Building the 'Impossible Staircase' on Bear Mountain

August 04, 2017
Tim Palumbo, Megalithic Crew Leader
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Building the 'Impossible Staircase' on Bear Mountain
The Megalithic Trail Crew is building a crib wall staircase as part of the Appalachian Trail reroute on Bear Mountain. Photo by Eduardo Gill.


As I have come to learn quite well as a member of the Trail Conference Conservation Corps, building hiking trails can be challenging. Trail design and layout requires extensive navigational skills and a keen eye. Sidehilling is no easy task. Cutting through dirt, rock, and roots all day can be a drain physically and mentally. Constructing bridges, inserting stepping stones, and trail restoration are all accompanied by their own unique sets of challenges.

Still, I felt prepared, confident, and excited coming into the 2017 Megalithic Crew season working on the Appalachian Trail reroute on Bear Mountain.  After all, this was my second season as a Corps member, and now I was a crew leader. I had built trail throughout the fall and spring down South, and had two eager, energetic Conservation Corps members ready to spend the next six months on the mountain with me. 

The season got off to a wet, yet incredibly productive start. Training for a three-week period on various trails that the Trail Conference maintains had readied us for whatever we were to encounter on Bear Mountain. But on a late afternoon in early May, I was told by our field managers, Ellie and Kevin, that my crew would be constructing a crib wall staircase up a steep granite face on the top of Bear Mountain. Though they’re great friends of mine and amazingly gifted trail builders, they immediately became my worst enemies.

I’m kidding, of course. But constructing a crib wall is not easy. Laying out and inserting 5-foot-long stairs, each weighing nearly a half-ton, is something I would consider to be on the difficult end of the trail-building spectrum.  To combine these two concepts and mix in a granite rock face—well, I only wish I could have seen the look on my face when I was told to figure it out and get to work! After experiencing many of the seven stages of grief, I pulled my act together, and relayed the info to my team. I was now calling our job “The Impossible Staircase.”

My crew, Tracy and FIlli—both new to trail building—were likely curious about my initial skepticism about this particular staircase. But we hit the trail hard, moving our stairs into position and finding the proper rocks to get the job done. Slow-going at times for sure, some days only a rock or two were placed. Some days it seemed as though countless hours were spent staring at our rocks and wall. When we thought there were no answers or solutions, we found them. When we were tired, sore, hot, cold, or wet, we continued to push and build. Before long, stairs were going in and the case began to grow. It is now mid-summer and pushing 90-plus degrees daily, but I am super stoked to say that The Impossible Staircase is nearing completion.

I give all the credit in the world to the field managers, my crew, and the volunteers who have devoted their time and energies to make the seemingly impossible, possible.  The crew and I feel we are ready for any challenge presented to us and look forward to completing this amazing project this October!

Want to learn more about trail building? The Megalithic Crew is looking for trail lovers who are eager to contribute to the Appalachian Trail reroute on Bear Mountain. No experience is necessary! Give a few hours of your time, and they’ll teach you everything you need to know to help build awesome trails. Find out how to get involved.