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My wrist hurts June 2, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains, trail maintenance.
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Hydrangea arborescens

Beautiful shrub, right? It was my enemy today.

Due to an unexpected change of circumstance today, I was freed from both an editorial assignment and a volunteer commitment that normally occurs on Thursdays. The editorial client decided to revise the assignment (and pay me for the work I’d already done—a nice detail), and the volunteer outfit had already told me they had an overload of help.

I decided to go visit my adopted trail, the Enloe Creek trail. I figured it would be about time to start lopping the overgrowth that had woody stems, and then I would go back another time and hit the softer vegetation—mainly nettles—with a swingblade.

At first I was not even identifying my enemy correctly. I thought it was witch hobble—Viburnum alnifolium. The leaves look very similar, but the flowers have a different pattern. At any rate, as soon as I passed Hyatt Gap and started descending to Raven Fork, I found that these woody-stemmed shrubs were leaning out into the trail everywhere. I started lopping them, and I found that they were interwoven with rhododendron, blackberries, and greenbrier. With laurel, dog hobble, and vines of all description.

What makes it difficult is that you have to investigate very closely to find the particular stem that needs lopping, and it is usually embedded in a mass of other vegetation, like nettles, that you don’t want to grab hold of to get to the larger stem.

I strained my wrist. It wasn’t from the strength required to chop through the limbs, it was from the constant twisting of the loppers as I chopped through one branch and then angled to get the next one with the heavy tool. I have weakling wrists, I think. The next time I will use a short-handled pair of pruners, much lighter.

As usual, I enjoyed the rest stop at the bridge over Raven Fork. I gazed at the tapestry of vegetation that overhung the giant stream and the blooming laurel that embellished the great sandstone boulders. I think this is the most beautiful place in the Smokies.

It was a hot day. I trudged on up the western portion of the Enloe Creek trail, wondering if the log bridge had been repaired (I’d notified the Park Service after an earlier work trip). Its two halves still lay forlornly submerged in the stream, but this time the water was low enough that rockhopping was possible. I continued along, as always gazing up at the wild rugged ridges around there that are crowned with red spruce.

I reached the Hughes Ridge junction, the end of my trail, and turned around. As I returned to the acoustic zone of Enloe Creek itself, I decided that it has the most amazing, beautiful sound, a combination of a percussive effect—a deep rhythmic pulsing—and a melody of water. I did more lopping and recrossed the stream, returned to Raven Fork, and was pleased to find a family camping out at Backcountry Site 47. They were having a great time wading in the transparent pools of Raven Fork.

From that point on, in the heat, with my diminished energy, it was hard work to climb back up to Hyatt Gap and then down to the car. When I got to the trailhead, I took a towel over to Straight Fork so that I could wash off the sweat with that nice cold water.

The loppers I used. They were heavy.

Mysterious forces on Enloe Creek August 31, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains, trail maintenance.
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I'll never get tired of Raven Fork

Rereading this the day after I wrote it, I am thinking about how this will incur the wrath of Greg Hoover. I keep dwelling on the beauties of Raven Fork, which is his favorite fishing spot—and he’s an extremely selfish man (no consideration whatsoever for anyone else) who doesn’t want to share his spot with anyone else. For the benefit of others, I’m cutting and pasting from an exchange we had on the GoSmokies forum. He tells me I need to learn discretion, and I respond:

Hoover, I am so glad you refreshed my memory about Raven Fork. I’d forgotten that due to a very large slumping phenomenon just downstream from the bridge (they called it a catastrophic geosynclinal event with associated severe fluvial congestion), the major portion of Raven Fork is now a broad, flat, muddy stream. They call it the “mini-Mississippi,” and they’ve starting running coal barges down it, with river-runners wearing striped polo shirts poling the barges safely around the few remaining rapids.

He then says:

Thanks for the insightful yet obfuscatorial update. Sounds like a person would have to be a fool to hike all that way just to fish for catfish. I’ll mark it off my list, as should everyone else. 😉

#  #  #

I recently wrote here about taking up the maintenance of the Enloe Creek trail as part of the Adopt-A-Trail program in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On my first visit to the trail August 9, I did a walk-through and noted problems with overgrown vegetation, a broken log bridge over Enloe Creek, an erosion problem, and a blowdown. I filed a work report with the Park Service that noted these items.

I returned to the trail August 27 with swingblade in hand to tackle the wildly luxuriant nettles and blackberries. I figured it would take several long trips to take care of the vegetation. I was curious to see if there had been any follow-up yet on the first report, but I didn’t really expect that anything had happened so quickly. The fearless leader of the Adopt-A-Trail volunteers, Christine Hoyer, had warned us that with so many miles of trail to cover, the professional crew could take a while to get to the reported problems.

As I walked up the Hyatt Ridge trail to reach the start of my trail, I discovered a new problem: an absolutely huge blowdown that was hard to scramble over and difficult, on the steep slope, to get all the way around.

The erosion problem was still there on the east side of the bridge.

Eroded section close to Raven Fork bridge

And another problem was still there—a stack of old, ugly tarps and some rusty cast-iron frying pans that had been left at campsite 47.

I stopped at the bridge for a snack, noticing that just past the bridge some vegetation looked freshly cut. Interesting. When I continued on, I found that the trail had been completely weedwhacked as far as I could see, through a section that had been, well, just a little on the jungly side.

Prior to weedwhacking

Who had done this? I don’t know. I think it was most probably a Park Service crew out taking a look at the more severe problems I’d noted and doing this other work along the way. But I can’t be sure. Perhaps a reader of this blog sympathized with my overgrowth problem and decided to help anonymously! (I know, not terribly likely.) It doesn’t matter. The work is done! And the heaps of whacked vegetation continued all the way out to the trail’s terminus at Hughes Ridge.

As I walked, I once again felt enthralled by the wild-looking steep ridges in this remote country—topped with giant, dark old-growth spruces that had gleaming white clouds flowing over their crests.

I returned, stopped again at Raven Fork, this time finally noticing the interesting circumstance that the three hemlocks growing out of the top of the enormous cube-shaped boulder by the bridge looked very healthy, when nearly all others are now dead. I looked more closely and observed that each of the three had an inconspicuous blue paint mark. The Park Service had decided that these were so important and conspicuous that they deserved special treatment against the hemlock woolly adelgid.

The boulder with the three healthy hemlocks

On the east side of the bridge, the anonymous gnomes had left some vegetation for me to cut back with my swingblade. I was just as glad—after all, I wanted to feel I was contributing something! So I whacked my way up to the Hyatt Ridge junction.

Soon after that I encountered a guy on horseback leading a packhorse. He greeted me and mentioned that he was in there to remove the junk from the campsite! He and his buddy further back were “VIPs,” or Volunteers in the Park, people who can be on call to help out at varying locations. The Park Service had told them that someone had reported the problem at the campsite… that must have been my work report!

Sometimes things actually go the way they’re supposed to.

It wasn’t until after I continued on that I thought about how hard it must have been for him to get past the large blowdown. I met his companion a bit further down. His horse had thrown a shoe, and this was going to force him to turn around. He, too, had passed the big blowdown, and was going to have to turn right around and pass it again. But he was pausing for a moment to rest and roll a cigarette with his own loose tobacco and papers—that’s something I haven’t seen for a long time. (Way back in my teenage years, I used to do that sometimes myself. Actually, I also rode horseback quite a bit back then, so I felt somehow connected with these two riders.)

I felt strangely happy as I got back to the car and drove down the Straight Fork road and into the Big Cove: another reason I like my trail section, getting up into the far end of the Qualla (Cherokee) reservation.

Raven Fork

The Enloe Creek trail is mine now August 18, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains, trail maintenance.
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The trail has a few minor problems

Last month I attended a session for people interested in becoming an “Adopt-a-Trail” volunteer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have done trail maintenance on and off over the years, and it’s become sort of a habit with me.

When I lived in Knoxville in the 80s, I maintained an A.T. section between Sassafras Gap and Doe Knob, which included the infamous Birch Spring shelter (since removed due to drainage problems and possibly because it was simply hideous). In my more recent residence in New England, I maintained a really great section of the Carter-Moriah trail, going up to Mt. Moriah over beautiful granite ledges with views to the Presidential range. That was a side trail to the A.T.

Now, back in the Smokies, I felt the urge to go out there once more and clean out waterbars, lop branches, and whack stinging nettles. So off I went to learn more at a informational meeting held at a mysterious complex of buildings, not often seen by the general public, not far from the Oconoluftee visitor center. Actually, I have to admit there wasn’t anything that exciting about this building complex, which seemed to be a collecting point for a whole lot of machinery and vehicles and trail equipment.

About 35 people were present. Christine Hoyer, the head of the AAT volunteers for the Park Service, gave us a whirlwind explanation of the scope and objectives of the program, complete with an overview of the Leave-No-Trace program, a description of all park regulations affecting hikers and campers, a description of the various tools and their purposes, and last but not least, a lot of info about safety concerns. Christine was a very entertaining presenter, though she kept claiming that she was really an introvert deep down inside.

She gave us a list of available trails. It looked like an awful lot were up for grabs, including very well-known ones like the Chimney Tops and Alum Cave. (No way would I ever adopt one of those—just too many people to deal with!) I decided right away that I wanted the Enloe Creek trail, because it crosses Raven Fork, and I have a history with Raven Fork.

Christine came up with a complicated, even suspenseful, system of having us draw numbers to be picked out of a hat to help make the process of assigning trails more fair. It was actually so complicated that I won’t try to describe it here. But at any rate, for me there was no problem, because no one else wanted Enloe Creek.

So I went out to visit my trail on August 9 with my friend Gary and his daughter Noura, who is an engineering student at Olin College. It occurs to me that I should have picked Noura’s brain a bit more about engineering aspects of the trail.

Noura and Gary near Raven Fork bridge

Christine had told us that our first visit to the trail should just be a walk-through to survey conditions and determine what areas would need work—and what tools would be needed. We did bring along a pair of loppers and attacked some witch hobble and rhodo between the Hyatt Ridge turnoff and the Raven Fork bridge.

There was a sidehill section before the bridge that had a severe erosion problem.

Not too bad for someone on foot, maybe bad for someone on horseback

We had lunch on the beautiful boulders above the metal bridge, which is in fine shape (unlike the log bridge seen at top). Noura did some good scrambling around in the grotto-like spaces between the boulders.

This giant boulder has its own mini-forest on top

The logs are a good reminder of the terrific floods that roar down Raven Fork sometimes. In one that occurred in 1992, a 12-foot wall of water swept down into the Qualla reservation.

Gary and Noura had to turn around at that point, for this was the end of a weekend trip for them and they needed to drive back to the Raleigh-Durham area. I continued on and found that past the bridge, the trail was terribly overgrown with nettles and blackberries.

I have my work cut out for me

I enjoyed following the beautiful stream of Enloe Creek. I encountered the bridge shown at top. It wasn’t hard to cross halfway by rockhopping and then get onto a truncated bridge section, but it could be tricky in high water.

Past the bridge, there was a large blowdown, but you could duck under it—at least if you weren’t on horseback.

Blowdown past the log bridge

I continued on, enjoying views of Katalska Ridge, a very remote, woolly-looking place. The conditions were similar the rest of the way to the end of the trail at Hughes Ridge. It is a fairly hefty trip to do the whole trail. Because you have to do a piece of the Hyatt Ridge trail at the start, the whole outing amounts to 11 miles and about 3200′ vertical, with all the ups and downs.

The other significant problem I discovered was a big stack of folded tarps and cast-iron cooking pans at campsite #47 that looked like they had been brought in on horseback and just left there. Sorry folks, it may be convenient for you to leave that stuff there for return trips, but the rest of us don’t want to look at your clutter right there at such an otherwise beautiful spot. Unfortunately, it will probably take someone on horseback to get that stuff back out.

I’ll be back in a week or so to start tackling the underbrush with a swingblade.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Adopt-a-Trail program can contact Christine at christine_hoyer@nps.gov .

I saw my first pink turtleheads of the season