I know there has been little content on this site of late. The main reason is that climbing season arrived I and figured folks were tired of that same photography. It all looks the same after a minute or two. But we also have been putting this adventure together.
This is our bedraggled group, minus Bill and Stewart and Marina. We finished the C&O towpath on a cold blustery afternoon in downtown Georgetown. Left to right, Neil Murphy, Martin Hunley, Bugsy Moran, Lee Whitten and yours truly.
This was a bike packing adventure. The idea came to my head after several discussions with Mark Jones. You may recall he got me involved in this last year with the Katy Trail excursion. So I invited Lee and Neil from Alaska along with Bugsy from Georgia and Martin from New York.
John Davis and Dan were unable to join. Stewart and Bill are two of Brian’s speed demon friends from Georgia who finished the trail a day and a half ahead of us.
This is me with Neil to the left and Lee on the right. It was the missing man formation at the end of the Great Alleghany Passage section.
Bikepacking involves quite a bit of gear. And the logistics are not simple. And in these days of post-pandemia, sometimes gear is difficult to find along with bicycles. That is why I was forced to make do with my full suspension mountain bike. A gravel bike is the preferred conveyance for this excursion. Using a full suspension mountain bike required some modifications and special racks. But it worked out pretty well for me. I recommend the Thule Pack n Pedal system, it is the only one that will allow mounts for 29 inch full suspension systems.
You see my bike weighs 32 lbs empty. Add the rack system plus fully loaded panniers, and that’s about 70 plus pounds. And we have to carry that weight for 350 miles.
We all got a little bit muddy on the last part of the C&O.
Let’s begin our journey in Union station in the heart of our nation’s capital at the Amtrak terminus. After picking up Lee and Neil at the airport we were accompanied by Stewart and Bill. Boxing our bikes and loading them onto the train was quite the ordeal. So much so it also dissuades me from ever wanting to ride the train up there again. But the train ride was pleasant and followed our path. Through the windows we could see the varying towns and campsites we would be later occupying.
After arriving at Pittsburgh and unloading our boxed bicycles we had a short night’s rest and got up in a monsoon to start our 60 mile first day. We met Martin at the beginning point of the GAP trail as he came down from New York. I haven’t biked that much in constant rain, probably ever. It quit pouring about 1 hour outside of camp, and I was able to grab this shot. Pedaling in the rain is fun. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
Our first night camping was behind a grocery store. Not exactly the nature experience we had anticipated, but it was free. Anxious to resume our journey on the great Allegheny Passage the next morning, we were treated to these views along the Youghiogheny river. It was also about this time that Neil and I had a little accident. He was on the bridge and I attempted to pass him when he took and spill and knocked me into the bridge railing. Neither of us were significantly injured and our bikes were fine.
The second day had us riding 50 miles into Confluence.
We stayed at a campsite that a ranger told us would be free of charge. After he departed and we were established camp, a host came in and insisted upon payment .Or perhaps I should say made someone else pay because I refuse to do it. As you could imagine, I had a few words with said camp host over this.
There were a couple of detours that we planned on making along the way and this was an important one. Falling Waters is an architectural icon. It required a shuttle to take us up there but I’m glad we were able to see and experience this oddity. Frank Lloyd Wright apparently stole his ideas from the Chinese. Yes, this is my photo. Fantastic, isn’t it?
That also made for a shorter day. The weather now was very hot; almost 90°. And that’s when Martin had the first of three flat tires. Mechanical issues encountered included Martin’s multiple flat tires, Lee’s broken spokes and then Martin’s broken spokes. I did not have a single flat. Strange but true. On the last day, Martin busted his pannier rack.
We reached the great Continental divide after a day or two of uphill pedaling. It was a gradual ascent.
Shortly thereafter we crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
Frostburg was an interesting stopover for us. Once again, the weather was changing and we decided to stay in a bunkhouse that evening. I highly recommend the Trail Inn. Steve’s rates were very reasonable and that includes a shower. (He is quite a character to boot.) It rained significantly, so that proved a wise decision. After clearing the next morning , we were off for a big descent and the conclusion of the Great Alleghany Passage trail.
(end of GAP, beginning of C&O towpath, or actually the end of it in Cumberland, Maryland) The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal and occasionally called the “Grand Old Ditch,” operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Maryland. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains.
The fun part is going down the 1200 ft you gained. It was a fast 20 miles. But we had to be at the bike shop when they opened to fix Lee’s broken spoke. Little did we know he would pop another couple of spokes and end up having to purchase a whole new wheel. What I learned is that it is not a good idea to bring older bicycles on this trip. The two older bicycles are the ones that malfunctioned. I think their wheels had a lot of stress history. It’s not Lee or Martin’s fault. None of us knew or anticipated the amount of stress placed on those back wheels with our heavy loads.
in one of our more unusual animal encounters a doe ran across our path with her fawn. The fawn froze place in the middle of the trail. After snatching some photos, we moved on under the watchful eye of the mama deer. I saw about five good size black snakes, unlimited blue heron and sandhill cranes, 3 billion turtles, pileated woodpecker, groundhogs and probably 30 deer.
This was my home for the night along the Potomoc River. As we settled in, Marina came rolling along to join us for a spell.
We picked up a new friend halfway through the trip, Marina Salnikova. Hailing from Pittsburgh via Smolensk, Russia, she was biking solo from her home to DC. She quickly realized the amazing allure of our fun group and we gladly had her along for the remainder of the journey. Amazing thing about Marina is that once we finished she just turned around and went back towards her house. As of this writing, she has completed her round trip journey. Kudos to Marina. She’s a tough bird. Here she is seen in front of one of the many lockhouses along the C&O. We camped along the Potomoc when she came pedaling in and it was a very hot day. So hot we considered swimming. This was all about to change.
Lest anyone forget what he does for a living, Neil had to paint it on the side of his helmet. Doc. Neil had a couple of wrecks on this trip. The C&O Towpath proved to be very muddy following all the overnight rains. It rained so much we holed up at a Bed and Breakfast (Bay Farms B&B) in Williamsport and that was a wise decision. We had a lot happen there I will discuss around a campfire sometime, but were able to wash some more clothes and de mud ourselves. Jesse was quite a gracious host to our ragged assemblage.
Our plan to stay in Harper’s Ferry was severly thwarted by Memorial Day crowds. I had really looked forward to re visiting this place but it was cold. Very cold. Temps were In the upper 40s and we were all soaked to the bone from 40 miles of riding. We spent an hour and did not carry our bikes and bags up and over the railroad tresle into town. Marina went up there and did recon while we tried to find lodging. There was no room at the inn. We had to go on down the road in hopes of staying at an RV campground.
. It was time for some coffee and spiced cider.
And a warming fire, our first of the trip. We were sorrounded by RV campers but it worked out just fine. I wore every piece of clothing I owned, as did everyone else. To think I had initially considered bringing a light sleeping bag.
One of the many dams along the C&O canal.
You have to weave through Georgetown when you come out of the canal to find the actual start point. It is strange coming into such a big city after being out in the countryside for almost a week. It’s also sad because that meant our journey was concluding. I can’t remember having had such fun and enjoying wonderful company. I think we all needed man time. Marina probably showed up in order to rescue us from ourselves. I was telling someone about the composition of our group and explained that we have all climbed together before. I’ve spent nights in tents with all these people. Through the years we have foended off snow storms, the Taliban, frostbite, broken limbs and much more. We were used to taking care of each other. That is what these adventures are all about. Very grateful to see these guys and experience such a grand adventure. Martin says his total mileage was about 370, mine was a bit less because he had to pedal in Pittsburgh a little further at the beginning.
Mile zero is hidden. But was the end of 350 miles for me. ONe of the great blessings for me and Brian was having his uncle Steve pick us up in Georgetown and escort us to his home where his wife, Katrina, pampered us like royalty. I will never forget their hospitality.
Its been an active outdoor week or so for me and crew. I really appreciate everyone’s comments on our Jeffrey Hell epic from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. It was as much fun to write as it was to explore. I’m going to skip around some, so forgive me. This is a shot from Look Rock on Friday afternoon. Micah and Frank escorted us back to a place I haven’t climbed in 30 years.
Cat belays Kelsie on this wonderful sandstone face.
Frank and Micah appreciate this hidden gem. We did interrupt a wedding proposal atop the rock inadvertently.
Yesterday found us returning to Black Mountain for some solid Cumberland trail climbing.
I love this place more every time we visit.
Jimmy Deane catches me on Tiches Wall.
We were joined by Scotty and Frank Cook in addition to Micah and Kelsie. A perfect day for climbing.
Good Friday found me, Ronda and Kelsie backpacking into Walnut bottoms for a very chilly night beneath the stars. It was great to return to this place of so many Highlander epics over the decades.
It was crowded up there but we had the best fire for certain, and excellent company. I slept like a baby beside Big Creek that night.
Twixt all this fun was our usual Tuesday climbing which has seen a decided spike in popularity. Add in a couple of road bike excursions and that has left little time for blogging. Easter was tremendous as I enjoyed church and a magnificent dinner prepared by my Mom and Aunt. Just couldn’t ask for a better couple of weeks in E. TN. How fortunate we are to live in this outdoor mecca.
Let’s conclude with the best live version of this song ever done. Because at this point, we are definitely Reelin in the years.
I’m thankful for Jedd Ferris at Blue Ridge Outdoors who deemed my misadventure worthy of publication. And to Seth Dortch for his photography and Mark Jones, for his company.
Two Hikers Try Not to Repeat History in the Tennessee Wilderness
Legend has it that sometime prior to 1925, when fire engulfed a large portion of what is presently the Citico section of the Cherokee National Forest, a hunter named Ebenezer Jeffrey disappeared while chasing his dogs. It is rumored Jeffrey’s final remarks to fellow sportsmen were, “I will find my dogs or end up in Hell!”
Nothing on this crisp spring day suggested that my backpacking party would eventually fall prey to the same dog hobble and saw briers that sealed his fate. Unlike poor Jeffrey, we emerged but did endure a good bit of his Hell.
This wilderness was the only available backpacking venue as Mark Jones and I set off from the Cherohala Skyway in April of last year, during the relatively early days of pandemia. Jeffrey’s Hell trail proved to be a surprisingly pleasant two-mile meander which paralleled the Skyway for the first half until plunging dramatically through an unnamed creek which feeds the headwaters of the South Fork of the Citico River. We intersected the South Fork Citico trail and dropped another 1,600 feet to our campsite, after four miles along the raging bank of this now gurgling river. I ran into an old friend who was wildflower walking the first little bit of trail; she would be the last human we would encounter for several days.
Two days of storm prior to our arrival and a massive hail event altered the landscape and, as my friend Betsy remarked, “Beat up the wildflowers pretty good.” Holes were punched in the leaves of trillium and pink lady slippers as dog hobble swallowed our boots. This ubiquitous plant is named for its ability to cripple canines that dare give chase to a bear. (Little did I know we would eventually be baying like one of Mr. Jeffrey’s hounds as we ripped through this prickly shrub.)
Four hours flowing downhill with this water found us at the big head of the South Fork Citico creek. Waves lapped at drowning rocks and trapped limbs which reached skyward for rescue from precipitation fleeing the holler. This bubbling cauldron needed to simmer and cool before we dared an attempted crossing. Tents got pitched on the sandy shore beneath a fisheye canopy of stars in hopes roaring torrents would ebb by light of dawn.
Waist deep with full packs, our morning obstacle was but 25 soaking yards. Each step threatened to move the unanchored leg and everything attached miles downriver. Mark reached for my hand from the safety of the opposite shore only to fumble a hiking pole, which he miraculously rescued 100 yards downstream. Our goal was to decipher Brush Mountain trail and complete a loop. We could feel those same demons which lured Jeffrey here into this wilderness 95 years ago rubbing their hands together.
This portion of the Cherokee National Forest wasn’t playing nice and rebuffed our initial entry to Brush Mountain. If ever there were a sign pole pointing the way, Jeffrey’s ghost had long since removed it. We over-hiked all the way down to the North Fork Citico trail. Backtracking to a point we reckoned was the right place to re-ford the “creek,” Mark and I were waist deep again, muscling through raging broth, hoping to land at anything which could pass for the Brush Mountain terminus. Dripping from waist to toe, we spied what could be a path and confirmed with compass and map. No marker was found, just a tatter of red tape dangling from a branch.
Guidebooks describe Brush Mountain as the least traveled passage in the combined Citico-Slickrock Wilderness, and we were beginning to realize why. A retired logging canal ceded to a series of labyrinthine blowdowns. Brush was an apt descriptor of the voluminous detritus dodged. Narrowing banks crested alongside Ike Branch as we crawled on aging knees and elbows through dead hemlock and rhododendron that ensnared our backpacks and whipped us backwards like Wil E. Coyote from an Acme trap. Our naïve plan involved gaining the top of Brush Mountain and connecting eventually back to our starting point on Jeffrey’s Hell trail. Sometimes, as this area’s loggers obviously discovered, the path of least resistance is through the creek.
Dancing back and forth across Ike branch, we chased one dead end after another. Our only company were grouse and snakes; I was beginning to tire of the latter. It was a sunny, crisp afternoon but we had now ascended well beyond the headwater of this drainage. Our map showed Brush Mountain dog-legging at the head of Ike Branch, so that is precisely what we did.
Sliding uphill now where loose rock replaced water, but a furtive glance from Mark confirmed my increasing fear. Bushwhacking now felt more like location scouting for a Discovery Channel herpetologist drop. Glistening stones were ringed with patches of saw brier concertina wire. If either of us stared down a rattler, there would have been no escape but to take the bite.
‘Know Where We Are’
Mark was a great companion for this adventure. At 66 years old, his lifetime fitness made him a stalwart partner for this unexpected travail. Pulling up 35-degree slopes, our intent was to gain the ridge saddle and orient from there. Five hours since breaking camp that morning, the only solid decision we made that day was to load up on water atop Ike Branch. Cresting this prominence, our hopes for an El Dorado vaporized. No magic passages emerged. The only geographic certainty was that we had summited the “Back of beyond.”
Prominent Ike’s Peak was not where it was supposed to be on our map. But the glistening spire whispered to intimate where we had gone and followed Jeffrey’s dogs up the holler. Of the two branches that comprise Ike’s headwaters, we hooked the far left one. In the mountaineering world they say that the word bivouac is French for “mistake.” Any time it enters my brain, that is precisely what has happened. Mark’s continued good nature mirrored my perpetual misguided optimism. Had the phrase, “I think I’m on a trail” been a drinking game, both of us would have been hammered. We moved in the direction of Ike’s Peak in hopes of reaching the right fork of Ike’s Branch. We had now ascended more than two thousand feet off trail with full packs in what amounts to the heart of Jeffrey’s Hell. (I would later discover that we were standing exactly on the R part of Jeffrey’s name stretched across the USGS map).
Late afternoon sun filtered through early budding hardwoods at 3,200 feet deep in the Cherokee National Forest. My bare legs were slashed by a thousand razors and our bleeding arms were clotting with the assistance of Tennessee dirt. Mark crawled up to me dripping sweat but sporting a smile. I was fortunate to have him alongside. If we never escaped, our bodies would remain unfound. Like Jeffrey, we could easily become permanent additions to this hell. Minus cell phone service I secretly wondered how that headline would read.
Straddling a col, we trudged west toward the South Fork of Citico. A game trail was now our only hope and we plodded through as it fell dramatically to the headwaters of an unnamed creek. Here we paused to rehydrate and collectively (Thelma and Louise style) commit to this drainage wherever it deposited. One mile downstream (dangling from rhododendron branches in places our feet didn’t graze the ground), we stumbled upon the remains of a primitive campsite that appeared unused since the 70s. Pull top beer cans, a rusting grill, and stacked stones suggested there must have been access via one of the old forest roads at some time prior to this area’s wilderness designation in 1984. The only thing missing was Burt Reynolds in a muscle shirt with a recurved bow. It was heartening, nonetheless, as we slid, crawled, and swung our way precipitously down toward larger water.
Mark would flash sideways through laurel like a speckled trout on one side of the brook as I parsed the other chasing mirages. Islands between suggested faint signs of game traffic. I rolled along the left bank chasing raw openings. It was 5 p.m. when I proclaimed with relative certainty to my accomplice across the deafening spray, “I’m on a trail.” It may have been the ghost of Jeffrey’s hounds that put me on canine-like tracks in widening soil. The relief of being able to walk upright with our full packs was a sensation I knew better than to embrace as we faced a burgeoning hedgerow of hemlock fall. Mark said, “I know where we are.” Too tired to stop and engage him, it was apparent we had looped back around to the actual beginning of Brush Mountain trail from which this misadventure had sprung some eight hours prior.
Wispy clouds advanced and sealed the decision to make our second shoreside camp. Smoke rose from our solitary compound deep in the backcountry as we drifted off, scheming of ways to make but one river wade the next day. Mark confessed his nightmare about that heavy crossing we swam earlier that long ago morning. He consulted his map and suggested that we somehow work our way back to the first campsite and forgo that second dangerous crossing. At 6 a.m., following some light rain on our tents, dawn light pulled us once more waist deep into the creek. Citico required no poles nor limb for sacrifice this April morn. We slogged approximately one mile to that dreaded crossing spot from the day before. Figuring we endured enough of Jeffrey’s Hell, Mark’s revised plan had us exiting via the Grassy Branch instead of re-hiking six miles back up to Ebenezer’s namesake trail. Pulling rhodo limbs and surfing through dog hobble as before, we chased several faint paths, none of which petered out.
It was a Hail Mary call. Spying our first campsite from what felt like a week ago across the powerful and seemingly unabated Citico creek, we unfolded our dog-eared map and focused on a slit, gambling it would wind toward the Skyway. Eagle branch demanded eight hoppings and wet our marginally dry second pairs of socks. It was as if to escape Jeffrey’s Hell, we had to slither out the back door. Two miles hence, we gained ground through a magnificent series of decreasing waterfalls. We had reached Grassy branch; the elevation was right, the compass heading was accurate. Successful escape from Jeffrey’s Hell was becoming real. Neither of us cared if the car was still miles away.
Four miles and 1,500 feet higher, sun glistened from metal guardrails. Soaked feet and ripped flesh were quickly forgotten. Strong winds now gusted across the forest and Skyway in advance of another spring storm. We debated who should make the pack-less ascent back up to Rattlesnake Gap and the vehicle. A couple from Michigan was gracious enough to collect me halfway up the parkway after one mile of roadway climbing. I must have startled them, bedraggled, dripping, and plastered in mud. Subsequent map review confirmed that we had made a loop off trail with full packs through the very heart of Jeffrey’s Hell. In me, an apparition of Ebenezer Jeffrey emerged from the Cherokee wilderness. Unlike poor Ebenezer, we would leave with our dogs, wet and blistered though they were, and barking well into the next couple of nights.
GettingThere: From Tellico Plains, take TN Hwy 165 east approximately 18 miles until you reach the Rattlesnake Rock West pull-off which is the parking area for Falls Branch as well as Jeffery’s Hell trail #196.
Cover photo: The author hikes off-trail in the Citico drainage. Photo by Seth Dortch
After last year’s debacle it was nice to finally get to spend some time on the snow and in fresh powder.
Tahoe did not disappoint. Travel during the pandemic is rather taxing, though. Be prepared for mask requirements on the slopes and physical distancing enforced out West. Not that United is doing anything to lessen airplane crowding. Both my flights out were full as well as the return journey.
I went out there to get powder time and powder was what I got. My first day of skiing it dumped about a half a foot.
So I danced between the trees.
Sometimes getting distracted by the view.
This is my new friend Gabriel Popescu. We skied at Heavenly one day together, then ran around town that night. He is a professor of geography from Romania.
After skiing for a week solid my legs were a little rubbery so I had to slip back into Carson City for some time at the hot springs.
People ask how I can take these seemingly extravagant vacations. The answer is I travel cheaply. I had a season ticket already paid for. Airfare was $300. My rental car was $147. Each night I would hotwire a new hotel room depending on what was the lowest rate. I do have my standards and by low rate I mean lowest rate casino hotel. This means that I ended up staying at The Montblue for the majority of time. Also stayed at the 3 seasons for a night. Then I stayed at the Federal hotel in Carson City for a couple of nights. Not many people know that cheaper rooms are to be had in Carson City which is about 30 minutes away. Again having a car is key to this kind of flexibility.
I can always make time for a scenic excursion.
But my primary focus was to ski myself into rubber leggedness. With two powder dumps during my time that goal was reached
I didn’t even really go out to eat, just bought groceries and made breakfast and sandwiches.
You can travel cheaply when you travel alone. I tend to ski like some people gamble. Obsessively. So on a typical day I would try to get in at least 14 runs from top to bottom. This is something I’ve never been able to do when skiing with groups. By the time I would make it back to my room at night there wasn’t much energy left for anything else. And that’s what I call success.
I did reward myself with a final departure meal at the Sage Room. This is Tahoe’s finest eatery in my opinion. If you’re ever in South shore be sure to visit this unrivaled steakhouse experience.
I would also like to give a big shout out to Rip N Willie’s where I’ve been renting my skis for the past several years. They always do me right and this year put me in a pair of k2s that were the best sticks ever strapped on my feet.
I suppose you could say that I was definitely in the mood.
This was an epic for the books. Several months ago, Richard began organizing this event to recognize the remarkable lives of Wildcat and Tipi. It seemed fitting to acknowledge their outdoor exploits. So, He and I set about wrangling these cats. This article documents some of Tipi’s history. From top left to right: Dwight, Jon Chambers, Nick Sexton, Austin Williams, Brian, Robert Carver, JQ, Lt. Dan, Kelsie McNutt, Randy “Redwood” Draper, Scott McClure. Bottom left to right: “The Flying Sausage”, Jimmy Deane, Bert “Wildcat: Emerson, Tipi Walter, Curt Roberts. Not pictured, Conrad, Bill Ramsey, Robin and probably some others I have forgotten who were up for Friday only.
Friday afternoon we arrived atop the bald at dark. Seth Dortch was in tow, so that always means amazing photography. This is one of his. We set off from Beech Gap in the chilly forty degree temperatures. The weather looked perfect for our two night adventure.
Seth and Jimmy enjoy a hard-earned campfire.
Yes, to the left is comrade Chambers and his right is Randy Redwood sans beard. I hadn’t seen him since the Kayak epic on Eagle Creek two years ago. Randy is another one I know solely from our travels throughout the wilderness. It is a small group that frequents these hills and hollers so having us all together for one event was something I will always relish.
I followed Nick, Seth and Kelsie and Austin. We were the last to arrive that evening to a party that was already in full swing.
Bob’s bald sunsets are their own reward. Kelsie is probably happy to have some female company on this one.
Although beautiful, it was very chilly up there. And on the second night we had another Buick drive by. This time it was Ballerina Britches. He apparently under hydrated on her day hike over to The Hangover. It’s easy to do when the weather is chilly. This Buick thing is getting to be a ritual for the SouthernHighlander outings of late.
You know you’re legendary when they make a sticker in your effigy. This is Bert “wildcat: Emerson in all his glory. He was running around working the bald so much I didn’t get to spend much time with him. This story gives you some overview of his Triple Crown exploits. https://www.knoxmercury.com/2015/05/27/tales-of-the-wildcat-bert-emmersons-hiking-adventures/
Bert has been an influence on many an aspiring thru-hiker. He once served as Chaplain of the Applachain Trail. I appreciate his support of Southern Forest Watch and our efforts to eliminate the backcountry fee. His voice was critical to that effort.
Here, our group listens intently to advise dispensed by Tipi as we make our way over to the Hao and eventually Hangover.
Jimmy Dean makes a scene in the holiest of holies at the bottom of the hang. Our dayhike over to Hangover was inevitable.
Austin strikes a pose for his tinder profile. It was great to have him and Seth and Chambers along.
Of course Kelsie’s the one none of us can keep up with.
She’ll be on top of Rainier before we know it.
It’s always a needed dose of mountain Prozac for me getting back up to the saddle between hangover and the Bob. I think about the events of this past year. Almost to the week I joined Richard at the Bob one year ago. A huge storm blew in that night; wildcat was there with us. When I returned to my tent nothing was left.
It had blown clean off the mountain and wrapped itself around a tree with all my belongings inside. Little did I know what metaphor that would hold for the coming 365 days. Now almost exactly one year later, we come together to reflect upon this year and celebrate the lives of two people who have been mentors in the outdoor world. This past year I’ve seen people lose their health, they’ve lost their jobs some have lost family members. I personally feel like I’ve aged about 10 years in 2020.
So it was sublime to be atop this beautiful mountain peak on this gorgeous but cold weekend. With good friends warm fire and a jovial spirit we said goodbye to the events of this past year. And look forward to the new one. All the credit goes to Richard for this one. He spent many months planning and making preparations. Richard was excited to bring Tipi and Bert together as they are kindred outdoor spirits. Indeed, there were many folks in attendance who have lived the kind of outdoor experience many can only read about. Tipi embodies wilderness. As I said in an instagram post, he is the Sage of Citico, the John Muir of Slickrock. To spend 21 days alone in the wilderness multiple times per year means you are in harmony with it. You are a part of it. I am envious of his experiences there. He is a gentle spirit and dispenses wisdom like drips from a summer spring at the Hangover. I told him that I relish any amount of time we spend together. He made a comment about the famous mountaineers I have encountered in my travels. My retort was,”I would rather spend time with you.” And that is the truth. There is no ego with Tipi, just humility and truth. So lacking in this world today.
Here, Richard is seen lifting a cup to wildcat. Tipi was shyer about the group ceremony. Richard ran around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to take care of everyone by cooking and making fire. Even went up the weekend before to make sure everything was in order. I’m guessing we had at least 25 people over the course of two days.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been somewhere in the backcountry of Citico/Slickrock and run across Tipi. It is more than coincidence that the universe brought us together. There are at least two different times when I took a wild hair to go into some little know spot low down on Slickrock Creek or over towards Mill Branch. And here would come Tipi rolling in with his dog. He would say something to the effect that he hadn’t planned on dropping down off the Fodderstack trail but for some reason did that day. And I could say the same things. To a Presbyterian like myself, we have another word for this phenomena.
Unblemished starscape on the Bob. It was in the teens Saturday night. Water bottle, freezing, I say.
Wildcat enjoys the warmth and regales us with trail tales.
Our Hangover crew.
Definitely an epic. Many thanks to Richard for putting this one on.(the only thing missing was our Muir Faction brothers, Martin and perhaps AJ and Jon) This trip was a Remedy for one year of blues. So this musical tribute is entirely fitting as I’ve been on a Crowes kick of late. By the way, ,my friend, Dave Gorman, is brother of Crowes drummer, Steve Gorman. Random factoid. I worked with Dave at Peninsula beginning in 1988. He is now a teacher in the Knox County school system. Great guy.
Yes those are stars and it was cold.
But we spent a good part of the day getting ready for that evening.
The flying sausage is resting after his 15 mi over from Trillium Gap.
We had to, of course, make sure the wood was wrist sized. In accordance with great Smoky Mountains National Park policies and procedures.
We started on this frosty Saturday morning with our friend Sara. She was just along for the hike and did a loop back out and around to her car. I escorted thesetthese ladies up themthe from the back of the old ranger station in Greenbrier.
We made the side trip up to an old cemetery about a quarter mile off trail. Uphill, mostly.
And Kelsie thought she had been on all the trails in the park. Hmmph.
We bid farewell to Sara and began setting up a proper Highlander encampment. It was time for Kelsie to work.
I enjoy my Six Moons Design Skyscape Trekker tent. More so because it was a gift from my good friends, Seth and Heather Dortch. So far I have probably put about 30 nights in it this year alone and I have no complaints. It weighs in at 26 ounces and packs up super small. You need to learn how to vent it properly as there is a bit of condensation if not.
They say swinging a hatchet is mountaineering training. You may not know this, but Kelsie is on a program that I am tailoring for her. It will begin in May with her first ascent of Mount Rainier. So splitting wood is important training for the upper body. I would say that she definitely has gotten the swing of it.
Painting this fence is fun.
Since we had all day quite a woodpile was amassed.
Soon the Flying Sausage arrived ,tuckered following his 15 mile day. He was spared wood duty.
A reprieve was granted for sedentary rehydration.
After bathing in the forest full of stars and warmth of hearth, it was time to retire. Little did we know that slumber would elude us.
As has happened before in the Southern Highlander fold, a Buick came driving through in the night. Jimmy Dean was wretching into the early morning hours. I felt badly for him but there wasn’t much to be done. He heaved until there was no more hoe to heave.
Sunday found us escorting him to his car in Gatlinburg instead of finishing his loop. Our sausage was not looking well. You’ll have that from time to time.
So ended another glorious weekend in the Smokies back country. I would like to add something on the Southern Forest Watch front. it was brought to my attention by my friend Adam that the Big South fork was about to institute some whopping fee increases.
You can read what I had to say about that here.
There’s really no way that I could not lead with his photograph. I’m not going to mention the names of the individuals involved at their request.
Though the weather was quite terrible in the valley we found and cracked open a window up in the mountains. Richard and Kelsie dropped down from newfound Gap. They got their sweat heifer on. I graciously offeredto drive her vehicle into Carolina and come up from the bottom.
I met the flying sausage and Robert who were already there.
Lots of water had come through Luftee.
Our numbers were small but our fun was large.
And our fire so delightful.
I’ve spent quite a few nights in Kephart shelter.
Feels like a Carolina winter home.
These Young un’s are always happy to be out in the snow in the Smokies.
So in the spirit of buck dancing and merry making let’s go to Andy Griffith and The Darlins. you true bluegrass people out there know that they are actually the Dillard’s from Missouri. They’re all dead now. But they certainly left a great legacy here with this one.
In a change of venue, we accepted invitation by John and AJ to join them on Norris lake.
This was Kelsies kayak’s Maiden backpacking voyage. so we took off on a blustery Saturday morning with snow in the forecast.
it took a bit of cipherin for us to ascertain exactly their location, having never been there.
We put in at big ridge State Park and followed the tributary up into the main channel.
We were greeted by John Dempsey and our new friend Al who also paddled over.
I felt like contestants on the next episode of survivor. And finding them was the first test.
You may never see another gathering with this amount of wood, stacked and split. Of course AJ had been there with John a day earlier.
It was a good look for this kayaker to find the roaring blaze.
We enjoyed the singing competition. Jon stole the show.
Prior to sunset, after setting up camp, Kelsie and I decided to walk the perimeter of the island. I think the entire loop was about a mile.
It snowed through the night and the heavy snow was hitting the tent mocking rain.
It was cold that morning. Reluctantly, we packed up and started our journey into Big Rdge.
And so the sun sets on another, splendid Southern Highlander adventure. It was great to see AJ and John again. Meeting our new friend Al was a pleasure and it’s always nice to spend time with Kelsie.
Let’s end with one of the greatest, most masterful guitar solos of all time.
The last time I climbed this hill was to meet the Flying Sausage for the first time. And I distinctly remember struggling to make the ascent. I was having those thoughts like, “Well, I guess I have reached that point in my life,” etc. When I arrived, my energy was zapped. We later found out that I was in the initial stages of Covid. The following week saw me in full blown disease mode and the remainder of December was a wash. Fortunately for me, I recovered. Some of the lingering symptoms I experience are the occasional shortness of breath and some unusual memory issues like a mini-alzheimers. These are apparently common with recovery. If you are someone who hasn’t been impacted by this virus, I would urge caution. Recent scans of lungs show clear holes for folks who have the misfortune of finding it down into your chest. Don’t risk it. Wear a mask and get vaccinated.
Kelsie is no stranger to the snow walks. Our ascent time to the shelter was four miles in under two hours. Not bad for 2400 feet elevation.
We met the flying sausage, Ed and Robert. But no fire was to be seen.
That is what Richard is for. We were joined by new friends, Ryan and Joe from Athens, TN.
That’s Jimmy Deane and Ed Dodgen. Just having some shelter fun.
Kelsie and Ed. Staying warm with the fire we all shared. I’m sure by now, Kelsie is wishing some more women would join our weekend cabals.
My best side going up.
I stole this one from Robert Carver’s insta feed. We had a splendid time atop the Nob. Hob Nobbing and what not. Let’s end this week with some music from my favorite female guitarist. Since we are in a “Chain” of great weekend backpacking trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What a beautiful weekend to ascend Curry Mountain into the beautiful campsite number 20.
Kelsie and I follow Jimmy Dean up the 5.8 miles into camp. The flying sausage really was flying on Saturday morning.
he had so much energy we needed to put him to work immediately upon entering the campsite.
Of course everyone is expected to pull their load and she was no exception. Don’t know that I’ve seen such a luxurious pose for sawing.
Yep that’s Martin, scooter, The edge Hunley. Martin and I ascended Rainier and Whitney together once upon a time. Jimmy and Kelsie are beginning their respective mountain journeys. So I am including links to those outings here for their amusement. Not surprisingly, Rainier guided trips are full for the upcoming season.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve shared a trail and campsite with him.
Before long we had another visitor.
That is the infamous Grady. And now we had a quorum.
Much to the chagrin of Kelsey and the Flying sausage. They were forced to endure years of Highlander tales.
We had a very nice and unusually well behaved fire.
We hiked back out the same way and got in some decent mileage for the weekend.
It was really great to be out on the one good weather day in the past week. I would like to thank Martin and Grady for dusting off their boots. Of course we were the guests of Jimmy Dean and Kelsie is always good company.
I would also like to thank everyone who took the time to make a comment on last week’s post. Particularly Dana and KT. I don’t know about you but I’ve slept a lot better knowing that competency and not treason occupies the Oval Office. I don’t have to worry about how someone is selling us out to Russia or some other corporate entity. I would also like to mention something about the acts of sedition that occurred at the Capitol. And I’m going to make another prediction. You’re going to find out that Russia was involved in this as with many other of our former Commander’s misdeeds. In 4 years of White House occupancy, Donald Trump never once criticized Vladimir Putin. There’s going to be an impeachment trial. And he will be exonerated by Senate Republicans. Because they’re afraid of his base. Which is, by definition, cowardice.
But remember that the president of the United States incited a mob to charge the capital which resulted in the deaths of policemen and others. They were trying to kidnap and hang elected officials, one of which was their own vice president. A lot of people are okay with that because they’re Trump supporters. Could you imagine if Obama had done anything remotely similar? The stunning hypocrisy is on full display here. I don’t care what your political stripes are, everyone should stand against sedition. And that’s what I’m doing. Because it is our duty. If my political views offend you, please accept my apology. But you have a choice whether or not to read my words. The capital policeman did not have a choice. And if Trump had his way in overthrowing a fair election like the tin pot dictator he is, then we wouldn’t have a choice right now. It almost happened right here in the United States. Liberty is fragile and takes fighting. People gave their lives so we could have fair elections and I will not stand idly by while a bunch of traitors steal that from us. Email your senators and let them know what you think.