Crew 1: PATH Staircase RehabPiedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers (PATH)
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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