SCC Stewardship Director Angie Langevin here with an update on the Hell’s Kitchen Trail!
Folks often ask me “Why is this new boulder field called Hell’s Kitchen?” While the true answer may be buried at the foot of the Cumberland Plateau in Graysville folklore, I have some personal reasons I’d like to share.
First of all, work at Hell’s Kitchen has been intense from the beginning. On a rainy morning last spring, I convinced an unlucky friend to help me scope out the potential trail to the boulders. We found ourselves scrambling across wet cliffs and crumbling, muddy slopes all day. I began to despair that we’d never find a route to the boulder field that could fit into standard trail design principles … by any stretch of the imagination. Finally, we stumbled on a faint coal-mining trace covered in thorny vegetation and black mine tailings. This old mining road would become the rough beginnings of our scrappy, rugged climber trail (officially known as the Hell’s Kitchen Spur of the Cumberland Trail).
Since that spring day, I have logged countless hours scrambling up and down the slopes of the Cumberland plateau in the Roaring Creek drainage. The forest has since turned into a poison-ivy jungle, and the air has curdled into a thick mass that I am amazed my lungs can process. Every day, I face the “hounds of hell” (aka healthy populations of biting arachnids, stinging insects, and snakes). My friends constantly point out swaths of dirt that escape scrubbing in the shower, and their eyes widen as I dump salt onto my food at the end of a work day. The Cumberland Trail is my new office, and the pulaski is my pen.
Most outsiders would probably describe my work on that steamy, sweaty, steep, rocky, tick-infested mountain in the Tennessee woods as “hellish”. Yes, I admit, there may have been a few times that my job felt a bit “hellish” (i.e. the day I found a scorpion in my pants … ask me about this another time). But what about the “kitchen” part of the boulder field’s name? As an Italian girl, I’ve always experienced a kitchen as a place of warm hospitality. Our family’s kitchens are gathering places for a community to come together, show their love, get messy, and laugh. At the outset of this project, I felt overwhelmed with the sheer scope of the work. I wondered if anybody would actually show up on sweaty July mornings to hike into the woods for a day of manual labor. Our climbing community has looked this crazy, arduous, “hellish” project in the face and done exactly what my Italian family does in a kitchen. Our Hell’s Kitchen Spur Trail family have pledged their love to Southeastern climbing by showing up every weekend to get dirty, laugh, and build an excellent trail.
Many familiar faces fill out our scrappy trail family. A new generation of canvas-clad stewards are learning how to take care of their crags and build sustainable trail. We suffer together on Saturdays and gather at Monkey Town Brewery in Dayton for post-work beverages. We laugh at strange inside jokes and call each other bizarre trail names like “Tiny Hammer”, “Sluggish Steve”, “Double Pad Dal”, “Little Duff Buster”, and “McCloud Mouth”. Local and national businesses have also come together to support our work in various capacities. REI generously gave SCC a grant for the project, On the Road and Off Again & Ground Up Sales sponsor the “Trail Dayz of Summer” celebrations one weekend per month, and Redbull supports a stewardship raffle for all participants of SCC trail days.
As a result of this hardscrabble group’s work, a “rough cut” trail has wound its way ¾ of the distance to the Hell’s Kitchen boulder field. (See the progress on this map!) The “rough cut” of the trail is essentially a “rough draft” of a sustainable trail. The steep and technical nature of the slope leading to Hell’s Kitchen translates to a heavy dose of “editing” after we finish the rough cut. August and September trail days will be more technical in nature. We will install erosion-control structures like drains, water bars, retaining walls, rock stairs, check steps and gargoyles. If this sounds like fun to you, come out and join me. You may just get to use my favorite tool, the rock bar – and earn yourself a new trail nickname! Until then….
Angie Langevin, Stewardship Director
Thanks to REI for sponsoring this project, Cumberland Trail State Scenic Traill, On the Road and Off, Ground up Sales, Red Bull, Monkey Town Brewing Company for hosting our sweaty, stinky climber group every weekend, and Southeast Conservation Corps for busting out the first part of the trail during your crew leader training. 💪🏼❤️👏… 📷: Todd Clark On the Road and Off