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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

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Of lopping and stone waterbars June 6, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Our crew pauses between Icewater and the Bunion

Yesterday was National Trails Day. I’d decided to get out there and lend one more set of arms and legs to the effort. The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, the Park Service, and Friends of the Smokies had organized the effort in GSMNP in which an army of 100 volunteers descended upon the A.T. between Indian Gap and Dry Sluice Gap to generally pound, prune, and groom the trail into submission.

I was part of a five-person crew headed by Dick Ketelle, who has been giving much of his time to A.T. maintenance for many years. He is master of all the tools that can possibly be used, from pulaski and pick-mattock to swingblade and loppers, sledgehammer and pry bar, chainsaw and even good old-fashioned cross-cut.

There was quite a long and complicated assembly at Sugarlands before we all carpooled up to Newfound Gap. We heard from park superintendent Dale Ditmanson, although what seemed to be on his mind this morning was not so much trail maintenance as the very unfortunate recent episode in which a tourist-habituated bear bit a stupid, ignorant person who got too close, and the bear had to be euthanized. The Park Service came under a huge amount of emotional attack and intense local press coverage for killing the bear, and Ditmanson gave us his side of the story. The whole bear episode had been a lose-lose situation.

So we could understand the superintendent’s slight obsession with the subject. At any rate, we eventually got up to Newfound Gap and set off to do our work. I grabbed up a swingblade and a surprisingly heavy pick-mattock and headed up the trail as Dick led us along at a fairly blistering pace. I soon began to regret that I hadn’t fueled up with the free donuts at Sugarlands, and I found myself, with a tool in each hand, unable to wipe the sweat from my brow. I did not regret that we got bogged down for a bit among other, slower-moving crews who were stopping to do sections closer to the Gap.

By Icewater Spring we had left all but one group of the others behind. That group went on to Dry Sluice Gap. After we passed the shelter we started working on building up some old defunct stone waterbars. We scraped out the uphill side to create a better outflow trench and found some nice flat, sharp-edged rocks to raise the height of the waterbar.

The flat rocks were placed end-up across the trail

It gets a little crowded with people swinging sharp tools in close quarters, so two of us went ahead and dug out a few more waterbars. As the trail leveled off somewhat and transitioned from sidehill to ridgetop, the number of waterbars decreased, and we turned our attention to lopping.

We, and quite a few random hikers, reached the Bunion at a good time for lunch. I hadn’t been out there via the A.T. for years, and I gazed around at the places in the Porters Creek and Lester Prong valleys where I have had some great off-trail adventures. My friend Brian is talking about doing a climb up a slide on the side of Horseshoe Mountain, and I could see the top of the slide across the Lester Prong valley. If you look closely in the photo, you can see the very top just below the high point on the Horseshoe ridge. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Looking across to Horseshoe Mountain

You also get a good view of the Jumpoff.

The Jumpoff is the rocky scar

This is an incredible place.

We headed back toward Newfound Gap to do “more of the same.” I have to admit that my talents lie more in lopping than stonework, so I was glad to take over the main lopping responsibilities.

Eventually we worked our way back past Icewater and started running into the other crews. We stopped to help a group between the Boulevard and Sweat Heifer junctions with installing a beautiful new stone step.

The stone was lovingly placed into a carefully created hole

By the time we finished with that, it was getting toward 4:00—time to head out. A picnic was scheduled for Metcalf Bottoms, but I, as the odd North Carolinian amongst a gaggle of Tennesseans, opted to head directly toward home. The picknickers may have had to deal with a bit of moisture, as the heavens opened about that time, dispensing a generous quantity of what someone I know calls “hydrological head poo.” But a fine day nonetheless.

Birds, work, and Mt. Moriah July 12, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, White Mountains.
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From Mt. Surprise toward Mt. Washington

From Mt. Surprise toward Mt. Washington. This is where my trail section starts

It was time for another work trip up Mt. Moriah.  Stopped at Camp Dodge to pick up a pair of loppers—a nice sharp pair—then on to Gorham and the Carter-Moriah trail.  I feared man-eating vegetation after all the June rains.  That fear proved to be well justified.

It took me six hours to lop my way to the top, an all-time record.  (My usual work-trip time is between four and five.)  Since the first 2.0 miles of the 4.5-mile, 3300-vertical total are someone else’s trail section, and I covered that in 50 minutes, that means it took me five hours to go 2.5 miles.

The stop at Mt. Surprise makes for a nice rest and a snack before getting down to work.  This time of year, the sheep laurel is blooming on the open ledges.  I love the combination of reindeer moss, lowbush blueberry, laurel, and red and black spruce.

Even after all that lopping, the trail needs more attention.  It needs a lot of drainage work, the kind that has to be done by a crew.  I apologize to everyone for the state of the bog bridge at 3300 feet.   There is a very interesting section at the end of it that has turned into one of those lumberjack-style balancing contests where you try to stay upright on a LogRolling_Scheer'sLumberjackShowfloating log.  I tell the AMC about this on every work report, but I think they are shorthanded.  Overall, the trail is the muckiest I’ve seen it in about ten years. This is the kind of mud that makes an ominous sucking noise when your boot goes into it.  It is getting almost as bad as Adirondack mud, which I believe, after extensive research, to be the worst mud in the world.

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

On this particular trip, the forests of Mt. Moriah lived and breathed with songbirds.  The melodies of hermit thrushes wove a pattern among the hemlocks and maples of the lower altitudes, their songs looping from branch to branch.  The Peterson’s bird guide describes their song as “clear, ethereal, flutelike,” resorting to more poetic wording than usual.  The cousin of the hermit thrush, the veery, contributed a variation, playing notes on a similar mysterious woodland flute but in a

Veery

Veery

different pattern.  Peterson:  “Liquid, breezy, ethereal; wheeling downward.”

On the summit of Moriah, it was all white-throated sparrows singing and singing among the spruces and firs. Some people think they are saying, “Sam Peabody–Peabody–Peabody!”  Peterson thinks they have “several clear pensive whistles, easily imitated.”  The tune part of it might be imitated, but not the “clear pensive” part.  They pass through my yard in the spring on their way up to northern New England.  Peterson: “Patronizes feeders.”  (“Why, you’re just a fine little feeder, aren’t you?”)

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

The sparrows were flitting among the spruces and balsams that upholster the upper parts of the Carter-Moriah ridge.  It is a lovely world up there among the evergreens and the ledges, with views of three mountain systems fairly close (east of the Wild River valley, between Wild River and Peabody River, and west of the Peabody) and more unending mountains marching off to the horizons further away.

Black spruce on left and red spruce on right

Black spruce on left and red spruce on right