Eagle Creek.

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This is the first year in a long time I didn’t make it over to Sithenge. The weather looked bad and we were all hoping to avoid an epic like the one I am putting out there below. CityView published a version of this story which is online this month but I wanted to publish my version that is longer, as the online version has been edited for brevity, which is a necessary thing with print publications.  So, without further adieu, I present the Eagle Creek Epic, featuring Richard Hatten and his exploits from a couple of years ago.

 

 

Few waves tickled the bow of my canoe this splendid morning as the autumn sun raised our chilled cores. Nothing but the occasional smack of a paddle interrupted a light breeze gently skimming Fontana lake. A black speck grew on the horizon, as if on cue, to remind us of our destination. Soon, not one but two eagles circled our small armada as we disembarked on the banks of their namesake creek.
 Our first night ashore in the mouth of this drainage deep in the heart of the Smokies delivered stars of unobstructed radiance. Over crackling embers in this remote backcountry site our solitude was broken only by laughter of experiences long past in this very special place.
Percolating coffee pulled the rest of us from warm bags Saturday as Richard Hatten wrestled his boat upstream over boulders. It was a sizable chore that found him wading over and through partially submerged rocks. We giggled over steaming mugs at his plan to take advantage of low water and be in position for a sporting whitewater exit on Sunday.
Our anticipated side trek to Hazel Creek was abbreviated. Light sprinkles morphed into a monsoon the likes of which I have rarely experienced. This growing storm found us huddling beneath a tarp our second afternoon into the thundering night. We took turns lifting the center with a shovel as gallons drained from straining plastic. Richard’s Eagle Creek exit plan was starting to look like a suicide mission.
 Unplussed, and in between storms Sunday morning, our stalwart friend proclaimed, “It will be an adventure either way.” We offered to carry his boat around but after several assaults on our masculinity we left him with the whitecapping river and all his gear. I had to navigate a 17 foot canoe, anxious friend, and most of the camp gear back across the lake before round two smacked us to the bottom of one of the deepest channels on the East coast. Two of our crew remained for safety and bear witness to an inevitable debacle.
Two years passed and the legend of Richard’s subsequent exploits were shared around many a campfire. My favorite version has him almost making it down the whitewater tunnel as the video rolled along with his sit on top kayak and favorite  outdoor kit. He was Slim Pickens and the boat was the bomb. “Major Kong” was severely bruised and left to paddle back to Fontana marina with nothing but a flat shovel. Everything else was sacrificed to the river. Strangelove indeed.

Something glimmered from the sandy bank as Curt Roberts pulled his boat ashore.  Caked mud flaked from an object partially embedded. “Could this possibly be?”  he asked. Many a joke was made of the scuba tank diving rescue missions twice undertaken by Richard over the past 700 days. What compromising footage, we wondered, could possibly be on that SD card. I was certain Curt had found Richard’s holy grail. Indeed, the salvagable footage was intact up to the point of impact. And we were spared any accompanying video indignities. Eagle Creek verified Richard’s oft repeated epic, as he valiantly battled a raging river. The percolator may reveal next fall.

Summit Orizaba

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It was an epic push from the hut but four of our team managed to top out. Orizaba gave us a full measure this time. I would like to congratulate Richard Hatten, Patrick Caveney, and Kerina Mitchell. They persevered and reached the third highest point in North America.

Everyone is safe now in Mexico City. More later.

Puebla

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We have been in Puebla for the past several days. We’ve been to the summit of La Malaniche, and climbed part of Izztacchiuatl.

I’m having difficulty uploading photos here so go to my Instagram feed for more specific updates. @johnwquillen

 

Mexico City

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Patrick and I took a walk around the city today after arriving this afternoon. We were joined by Richard and Kevin who joined us from Georgia. My fitness app told me we did 7 miles. And I believe it.

That night we met Rachel Yurani, and Sara for a wonderful dinner at a Mexican restaurant. These girls were here a day prior to our arrival.

Kerina arrived too late to join us for dinner but she was in good form and good spirits.

Rachel and Yurani.

In a little while we will boardaboard bus and head to Puebla. Everyone is healthy, happy, motivated, and thankful to be here.

Check back in a day or so for more dispatches from this volcanoes expedition, our first climb will be La malinche.

You can also follow us on Instagram

@johnwquillen

 

 

 

Hangover 22

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Another incredible Highlander hangover outing is in the books.

Friday’s hike up was in great weather and we had an almost cloudless evening with no wind for our fire, unlike the photo pictured here from Saturday.

Among our many activities were hikes out to Bob’s bald. Micah had never been and it was a treat to share this with him.

There were the usual sunrise and sunset spiritual times on the rock.

Various hiking cameos.

A Tipi showing.

An initiation

Patrick drive by.

Rock scrambling on our day walk over to the Bob.

Myers was there for Friday night.

Along with David and Drew.

AJ and John have become a staple of this event.

Some weather moved in Saturday and laid the fire down flat. anyone thinking of going up there right now better plan on toting your own water, though. I was able to coax a very little bit out of a new spring that I made. That was barely enough for one person and it took hours to fill the bag.

There was a flat tire to be dealt with.

But all in all a fantastic trip with 12 total in attendance. We were a little late for the leaves this year but it was still incredible.

We’re gearing up for Mexico next week. Stay tuned here for some content.

 

Pearisburg North

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In our latest installment of John and Frank’s Appalachian Trail adventures we find ourselves in Pearisburg, Virginia, precisely where we left off several months ago.  After driving for several hours into Virginia and securing a shuttle to drop their car off at the back end we started our 7 Mile ascent to Rice Field. It was largely uneventful and the scenery  unremarkable. We passed a lot of deer stands feet from the trail.

That is until we reach the shelter after about 2400 ft of climbing. Big bad weather was moving in and we knew it. So the rush was on to set up our tents. Reason being there were thru hikers in the shelter. And I prefer to be away from them and their pot smoking antics. I love everything about section  hiking except the actual through hikers. Apparently that sentiment is shared with the shuttle drivers.

We weathered one hell of a storm up on top of that mountain. And while it threatened to blow us off of it my six moons designs skyscape trekker held up admirably. Frank’s tent did great too. I slept peacefully as the rain pelted the nylon. Actually had one of the best nights sleeps I ever had outside.

When we arrived on the scene in the shelter the next morning and the rain had abated they could not believe we were out in it.

The incessant, morning, stoned banter of thru hikers reaffirmed my decision to sleep in the storm. Frank and I have come to realize that our reasons for hiking are different than theirs. I don’t want to speak for him because he loves that thru hiking culture and talking about gear and distances. But Frank is out there for the right reasons not just to do 24 mi in a day. One guy came rolling into the shelter after we went to sleep in the middle of the storm.

We took off in the super wet grass. And I made a huge mistake. On all of our recent hikes, I’ve gotten away with wearing regular tennis shoes. What rain we’ve had has been minimal. But we did 12 miles through fields. And within two miles my feet were completely soaked. Unlike Frankie, who wears proper trail shoes, I just wear running shoes. We did come upon a herd of wild goats that was terrorizing hikers. We were able to fend them off.

And this time I didn’t get away with it.

 

There’s not enough moleskin in the world to deal with that. So I stripped down to almost nothing and wore my crocs  the next 10 miles. That created a subsidiary problem.

We finally arrived at the next shelter.

And Frank was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

(He loves it when I say that about him)

The temperature had dropped significantly. Like into the 30s. After looking at my feet, Frank wisely made the decision to cut our trip one night short. You know me I was like “oh let’s push on.” I can finish this in my crocs. But Frank called the shuttle and told him we were going after next day. And that was wise.

But I can’t say enough about this shelter, especially since it was called Pine Swamp. It was anything but.  We slept inside it this time since our tents were soaking wet. It was an absolute piece of art. Sporting an interior fireplace and three bunks it was almost like an Airbnb. And again I slept like a baby.I recall the stars bleeding through a moonscape from which I would roll over and soak periodically. We had one guest that night, also named John. Walking 12 mi in Crocs with a 35 lb pack is a little bit more than a workout which contributed to my somnabulance.

We dropped a lot of elevation along with the temperature which was now super cold. It was a short out.

About the section I’m going to say it wasn’t the prettiest that I’ve done. A lot of the forests have been obviously heavily logged. Multiple power line cuts make it look like a geographic crime scene.

As we hit the road, the trail was just starting to get good and I was wishing we could push on. Steam came from our breath as we awaited our exit vehicle.

I got back to Knoxville the following morning. I couldn’t walk and it wasn’t because of the blisters. A certain kind of pain in my foot that I never experienced was indescribable. Every step was excruciating. I self-diagnosed it as plantar fasciitis.

2 days of rest, ice, compression, elevation and heat. Then I woke up today and it was fine. Go figure.

Had “yo yo” not pulled me off the trail I would probably be in traction for a week. He’s a good outdoor partner.

 

Recent Events

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You may notice a lack of content recently and my friend Adam remarked on it so I had to respond. Sometimes I am just so busy enjoying the outdoors I don’t take time to share it here. This past week saw me do a training run up Leconte via Alum. You can see I caught a great break in the weather and made record personal time up and back.

The week prior, I was in Myrtle Beach for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration. She is a beach person so we organized this and had a fantastic time, leaving just one day before the hurricane. While there, I got in a lot of road biking, some beach jogging and deep sea fishing.

This past weekend was climbing at the Obed. I’ve done a good amount of climbing this summer and not so much backpacking. It’s been hot and that is not my jam. But, it is great weather for climbing and mountain biking, of which I have done plenty.  Next week will be another section of the AT with Frank and November 9 will be Mexico for Orizaba. I have a great team of 9 assembled for this one and we are all excited to get down South. That has taken up a fair amount of my time as well in addition to running my business and writing for Cityview.

 

So, all is good and sometimes no news is good news. Fall is on, we camped out last weekend and it got below freezing at the Obed. Hangover will be soon. Frank and I depart in a couple of days so I am anticipating some good Virginia mileage along the trail.

In the meantime, enjoy my latest contribution for Cityview. It is a tribute to Legacy Parks.

https://cityviewmag.com/a-legacy-of-its-own/

Land of Giants

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Home of Giants

 

 

Visiting the mighty before they make their final—and unplanned—departure

In the 1800s, naturalist William Bartram once remarked that you could swing from limb to limb from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River without ever touching the ground. He didn’t know at the time, but were anyone to take on his challenge, they would cross over the oldest mountains on the planet—so old, in fact, that they once rivaled the present heights of the Himalayan Mountains. Hard to imagine that Clingman’s Dome just over the Tennessee border in North Carolina could have been Kanchenjunga and Mt. Mitchell to its east once an Everest.

However, nestled in a basin called Poplar Cove near Little Santeetlah Creek is a vestigial sliver that will make you a believer. Joyce Kilmer National Forest is the home of giants; a real-life land of lost time. It is a fold in the universe that lets you walk 500 years through a hidden doorway to the real America. One hundred species of trees thrive in this primeval canopy. Buxom ferns, the envy of any florist, nudge rattlesnake plantain so tall I thought it had to be another plant.

I’m between twin poplars that tower 150 feet above me with a girth that defies three big human hugs. My neck is straining to catch errant rays of sun filtering through their crown. Alongside me is the biggest beech tree I have ever touched, its smooth bark irresistible for me and vandals. The Cherokee used to say that the beeches resist lightning, but that immunity sadly does not extend to graffiti. Moving on we weave between hemlock totems—soldiers who have fallen in battle with the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Despite their misfortune, their hollowed trunks still reach 60 feet or more, a testament to their former glory.

Joyce Kilmer’s words inspired a wilderness. “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” Like these mighty hemlock, Kilmer fell in a battle not of his choosing in World War One, never to rise again. Two decades back, I saw quite a different forest here, but you can never climb the same mountain twice. An ecologist told me back then that all I can do is go see them while they’re still here. I would advise you to do the same.

Bland to Pearisburg on the AT

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We started where we left off at Weary Feet hostel on June 24.

And it began with Frank almost getting hit by a vehicle. Our first day was one of the easiest I can remember along the Appalachian Trail.

We only did about 9 mi into  camp and it didn’t feel like we had done five. I wish we’d camped here by this little pond. Frank was shooing a bear out of our shelter site.

After a very peaceful night atop Wapiti, off the next morning to begin our climb up.

,

1300 ft out of camp we were rewarded with this view.

Barely dripping…

It was super hot and the bugs were pretty bad. And we were also in the middle of a drought which means water dictated our movements. We did about 9 mi to Docs nob shelter praying that there would be water.

We’re joined by three guys who were on our trajectory. They camped near us the previous night at wapiti. Frank and I were able to coax a little bit of water out of the spring but it was barely dripping.

We did a really good food hang and retired to bed while these guys enjoyed the fire to ward off the bugs.

we were awakened at 2:30 in the morning to a screaming noise from their hammock area. A bear had gotten up underneath one of the guys hammocks.

So we all sprung out of bed to go check our food. Fortunately it was okay. And so were the three guys. But that was all for sleeping that night.

Some good looking Rock up here at Angel overlook. Then it was about three or four miles downhill in the rain. Frank and I are always pretty lucky about the rain if it happens it’s usually on our day out. When we finally got into Pearisburg we caught a shuttle back to weary feet. as far as sections go this was a pretty easy one but the bugs and drought gave it a little bit of challenge.

I’m going to say that the heat and the bugs are almost making me reconsider any more sections until it cools off. Almost….

Frank caught me taking a z at doc’s knob…