Sunday, November 16, 2014

Upper Goose Pond Cabin, preparing for a new roof

September 13, 2014

In preparation for a 2015 replacement of the roof of Upper Goose Pond Cabin, metal roofing was floated into the Cabin via canoe from our trail neighbors, Leisure Lee.

Jim and Pete discuss the fine points of lashing two canoes into a single barge, while Tom Evans and Sue Spring look on.

14 foot long pieces are stacked onto the canoe "barge".

Squeezing in carefully around the cargo, paddlers prepare to shove off.
Backing water, we're on the way.

Two trips saw all the roof panels landed at the UGPC dock, where they were dried, and carried into the boathouse for storage over the winter.

In the spring and early summer, scaffolding will be constructed alongside the cabin and the old roof covering stripped off.  Any needed repairs to the roof sheathing and chimney will be performed, and the new panels installed.
The Cabin is expected to remain open during the work.

2014 ALDHA Gathering Workparty

October 13, 2014

On a pleasant October day, 15 attendees of ALDHA's 33rd annual Gathering and two volunteers from the Mass AT Committee put their boots to the ground and picked up tools in their hands to build a short relocation north of Massachusetts Ave in North Adams.

While the original trail route went directly up the slope, this new route crosses the same hill transversely, providing a longer, but gentler slope that reduces the velocity of runoff and directs it to the side of the footpath, rather than straight down the hill--making this section more sustainable and eliminating the need for waterbars and rock steps.
Working along a line of pink plastic flagging, "organic" soil--the top layer of leaves, duff and small roots is stripped off.

As the crew removes the top organic layer of soil, the lower layers of "inorganic" soil are exposed.  Without a host of rotting leaves and microorganisms, this subsoil will remain stable under heavy foot traffic and pounding rain.

The treadway is widened, and sloped slightly to the
downhill side (left in this photo).  The uphill edge will be
"laid back" to blend into the slope.

The outslope is fine-tuned to encourage water to run off the trail in sheets,
 rather than down hill in streams

Cindy "Loppers", Class of 2015 thruhiker, adds the
all-important white blazes.

Our first hikers ascend the partially completed trail
Many hands make light the work.  Thank you ALDHA!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Carpentry at South Wilcox

Post Replacement, South Wilcox Shelter
August 19, 2014

Finally, an up-to-date post (both the blog and the shelter)...

On yet another cool August morning, Pete and Cosmo (along with much appreciated carrying help from DCR Ridgerunnrs and staff) came in the "back door" trail to South Wilcox Shelter.  Our mission was to replace a post that was starting to disintegrate at the bottom.  It looks pretty bad in the photo and even though there was still plenty of material in the post for it to do it's job, but we wanted to address this before it got worse.

Pete and I broke down the work into two parts.  He measured up the existing post and set about cutting and notching the new one to match.  My job was to take the old post out.  We were clearly playing to our strengths with this division of labor.
Here you see Pete working on the new post--while in the foreground I've just pulled the nails out of the siding, and cut off the bottom of the post below the diagonal brace.  Those of you with some building experience might wonder if we placed temporary supports under the roof of the shelter before we took out the post--we didn't.  The design of the shelter relies on the roof rafters being in tension and the majority of the mass of the shelter being at the back.  The overhang is supported by the rafters and the 8x8 timber than runs the full depth of the shelter.  The diagonal brace is--in theory--redundant.  Now, if there had been a bunch of Boy Scouts hanging out in the loft, we might have considered a temporary support at the front--or not.

Here, both the top and bottom pieces of the post are out.  Basically, the diagonal brace is all that's holding it in place.  If we'd remembered to bring in the right sized socket wrench, we could have unbolted it first.  Adam Morris, the State Forest Supervisor was a key player on this project, as he went to their shop and returned with the correct sized socket.

The whole thing cleared out.  Pete continues to work on the replacement, here creating the mortise to hold the tenon on the diagonal brace

After lunch, we began to insert the new post.  It was a tight fit.  We had to use a piece of an oak sapling and a jack to stretch the distance between the roof and floor of the shelter.  Then tapped the new post into place (with a 4lb sledge hammer).  Note the horizontal wall framing (called "girts") that notch into the back of the post.

Because Pete cut the mortise so precisely, the diagonal brace was and easy fit up, and the job was done.

The old post was left for firewood.  The dry hemlock will make for a nice evening's campfire.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Old Fashioned Trail Work

Side Hill and Cribbing in Cheshire MA
June 10, 2014

Still working through the backlog of 2014 projects.  In June we set about correcting some treadway issues on the Trail between Rt 8 and the open fields south of Outlook Ave.

In one location we had a muddy section of trail that was oozing its way down hill, and in another nearby area the treadway was on the side slope of a small hill, but hiker traffic was slowly causing it to drift downwards as they looked for a level area to walk on.  While gravity was the culprit in both cases, we addressed them in two different ways.

Jim and Jim place rocks in the crib wall
In the muddy area, we harvested local stone to create a crib--a short wall parallel to the trail that is filled in with soil to create a level area that juts out from the slope of the hillside.

This requires a base row of rocks that sits below the surface of the hillside, upon which subsequent rows are stacked--each row set back from the one before.  This "batter" tilts the wall towards the trail, resisting the force of the soil packed behind it.  As the wall gets higher, mineral soil (dirt harvested from the adjacent woods and taken from below the top layers of organic matter) is laid in behind and packed down.  This soil should actually end up a little higher than the crib, and slope slightly out so water runs off over the crib, rather than flowing down the footpath.  Crib walls can also be constructed out of locally harvested tree trunks, held into the hillside with long stakes.
Crib is visible just past the white blaze

Interestingly, while we were looking for rocks, we found an old spring a few feet from the trail.  A rock wall had been built to keep the spring clear of dirt and debris running down the hillside and into the small pool.  The wall was likely constructed in the late 1800's when this area was agricultural land.  We cleared out the pool of accumulated debris, and now it's available for hikers to refill with water before heading up towards Mt Greylock.

Meanwhile, a 1/4 mile south in a drier area, the rest of our team worked to carve out the side of the hill to provide a level treadway.  Instead of installing cribbing, we cut a "full bench" shelf into the hillside creating a level area resting on undisturbed soil to provide a solid base for the trail.
Side hill trail being cut into the slope
This entails digging away a fairly large amount of soil, which is tossed down the slope well clear of the eventual footpath.  The downhill side of the trail should be at the edge of the slope of the hillside, while the uphill side is cut into the hill.  The new treadway is sloped slightly out, again so water will flow off of the trail, rather than down it.

Construction nearly complete, crew chats with an early thru-hiker
Constructing trail this way--more across the slope rather than steeply up the slope--makes for trail that will be stable, require little in the way of waterbars or similar structures and is resistant to erosion by runoff.  To route trails across slopes does require a fairly wide corridor, and works best where soils are deep and well drained.  It's not often in New England that we have these conditions, so this was a great opportunity to introduce this type of trail building to our volunteers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Sign for Mt Everett

July 19, 2014

A team of 3 volunteers and 1 ATC staff brought new hiker information to the summit of Mt Everett.

Cosmo at Pete admire the finished product

But first a little recent history (you didn't think you'd be able to read this w/o another lecture, did you?)

Way back in the day (before the collective memory of the current Mass AT Committee), Mt Everett had a functioning fire tower--actually used to spot and direct response to forest fires in SW Mass and nearby areas in New York and Connecticut.
Tower in 2000
At some point, modern technology, communications and a general lack of wildfire incidents lead to the abandonment of the tower for official purposes.  Local residents can remember in their younger days actually being able to climb the tower, but by the time the current generation of Trail managers arrived, the tower was inaccessible, dilapidated, and frankly--an eyesore.
Tower is gone

In 2004, DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) was developing a management plan for the summit (home to a unique environment and some rare plants and insects) and the question of what to do with the tower came to the fore.  One group wanted to restore and preserve the tower, others thought that if that happened, the inevitable forest of antennas would sprout from the top and a cleared swath for their associated power and data cables would scar the mountain.  Members of the AT Committee thought long and hard about the issue, and came to the decision that the tower did not contribute to a primitive, backcountry hiking experience.  Further, the A.T. already provided several excellent viewpoints of the surrounding landscape (albeit not 360 degrees) at other locations to the north and south of the summit.  Eventually, DCR decided that the tower should go, and with some local angst, it was cut loose from its foundation and air-lifted off the mountain in 2004.

What was left were the 4 concrete foundation bases and an open summit area.  The southbound A.T. makes a sharp left turn (you can see double blazes on one of the bases), but with little vegetation the footpath is somewhat obscure to the unobservant hiker (and we seem to get a fair number of them on a regular basis).  

Our solution was to install a sign post, providing hikers not only with directional cues, but also information about the altitude, distances to nearby overnight sites, and a reminder to protect the fragile vegetation, by staying on the footpath.  

Starting the base
Silvia and Dave collect more boulders
So that brings us to July 2014 (10 years after the tower is carried off the mountain).  Pete, Dave, Silvia and Cosmo carried up an 8ft long (and heavy) plastic post up the 1/2 mile from the parking area then returned for signs, ladder and other tools.  The exposed bedrock of the summit made it impossible to dig a hole for the post, so rocks were collected to provide a firm (but not vandal proof) base for the post

 Once the post was set, we set about attaching the wide variety of signs this post was destined to carry.

Pete makes the final attachments
While the sign post itself can be considered another intrusion into the primitive experience, the A.T. in this location serves not only as a through trail, but also sees many day hikers from the nearby state forest parking area and is a popular four season destination.  By providing directional information, we hope to minimize off-Trail activity by hikers looking for the summit/view (there isn't one from here) as well pointing out the footpath to the less observant ones.

Wether this sign will survive vandals, souvenir hunters, and the fierce winter weather remains to be seen.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wilbur Shelter Fire Ring--June 21, 2014

In 2010, we made some improvements at Wilbur Clearing Shelter and Campsite.  We installed more tent platforms and tent pads and rebuild the area in front of the shelter to provide a more stable platform and drain off the water.
Conditions in 2010

2010 repairs underway

Since then, we've found that hikers are pulling stones out of the wall in front of the shelter to place in the fire ring.  This makes the fire ring bigger, and the wall less secure--eventually it will collapse, and the area in front of the shelter will wash out, again.

Hikers have something about fires.  Who doesn't like to gather around a crackling blaze in the evening, sharing stories, keeping the night at bay for a while?   As a concept, this is very attractive.  In practice however, it leads to some significant management problems at heavily used A.T. overnight sites, and the reality is not so pretty.

Resource Damage:  Ever notice at some overnight sites the woods seem unusually open?  No undergrowth or branches, ground packed down with no cover?  In the worst cases, there are stumps of small trees raggedly cut off.  This is from hikers scavenging for fire wood.  At busy A.T. campsites, the forest cannot keep producing dead limbs quickly enough to supply the dry fuel needed to build fires.  Inexperienced hikers will even cut live trees to try and burn them--with less than optimal results.

Trash:  Some hikers apparently think a fire will eliminate all of their trash like some magical incinerator.  Anyone who's had to clean up a shelter site will know that things like tin-foil, plastic and tin cans won't burn (who would have thought that steel can burn?).  Instead, they get buried under the ash and coals from the next fire, and the fire ring gets bigger and taller.  More rocks are found and added.

Forest Fire:  How many times have you come to a campsite and found the fire smoldering or in some cases blazing merrily away with no one around?  It takes a lot of water and stirring to completely extinguish a fire.  Much more if there is a deep bed of ash and charcoal.  Most hikers don't bother, figuring it won't spread (after all, the area is pretty much devoid of fuel anyway, right?).  Last year, several acres of land along the A.T. in Connecticut were burnt by a fire started on the Trail (Connecticut A.T. camping rules prohibit fires).

Finally, there's the stink of not quite burnt trash and green wood that lingers in shelters and on gear for weeks at time.

So you may have gathered, I'm not a fan of fires at A.T. overnight sites.  Not to worry, it's not My A.T.  For better or worse it belongs to everyone--we just have to clean it up.  End of Lecture.

A few weeks ago, in part to keep hikers from picking stones out of the wall in front of the shelter, we installed a DCR-supplied standard steel fire ring and grate.  We dug up the old fire ring (at this point about 2ft tall) and rebuilt the wall using many of the stones from the old fire ring.

Don disposes of the last of the old fire ring.

The new ring is installed and anchored to the ground

Jim spreads mineral soil on rebuilt platform

We took left over stones and put them around the ring--lipstick on a pig in my opinion.  A heavily used site like this will require regular visits by adopters and Ridgerunners to keep the new fire ring cleared out.  It won't take long for it to be overwhelmed.

Ready for more hikers

If you hike the A.T., it is unlikely you will arrive at a site without a fire pit of some sort (except in CT).  Before you decide to make one, think about wether you really needed it, or if it's worth the price.

Bridge at Upper Goose Pond Inlet--June 28, 2014

Apologies, readers.  There's been a bit of a gap in these posts--it's been a busy spring off-Trail, it's taken a while to catch up.

The bridge crossing the inlet stream to Upper Goose Pond is about a mile or so trail south of Upper Goose Pond Cabin, adding in the walk from the road to the Cabin, this is a pretty remote project for us--so our equipment options were limited to what could be carried in.

The original stringers on the bridge were hemlock logs taken from trees nearby the stream.  Pete reports that it took 5 people to carry them to the crossing site once they were felled, limbed and debarked.  These stringers had served well for around 20 years.  Over the past few seasons however, the nails holding the planks on top started working out of the logs--a good indication that things were getting a little soft in there.

Rather than cut new trees, we found some 3x8 timbers that were used in the construction of a house near the UGP Cabin.  The house was torn down a couple of years ago, and we salvaged the useful materials.  Over the winter, Jim and Pete were able to drag 3 timbers across the ice and land them near the work site.  This spring, with the Cabin opening crew, we carried them in the last 1/4 mile on the Trail.

This stringer was all used up
For our project, we stripped the deck planks off of the old stringers--the nails pulled easily from the rotting logs.  As we removed the last of the planks at the north end of the bridge, one of the stringers broke near the sill log.  We definitely got all of the use out of them.

The next challenge was to get the stringers out the stream bed.  With only three of us on the job, we were't about to lift them up and carry them off.
Pete winches the first stringer
onto the bank after Don freed it from the sill

We brought a small come-a-long (a hand powered winch) and by anchoring one end to a convenient tree, were able to drag these stringers up the bank to where we could roll them into the woods where Nature would continue to recycle them.

Stringers resting on rocks, ready for assembly

Our next challenge (after lunch) was to construct a suitable base for the new stringers.  The original sills were in worse shape than the stringers, having laid in the dirt for 20 years.  Fortunately, rocks of suitable shape and size were abundant on both sides of the stream and we were able to stack some up to support the stringers a suitable height above the stream.  The replacement stringers were carried down and landed on the rocks.

At that point, it was just a question of getting them mostly level and the ends even before re-installing the planks.

End planks temporarily attached
 to set stringers
Planking complete, Pete installs an
anchor to restrain the bridge in case
 of high water

As you can see in the photos, this stream was not a particularly challenging obstacle to hikers.  Relatively low banks, and flat bottom, it could be easily forded.  However, in the spring, and during extreme rain events, the brook does get more lively.  Many of our trail visitors in this section are not seasoned hikers, and there is the possibility that they would have trouble crossing this stream at certain times of the year.  Additionally, a bridge protects the banks and vegetation from hikers wandering up and down stream looking for a "better" crossing.  In a way, it concentrates impacts to the environment just like a designated campsite does--keeping more of the woods in a natural state un-trammeled by hikers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tree Work at Upper Goose Pond Cabin

April 14, 2014

They say there's nothing that AT Volunteers can't accomplish--while I have seen the truth of statement, maybe there are still some things we shouldn't undertake...

Upper Goose Pond Cabin is set on a hillside overlooking Upper Goose Pond, one of the last sizable ponds in Mass that does not have any houses built on it.  Thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service and local donors, the entire shore line of the pond is part of the A.T. Corridor.  The cabin sits in and "oak and laurel" forest surrounded by mature White Oak trees that are approaching 100ft tall.  The thing with oaks is that as the tree grows, the lower branches naturally die off, and eventually fall to the ground--or the roof of the cabin, or onto tent platforms.  

When I say "lower" branches, I'm talking about branches that are 30ft up the trunk, impossible to access from the ground in this remote area.  At your house, you'd call the tree company and they'd roll up in their bucket truck and take the branches down in a few hours.  Upper Goose Pond Cabin is about a mile from the nearest road--so you call an Arborist--a guy that climbs trees, hauls up his chainsaw and cuts off the dead branches and lowers them to the ground.  

We called on Caleb Turner, an experienced arborist from the southern Berkshires.  Earlier, on a very cold January day we met to assess the work.  We picked several trees with dead or aging branches that were over the cabin and tent platforms at the two adjacent campsites.  This week, Caleb returned while we served as the ground crew.  While ordinarily, hikers are responsible for their own safety in choosing a tentsite, because we provide platforms--"forcing" them to camp in specific locations--it's incumbent on us to remove any known hazards.

So, how do you get up 30 feet of branchless trunk?  You toss a small line with a weighted bag up to into the tree, catching a branch that's strong enough to hold your weight while climbing--just like hanging a bear bag (sort of).  Then use that small line to pull up your climbing line, then climb the rope using a prussic knot for a hand hold and grabbing the rope with your feet and pushing up a foot or two at a time.

Once you're up the tree, just hang on and cut off the branches...

Then it's just a question of lowering them down where we're waiting to cut them up for firewood.

After clearing the branches, it's just a quick slide down the rope and onto the next tree.  While we had a crew on site, we also felled two other trees that were overhanging the privy.  Plenty of firewood available for next year and a safer campsite in the next big storm.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hey, We're Back!

Well it's been (still is) a long winter.  Sitting here the day before the official arrival of Spring watching the sleet come down.  We have just posted our project schedule for the season, and it can be found here:

We've got some pretty interesting stuff lined up this season, and look forward to seeing you out there.  To help, we've started a Meetup Group, and you can check it out here:  If this is your thing, feel free to join up.  Of course, you can also just contact the leader of a project that piques your interest and join us that was as well.

There's about 40 members, and our first event of the year was our annual AT Volunteer Gathering on Feb 1st.  We had a great turnout of old and new AT folks.  At that meting, we began our project planning process for the 2014 work season.  How do we decide what to do?

First off, we gather reports from maintainers, ridgerunners and hikers over the course of the previous year as well as look at what kind of ongoing maintenance needs to be done on shelters, campsites, treadway and open areas.  Generally this list gets pretty long, but we break it down into some basic categories:

  • Annual Tasks--stuff that we need to do every season.  These are things like our "Blowdown Blitz", where we inspect every section of the Trail for downed trees and large branches, then organize sawyer crews (see ) to address each location with a significant problem--the goal is to have the Trail completely cleared by the end of May.  We also routinely have projects for mowing and clearing open fields, maintaining boundaries of AT Corridor Lands, opening and closing Upper Goose Pond Cabin, etc.
  • Privies and Overnight sites--there are always privies to move, shelters to repair, or campsites that need some work.  This year, we are adding some tenting areas near Kay Wood Shelter--it's a popular site, with only a few tenting locations near the shelter.  Hikers then head down near the water supply and set up there--not the best way to keep your water clean.  We're also making improvements to the front of the Wilbur Clearing Shelter--we've tried rock walls, but people keep pulling out the rocks and adding them to the fire pit.  So we are installing a metal fire pan, and rebuilding the front area with large timbers.
  • Wet Areas--no matter what we do, there always seems to be someplace that is wet or muddy.  When it's bad enough that hikers start walking around it--widening the footpath and damaging vegetation--we need to do something about it.  So bog bridges, step stones or turnpike are installed to keep folks on the straight and narrow.  We've got a number of projects including areas on Mt Greylock and Mt Race to address some perennially squishy sections of trail.
  • Treadway Hardening--ever been hiking along and realize you're walking in a trench instead of a trail?  Or felt yourself sliding sideways as the footpath crosses the side of a hill?  We'll be making some rock steps, check dams and improving side-hill trail on a couple of locations this summer.
  • Bridges--we had a big bridge project last year.  This year we'll be making small repairs on bridges near Mass Ave, and East Mountain.  We'll be replacing a bridge over the inlet to Upper Goose Pond.
  • Upper Goose Pond Cabin--In addition to the usual seasonal opening and closing, we'll be painting the north side and prepping the cabin for a major roof replacement which will happen next season (2015)  These projects are cleverly scheduled for August, so we can take a swim in the pond in the afternoon.
We've got lots of work to do, and have opportunities for volunteers of all experience levels and interests.  If you have questions about a project, contact the leader listed on the schedule, or email me at

See you out there!