Monday, October 19, 2015

The Gardeners of Flat Hollow

I am not an engineer.  So before you start dialing my number to request my services…please just hang up the phone and drive.  But I helped build one amazing stone wall this past weekend.
We had a trail day planned in Flat Hollow for Saturday.  When I say “we” I mean the royal, as all of my partners in crime bailed on me at some point.  To be fair, one such co-conspirator—mayhaps the chief—reneged on his state of bail and showed up with his son.  And so there were three.
To be fair almost everyone had a legitimate excuse to call in.  Almost. 
The goal had been to finish up the extension trail that we started way back in August.  There was still about 300’ of trail to cut and a tricky section through a little boulder garden.  Also, there is the travesty climbing turn that needs to be rebuilt, but we’ll get to that at a later date.
We did not build this or approve of its construction.  To be fixed in the near future!
We had rescheduled from a date back in September that cancelled due to rain.  That date was ideal, and I didn’t think about the middle of October being a difficult time to get people to come out and work on trails.  And then the day dawned and I realized I myself would much rather be climbing or mountain biking than head-down digging in the dirt on such a fine autumn day.
Anyway, I was hoping for enough warm bodies to crank out the last benchcutting and get as much done on the boulder garden as possible.  After those two hurdles were crossed the rest would be piddling work to refine what we’ve already got.  We didn’t get as many warm bodies as I had hoped.  But what we had was enough to get quite a bit done.
Kris and his son Andy showed and we let a respectable amount of time lapse after the 9am meeting time before we headed into the woods with our tools and a slightly revised plan.  It made sense to focus on the boulder garden and leave the benchcutting for a future day.  The trail ended about 60-70 feet shy of the boulders that morning and then extended beyond another 200.  It looked to be easy cutting except for figuring out what to do to get through the big stones.
Described left to right
We set about creating an “S” turn through a series of truck sized boulders.  The trail would approach down a slight grade to the overhanging lower corner of the first boulder, make a near 90° left turn into a narrowing gully that peaked at the apex of the next boulder in a tight notch, and then made another near 90° right turn and over some small rocks to exit.
There were some unknowns going into the build.  Namely, once we started pulling rocks out of the notch to use for the retaining wall in the first turn would we hit something too big to move or go over?  A couple of rocks we unearthed worried us, but in the end we managed to construct a two layered retaining wall at the low end to widen the initial blind curve, we knocked the upper notch down to a rideable passage—though techy—and we established a soft tread through the whole cluster of boulders.
Stump is gone and we've laid stone

Wall is complete and we've filled in behind for tread
We sat nursing achy lower backs and reviewed our work.  Before we went to get the bikes for a test run we decided we needed to bridge the 60-70 foot gap between the end of the trail and the boulder garden.  And so we began benchcutting.

Thankfully, it was fairly easy trailbuilding except for the stubborn small stump that Kris and Andy wailed on with the axe as I continued digging in the dirt.  But finally we had a brand spanking new section of trail that ended on the far side of the boulder garden.  At that point we could see where our extension will soon meet up with the existing trail.  We're within sight of being finished!
Approaching the boulder garden
Andy and I carried all the tools down to the trailhead as Kris ran the leafblower on the trail.  We were pretty bushed from all the manual labor, but we all wanted to give the new section of trail a go.  That first blind corner would be questionable as a successful build until we could ride it.
It took me three tries to make the turn.  My front tire kept hitting an off-camber rock on the tread edge and slipping off the trail.  The third time I barely made the turn and climbed the gully to the apex before being thwarted by the techy rocks on the exit.
We rode on out to Flat Hollow Arch and then retraced our ride back to the trailhead.  All in all it was a grand day.
Dropping back from the notch through the first gully

Making the first blind curve in reverse
My Bean was bummed because she didn’t get to help.  So Sunday afternoon I took her and my nephew Hoss up there and we spent about an hour hauling in some gravelly soil to dump at the nadir of the first blind curve.  We built it up a little and widened the tread.  I didn’t have my bike so it’s still a mystery if it’s any easier, but I have faith that it’ll work now.
That's better soil for a trail tread and the turning platform is wider. 
The log isn't for retention, but used as a visual cue.

Far side of the notch.  The rock pile is rideable in both direction and there is the sneak line to the right.
It turned out to be a really good day of work considering we only had three warm bodies.  With excavating a large dead stump, building a stout stone retaining wall, moving some dirt, and then benchcutting trail we managed to add between 125’ and 150’ of new trail.  And I was home by 5pm.
It was a pretty darn good day.

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