Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Week 12: August 3-7, 2019

Crew 1: Battery Cliffs Rehab

working with Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the complete photo album

The final adventure of the 2019 season is complete! Week 12 took our crew all the way to the northernmost reaches of Konnarock’s range, up by Rockfish Gap, near Waynesboro, VA.  Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Battery Cliff proved to be a scenic and majestic location for the end of the season.

The crew began by setting up camp at the Humpback Rocks picnic area and reviewing the safe use of tools before meeting Dave Grimes, president of the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club (ODATC). Dave took the crew on a walk-through of the project site - which happens to be on a stretch of original, never-relocated AT - to identify priorities and goals for the week. Among the tasks to be completed was the installation of several more steps on the massive stone staircase that was installed earlier in the summer, plus additional water bars, check steps, and other water management along the length of the trail.

Eventually, the trail reaches the project’s namesake, Battery Cliff - an impressive rocky outcropping with a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains (and the Wintergreen Ski Resort). Where the trail wraps around the beginning of the cliff, Dave pointed out “the trophy project,” a narrow section of trail which could improved by building a crib wall to create a wider platform.

With priorities in mind, the crew began work early the next morning, initially tackling the improvements to the recently constructed rock staircase. When Crew 1 worked this area back in June, they utilized a Griphoist highline system to efficiently move multitudes of rock from far off spots to the staircase sites. With only one week on the project and only a handful of new steps to install, a highline was not on the table this time around, so instead the crew fell back on the classic rock net to carry each rock by people-power alone.

The quarrying was difficult here, as many of the good rocks were already harvested and many of the remainder required carrying over long distances. In some cases, sledgehammers and carbide-tipped “stonebuster” hammers helped to make rocks just right for the situation.

Joining Crew 2’s forces on the first work day were several members of ODATC, including Amanda Noe, the club’s Trail Supervisor. The club members formed a small team and tackled a water bar project further up the trail, building an impressive reinforced drain to take water off of this largely fall-line trail section. Meanwhile, Konnarock crew members completed other tasks like making loads of crush, and piling “scree” rocks on the sides of the staircase to keep hikers on the intended path.

Building steps here was challenging due to the rocky soil and the presence of underground bedrock in many spots. Nevertheless, the crew worked efficiently and by the end of the first day, most work on the original staircase was completed. Afterwards, a trip to nearby Sherando Lake provided a much appreciated opportunity for the crew to swim and clean off.

The second work day was spent installing a number of rock check steps further up the trail on steeper sections where flowing water was causing the trail to begin gullying. Crew 2 members continued to test their rock-hounding abilities, searching far and wide for suitable step rocks, and often needing to get creative to make a less-than-ideal rock work as a step.

Several crew members also worked on building a second rock water bar - a challenging job due to bedrock just below the soil surface. Flat rocks of just the right size were needed to create the reinforcing bar here, and digging the drain involved slogging through extremely rocky soil.

By the end of the second work day, the crew was ready to take on the trophy project. The amount of work required to construct a sturdy crib wall is considerable, and some were apprehensive that there wasn’t enough time to complete the project in just one day. However, once the work was initiated, there was no turning back! The third and final work day involved a herculean coordinated effort by the entire crew to build a large, approximately 3’ high crib wall.

The crew members were divided amongst a variety of tasks: some hunted for suitable cribbing rocks (flat, ideally rectangular, not too big and not too small), others were tasked with gathering as many small, oddly shaped rocks as possible (for filling small crevices), still others were employed with making enormous amounts of crush to fill the void behind the crib wall. The result was a constant supply of material being carried and dumped at the site of the crib wall, where I worked to carefully fit the rocks like puzzle pieces into solid layers.

To make the work even tougher, the sun blazed down upon the cribbing site, and the exposure of organic soil during the digging summoned hordes of flies which pestered the crew at every turn. The small flies, however, were just an annoyance in comparison with the gigantic horse flies that joined in the fray, seeking blood from unsuspecting crew members.

Though the work was strenuous and the bugs were unrelenting, the crew never faltered. Dutifully, everyone continued to carry hundreds of pounds of rock to the cribbing site, and gradually the wall took shape. Eventually, what seemed to be a long shot project began to look very much finishable.

By 3PM, the wall was nearly completed, and only finishing touches remained. The ambitious “trophy project” had become a reality. The crew finished up by working on brushing in the sides of the trail where the ground had been torn up, and laying scree rocks to direct hikers on the proper path. Several crew members worked on cutting back vegetation and widening the trail up around the cliff rock, which in conjunction with the newly cribbed platform made the ascent and descent around the rock much easier.

Victorious, the crew gathered tools together and hiked down to Humpback Rock campground one last time. To celebrate, everyone piled into the Konnarock van and took a field trip to the Crozet Creamery for delicious ice cream! It goes without saying that Week 12 would not be complete without an ice cream run.

A big thanks is due to ODATC - not only did they work with the crew this week, but they also provided the crew with a club-sponsored feast of fried chicken, collared greens, mac-n-cheese, and more on the evening of the second work day. A club-sponsored beverage cooler was also much appreciated by the crew.

That same evening, everyone enjoyed a campfire, complete with
s’mores, and got to celebrate a crew member birthday! Rich was able to enjoy a one-of-a-kind birthday candle marshmallow, in lieu of a cake.

But wait… there’s more! Crew 2 didn’t stop the fun after the work was complete. On the way back to base camp on the last day, the team made a stop at what has increasingly become a Konnarock tradition: Dinosaur Kingdom II in Natural Bridge, VA. If you aren’t currently aware of the decisive role dinosaurs played in the Civil War, I suggest you find time to make a trip to this undeniably unique attraction. To top things off, the crew made one more stop at the Foot of the Mountain Cafe for some of the world’s best sweet potato fries and all kinds of other delicious food.

And thus ended Crew 2’s last excursion for the year. It has been a challenging season full of twists and turns, but it’s heartening to see the fantastic work completed and the great experiences shared by volunteers all along the way. The Konnarock Trail Crew continues to show that incredible things can be accomplished by people who come together for a common cause - in this case, the cause being maintenance of the Appalachian Trail, a national treasure that provides an accessible wilderness respite for people up and down the east coast. The soul of the Trail is composed of the many people who work together to preserve this experience for posterity.

A special thanks at the end of the season to Janet Gibbons, our camp coordinator, for providing delicious meals and logistical support throughout the entire spring and summer; to Josh Kloehn, Resource Manager, for organizing the Konnarock Crew once again; to our US Forest Service Partners for supporting us with vehicles, letting us use the Sugar Grove base camp, and in so many other ways; and of course the many maintaining clubs we partner with who make every effort to welcome Konnarock on their trail sections and facilitate successful and enjoyable project weeks for all.

Until next year!

--Josh Reynolds, Crew Leader

Week 12: August 3-7, 2019

Crew 2: Spy Rock

click here for the full photo album

Week 12 is finished and with that the 2019 Konnarock season has ended. It’s hard to believe that it’s over! On the final week, our crew returned to Spy Rock to finish up the blue-blazed side trail. We completed the project despite some unexpected setbacks...particularly when 12 of our log steps and all of our stakes got burned up as firewood. It just makes it all the more impressive that the crew was able to adapt and create an amazing finished product. 

This week we got to do a variety of work: log steps, rock steps, cribbing and LOTS of pinning. The rock drill saved the day in some of the trickier sections yet again, as we had to build on bedrock pretty much the whole time. It really did turn out amazing!

I have to credit some of the great work to how well fed we were throughout the week. We were fueled by one of our volunteers' impressive culinary skills as well as the weekly BBQ down at the Koether’s house which is always a treat. We all got to enjoy the feast that the Natural Bridge A.T. Club provided for us while we sat on their beautiful front porch and practiced doing accents (as it turns out I’m very bad at them). 

We also had the chance to enjoy the incredible view from the rock a few times throughout the week. Some folks even went up after work to watch the sunset and look at the stars from up there. We could even see the Milky Way!

On the last day, we got to stop by the amazing private swimming hole that one of the club members was kind enough to host us at again. Shout out to Sue for being an incredible host! She provided the crew with snacks, coffee, and towels along with a beautiful spot to hang out for a while.

What a great way to finsih up the season!

-Sarah Ellsworth, Assistant Crew Leader

Week 11: July 26-30, 2019

Crew 2: Spy Rock

working with Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

click here for the full photo album

Week 11 is done and the end of the 2019 Konnarock season is soon coming to an end. This season has flown by! This week the crew returned to Spy Rock to continue the construction of a new side trail up to the top of the rock.

Before this trail, there was no defined path up to the top so people would take tons of different routes to scramble up to see the incredible panoramic view. Unfortunately, this has led to the near extinction of two rare plant species that call Spy Rock home. The main purpose of this new trail is to save these plants by keeping people in a more confined area so that the plants won’t be trampled.

I have to say, this has been one of the coolest projects I have ever worked on. The work is incredibly technical and lots of power tools had to be utilized this week so that we could pin rocks into the sloping bedrock all around. We have totally transformed this mess of mud and rock and turned it into an easily walkable pathway. And to make things even better, we got to do it in an incredibly beautiful place!

We had a lot of support from the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club this week as well, which helped the week fly by smoothly. They treated us to a delightful meal down at a club member’s beautiful, totally off-grid cabin. We got to hang out and enjoy some delicious barbeque all evening.

A few of us did some adventuring in the evenings this week. We walked down to the old Campbell property and poked around some of the old buildings. The land, which is now part of the National Forest, was once owned by the Campbell family for generations and dates back to the 1700’s. This family lived without electricity and were pretty much self-sufficient until about 10 years ago when they finally sold the place. It was pretty cool to feel like you were walking back in time.

We also took a few evenings and early morning trips up the rock to see the sunsets and sunrises. On the last day, after we packed up camp we were invited to a club member’s secluded swimming spot on her property. It was great to rinse off all the grime from the week and float around in the river for the morning. We also stopped at another spot along the same river that a Konnarock Crew once helped work on. It is a suspension bridge over the Tye River that is super cool (and kind of scary) to walk across. It was an awesome, adventurous, and productive week!

--Sarah Ellsworth, Assistant Crew Leader

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