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.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Final Crew & the Great Pack-Out

The final Rocky Top crew session of 2015 has come and gone, capping off a very memorable, exciting, and productive season. With almost perfect weather, the crew had no problem completing a hefty load of work, beating the “step record” set two years ago, demonstrating their trail-building talents for a local news camera crew, and helping prepare tools and camp for the Great Pack-Out.
Long-time SWEAT, Rocky Top, and Konnarock volunteer, Sandy, joined the crew for his second consecutive week this season and Logan, our season-long crew member, returned for his fourth consecutive week. Artie, a crew leader and co-founding member of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, returned to Rocky Top for yet another session, offering expert rock work skills to aid and teach the crew.

Two new crew members joined us for this session – Kevin and Jamie. Kevin hailed from Connecticut and was working his way traveling south to Florida, but wanted to find ways to volunteer and learn more about trail building. Jamie, a recent thru-hiker of the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota, worked at one point for the Ice Age Trail Alliance in Wisconsin and wished to experience the environment of an Appalachian Trail Conservancy crew.

The crew set off up Snake Den Ridge Trail with the knowledge that colder weather was on the horizon. Indeed, the first two days the crew had very cool – but dry – days, which made for excellent working conditions. However, the first two nights also involved freezing temperatures, leading some to take the crew’s water filters inside their tents with them to keep them functioning for the rest of the week.

Conditions stayed warm and clear for the rest of the session, an unusual occurrence for the end of October on Rocky Top. The crew wasn’t complaining, obviously, and went on to do a healthy amount of work repairing the A.T.

Working beyond Old Black – Rocky Top’s goal for the season and 1.5 miles south of Inadu Knob – the crew was now doing log steps and waterbars that would benefit next year’s crew, allowing that group to begin their work farther down the stretch of trail in the future. After using up all the locust log material they could on the southern side of Old Black, the crew headed back towards their camp to work on a tricky section of bedrock in need of rock steps.

It was during this time that a news camera crew from Knoxville, led up Snake Den Ridge Trail by ATC’s Leanna Joyner, joined Rocky Top for an afternoon. The camera crew interviewed crew members and filmed the volunteers at work, trying to get a sense for what trail crew work and life is all about. Look out in early November for Channel 8 Knoxville’s story about Rocky Top!

All-in-all, the crew did an impressive amount of work, namely when it came to step-building. The crew broke the record of 30 steps, a number set two years ago when a crew of volunteers entered the park for a shortened session after the federal government shutdown. This week, the crew built seven rock steps and twenty-seven log steps – a total of 34 steps! Way to go Rocky Top crew!

When the crew wasn’t working, they shared other trail crew memories from years past, watched the late, timid sun rises greet them through brilliant fall colors, and hiked out to see the stars where satellite flares and Milky Way glows wowed them.

When it was time for the crew to leave, they worked on packing up their camp near Inadu Knob, consolidating tools and extra food in panniers and bundles suitable for hanging on the side of a horse. Rain barrels were dumped and cleaned out, tied and stored away for next year’s season. Pick heads and rockbars, were oiled and cached safely away. The morning of their departure, the crew began tearing down the final tarp over the kitchen and carrying down everything to the Snake Den Ridge Trail junction with the A.T. A few of the crew members said “goodbye” to their two-month home, now bare and mostly inconspicuous.

The Southern Appalachian Backcountry Horsemen and the Backcountry Horsemen of North Carolina provided six pack animals for the Great Pack-Out. Once everything had been weighed out appropriately at the junction, the packers came up in two groups of three to load up all of Rocky Top’s gear. Chris, ATC’s Trail Specialist, also came up to lend a hand and carry out a loaded-down freighter pack.

At the bottom of Snake Den in Cosby Campground, Great Smoky Mountains Backcountry Specialist Christine Hoyer managed parking lot space for the horse trailers and kept an eye on the pack-out communications. Rocky Top Camp Coordinator Meg Eversole provided local BBQ, green beans, and mac-and-cheese, among other food items for the end of season party. The crew ate their fill and reminisced about the week and the fun and success of the 2015 season.

A big thanks goes out to the volunteer horsemen who made the Great Pack-Out possible, as well as the rest of the Rocky Top season possible. We couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks to Meg for her management of Soak Ash and great meals all season long – both at base camp and in the field. Thanks to Christine for her support through the Park Service and for joining us out on crew for multiple work days this year. And thanks to Chris for all his support through ATC, coming out to work and visit with the crew all season long, and for helping us get everything down the mountain!
And last, but certainly not least, thank you 2015 Rocky Top volunteers! You certainly made this a special season for all the staff on crew this year. Thanks to your good attitudes and hard work we met our goal (and then some) for the season. We welcome your return next year – be sure to tell all your friends!

Until next time, Rocky Top Trail Crew – we’ll see ya on the trail!

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