The Rocky Top crew works exclusively on 70 miles of the A.T. through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park following the ridge crest from Davenport Gap to Fontana Dam. The crew is sponsored jointly by the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, the National Park Service, and ATC.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crew Life in the Smokies: A Comparison of Rocky Top and S.W.E.A.T Crew

This blog post is cross-posed here as well as on the S.W.E.A.T Crew blogWritten by Ron Hudnell, a first-time volunteer on S.W.E.A.T and Rocky Top, who breaks down the differences in the two crews.

Reflections from an ATC Crew “Newbie”

During October 20 – 26, 2013, I was very fortunate to be on the end-of-season session #5 of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Rocky Top volunteer crew which did trail building projects in the Smoky Mountain National Park between Cosby Knob Shelter and Tri-Corner Knob Shelter.  The official count on new steps was 31 with a few rock bar drains and berm clearance projects, but who is counting?  We did!  Crew leaders, Bobby and Greever, said that we set a new record this year with the most steps in the shortest time with the smallest work crew – lots of superlatives in that claim!

I use the word “fortunate” above because I was the only crew member who had not done Rocky Top work before, so I felt blessed to be on a team with very experienced leaders as well as co-workers willing to come back for a second session.  Some had been back for multiple visits so I knew I was on to something!

During the shortened Rocky Top work session caused by the government shutdown, the question that I got most often asked was not about background, miles hiked on the A.T., gear, rock work knowledge, etc., but rather how I would compare work with Rocky Top to my previous work with the S.W.E.A.T. crew earlier in the season.
Rocky Top: Hammers High

So my comparison for the record and for the benefit of other volunteers who are trying to decide which group to join…

Similarities between S.W.E.A.T. & Rocky Top

  •   Both teams were absolutely and totally satisfying for me as I got to work for excellent crew leaders and with groups of very dedicated AT enthusiasts.
  • Crew leaders were well trained and very knowledgeable on trail construction/trail maintenance, had thru-hiker experience, and were strong advocates of “Leave No Trace”.  They had great practical experience! 
  • There were no disgruntled, hard-to-work-with individuals in either group.
  • Both groups did work that is very necessary for the preservation and sustainability of the Appalachian Trail
  • I was tired at the end of the day with both groups - and thus slept very well!
  • Camp Coordinator, Kayah Gaydish, did a fabulous job of working with crew leaders for both groups to ensure that each volunteer member had enough and the right foods to eat during their sessions.  She even went AAN (“above and beyond”) by hiking part way out with us on the Rocky Top week and meeting us at the equipment pickup point at the end of the week.  Very much appreciated!

S.W.E.A.T. Crew

Differences between S.W.E.A.T. & Rocky Top 

  •  The Rocky Top week involved more creativity or “engineering” as you had to determine where the steps were needed for effective erosion control as well as hiker/horse traffic, what materials the steps would be constructed of, where you were going to find and move the materials, how to cut the stone, how deep to dig the holes, and more.  (By the end of the week, my mentor said he had taught me all he could so I was on my own.  But I did catch him looking over his shoulder just to ensure “our trail” projects would be approved by the crew leader.)  I really enjoyed the interaction among crew members in these “design” activities. 
  • The S.W.E.A.T. crew activity was more maintenance-oriented on existing sites, so the physical count accomplishment list was much higher.
  • Rocky Top was more physically demanding once on site as you seemed to always have a rock sledge or hammer in your hand if you were not moving a large rock!  But pack horses carried up and brought down food, equipment, and tools thus aking a big load off the volunteers.
  • S.W.E.A.T. was more physically demanding getting to and from the work site as the hike in was longer and crew members hiked all tools and food in and back.  In a somewhat strange way, I liked that physical challenge/accomplishment of carrying a 65 lb pack!

S.W.E.A.T. Team

The Bottom Line

It will be difficult for me to pick between these two groups – S.W.E.A.T. or Rocky Top – so I am sure that I will attempt to do both groups again next year if ATC will allow me to do so.  I might even expand my horizon by looking at some other ATC crews (the Konnarock Crew was often mentioned) as well as at some local weekend A.T. trail maintenance organizations!

Rocky Top Team

Thank you ATC for allowing me to be a part of both groups this year!  I encourage all hikers and AT supporters – financial or otherwise – to get involved with a trail crew as ATC staff cannot alone maintain the trail that we so love.  And the personal returns are lifelong…

Ron Hudnell

AKA “Tarheel”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Session Two: Rough Around the Edges

Rough around the edges describes my video editing than the crew for session two. This team worked seamlessly together to get a heck of a lot of work done.

During my visit to the work site, I saw the work that our session one folks had achieved, as well as the steady progress being made by session two. It's amazing to see it all come together. I hope the video captures it for you.

The embedded video doesn't look nearly as crisp as it does on YouTube, so you may prefer to watch it there.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Session One Underway

Session One of Rocky Top Trail Crew kicked off on September 1. The crew met the evening before at base camp for orientation and dinner.

Before dawn, the crew's camp coordinator awoke to prep breakfast - a french toast-inspired dish and sausage meatballs. Well fed and fueled, the crew packed up their lunches, then loaded their packs in the van that took them to Cosby Campground. (Here is John's praise of his Rocky Top Crew base camp breakfast...)

At Cosby the crew met the teams of horse packers who volunteer with Rocky Top to take up essential supplies, like tents, an electric fence to keep bears away from the crew's mountain-top kitchen, food, tools, and a few comforts - like foldable camp chairs (the closest thing to car-camping our crew volunteers will experience during their week on crew. Otherwise, it's rugged.)
David & Noland Richards
Packin' Front and Center
The team of horse packers started up the Snake Den Ridge Trail at 10:00 a.m. The crew, laden with their backpacks and a few tools, followed behind. Snake Den Ridge Trail is a tough trail for our volunteers and the horses. Horsemen condition their horses for the ride. Volunteers also have to come ready for the challenge of climbing more than 3,400 feet in about 5.5 miles (although the distance from the parking lot makes the hike closer to 6 miles). The morning was muggy and the temperatures were warming.The crew got spread out over the first two miles but took the opportunity to regroup at the Inadu Creek crossing where everyone got the chance to dip fingers in the cold, refreshing water, and eat a snack.

At Inadu Creek

The crew continued on their climb. Steadily making progress. Putting one foot in front of the other. Simultaneously halting and persevering, they willed themselves up the mountain. Then, the thunderstorm arrived. With the rain came the wind. The torrent blew over in about a half hour, but left the crew soaked. Luckily their spirits hadn't been drenched.

Keith admiring the cribbing at Inadu Creek
Onward they climbed. They took a break at a wide switchback, designed by nature with large sitting rocks for resting. While there, a set of horse packers returned from unloading at the campsite. After they continued on, the crew gathered up and pressed on toward the A.T. The most difficult part of Rocky Top Crew can be just getting to the work site. It is not an easy climb. The crew soldiered on, eventually making it to camp just before night fall.

The real work would start the next day: rehabilitating the Appalachian Trail, one stone or rock step at a time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rocky Top 2013

Sign up for a session of Rocky Top TODAY!
SESSION               DATES
Session 1             9/1 - 9/8/2013
Session 2             9/13 - 9/20/2013
Session 3             9/25 - 10/2/2013
Session 4             10/7 - 10/14/2013
Session 5             10/19 - 10/26/2013