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Southeast Conservation Corps


Crew Recovers John Muir Trail from Landslide

July 27, 2020|The cicadas start to come out all at once filling the night sky with white noise. Natures way of saying it’s time for sleep. As I lay down in my tent for the night on my thin foam z-lite sleeping pad, my thoughts wonder as I reflect upon the day. Sweating, digging, and hiking while carrying heavy tools in the southern summer sun isn’t always exactly glorious.

Today we completed a small section of the John Muir trail that had been completely wiped out by a landslide. From the looks of it a huge boulder and 20 or so trees had all the soil wiped out from under them. The slide had led to a tumble down the mountain into the Hiawassee River. The bottom of the mountain looked as if a huge pile of trees had been ripped up and tossed on top of one another, roots and all. The dead leaves were still attached to the trees showing us that most of the trees had been alive prior to the landslide. My assumption would be that the slide had happened a little over a year ago in the spring during a heavy downpour. The roots of a snag had caught the bolder in a pinch landing it directly in what clearly used to the the path of the trail. The giant rock was far to dangerous for us to move, which called for a re-route up the steep dry rocky terrain.


We assessed the situation before we started work on our 5th day out on hitch. Our first step was to make rock stairs up and around the boulder. Rocks were abundant in this area and it didn’t take long for us to form a pile of the perfect rocks for stairs. When we had the stairs in place, we started forming a back slope for our tread. We struggled to find traction as we swung the pick mattock into the side of the slope. We soon noticed our work to be ineffective as the tread continued to crumble down the mountain with every step we took back. My crew and I talked amongst ourselves trying to think of a solution. A retaining wall! The thought had us all looking around deciding if it was worth it for this narrow 10 feet of trail. In order to hold the tread in place, it had to be done. The next step was “rock shopping” as we called it. We needed hefty rocks and we needed each layer to be similar in depth. We spent about and hour of rock shopping before we came up with a pile of about 50 large rocks. Now it was time to begin the real work. We took turns in the pit, each of us establishing a solid layer, filling in the gaps with crush, and handing the single jack off to the next. The retaining wall took us a total of about 3 days to accomplish. After we had completed this project, we took a few hours to reestablish tread and were very happy to find that it no longer crumbled under our feet as we walked.

As the sun rises the following morning, birds start to sing, letting us know it’s time to start the day. Coker creek brings in ever-going soft sounds of the water hitting the rocks as it rolls down stream. Hitch 2 down, 4 more to go.

Kristen Fike

Crew #967