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.