Derrick Nob  1/10/15

I accepted a gracious invitation to join the OMG Original Mtn Gangsters on a weekend AT trip through the Smokies.  However, I could only do Saturday night, having been out of town for a couple of weeks and needing to catch up on work.  So I busted up from Middle Prong to Greenbrier Ridge and eventually came to Derrick Nob where I found these fine fellows hunkered down after their first night at Russel Field.

The trip up was 8.3 miles and rather "icy".

There were spots that required some "negotiating".  As I was alone, you can rest assured that I took the safer walk around.  This is a section of trail and there were several.

Although there were many dayhikers up until Lynn Camp, the ensuing trail was empty to the AT.

I made it in time to catch a splenid mid winter sunset along the spine of the empty Appalachian Trail.

I found these Atlanta boys hunkered down after their 8 mile walk from Russel Field.  They had a super cold night in the single digits on Friday.  It was a bit warmer last night, but not much.

JD invited me to join his friends that were made on the trail several years ago.  He camped with them in the backcountry and, like many friendships forged in the outdoors, has remained strong. There were three AT through hikers, class of 94, one technical rock and ice climber and several other ardernt outdoorsmen. When I think about the folks I have met in the outdoors, all have remained steadfast in their pursuit of outdoor activities.  It is these kinds of tradition that binds groups together.  I have enjoyed being able to introduce  a great many folks to the backcountry that would otherwise have never experienced it.  And many were very appreciative of the opportunities to explore their own backyard in the Smokies.  I never understood why folks never had that natural curiosity about wilderness and took it upon themselves to explore it.  But the reality is that most folks don't care about it.  Else they would have explored it long before.  I have recently come to the realization that in this modern world, in our most advanced culture, there is nothing that isn't accessible to an American adult in good health today.  The same folks who spend a months pay on the biggest television or a trip to the beach can easily access anything they wish at any time.  The reason folks do not is because it is not important to them.  And in the end, folks who never experienced the backcountry or were taken there later in life, generally revert to their pre outdoor regimens of comfort, resigned to "check a box" on the outdoor gig.

I've deflected some criticism of folks who were clicking off Smokies miles to check a box.  I suppose that I didn't want to believe that was the case.     There were individuals who have made many accusations about the conduct of indivduals in the backcountry from cutting live trees to littering to drug use.   I've had a couple of people contact me directly to say that the backcountry fee was designed to specifically address this kind of behavior.  I had the Smokies Superintendent tell me that marijuana smokers were also one of the reasons more LEA's were necessary in the backcountry.

I don't condone any of that behavior.  Folks who are drawn to the outdoors don't need seminars on how to act in the backcountry.  It is a matter of respect for yourself, your body and your environment.  People who don't respect themselves will always have difficulty respecting others or the environment.   I enjoy spending time in the backcountry with folks who have respect. 

JD and those Atlanta boys are a respectible group.  There are many that wander the backcountry of the Smokies and Southern Appalachians.  Horace Kephart abandoned his wife and children to migrate to the Smokies.  He used the people of Bryson City to sell books and articles and when his alcoholism reached an apex, those barefoot mountain people he parodied in his books detoxed that "Yankee" more than once.  But he kept finding himself at their doorstep and, being true good Southern folks, kept taking him in, time and time again.  In essence he tried a geographical "cure" for a problem but the problem kept showing up wherever he was.  He sought respite in the Smokies but in the end it was his addiction that killed him.  And like most addicts he left a trail of things abandoned.  Addicts are known for having the "wanna want to's". 

He was not a "son of the Smokies" but he played a role in the Smokies creation.  We all play a role in some form.  What have you created in your lifetime?  What have you built, shared or repaired as a result of your humanity?  The gifts we are given are a loan to be repaid.  The remarkable people of this world worked to build something despite their afflictions as manifest in Kephart.  But many millions die in  obsecurity enslaved to theirs. 

Life is short.  Spend your time wisely with folks you respect.  The backcountry is a pretty good place to do so.  I appreciate the invitation by JD and his group.  Frank took a group to Kephart and introduced some guys to the outdoors and winter camping.  I hope they are appreciative of his efforts.  JD has introduced and led many into the Smokies.

WATE did a story last week on the cold weather and said there were 20 people total backcountry camping in the park on Wednesday night.  20 people total.

I suppose that we represented over half the backcountry campers in the park Saturday night.  And to think the NPS used overcrowding as an original justification for the backpacker tax.