Ouray, Pic o the Vic WI 4

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The new Gopro is paying off. Here is a taste of what a 100 foot top belay route feels like. You have no option but to top out. Or swim.


Blanket mountain via Jake’s Creek.

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When you get good weather in the middle of winter you better run with it. And that’s precisely what Richard, Linda, Brian and I did.
plenty of sunshine.
Views abound.
Manhattan put out a Backcountry spread unrivaled. It was deer meat for dinner and duck for breakfast. All procured and prepared by Richard. Probably the best to eat and I’ve ever done in a campsite. Some people go in the woods to survive we go in there to thrive.
Since Sunday was so beautiful I decided it was time to bushwack up to the old fire tower at blanket mountain.
Blanket mountain was the scene of many epic early forays into the Smokies. But few people know the origin of the name. It has to do with the demarcation line between the settlers and the Cherokees and Jonathan Meigs who was exploring those boundaries. While sighting areas between the top of Jake’s Gap and Mary ridge they put a blanket over a rock. I’ll go more into this later in one of my City view columns. But there are remnants of an old fire tower up there.
Footers are all that remain and I can imagine The view. It requires a bit of bushwhacking from Jake’s Gap on up. It climbs roughly a thousand feet from campsite 27.
There’s a pretty well worn path off trail to it.
We needed all the sunshine and Forest bathing. It’s been a dreadful winter in East Tennessee but I would say a typical one. Rain rain and rain.
Many thanks to Richard for all of his exquisite cuisine. It was an outstanding weekend. I hope that y’all got to get out and enjoy it as well.

Join us in Bolivia in late April

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We will be acclimating on some lower peaks that are suitable for trekkers who wish to try their hand at some altitude in South America. Like Butch and Sundance, we will be exploring the backcountry of Bolivia with first class service and accommodation. If you wish to join and perhaps even tackle our ultimate goal, Huayna Potosi, contact me and we can discuss your options. Because there are plenty. It is a fun group and there will be folks who are there for sightseeing and biking, so don’t feel as if you need to be a mountaineer. Click for info. https://www.johnquillenadventures.com/about-1


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Myers put this one together and epic it was.

Our ostensible pretext was a southern Forest watch board meeting. Which was held in accordance with our bylaws.

When I started out Friday morning three river otters were frolicking in the creek. Here is a link to the video I shot on my tiktok page. https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRpT99bt/

There’s always laundry to be done.
it’s like we found the perfect little seat of weather window. With all the nastiness that we’ve encountered this winter, it was nice to find some sunshiny and cool days to be outside.
John Dempsey and AJ even came up. Myers had Nick Paul and Evan in tow. We even had a midnight Cameo by Curt. And here in the Smokies back country we had it all to ourselves. Of course the fee has doubled to $8. And starting in April you going to have to pay to park in the Smokies.
I suppose that’s one good thing about these fees is that it has run people out of there. And we can have the place all to ourselves.

then there’s the curious sase of the howls in the night. I heard a cat crawling around my tent the first night. But no one else did. Then the second night this cat was up in a tree around the campfire menacing us. But it wasn’t really a cat. You’ll have to ask Dempsey about that.

he looks like the Cheshire cat, but I won’t let the cat out of the bag.

Paul and Evan and David get the polar plunge awards. Despite all the Smoky pine we had an excellent fire. And great company and a beautiful weekend.

I’m leading a trip down to Bolivia in April if you are interested, check out this link for details.



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we came back for a long weekend to get some laps on the ice. Ouray is a great place to hone your climbing skills. I drove to Atlanta, met Brian and we got a buddy pass for a direct flight to Montrose.

this was exactly what I needed. Climbing during the day soaking in the hot springs at night. Spending time with Brian is always a bonus.

Spruce Flats Ice

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It just so happens that good ole “Johnny on the Trail” showed up. I talked him into taking his first swings on ice and he made this video of the event.

I knew the first time these falls froze solid I was going to be on it. And we made what I think to be the first ascent of Spruce Flats falls Frozen on Monday, December 26, 2022. Judah, John, and Gloria joined me on this totally fantastic day. We were able to get in laps. It was their first time on the ice and may never get that cold again in the Smokies. So I feel truly blessed. I’m going to rate the climb as a water ice 2. We have a lot of waterfalls in our area. I hope for another cold snap so we can explore them for climbing potential.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas and prosperous New Year.


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Here is a link to the Cityview Story online only.



Summiting the Mexican Volcanoes with a Knoxville Crew

Popocatepetl was blowing smoke rings like a fifties French movie star. This volcano cut a menacing triangle across the entirety of Mexico with a halo crown of billowing fumes, off limits to all aspiring climbers. It rumbled occasionally like my stomach as we gained elevation on neighboring Iztaccihuatl, “Popo’s” ill- fated paramour. Legend says that Iztaccihuatl committed suicide after learning of the death her beloved Popo in battle. My group of eight threaded through a cloud forest to an elevation of 13,800 feet. Here we bathed in the evolutionary landscape that peeked beneath errant rays of sun.

We had already summited La Malinche, clearly visible across the plain. Locals named her after the Aztec lover of explorer Hernando Cortes who fathered one of her children. My own children (clients) were feeling the effects of altitude this day as we transitioned from the tree line to scree field. After gaining a rocky precipice and negotiating some class 3 scrambling at 14,400 feet, our team was higher than any peak in the continental US. Kerina Mitchell spied our ultimate objective in the far distance, Citlaltepetl, also known as Orizaba. Snow was all we could register on her back across the high plains of central Mexico.

Fully acclimatized now, we waved goodbye to historic Puebla with its beautiful zocalo and cathedrals. Our group of eight motored toward Tlachichuca and the hospitality of the Concholas, my adopted Mexican family. Patriarch, Joaquin Concholas, speaks little English but hugged me as would a father for his prodigal son of five years.

Orizaba was dominating the skyline here in this small village in middle Mexico. Dogs ran the streets with us, and I befriended  a four-year-old named Juan. Remarkable is the candor and love that locals show us Gringos as we meander alleyways. The following morning saw us boarding Jeeps for a two-hour off-road event that would carry us five thousand feet up to the Jose Rivas Refugio.

Alpine starts mean a midnight wake up. Stoves hummed as headlamps bobbled around the hut. Attrition had whittled our group somewhat as two of our brood decided to remain with the comfort of the Concholas and their infamous mole sauce. As we climbed into a star filled night, six hours put us at the foot of the Jamapa glacier donning crampons and roping up with local guides. It was cold and I dug deeply for my parka. One of our team decided this was his high point and descended safely with assistance as Orizaba’s shadow emerged with the sun.

At 8.45 am, Patrick Caveney, Kerina Mitchell, Richard Hatten, and I gained the final steps to 18,400 feet, North America’s third highest prominence. As the sun rose, so did our spirits in the shadows of Popo, Izzta and La Malinche who winked at us across the glowing desert.

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.