our Next Generation volunteers in the field. The Next Gen dates were an opportunity for youth (under the age of 18) to try trail work on the Appalachian Trail. 

Because it was our trial year, we only had two volunteers come out for those days. Even though the numbers were low, we still had a great time and accomplished a lot in the three days they were out! We got to go swimming every day after work at a lake that was close to our campsite.

Our second group that week was more like a typical Konnarock week, just shorter. It was not a youth group and the crew size was larger. It was a good way to expose locals who don’t have quite enough free time to commit to a full week of Konnarock, and recruitment was aimed at the Latinx community.

We also had a great time and were treated to a few meals from local club members and trail enthisiasts. The first night we were all treated to a nice dinner down the road from our campsite at a beautiful home which was a great setting to go over all of our orientation. Then, on the last night, we were invited to a club member's house for the night where we had the chance to go tubing and eat a nice dinner and breakfast.

The project was a relocation of the trail at Gooch Gap where we moved the trail away from a super washed-out section to a more sustainable grade. With the help of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, who came out in huge numbers, we managed to complete the relocation in one week and the new section of trail is now open.

It was a great idea that will hopefully continue in the future, and a very fun week.

--Sarah Ellsworth, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 9: July 10-14, 2019

Crew 2: South of Sams Gap Rehab

working with Carolina Mountain Club

click here for the complete photo album

There is nothing like the final week on a project. Seeing all of the work that our crew achieved over the past few months is astonishing.

Countless hours and thousands of sore muscles have gone into rehabbing this section of trail. It instills a great sense of pride walking off the mountain on our final work day and seeing the transformation, knowing that we are responsible.  

We build trail with the goal in mind that it will last 30+ years, How many people have we impacted? How many people will be able to complete this section knowing with confidence that it is well maintained? Will the work still be there when I hike with my future grandchildren? The thought tickles me.

I love the Appalachian Trail, It changed my life in 2016 when I attempted my thru-hike and has continued to remain a huge positive influence in my life. I know for a fact that it has change the lives of many others. I am absolutely honored to have the opportunity to play my part.

We had an incredible time on the mountain this week, despite the rain. Our crew blended well together, enjoying card games and FROZEN ice cream (AT CAMP, IN THE WOODS), riddles, jokes and smores over the camp fire. The Carolina mountain club came out to join us in the fun on Friday and took us out for pizza Saturday night at the original Papa Nicks pizza in Mars Hill North Carolina.

Although we were fatigued and stinky we decided to stop at Backbone rock and have a nice swim in the river before grabbing lunch at the Damascus Diner, right off the AT. The countdown has begun folks, only 3 crew weeks remain in Konnarocks season! Visit the Appalachian conservancy website for information on how you can become part of the team!

--Paul Sealy, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 8: June 29-July 3, 2019

Crew 1: War Spur Relocation

working with Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the complete photo album**

Week 8 has flown by and the season races on…

Over week 8, Crew 1 returned to the Mountain Lake Wilderness to continue our relocation at War Spur. This relocation is necessary and well overdue, as the existing section of trail is very steep, eroded, and just generally no fun to walk on.

This was an exciting week! Though there was plenty of sidehill digging, we also had a bit of variety in the work. Since we were working in a wilderness area, we got to bring out the crosscut saw and pretend to be lumberjacks for a few hours which was a lot of fun to do because none of the volunteers had ever used one before.

We also got to throw in a few steps and a bit of cribbing befor we got to a giant rock scramble where we got to put in some native paver, which is essentially just taking a chaotic, messy rock scramble and moving the rocks around to make a less chaotic, defined path across the scramble without having to do too much structural building.

Outside of work, we also had the chance to explore the lodge at Mountain Lake a bit where we were horribly misled abput the window of ice cream availability for the following day. We hiked out of work at the end of the day super excited for a refreshing treat and were upset to discover that the cafe had already closed for the day. However, we were unwilling to let our ice cream mission fail, so we drove all the way to Christiansburg to go to a Cold Stone Creamery. We also had the chance to check out a nice swimming spot along the New River which was surprising warm and pleasant to swim in after a week of hard work.

All in all, another excellent week!

--Sarah Ellsworth, Assistant Crew Leader

**Unfortunately, most of this week's photos were lost to a camera breakdown. If anyone has photos from the week they can add to the album, please send them to Kathryn at kherndon@appalachiantrail.org. Thank you!