Spur Trail and Lowe's Path Projects

Spur Trail

The replacement of the log ladders on Spur Trail has been one of several major projects for RMC's trail crew this past year. Four log ladders on Spur trail, ranging from 8 to 20 feet high, were severely rotten and in need of replacement. When we began discussing the project last summer, we looked at all of the possible ways we could address the spots where the ladders were.

At the highest spot, near Crag Camp, we decided that a minor relocation could make the trail less steep and eliminate the need for any kind of structure. The terrain around the other three spots was steep and rugged enough that we knew some sort of structure would be needed. Building new log ladders was certainly one option, but it was not ideal. Contending with wet weather and heavy use in the summer and crampons in the winter, any new log structure could only be expected to have a lifespan of around 10 years, and as we had seen, they would become increasingly slippery and rickety towards the end of their life. Although we knew rock staircases would take a long time to build on the steep, ledgy spots on Spur Trail, they could be expected to for many decades. We also decided that rock structures would look more natural and fit in better with the steep, rocky nature of the trail than log structures.

This sequence of photos documents the construction of the second and longest staircase, which took place this summer from late July to early August. These photographs are not in the order they were taken, but I have tried to sequence them to capture the process of building a staircase.

Photo Credits: Benzo Harris & Ben Lieberson

The crew packed hundreds of pounds of equipment for the ladder replacement project. In addition to standard trail tools like rock bars, shovels, and pick mattocks, the crew worked with power tools including a hammer drill, angle grinder, and a Sawzall, all powered by a gas generator. They used two Griphoist winches and hundreds of feet to steel cable to move rock. Finally, to pin steps to the ledge, they used more than 80 feet of 3/4 inch steel rod.
Rock for the project was quarried from a site in the woods, far out of sight from the trail.

To move rocks quickly and safely from the quarry area to the site of the staircase while creating minimal impact, the crew used a "skyline." This system uses a winch to tension a very long wire rope and lift rocks off the ground in order to move them cross-slope.
Deva watches while Jenny hauls a rock down the skyline.

Once the rock is where they want it, Jenny and Deva watch as the line is slacked, lowering the rock to the ground just above the project.
The rock is transfered to a second winch, which is used to lower it down to the project. Alex stands ready to operate the winch.

Megan and Deva use rock bars to help smoothly lower the step to its final resting place.
Benzo and Deva work to "set" a step. In addition to having a level stepping surface, each rock needs to be set on the ledge beneath it in such a way that it won't wobble or shift when it is stepped on.

Anna drills for one of the steel pins that will help hold the steps in place on the ledge, even as they have to contend with years of hiker traffic and water freezing and thawing beneath the rocks.
Benzo grinds down a pin so it will fit precisely in its hole.

Deva drives the pin in with a sledge hammer.
Alex, Megan, and Deva take a moment to discuss the best course of action in an especially challenging spot.

Sometimes, rocks need to be shaped to provide a good stepping surface. Here Deva uses the hammer drill with a chisel-shaped breaker bit.
The crew also used more traditional masonry tools like feathers and wedges to split rock.

A close up of the staircase in progress, showing several of the steel pins. Ultimately, the crew filled in all of the drill holes and covered exposed pins wherever possible to make the project look more natural.

Before   After

Lowe's Path

Lowe's Path is another ongoing project for RMC's crew. This year, the crew worked on the half mile of trail below the junction with The Link. These photos document just a few of the projects this season.

Photos by Ben Lieberson

Before   After

Because Lowe's Path is one of the most heavily used trails in RMC's network, it sees some serious erosion. In this spot, the surface of the trail is nearly two feet lower than it once was.

The crew installed a "check step" and backfilled it with mineral soil in order to restore the trail and prevent future erosion.

Here a small spring drains across the trail. Because there was no appealing way to cross the wet spot, hikers were walking around and creating bootleg trails through the woods.

The crew installed step stones with a level surface to walk on. They also piled brush in the bootleg paths to discourage hikers and allow them to grow back.

Immediately after the spring, the trail comes up a short steep section. Erosion caused by hiker traffic and moving water left a mass of exposed roots on a muddy slope.

A rock staircase is appealing to walk on and is a durable, long term solution in this spot.

Naturally, when a wet or muddy spot appears in the trail, hikers try to walk around it to stay dry and end up widening the trail and making it even muddier over time. Here the trail was almost 10 feet wide and extremely slick when wet.

The crew installed 26' of rock turnpike, with two rock steps in the middle. On the left, the trail was raised back to its original height with crushed rock and on the right a ditch was dug. A row of large rocks set into the ground help retain the crushed rock and stabilize the side of the ditch.

A view of the causeway from above.

In one swampy spot, the crew replaced old, rotten bog bridges with step stones. At the time this photograph was taken, the first bog bridge had already been replaced. For anyone who's hiked Lowe's and remembers the old bog bridge that see-sawed when you walked across it, it's gone now!

All of the bog bridges have been replaced.

Lowe's Path has a lot of older trail work, some excellent and some in rough shape. This rock waterbar was effective at draining water off the trail, but the hikers were starting to go around it.

The crew set an additional rock at the top to encourage hikers to walk over the waterbar rather than around it.