FAYETTEVILLE — At the base of the sandstone cliff adjacent to Rico Suave Buttress, two dozen volunteers carved out a section of new trail with shovels, levered boulders into place with pry bars to shore up the path, and hammered big rocks into little ones to fill foot-catching, mud-collecting holes.
An abundance of sweat-producing manual labor was underway on Tuesday — Day 4 of Not Work Week, which wrapped up Saturday in New River Gorge National River.
The annual event with the ironic name, now in its fifth year, involves volunteers from across the nation taking up to a week away from their bill-paying work to toil on cleanup, trail-building and safety projects at and around climbing sites in the Gorge.
“We found out that when you are working on things like trail-building, it takes more than a day or two of work to make real progress,” said Gene Kistler, president of the New River Alliance of Climbers, which organizes the annual weeklong work projects.
Kistler said Not Work Week’s roots can be traced to the Yosemite Climbing Association’s annual Facelift project, begun in 2004, in which volunteers from the climbing community spend a week removing trash along trails leading to climbing routes in California’s Yosemite National Park.
“The principle of stewardship over the places we climb runs high in this community,” said Kistler, among the mud-covered Not Work Week volunteers helping this year’s project — a mile-long trail along the base of a cliff in the Kaymoor area — take shape.
“A lot of these people are out here every day, all week long, and sometimes a little longer, while others can only stay for two or three days,” Kistler said. “Some come back here to help year after year. We’ve had a few people who came here to climb, saw what we were doing, and then put on their boots instead of climbing shoes and spent the day working with us.”
The 2019 Not Work Week project “formalizes an unofficial trail climbers have cut on their own” to reach Kaymoor area climbing sites, said Claire Rozdilski, outdoor recreation planner for the New River Gorge National Recreation Area.
“The unofficial trail was designed mainly to get climbers to their activities,” she said. “It wasn’t designed for sustainability or resource protection,” both of which are taken into account with the new trail, she said, which follows the general route of the old path but often uses a new treadway.
“When it’s finished, it will be easier for climbers to get to where they want to go, and easier to maintain,” Rozdilski said.
“I had to bushwhack through the briers to get here last year, and it wasn’t any fun,” said Maryland climber Ingrid Hazbon, resting with her dog, Pita, at the base of Preparation H, one of 15 established climbing routes on Rico Suave Buttress, as the volunteers worked a few yards away. “What they’re doing here is great.”
When complete, the new, improved trail will connect climbing sites from the Glory Hole climbing area and its 11 routes at the upstream end of the path to the Butchers Branch climbing area and its 20 routes at the down-river end.
If it’s too crowded at one climbing site, people can follow the trail and the cliff to other routes that aren’t being climbed.
“I think hikers will use the trail, too,” said Rozdilski. “They can make a loop hike by using it to connect with Kaymoor Miners Trail and Butchers Branch Trail.”
While the new trail is narrow and relatively primitive, using on-site rock to fill in holes and stabilize the trail where it traverses slide-vulnerable areas, it was designed to sustain many years of use. The trail tread is slanted slightly downhill to keep water from pooling or channeling out portions of the path.
“There’s a lot of good energy involved in this project,” said Peter Kingham, the New River Gorge National River’s roads and trails supervisor, who laid out the route for the Kaymoor Climbers Trail. “A lot of people have been spending a week working here for multiple years. It’s produced a lot of positive results.”
Projects completed during Not Work Week in previous years include:
- Removing the decades-old trash heap that gave the Junkyard Wall climbing area its name.
- Building a new trail connecting the American Alpine Club campground at Lansing with two climbing areas.
- Rebuilding the Tattoo Wall Trail at the Sandstonia climbing area.
- Building a spur trail to the Butchers Branch climbing area.
- Installing fencing and revegetating the Bridge Buttress and Junkyard Wall climbing areas.
For many of the Not Work Week volunteers, the annual project gives them the opportunity to reconnect with the Gorge and earlier climbing experiences.
“Fourteen years ago, this was the first place I went rock climbing,” said Michael Barnette of Charlotte, North Carolina, among volunteers spending a full week working on the trail. “Now I’m a climbing guide.”
Barnette, who works for North Carolina-based Thrifty Adventures, said “increasing the connectivity to climbing areas from existing trails is a great project to be involved with.”
“Climbers like to collaborate, and when I heard about this project, I wanted to be involved,” said Leo Moser, a Venezuelan who has been living and working in Washington, D.C., for the past three years, and has made multiple climbing trips to the New River Gorge.
“I wanted to see how trails are built, and get to be part of something that will last a long time,” he said. Networking with other climbers, some of whom traveled from points as distant as Florida and Montana to take part in Not Work Week was also a plus, he said.
To help make Not Work Week more memorable and less expensive, Fayetteville area restaurants host free dinners for participating volunteers, outdoor gear makers provide swag for nightly drawings and the American Alpine Club Campground provides camping space and serves as the event’s headquarters.