SWEAT Crew Session 5

SWEAT Crew Session 5

Derricks Knob to Spence Field Shelter

Day 1

Steve, our only volunteer this week, Matt and Katie headed out on the morning of

day one, being sent off by Meg, Julia, and David, who stood in for Chloë as she taught

a Leave No Trace course for CLC. After a few pit stops were made on the way to the

trailhead, at the grocery store, getting gas, and the backcountry office, we made it to

the trailhead. From there we crushed some miles up to Derrick’s Knob, making it

luckily before the rain. At the shelter we ran into Maury, the ridge runner, once

again and conversed with her while dinner was being made. The night went well,

except for the Bard owl that decided to wake us all up at 2 o’clock in the morning,

hooting above our tents!

Day 2

After breakfast and a quick stretch circle, since there were only three of us, we did a

quick orientation to trail maintenance and then began working. The morning

consisted of sun and clouds as we worked, but midday we got poured on, however

we were lucky enough that the rain only lasted about 45 minutes and we were able

to dry out some. But the rain gave us the opportunity to see our waterbars in action!

We did have a friend in a deer as we worked though; we saw him multiple times

during the day and had an eight-point rack.

Day 3

We worked on some awesome steps during the morning, making a steep section of

trail much nicer. It took us a while to find a nice log, and then a while longer to cut it

into the size we needed, but eventually we got one step in place as it began to rain.

But the rain did not last long, tapering off not long after it began. We then put in

another step, making the section of trail even better! After lunch, we headed down

to where we stopped the day before and continued working on waterbars and

brushing. But the time we made it back to camp it had begun to rain again, but later

we had a nice sunset and blue sky.

Day 4

We hiked out to our stopping place from day three and continued working, one

person on swingblade, one on waterbars, and one on lopping. We worked all day on

Brier Knob, ending the day at the top, where Matt was unfortunately stung by a

yellow jacket, but thankfully it was the end of the day, so he took some Benadryl and

then we began our hike back to camp. After arriving back at camp and making pasta,

it began to rain on us once again, so we all retired to our tents for the night.

Day 5

After a nice, beautiful morning, we began our trek out to work. Climbing Brier Knob

was tough, due to the steep slope, but we made it to the top and from there kept

working south, mainly working on brushing as that section of trail was very

overgrown. We moved slowly throughout the day, as the brushing was really hard,

but the work done was really great and rewarding, especially walking back through

what we had brushed. Steve got stung today, but luckily he is not allergic, so no

Benadryl was needed. The day was gorgeous, a little hot, but blue-sky overhead and

sun and at camp we talked about taking showers the next day!

Day 6

We got up early, packed up our stuff, ate breakfast, did stretch circle and then began

our hike out. On the way out, we stopped by the waterfalls we had hiked past on the

way in, the falls were gorgeous and Matt got in, walking under the falls. Once we

were off trail, we then took a detour to Cades Cove, since neither Steve nor Katie had

been there before and we were so close. We drove around the loop, took a picture

on the van, and got stuck in a bear jam. After our detour, we made it back to Soak

Ash for some homemade pizza made by Chloë. Our crew session came to a great end

and Steve was the volunteer of the week!

SWEAT Crew Session 4

SWEAT Crew Session 4

Dry Sluice Gap to Hughes Ridge Trail

Day 1

The crew, consisting of the Conservation Leadership Corps -Adri, Ni, Lucy, and Jay-

Cal, our wonderful and only non-CLC volunteer, and Chloë, who was standing in for

Matt who had to attend his sisters wedding. We headed out from Newfound Gap,

hiking towards False Gap. On our hike in we lunched at Icewater Spring Shelter, and

later passed Charlie’s Bunion. We also ran into two lovely ladies right before False

Gap that we had met at Mollie’s Shelter the week before! After making it to camp

and setting up just in time, it began to rain, which then turned into a thunderstorm,

but due to Cal’s great tarp work, we were able to stay dry before settling into our

tents for the night.

Day 2

After some decision making, we decided False Gap was not the best basecamp for

our crew, so we packed up and headed out to relocate at Hughes Ridge Cabin. We

avoided rain and thunderstorms on our way to our new camp, catching gorgeous

views from Laurel Top and Bradley’s View. Both of these views were untouched by

signs of civilization for as far you could see! After arriving at Hughes Ridge Cabin, we

took a short break and then began to set up camp, once again just in time as it began

to rain again. That night we were once again lulled to sleep by the sound of thunder.

Day 3

Our first day of work! We hiked up to Bradley’s View, where we took our morning

break, and were Chloë left us, and just enjoyed the gorgeous view of mountains

stretching out before us. We worked south on the A.T., clearing a heavy brushing

area and waterbars. Leanna met us around two, replacing Chloë! She was a welcome

sight to see and brought much energy to the group. That evening around dinner, we

caught Leanna up on what we had done the first two days and it once again rained

as we got ready for bed.

Day 4

Today we split up into two groups, one headed out to False Gap and the other group

worked from our stopping point from the day before. Maury, the ridge runner,

joined us today, which was awesome! We were able to clear all the waterbars

between False Gap and Bradley’s View, and hit the very bad grown-up sections of

brush. Maury also joined us for dinner that night, which was finally a storm free

night and we were able to eat out from under the tarp!

Day 5

We worked under a beautiful blue sky and sun today, working back from Bradley’s

View to Hughes Ridge trail. We finished clearing all the waterbars and brushing

through that section as well as installing one new waterbar. We then finished the

day out by clearing a few waterbars on the Hughes Ridge trail on the way down to

Peck’s Corner Shelter and then tiredly tromping out way back to camp. We made

jokes and Jay gave us some replays of what had happened on the radio today as

Shepard’s pie was prepared for dinner. That night we went to bed with showers on

our minds.

Day 6

Hike out day! Our hike out was along Hughes Ridge trail, then onto Bradley Fork

trail, eventually coming out into the Smokemont Campground. We were packed,

done with stretch circle, and on trail by 7:40! The crew crushed the miles as we

made our way down the mountain, passing over many blow downs from all the

storms. We were lucky that is did not rain on us as we hiked and the clouds actually

gave way to sun as the day progressed. When we finally made it to the Smokemont

Campground, Cal, Jay, Leanna, Lucy, and Adri, waded their way into the creek to cool

down their tired feet and enjoy the cold water. The crew was glad to back at the van

and we made our way to back to basecamp for some ice cream and pizza!

SWEAT Crew Session 3

SWEAT Crew Session 3
Written with the help of the whole crew

Little Bald to Gregory Bald Trail

Day 1
               Majestic Matt led our 9-mile ascent to magnificent Mollies Ridge. The weather was hot and muggy with afternoon thunder. On our way in, we saw a bear as we were approaching Russell Field shelter’s water source and a rattlesnake as we closed in on Mollies Ridge shelter, which was just the beginning of all the wildlife we saw this session. We made it to our camp that evening after a grueling hike up Russell Field trail before hitting the A.T. and after Noah and James cleared a blowdown along the way, and set up our tents behind the shelter.

Day 2
               After stretch circle, we headed out south on the A.T., working our way to Gregory Bald trail. We make it about a mile and a half clearing waterbars and the corridor. Matt, our fearless leader, was attacked by a bee at 9:13am and was incapacitated by Benadryl by the afternoon, so he made his way back to camp to rest. The rest of the crew continued on working, James and Noah saw another bear, and by 4 o’clock we found ourselves an unknown distance from camp (estimated mile and a half). David went forging for water, which he luckily found under the blue blaze at Ekaneetlee Gap, before we headed back to camp to be greeted by Matt who was prepping for dinner. After dinner, as Matt and James were cleaning dishes, they found out someone had used our sump hole as their privy!

Day 3
               We worked our way towards Little Bald in the morning. Sean was supposed to meet us today, but he got held up in the office. So after lunch we headed back to the shelter, where we stopped to refill on water and talk to some hikers. From the shelter we kept on towards Gregory Bald trail, working from where we ended on day two, clearing waterbar’s and brushing. On our way back to camp we came across to more bears and later that night we also hog watched as a herd of hogs came near camp.

Day 4
               Sean finally made it to camp in the morning after being held up all day at the office the day before. From there we headed out to work on tread all day! Sean left at lunch, but not before he and Matt saw another bear, but fear not we were later greeted by the man himself, Randy Puckett (don’t worry Andy, we told him you said hi). During our tread work, we also angered a nest of yellow jackets and had to leave a section at the end of our sidehill alone, but we completed about 206 feet of bench work!

Day 5
               We headed out to finish a section of tread work that we had begun at the end of the day before. After finishing that section, we split up into two groups and one group headed out to the end of our section, Gregory Bald trail, while the other group worked from where we had stopped on day three towards the Gregory Bald trail. The two groups ended up meeting around lunch, and after lunch we worked on two short sections that desperately needed sidehill work. We also had some trail magic, as Brad, a volunteer from session one and two, hiked up to see us for the afternoon and brought us apples and bananas (however, he forgot the cookies Chloë had asked him to hike up to us)!

Day 6

               Hike out day! We packed all our gear and the crew was on trail a few minutes after 8:00am, ready for a mostly downhill hike, which proved much easier than our hike in. It took us about four hours to hike out, where we ended up in the Cades Cove picnic area to the smell of some really good food being cooked over fires. We then made it back to basecamp, where the crew cleaned the tools and put away all the crew gear, and everyone finally got to shower! Chloë then cooked us a great meal of burgers, veggie burgers, and salad, and we had the rest of the night to hangout and talk before our awesome crew members left the next day. 

SWEAT Crew Session 2

SWEAT Crew Session 2

Pecks Corner to Balsam Mountain Trail

Day 1
               After eating a wonderful breakfast prepared by our Chloë, Matt and the crew headed out with Sean to Newfound Gap. The first day consisted of the crew- Matt, Sean, Bryce, Greg, Britt, Jessie, Evan, and Brad- hiking 11 miles in to Hughes Ridge Cabin where we set up camp. Once making it to camp it was discovered that both Britt and Bryce had forgotten to empty their packs after crew fit and had ended up carrying in a few extra pounds in the form of sandbags! Thankfully, Sean packed the sandbags out when he headed out Saturday. Around camp, Bryce made himself comfortable, having packed in two roll pads and two sleeping bags, while that night Britt found out his roll pad had a hole in it.
Day 3
               Today we cut the cheese – a two-pound block of cheese that Chloë sent in to the field with us- and in less than 48 hours the crew devoured it.

Day 4
               Katie hiked in today to meet the crew after attending her brothers wedding, meeting the crew as they were enjoying their lunch at a nice overview and from there we continued on cleaning waterbars and brushing throughout the afternoon. Bryce, who had left basecamp wearing a white shirt and white pants, was a sight to see as his once white clothes were now stained by dirt and mud and was a testament to all the work the crew had been doing. After dinner had been cooked by our chef Brad, and dishes had been cleaned, we caught up on the latest interworking’s of the National Park Service via our radio and then we piled into Hughes Ridge Cabin to sleep (which to Matt felt like summer camp all over again).

Day 5
               This was our big push day – Matt, Brad, Evan, and Bryce hiked 5.3 miles to Tri-Corner while Greg, Britt, Jessie, and Katie worked from the day four stopping point towards Tri-Corner. After arriving at Tri-Corner, the group ate lunch, filled up on water, and then began working back towards Pecks Corner and the other group. The day was filled with long miles of work and the crews came within a couple of 100 yards of meeting each other to finish our section. After another great mean, we listened to Greg and Britt’s childhood stories!  

Day 6

               Hike out day/shower day! The crew was up and at it by 6:30am and then we were on trail by 8:00am. Instead of hiking out on the A.T and to Newfound Gap, we took Hughes Ridge trail to Bradley Fork trail, where we cleared a blowdown along the way, to Smokemont Loop trail, about 11 miles of downhill. Finally, we arrived at our crew van and made it back to Soak Ash for a late lunch and crew dinner made by our beloved camp coordinator, Chloë. 

SWEAT Crew, 2016, Session 1 by Joan aka Blue Jay

SWEAT Crew, 2016, Session 1 - Silers Bald Shelter to Derrick Knob Shelter

-Written by volunteer Joan aka Blue Jay 

We are the SWEAT Crew, 2016, Session 1. We are a group of 3 crew leaders and 6 volunteers.

Crew leaders are Katie, Matt, and Sean. Volunteers are Andy, Brad, Bryce, Jeff, Joan, and Ray.

We are from 5 states and range in age from 21 to 64. Some have completed hiking the AT

before; all feel the pull to help maintain this national treasure. We gathered on Sunday 6/5 at

the Soak Ash crew house for a gear and physical fitness shake down. We all passed! We had a

delightful meal and started transitioning from strangers to an organized work crew.

On Monday, 6/6, we drove to Clingmans Dome; our base camp is at Silers Bald shelter. We

hiked carrying packs heavier than some of us were accustomed to carry. We hiked with bluets,

Solomon Seal, and blackberry blossoms. Birds sang their sweet songs of welcome to the

backcountry. We arrived at Silers and set up our tents. It was (mostly) an easy day and the

weather proved to be delightful. We enjoyed a group meal and evening camaraderie, hopped

in our tents around sunset, and dreamed about hard labor.

Tuesday was our first work day. By 8 am, we were all ready for a day of hard work and a labor

of love for a trail that has special and personal meaning to all of us. The AT lives in the hearts

and minds of so many people all over the world. We, the Smokies Wilderness Elite, felt a sense

of honor and pride to be among its caretakers for a week. On this day that gave us perfect

weather, we – among other things - created 3 new water bars, cleaned out many existing water

bars, added stone treads over a sloggy wet area, cut back brush, reclaimed a short section

rerouted by hikers, found and crushed rocks for trail repair, and managed to stay safe and

happy all day. We retraced our steps back to base camp and were very pleased to hike over our

hard work. We enjoyed a community meal, assembled back at Soak Ash and rehydrated over

our camp stove in a huge pot. We had strong winds most of the night that sounded like flowing

water. The night was clear with a zazillion stars and was considerable cooler than our first


Wednesday, 6/8, was our second work day. We awoke to a cool, clear, and beautiful morning.

We all were thankful for the weather, even with hats, gloves, and jackets on. We started our

day again with our Safety Circle. In Circle we learn a bit more about the lives of our fellow crew

members, we do a pretty complete set of stretches, and we remind ourselves about safety

issues that we could face in the day ahead. Like yesterday, we encountered various creatures

that call these woods their homes. There have been huge worms, snails, bright yellow spiders,

Jordan salamanders, bees, inch worms, and a few deer. We move critters as we work and try to

put them back in their homes when we finish. They are good and vivid reminders that we share

this lovely trail with creatures large and small, and they are part of what makes this trail, with

all its unique and abundant life, so special for so many. Again, we feel the honor of our work,

and that less-than- perfect night in our tents or those muscle aches become less significant to

us. We encounter hikers along the trail in our work. We shout “hiker up” so those working

ahead can put down tools and let the hikers pass safely. Often, very often, the hikers thank us

for what we are doing. That feels pretty good! What's a bit of dirt – actually a whole lot of dirt

– on our work clothes compared to the knowledge that we have helped to make someone’s

outdoor experience a good one?

Thursday, 6/9. Our third work day. It was a bit harder to get out of our tents this morning. Our

minds were willing but we had to push our bodies just a bit more. We were tired from two

good days of work. It's great to hear the pot of water boiling for coffee and breakfast, and our

Crew Leaders make sure we all hear the morning cracking of the whip. Actually Katie and Matt

never push us too hard; they encourage us, as good leaders do. Today was another reminder

that nature is prolific and relentless. We pushed back brush and weeds, knowing that in a few

short seasons it will look like we were never there. We cleared out existing water bars,

knowing that water is nature’s strongest force and rains will erode our good work. Sometimes

it's like the trees and the trail itself are laughing at our noble efforts. Yet we work on. And we

are pleased with our work. And many of us come back for other sessions; we come back for

more. And we love the ache in our backs and the tightness in our muscles and the cold nights

in our tents. We love the group meals. We love to clean the dishes together. We love the hike

back to camp each night, walking over the trail that we tended today and on the rocks that we

set yesterday and seeing the cleared brush from our first day. We know the trail will forget us

in its own good time. But we won't soon forget our time together and our work on this beloved


Friday, 6/10. Before this blogger tells you about how great Safety Circle was this morning, I

must digress a bit and talk about our meals. Last night’s was especially good. It was a bean

dish. We all joked about beans, of course. Everyone over the age of four jokes about farting

after eating beans. There are a couple serious things, though, one should know about eating

beans and camping. First, don't fart in a tent without really good ventilation. Keep all

vestibules open, no matter how cold or raining it is; it could be lethal otherwise. Second, never,

ever fart while in your zipped up sleeping bag. You can pass out if those smells seep out over

your nostrils. If the fart lingers inside your bag, it will penetrate into the down feathers and you

can never, ever get the smell out. There are reports of people having to burn their sleeping

bags after eating beans and not taking appropriate precautions. It may be a generational thing

or perhaps a gender thing, but some of us have trouble letting one rip when others are in close

proximity. It is not wise to hold things in; there will be trouble in the night. One can imagine a

group tent site the night of a bean dinner - there would be no concerns about bears coming

around! Moving on to this morning’s Safety Circle, the first safety suggestion was to fart often

and loudly. Today was our last workday. It was another glorious day. Bright blue sky and a little

warmer than other days. We have been a productive crew and yesterday we made it all the

way to Derrick Knob shelter, our farthest work point. So today we scouted for rocks to make a

few more water bars. There are large ascents in this section of trail, necessitating water bars.

We found rose quartz, granite, lichen-covered rocks, and rocks older than dirt. Working with

rocks was a good reminder that these Appalachian mountains are among the oldest mountains

on Earth. We smashed rocks to use for fill, used the best and perfect rocks, and built THE BEST

water bars ever made. They are works of art. We sweated in our labors today. We lived up to

our namesake. WE ARE THE SWEAT CREW!

Saturday, 6/11. We broke camp this morning about 8:00 and had our last Safety Circle. Some

of the safety issues today centered around how to eat our cold ice cream shake from the Shake

and Dawg when we get close to home. Our hike out of camp was fast, with a stop at the

Clingmans Dome Tower. We were a van full of hungry workers and there was much talk about

our Shake and Dawg stop. We were more than a little smelly but no one there called us on it. It

was a good week. It was a great week. We left last Monday as strangers; we returned today as

friends. That’s what a week at SWEAT will do for you.