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, October 22, 2015

The Friends of the Forest Preserve (and Other Friends) Crew

Session Four of Rocky Top consisted of mostly first-time volunteers, including a trail corps group with the Friends of the Forest Preserve. Based out of the Chicago area, the corps came to the Great Smoky Mountains to learn more about trail work through the Rocky Top program. Others in the group included long-time Konnarock and Rocky Top volunteer, Sandy, our multi-week volunteer this season, Logan, and two other new crew members, Barbara and Thomas.

After another successful climb up Snake Den Ridge Trail – along the way, the autumn colors now starting to appear in full – the crew set up tents, unpackaged gear and food carried up by the horse packers, and opened camp up for the fourth session of the season.

The Southern Appalachian Backcountry Horsemen volunteered their time to pack up the resupply for the crew this week. Many thanks go out to the two riders who offered their time to help make Rocky Top possible this session!

This week the crew continued to work towards Old Black, their 1.5-mile goal south of camp. Putting in log steps was the first priority, but more log waterbars were put in as they were needed to buffer those put in during the first session. The crew was lucky to have good weather for most of the week, which made the work go easily for the first half of the session.

On day three Sandy was able to hike up and join the crew for the remainder of the week. Flooding down in South Carolina had made it impossible for him to arrive any earlier, but we’re glad he was able to come for the majority of the work as he’s always a knowledgeable asset to any trail crew.

When the crew wasn’t working, they played the card game Werewolf and caught the sunrise near Inadu Knob. A few also went to Deer Creek Gap after dark in order to take in a clear night sky. The volunteers saw spectacular views of Jupiter and the Milky Way thanks to the absence of light pollution.

The second half of the week was a bit tougher, weather-wise. The temperatures dropped and the rain came. The crew worked through a constant sprinkle on day five and then had to work only a half day on day six due heavier rain and cooler temps. Throughout the bad weather, however, the crew was able to push past Old Black and begin working beyond the goal for the year. Mostly the crew prepared log material for the next week’s work, as there was so much excess water that holes dug for steps and waterbars began filling up.

On day seven, the crew had a visitor come into camp. A lost hunting dog wandered into the group’s site, looking like it had not eaten in days. Thankfully one on the crew, Barbara, was a veterinarian, and she helped nurse the dog back to health by dislodging a stick from its mouth and feeding it in slow intervals.

Since the crew was hiking out the next day, they radioed the park dispatch and set up a meeting time for the dog’s owner at Cosby Campground. The next morning the crew hiked down, finishing off another successful session of Rocky Top.

Good luck everyone with the Friends of the Forest Preserve – Zach, Clare, Ebony, Abel, Princen, Maryam, and Devon – with the rest of your crew season and thanks for choosing Rocky Top as a training destination! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Alumni Crew

This session of Rocky Top consisted of mostly volunteers who were returning crew members – three, Logan, Constantin, and Jan, had been on crew the prior week and another, Shane, an alum who was back at Rocky Top for his third season. Randy, a Smoky Mountain Hiking Club member and former S.W.E.A.T. crew volunteer, joined Rocky Top for the first time, but rounded out the crew with his prior years of trail maintenance experience.

Good weather and speedy hiking saw the crew reach their campsite right around lunchtime. Climbing up Snake Den Ridge trail to the A.T. – around six miles and 3,500 feet of elevation gain – all in one morning was quite the feat! The crew had plenty of time to get camp ready and to do a tool and safety demonstration before the day was done.

On the crew’s second day, they worked on log steps and replaced an old softwood waterbar with a locust log. Christine Hoyer, the park’s backcountry specialist, came out today to work with the crew. All together, the crew was able to finish eight log steps, putting them on track for an impressive amount of completed work for the week.

Two volunteers with the Backcountry Horsemen of North Carolina brought up the resupply of food for the week today as well. A third of the crew went back to help unload and pack away the goodies in camp. Thanks BHNC for the resupply!

With the rain barrels almost empty, the crew hoped for rain to come over the next several days. The rain surely would come – more so than the crew could have expected.

The crew’s third day was a complete rain-out. With high winds, low temps, and constant rain, the crew avoided potential hypothermia and stayed in camp, making sure their rain barrels were in the best position to catch as much water as possible.

The group told stories, read, and filtered water. The rain never seemed to let up.

Thankfully, the crew’s water reserves were overflowing, allowing that concern to finally be laid to rest. The crew went to sleep anxious to get back to work on the trail. Hopefully the morning would bring better weather and a chance to get active again.

The next day the crew got back to business. While it was still quite windy, the rain had seemed to let up. The crew continued to install log steps southward back to Old Black. The group put in seven steps and made crush and fill to harden a wet area of the trail being held up by old CCC crib wall.
Day five the crew worked on another turnpike – the fourth of the season! This structure was needed near Deer Creek Gap where session one’s turnpike had been installed. A new muddy spot had developed since early September and it was time to help lift the trail up out of the muck with logs and rock.

The view from the gap was sporadically sunny, with clouds whipping overhead and bouts of mist coming and going. Still, the weather held up and it was another successful day of work. Towards the end of the day, turnpike finished, the crew continued south and began work on three more log steps before heading back to camp.

Seven more log steps were completed the next day, even with some rainfall coming and going. The crew worked quickly with skill and determination. By this point all of its individual members were old hands at installing steps, but they also knew that the next two days were expected to be heavy with rainfall.

The second-to-last day, the crew decided to come out early. Amidst the cold rain, the only work the crew was able to accomplish was cleaning a few drainages north of Deer Creek Gap. The rain was good for one thing – seeing how water traveled down the trail and where drainages were working or not working. By mid-morning, the rainfall was so bad that the crew was already heading down Snake Den Ridge Trail, done for the week.

Thanks session three for a great week of work, despite the wet and cold weather! Special thanks to Jan and Constantin for their two weeks of crew work and thank you Christine Hoyer as well for coming out to lend a hand!