Amicalola to Mountain Crossings (Neel’s Gap)

posted in: Uncategorized | 4

You never know what can happen when you take off on a solo, section hiking journey. As I am on a quest to complete different sections of the Appalachian Trail you may be aware that I needed the bottom part of Georgia. So I decided to take off on a Friday morning at Amicalola Falls State Park with a goal of finishing at Neel’s Gap.

I began the ascent of 600 plus stairs to the top of this waterfall. The start of the route is a little  difficult to follow. but before long I had done about 3,000 ft of elevation and found myself at the true start of the Appalachian Trail. But not before encountering my first two snakes.

The second was a copperhead but I was unable to snag  a good photo. It was very hot and somewhat miserable as I made the climb into Springer Mountain shelter.

I’m pretty much was resigned to having the place to myself and tried to imagine all the thru hikers starting here at the same time in March. Soon, I was completely naked trying to get out of my soaked hiking shorts when ,a little before dark a man by the name of Tony came rolling in with his 60 lb pack. He found out why my trail name is “Buff”. Tony is intent on thru hiking but doesn’t necessarily have the right gear. I made a few suggestions. My pack was much more reasonable this time at around 24 to 25 lbs.

The flame azaleas were flaming along with the rhododendron and mountain laurel. I got attacked by swarm of no- seeums atop Springer Mountain.

They were in every orifice and biting the crap out of me. Thank goodness Tony had some bug spray.

After a very restful night I rose the next morning and embarked towards Justice Creek which was approximately 14 miles from Springer.

About 5 mi into my day I stopped for a little lunch break or a second Hobbit breakfast. While enjoying the sounds of a beautiful creek, I heard a thundering horde approach. The first of about 10 hikers were coming down the mountain to the creek that I was enjoying. I quickly estimated it to be one of the meetup groups. I didn’t expect it to be a Knoxville Meetup group down in Georgia. And who is the first person to recognize me but my friend Patrick Joy. There were two other people in the group that I knew one of which is Annora and the other is Temple. I’ve camped with them before.

That’s Patrick who has just gotten into backpacking from day hiking. it was meant to be that I ran into them so we joined forces and marched on towards Justice Creek.

We really had a good time camping together and I was joined in close proximity by Amber, Annoria Patrick and Temple. It was quite the backcountry party which involves swimming in the creek lounging about and a happy hour. I think most people were just happy to be in camp after 14 miles.

Their following day was short, only 5 mi but mine was going to be 17. So at Woody Gap, I said goodbye to this group. I had to climb blood Mountain and 10.8 miles remained on my plate.

Two of the most miserable miles of climbing ensued on my ascent of Blood Mountain. I came into a plague of inchworms the likes of which I can only describe as Biblical proportion. Imagine billions of strands of hanging insects through which you must walk while going straight up hill and the whole time being attacked by horse flies. The horse flies would dive bomb your head to try to eat chunks out of it. And the strands of inchworms would cover your body and they would begin chewing on the salt l accumulated. I was using one hand to swat the horse flies and the other to scrape inch worms from my body. Of course I was the only person on the trail coming or going. It may well have been two of the most miserable miles I’ve ever hiked.

I’ve never been so happy to see a shelter in my life. I thought about staying up there but realized weather was moving in and I could go ahead and hike out.  I had to secure a shuttle. The following information is important for anyone planning a similar section hike so take note. The guy who picked up Patrick, Temple, and Annoria and the rest of their  group is a thru hiker named Nimrod. I think he runs the above the cloud shelter. I spoke with him as he picked them up and I continued onward to see what he would charge to take me back to Amicalola falls. Nimrod puts himself out there as someone who’s hiked the entire Trail three times. He told me it was 1 hour and a half from Mountain crossings to Amicalola falls. And the going rate was $130. So now we know that Nimrod is a liar. I already knew the going rate was $80 and it was less than an hour. I secured a shuttle from Further Shuttle. This makes me suspicious if any other services Nimrod is providing to Appalachian Trail  hikers. So just be aware of this those of you that are planning a similar trip. I got a Further shuttle for $80. (although the guy was an hour late, he did mail my filter bottle to me as it rolled out in the back of his truck, Cost $17 to postal it back, a filter bottle, but nice of him to do that)

So the snakes and bugs were egregious. But it was freakishly hot in the ’90s. Animals come out when you get a bump in the weather like that.  I’m very pleased to get that section done; now all I’ve got is from Neel’s Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap to be caught up with Frank. Couple of lessons from this hike that were reinforced,  It is always about with whom you hike rather than what you do while you’re there. Don’t trust any guy who’s Trail name is Nimrod, and bring some bug spray for those occasional times when you get into the flying gnats. The approach Trail to Neal’s Gap is up and down and up and down. But very much worth the effort give yourself some time.




64 Virginia Miles

posted in: Uncategorized | 3

It’s been a week and a half since Frank and I finished this section.  However, I have promised this one to my editor at CityView so you will have to wait a bit for it to come to press. In the mean time, enjoy a few of these pictures from our delightful saunter through the hills of the Jefferson Forest and five days on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.


If you didn’t get to see my piece on the Cotopaxi Expedition, here is a direct link.



posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Conquering Cotopaxi


Finding East Tennessee’s place on the edge of a South American volcano

Wind sandpapered snow across our faces as we experienced yet another false summit. I quit peering skyward since every prominence seemed to just birth another. Stars so brilliant five hours ago were supplanted by abject whiteness. Icicle caverns brushed the shoulder of Karlyn Zandstra, a nurse practitioner from Norris who is the middle person on our rope. What a strange place to find herself in such horrible conditions 19,000 feet high on the side of an active volcano. Karlyn signed on this expedition to find out what if felt like to experience this altitude. She was getting a full measure.

Crevasses lurked just below the surface of this brittle snow. Our feet were invisible and so were any potential slits in the glacier. For that reason, we divided into three-person rope units. Greenback native Steve McQueen was trailing us under the supervision of a local guide. He finally decided that this man, now entrusted with his life, was a liar. Every time he was told one more hour to the top, “…I swear to God it was two. They don’t let us take long enough breaks,” he lamented while shouting across the deafening gale. I gently reminded my friend that this climb was partly his idea. This kind of climbing is a world away from a hike up Mt. LeConte.

It started innocently enough at the Crag last fall. Steve and several others peppered me with questions about mountaineering while scaling the quarried limestone at a whopping altitude of 850 feet. “It can’t be that bad if you did it,” one told me. I vowed to teach them a lesson.

My proposal, modest seeming at the time, was to take this show on the road: “Let’s go climb volcanoes in Ecuador.” Sara Whitt, a Grainger County native and Knoxville resident, perked up. Her belayer, John Creasy, a Texas boy transplanted to Knoxville, was keen to hear more. Having climbed these peaks 17 years ago seemed all the reassurance my stalwart friends required. Like a low-angle avalanche, this expedition began to snowball. Before long, tickets were booked, and nine of us headed south toward the Ecuadorian volcanoes with our eye on Cotopaxi, an active volcano at 19,347 feet. We touched down in the city of Quito at an elevation of 9,200 feet, only 10,000 shy of our goal. Their punishment had just begun.

Kevin FlintCotopaxi, Ecuador – 19,347 feet

None of the charm of this capital city was lost on our group, now dubbed “Team Climb Ax.” From the roof of an open-air bus, we motored through this rainy metropolis and soaked in the visual feast laid before us in the “Valley of the Volcans.” My brother, Todd Quillen, and friend, Greg Moore, from Morristown, tagged along with alternate sightseeing goals.

Headaches abounded in thinner air as we climbed steps around the old town square. Carnival—the celebration leading up to Lent—was in full swing, and here in Ecuador there are government holidays allowing locals to fully participate. Naturally, pranks were focused on the obvious group of gringos. Caleb Kyser, a native Knoxvillian, was greeted with black ash thrown at his face, as I was welcomed with shaving cream to mine, compliments of local school children. This was our relaxation day. True suffering wasn’t supposed to commence until we set foot on our first volcano the following day.

One of our local guides, Pedro, from the hill region outside of Quito, wasn’t faring too well on the approach to our first volcano. He made an earnest run up a slick hillside an hour outside of town, but his minivan was having none of it. We reversed for almost a quarter of a mile and made a second stab. Offloading weight—me—he was finally able to crest the berm and park as we began our first hike a mile earlier than expected. Chickens pecked at our feet as we forked over dollars to someone in a hut with a bathroom that required filling a bucket to flush.

Rain chased us on this first hike as we gained 2,598 feet to the fore-summit of Pasochoa, an extinct volcano. The sweeping views I touted from my last trip down here seemed like a lie. “It was 17 years ago, and in the summer,” I demurred. Nothing seemed familiar, but the pain of agonizing ascent. Our group photographer, Kevin Flint, wasn’t getting those much-anticipated cover shots. A native to Kentucky, Kevin eventually settled into the hills of Tennessee, but his photography has taken him around the world to exotic climbing locations. However, like most of our group, this was his first time in South America.

We made our first summit in the clouds after 4.6 miles. Acclimating to these heights requires climbing a few thousand feet and returning to a lower altitude to help the body adjust to thinning air. Our plan to first scale two smaller volcanoes was time tested. Without doing so, we would never have attempted almost 20,000 feet within a week. Team Climb Ax committed to celebrate upon descent in traditional Ecuadorian fashion: we were off to eat some guinea pig.

Kevin Flint

Cuy was a delicacy wasted on our group. Once gathered back at his van, Pedro navigated our victorious team to his favorite eatery along the road back toward town. While we gnawed our way through this shoe leather, we tried to ignore the nose and teeth eyeballing us from our plates. Having tagged some altitude, a rest day was earned. That night, Todd and Greg greeted our muddy assemblage to share tales from their Uber-assisted equatorial foray, known locally as Mitad del Mundo. Apparently, toilet water really doesn’t swirl on the line down there.

Rucu Pichincha was next in our sights, topping out at 15,300 feet. We once again bravely handed our destiny to the care of Pedro and his minivan. Weaving the upper flank of the capital city the bus rounded hairpin after hairpin, dodging livestock and llamas. Black clouds and rain followed us up another peak as we started at the terminus of a gondola now depositing tourists at a mountaintop café. More than one comment was made about why we didn’t choose this method of ascent as we disappeared into the sky and began hiking above this ancient city.

Clouds broke on occasion revealing layers of the valley’s elusive magnificence. Sara and John relished the rock scrambling sections, reminiscent of our time harnessed up in Knoxville. John is a triathlete, so I wasn’t concerned about his level of fitness or any of the group for that matter. An engineer by trade, he travels the world inspecting nuclear power plants. John tried to blame this expedition on Sara, our resident artist and team name progenitor. However, he obviously enjoys overseas adventures, having climbed volcanoes in Bolivia. Scree slopes made for dicey footing but in the sleet we topped out smiling on Rucu Pichincha as a team. This would be the elevation from which we would launch our Cotopaxi ascent in just a couple of days. We still had a long way to go.

One of the best things about a summit is dropping back into thicker air. Karlyn and Steve were ticking off volcanoes as if they were strolling up Knoxville’s House Mountain. Steve is a physician’s assistant and shared Karlyn’s curiosity about the physiological impact of altitude. Having been to Ecuador once and seeing Cotopaxi, his desire to return was the impetus for our journey. He’s also a smart-aleck. Perhaps it had something to do with making him sign a waiver for me prior to our journey. With each unexpected occurrence, I would hear, “I’m going to sue John Quillen Adventures for,” weather, guinea pig teeth, open air bus, rain, sleet. You name it; it made the list.

A fresh group of local guides collected us from our comfortable hotel in the capital. In two four-wheel drive trucks we smashed gear and bodies for a ride to TamboPaxi lodge the following morning. Perched at 12,500 feet, it serves as an intermediate acclimatization point. Nested in the shadow of our pyramidal spire, (which translated means “neck of the moon”), Cotopaxi can be seen holding the planet in its perfectly shaped cone under perfect conditions.

Kevin Flint

The idea here was to rest before our ultimate ascent. Some interpreted that to mean horseback riding in our now trademark rainstorm. Team Climb Ax saddled up and set off undeterred. But a momentary glimpse of our objective flashed for a few seconds between clouds as they disappeared in chaps across the paramo. Cotopaxi was luring us skyward.

Following lunch the next day, we drove to the base of the massif, donned full packs and sweated for an hour. Kevin shuddered under the weight of two backpacks, one full of photography gear. A new local guide was quick to assist him to the Jose Rivas Refugio. This hut was our last stop before suiting up for the glacier at midnight. It’s fairly typical for alpine ascents to begin at night; the glacier is more frozen and stable. All we had time to do was eat a quick dinner prepared for us and bed down in a bunk reminiscent of a Smokies shelter. We had no more fallen asleep at 6 p.m. before the dreaded 11 p.m. wake up occurred. My team laid out their climbing kit, sorted and resorted gear and tried not to look nervous. “This will be the toughest night of your life,” I warned.

Nine hours into the ascent an unmistakable sulfur smell emanated from the volcano caldera. To Caleb it signified the trapdoor into hell. His face, unrecognizable save for a set of swollen eyes barely visible between a helmet and balaclava, was wind-chapped. This home builder by trade was questioning his sanity. One of our group had already abandoned their discomfort and stopped their ascent at 17,000 feet. That was four hours ago. Visibility was near zero at this point, and the summit must have seemed to my dwindling team another fabrication.

John and Kevin lumbered past the rope Karlyn and I shared. Their local guide was keen to drag them to the crater before anyone else surrendered. It was now 6:25 a.m. in this hazy, apocalyptic snowscape. The putridity from Cotopaxi’s summit reminded me this thing could blow at any time. In fact, following my first 2005 ascent, Cotopaxi erupted in 2016 scouring this route into something entirely unrecognizable, were I actually able to see it.

Little fanfare heralded our final steps to the caldera at 19,347 feet. Scant evidence indicated the summit of my memory from 2005, conditions were that abysmal. Team Climb Ax had the mountain to ourselves. Our strongest guys laid down over their packs, panting. Icicles hung from Karlyn’s helmet in the form of frozen hair. The guys panted through fleece-covered mouths. I lost some feeling in my hands and dug out the mittens. No more layers were forthcoming from my pack; I was wearing everything. Beneath the pain and suffering of our team were eyes conveying collective disbelief.

“Congratulations,” I fist-bumped them, inadvertently calling this mountain by another name. Hypoxia knows no bounds. Celebrating was traded for escape.

If you’ve never descended a glacier in 12-point crampons, the learning curve is both immediate and unforgiving. A competition ensued for style points as to who could trip most creatively without jerking the rest of their rope team face first. And all three groups took our turn. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Steve confessed as we zig-zagged the lower snowfields prior to the Refugio. By the look on everyone’s faces, he spoke for the team. “I’m glad I never have to do this again,” added Karlyn.

Over a celebratory dinner back in Quito, we were reunited with Todd and Greg fresh off a Galapagos excursion. Their tan contrasted our peeling faces from the wind. Sitting around the table were two remarkably distinct experiences, together building a picture of all that this part of Ecuador has to offer.

Once showered and back in the thick air, I was already being asked about “that other volcano in Mexico.” Amnesia is an important skill set in the mountaineering game.

A satisfied soaking in thermal hot springs our final day had this Knoxville group already planning the next ascent. They took all the volcano could throw at them and definitely earned the right to suffer some more.

Lynn Camp

posted in: Uncategorized | 2

It was a busy weekend and a lot of things happened prior to it. As expected, the backcountry fee has now doubled from $4 to $8 in addition to a parking fee which is $5 per night in the Smokies.

Please make your comments known. we will foia them and prove that this is an unpopular proposal.

And prove The NPS to be fast and loose with their visitation numbers.

Myers was with us.

Yes that’s Carver and he’s not at Mount Collins!

The trillium are out.

 The dwarf crested Iris are at lower elevations, this is from the River bluff in Knoxville that morning. Knoxville climbers took over 800 lb of trash out of that area. We had 15 people there working to clean up that area. And none of it was climber trash.

Yes it’s that time of year.

This is going to be a short post because I’m getting ready to bite off a big chunk of the Appalachian Trail with Frank.

We will be heading north from Atkins Virginia in a day or two. Check out my Instagram feed for updates.


A Backcountry Week

posted in: Uncategorized | 6

This was the final night of my three days in the back country. We ended up at campsite 30.

But it begins the weekend before with Steve McQueen, which is actually his real name. (Frank asked me what his real name was.)

And a ridiculously cold crossing of Abrams Creek. I counted 35 steps from shore to shore. My toes were frozen by number 20.  We had one more to do outside of campsite 15.

You may recall the heavy winds that precipitated the Wears Valley fires. That’s why we had rabbit Creek to ourselves. That and the two cold crossings.

Now fast forward to the following Friday. Frank Whitehead was itching to get out. I hadn’t seen him in almost 2 years. We decided to take off Friday and first go up campsite 20.

 Mr Yo-Yo has turned into Santa Claus. This was the last adventure Frank and I shared. Hard to believe it has been that long.

Despite showing full in the reservation system we had the place to ourselves. this is a familiar tactic with the national Park service as you will recall we proved in this article.

Queen joined us that first night and soon we were regaled by stories from his time working at the blue oyster bar.

Something bluish caught my eyes we hiked out Saturday morning. It was the remnants of this old mason jar with the ancient cap and the colored glass.

We came by the car to replenish supplies and I ran into my old friend Carl Monin. He just returned from our destination, campsite 30. It was great to see this guy with whom I have shared a trail and campsite. He has been a supporter of SFW and we appreciate his efforts.

It was a perfect April weekend. Crisp days and l cool nights. A carpet of wildflowers accompanied us up the Little River Trail. We had a few crossings to make.

At campsite 30, we were joined by Kurt, who slayed fish up and down the trail. He caught 15 that first day. Then in rolled Richard who forgot his tent poles. I’ve done this before and had to rig it just like he did. Hiking poles are quite versatile.

Another delightful evening was enjoyed around the campfire with intermittent stars. I heard little noises outside my tent and wasn’t able to sleep very well. Next morning I woke and noticed that some animal had chewed holes all through my shirt. I’m thinking it was a mouse going for the salt.

Either way our plan for the day was to say goodbye to Frank as we departed on a bushwack up towards the dome. I’d always wanted to explore that area and see how far we could get up through the rhodo. 


It was a glorious spring day. Fields of phlox and wildflowers abounded.

We crawled at times on our hands and knees through dog hobble and rhodo. Then we find these open areas that look like they were associated with the rail lines.

You run across strange things off trail in the Smokies. Something had been nesting  under this little cave and apparently had a fire.

We were cris- crossing the stream hopping over logs and rocks. I was reveling in the majesty of this beautiful April Sunday morning. I was thinking about how blessed I am to be able to do these things. We joked about all the off trail adventures I’ve had and how it’s a wonder I haven’t gotten seriously injured. We worked our way back towards camp on the opposite side of the creek. Kurt now took the lead as we hopped Little River  for probably the 20th time. I’ve been making these epic jumps and nailing every landing. I was walking across logs 10 ft off the ground.

Kurt had just jumped across a little bit of berth. I followed him. My foot slipped and I did not nail this landing. My right foot sailed off the greased rock with the eloquence of fat albert in ballerina tights. I was now airborne and heading for the creek arm first. I remember the landing quite distinctly. It was my right arm that broke the fall mostly. That along with my hip. Soon I was laying sideways in the roiling water. Kurt turned around to try to move me, but my body was having none of it. I had to lay in that water for at least  15 seconds. Despite the fact it was ice cold, I wasn’t feeling that. It was the pain to my hand and legs. Eventually I mustered the adrenaline strength to roll over onto a little bit of a rocky bank and laid face first there for about 5 minutes. I  wondered what was  broken. This scenario of hiking out 7 mi back to the car came to mind. I was able to get righted with Kurt’s assistance. I didn’t think that I had broken anything in my leg system. But my hand was another matter. Either way I knew I was good to get back into camp.

I felt like that I probably did damage my hand in some way. I was able to hobble back into camp and relax for a little bit before breaking camp. Richard and Kurt were kind enough to follow me back down the trail to the car. A couple of ibuprofen were a lifesaver. A trip to the X-ray machine the following day confirmed that I had fractured the bone in my metatarsal. Not bad considering the fall that I took.

Aside from that little incident it was a glorious weekend and week. Great to see Frank again and spend time with Curt, Richard, and McQueen. There will be no rock climbing content in this space for a little while.


Hidden valley

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Nestled amongst the Virginia hills at 3500 ft this hidden gem is truly a delight.

just 30 minutes outside of Abington hides a place that holds some of the most incredible rock climbing and camping I’ve seen.

I was the guest of Jordan and Erin. Always enjoy hanging out with them. They’ve gotten to be such proficient rock climbers.

I thought this place was super soft graded. But then again I’m way out of practice.

It has slab, crack, roof, you name it. I was obviously way behind these kids.

It’s only two and a half hours from Knoxville. I will definitely be back.

Ecuadorean Volcano Success

posted in: Uncategorized | 0


You may have heard that our team experienced incredible success in Ecuador last week, topping out on Pasochoa, then Ruccu Pichincha and finally the big one, Cotopaxi at 19,347 feet.  I am so proud of our group and look forward to sharing details with you via a piece in CityView’s next edition.  For now enjoy these few photos in the link below.


our first summit, Pasochoa was in the clouds. It was remote and our approach was longer than expected.


The next one, Ruccu Pichincha was similarly cloudy. It was 6.63 miles and 2460 feet of elevation to the summit at 15,358.


Here is the money shot. Cotopaxi summit. It was a horrid day weather wise. No views, cold, windy and all you know to expect on high mountain summits. We battled up and topped out in 6.5 hours and 3.5 down.  Stay tuned for details next month. So proud of my team. It was one of the best trips I can remember. My brother Todd and our friend Greg joined the merry band to sight see in Ecuador and soak in the Galapagos.


“the Mayor, Todd Quillen in our “estate” in downtown Quito. All he lost was his cellphone due to a pickpocket.  You will occasionally have that. It was the only real negative experience.  Below are many more photos, please enjoy.  Contact me if you want to have your own custom outdoor experience!






Anthony Creek

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Immediately upon embarking on this late afternoon back country hit, I run into Bill Ramsey whom I haven’t seen in months. He was completing a loop and we were heading up for the night.

The stars were amazing and we had a brilliant fire.

Steve McQueen was on the scene.

he and I were getting a little shakedown run before we head to Ecuador on Friday.

So I’m trying to get things done before then. I’ll share another photo or two and then the next time you hear from me will be north of the equator.

The eagle has landed.

Follow me on Instagram for Cotopaxi updates

Hoar on the Bob

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

In the old days we called this a Team Extreme event. AJ and John Dempsey had originally planned to go up there. So I invited Richard and Wildcat. Then Brian came along.

it rained about 2 inches on Thursday. Friday morning promised to cool off and we ascended in the sleet.

Didn’t take long to reach the snow line right before the bald.

And soon we found AJ and Jon shivering in the high winds.

Richard and Bert were wise enough to drop off the other side of the hill to get out of the egregious wind. I’m thinking the wind chill made it down around zero given the fact that the ambient air temperature was probably 19 or 20.

Fires are important in this kind of weather and we did not have great ones. Not that we didn’t have a champion crew of fireman up there. It’s just that the wood was absolutely saturated.

This was my tent the following morning after a night of shivering for some. I was in my minus 40 so things were okay with me. However my toe monitor told me that it was well into the low digits. Hoar frost moved in and coated the trees so beautifully.

I had an unusual animal sighting. A black skunk creature walked below me on the freezing ground. It looked like a skunk but with a bushy and shorter tail. Then I noticed it has spots instead of stripes. Bert and I figured it to be a spotted skunk, which appears quite different from a usual skunk. It walked right by Bert’s tent.

Bob Stratton was killed by raiders during the civil war when he left the Bob and headed down towards Coker Creek. There’s a lot of good history for this area. You just have to look around to find it.

with all this snow and icy weather, you might enjoy my recent contribution for City View magazine.

Ice Climbing from Coast to Coast