SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2006

Gods Of Rock: The Adirondack Mountain Club trail crew

Sharpen your double-bit axe, get your pecs ready for action, and shoulder the biggest pack you've ever seen. Then dive into the trenches with a screwball trailbuilding crew, fixing the neediest hiking paths in the Adirondacks. Assuming you're not afraid of some very heavy lifting, this just might be the ultimate summer job.

by: Tom Clynes


The best trailbuilders use steps sparingly, since they aren't part of the natural landscape. But on steep, badly gullied slopes like this one, stone steps are often the only feasible way to retain what's left of the soil.

Within an hour, most of the crew has settled into the work, at four sites along a half-mile stretch of trail. Jenny has called dibs on the high line, and within half an hour she has the rig set up and is moving rocks from her quarry site, about 50 feet from the trail. Leveraging her small size with astonishing efficiency, she quickly amasses a pile of rocks at least 10 times her weight. Then she begins setting them.

The first to go in is a 200-pound foundation stone set at the bottom to ensure the stability of the steps above it. She digs a cone-shaped hole a little deeper than the boulder, so that the rock's perimeter will rest against the sides, like a scoop of ice cream in a cone.

A pair of middle-aged men stop to catch their breath just below Jenny's worksite. "Hey, great, you're building an escalator to the top," one of them says.

"Close," Jenny says. "It's going to be a gondola."

The hikers move on. "We hear escalator and gondola jokes a dozen times a day," says Jenny, flipping the rock into the hole. "Everyone thinks they're the first to think of it."

As she stomps on the rock to test it for wobble, another hiker huffs up the trail. "Need some help?" he asks.

"The guys don't get this kind of thing," Jenny says a minute later. "I get people saying things like 'don't give up.' One guy asked if I do all the cooking for the men."

A hundred feet up the trail, JR has already built a rock water bar, positioning it at a 45-degree angle to direct runoff away from the trail. A thoughtful 20-year-old from Québec, JR has a scraggly beard and shoulder-length hair. (Imagine Jesus as a welterweight wrestler.) As a child he traveled with his father to the Adirondacks on summer weekends; he had bagged all 46 major Adirondack peaks by age 10. Now on his third summer with the crew, he tells me that he weighed 130 pounds at the beginning of his first season. "I came back home with 25 more pounds of muscle," he says. "But you will see that with this work, smart beats strong."

Watching JR work is a study in economy of motion. Of the men on the crew, JR is the slimmest, but he moves like Hercules, slowly and deliberately, wasting no energy on superfluous action. One after another, he digs his holes, then rolls the massive pieces of granite into position. With the water bar completed, he begins placing scree to either side of a series of stagger steps. Because some hikers try to avoid even the most enticing steps--especially if they're tired and walking uphill--trailbuilders place large, jagged rocks on the margins to channel traffic onto hard surfaces.

"Scree needs to look big and ugly," JR says, "to keep people from cutting around our work." A party of French Canadians approach and stand for a while, commenting on his physique--oblivious to the fact that JR can understand every word. After they've moved on up the mountain, another pair of hikers approaches. "Hey, great," one guy says sardonically, "you're finally moving the rocks off the trail."

Many hikers, especially older ones, complain that stone is tough on muscles and joints. That younger hikers are more accepting of rock surfaces reflects an evolution in trailbuilding objectives over the last two decades. Trailbuilders and trail maintainers once sought to ease human passage through the woods. Now, the primary goal is to protect fragile wilderness areas from the effects of human traffic. A bog bridge, for instance, may keep hikers' feet dry, but its main purpose is to safeguard wetland vegetation and water quality. Stairs can make a climb easier, but they are built primarily to stabilize steep and easily eroded slopes.



Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Matt Parsons
Apr 13, 2012

If I ever meet Jenny Thomas, I'm going to marry her!!

Matt Parsons
Apr 13, 2012

If I ever meet Jenny Thomas, I'm going to ma
rry her!!

Uncle Jim
Sep 20, 2011

FOOOOOOOOOOOO! The savage spirit is undeniable. A rock offering to the gods.

RobO
Aug 25, 2011

best SUMMER job in the world?

Carol Clouse
Jun 11, 2010

More Power to all of you!
Love
Maddie's great aunt

bozzer
Nov 30, 2009

Since I read this article in '06, I wanted nothing more than to join this crew, or toher similar ones.

Anonymous
Nov 05, 2009

FOOOOOOOOOO

dan
May 25, 2009

im gona do that...but the teen volunteer version

Chuckster
Jan 12, 2009

FOOOOOOOOOOO! Badass photos too! Word Boj!

A friend.
Oct 04, 2008

Mock Wincing is lame.

Boj
Jun 15, 2008

Bunch o Savages.......

FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Rocky Mountains
TR: Southern Gore Range
Posted On: Jul 22, 2014
Submitted By: Lamebeaver
Trailhead Register
The Death of backpacking? (Essay)
Posted On: Jul 22, 2014
Submitted By: GoBlueHiker

Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions