Going by the looks of this photograph, you would think it was a peaceful and solemn evening atop Bob’s bald in the Nantahala National Forest.
And indeed that is how it began. Strava provides some detail about the ascent from Beech Gap. You may have heard that the Cherohala Skyway was closed from the North Carolina side. The barrier began right at the trailhead for Beech Gap. Last weekend we enjoyed our final overnight trip into the Smokies. I knew they were going to close this resource, and am very grateful to have gotten a trip in on the final weekend. It is just a matter of time before they close off all parks and public lands during this time of pandemic.Just check out what has been closed as of today in National Forest lands. https://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/covid-19-updates/appalachian-trail-trailheads-closed-in-wnc/ I believe that being outside is critical for our mental health, especially when we face such social isolation measures as the world now embraces.
this is Richard casually launching his kite in winds that in no way resembled what they turned out to be later.
We were joined by a wildcat, AKA Bert Emerson and Brian.
The stage was set for a wonderful Blazer top Bob’s bald.
Richard took care of dinner in the form of venison backstraps carefully marinated over the roaring fire. It was delicious.
There weren’t many other folks up there but the ones that were gravitated towards our little congregation. We enjoyed their company.
The setting sun gave little indication of what was to come.
Fueled by an ever-increasing wind, was midnight before I ambled back over to where I had left my tent. Much to my chagrin it was not there. it had blown down off the side of the hill and was wrapped around a tree. All of my stuff was intact and I was able to move it with the help of one of our neighbors, Luke. The rain was gearing up and an army of thunder was climbing the hill.
The cacophony increased and by 3 a.m. my tent walls were closing in on me. The same was true of us all up there. Bert was camping out beneath a tarp. The rain was blowing in sideways beneath the vestibule of my tent. I was reminded of December on Aconcagua.
And that is when the lightning began. I was more concerned about lightning hitting the ground near me and radiating up through my sleeping pad. It was a battle between my tent poles and water in a storm all night.
Despite the fearsome gale, we all survived. But I was ready to beat a hasty retreat off the mountain.
Brian and I departed as Richard was preparing another gourmet breakfast. Coffee, for me, would have to wait until Tellico Plains.
I telephoned a couple of friends on my way back home who related the severity of the storm in East Tennessee. Power was still out in several areas. I have been in some bad storms before. One of the worst, as mentioned above, was on Aconcagua in January. We just descended from the summit at at 9 p.m. a huge wind storm blew up. It threatened to blow our tents off the side of America’s highest peak. We evacuated that saying the next morning. Much as I did off of Bob’s bald Sunday morning. Here is a video of that event, I tried to edit the unfortunate word choice, sorry.
As my friend Bunyan of the Muir Faction mused, John Muir would have been up in a tree. Ask for me in this situation my tent assumed that role.
Now let’s end with some guitar jams. We need music during these dark times and this assemblage rocks down the house with their level of talent. Enjoy, stay safe and healthy everyone. John
We carefully followed CDC guidelines with regard to our outdoor time in the Smokies this weekend. Our posse maintained appropriate social distances and our tents were nowhere near the vicinity of each other.
We were, after all, in the company of a man who used to head up be Knox county health department, Mark Jones.
Mark in all his outdoor dapper. And he’s mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.
(Nick crafted this one)
But nothing like this Rambo who emerged from the woods as if he changed in a phone booth somewhere. Yes, it’s Country Pleasin Richard.
We even had a cameo from old Ballerina Britches and Houston. Given Nick’s ability to manage the fire and Richard’s tireless work on wood we had a good blaze all night.
We were joined by our new friend Chris, who came in solo and shared the fire with us until about 1 in the morning.
Abrams was a raging torrent, always beautiful.
I know we live in uncertain times now and many people are consumed by anxiety. I think all of us are. As for me, I am self-employed. Most folks don’t understand my relationship with the schools etc. I am a private contractor with no benefits whatsoever. That includes sick days, vacation, retirement, the whole kit and kaboodle. Therefore, If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I am not putting this out there for sympathy, rather context. As we speak, corrupt politicians are crafting legislation to give corporations a huge bailout, just like in 2008. Think about this for a minute. If you are an employee of a school, large company etc, there is going to be some form of employment insurance for you. But zero for folks like me. However, these millionaires, backed by their republican lackeys, are scheming to not only manipulate more of our tax dollars for their stock buybacks, but are trying to use this virus as an opportunity to seize our civil liberties as well. William Barr, the most crooked AG in history, has just proposed suspending civil liberties and asking congress to give him power to detain people indefinitely. It is so bad that even right wing Tim Burchett, my “esteemed” representative has proclaimed it a huge over reach. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/doj-suspend-constitutional-rights-coronavirus-970935/
I realize that many of you supported Trump. You are watching his mishandling of this virus and people are dying as a result. Had we a competent leader in office, (eg anyone other than a man who bankrupted four personal businesses and squandered his inheritance) this pandemic could have been mitigated. Well, its too late. All you can do is support Biden.
Biden was not my number one choice, that would have been Elizabeth Warren. Why, you may ask? Simple. Because she spent her life championing the oppressed. You judge someone by their history. I will never understand how people looked at Trump’s history and deemed him fit for office. However, Biden is competent to run this country and not a corporate shill. And I know, deep down, even my Republican friends are now secretly saying this. I’ve been trying to warn people about Trump since day 1. Now people are dying because of his negligence and corruption. And what is the response of our senate leadership? To craft legislation to give our money to corporations. The only way out of this crisis is to put money in the hands of people who will stimulate the economy and feed their families, not corporations who line their rich their pockets. Pray to God with all your power and might. There is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes tells us. This has been happening for centuries. But, we can spend this time seeking wisdom and holding OUR elected reps accountable. Send emails to your congresspeople. The lives of your family members may depend upon it. And quit watching and listening to right wing media outlets who have been spouting Russian propaganda for three years.
These are interesting times. We must help each other but first we have to get on our knees and seek divine wisdom and guidance and mercy. If someone is telling you to ignore science and lying about the seriousness of anything to manipulate you, they are people who belong to the father of lies. And the Bible is quite clear on this. Satan has always relied upon deception to advance his kingdom here on earth. What you are hearing is not always the truth. And in the case of Trump, everything you are hearing is usually deception. This is clearly documented. When I watch evangelists who say he is “the chosen one” etc, I know we are living in the evil matrix. Those who sow discord and division are not of God. They thrive on chaos. We all know this from experiences in our personal lives. Run away from divisive people. In the case of our leadership, we have a choice in November, provided the Russians aren’t allowed to re hijack our elections.
Enough of my diatribe. Let’s get back to some music. I found this the other day and am overwhelmed by the talent of this young lady. Of course, it is my favorite Zeppelin song, so please enjoy and take care of yourself.
This is a photo of me beating a hasty retreat from South Lake Tahoe. It seems counterintuitive to depart in the midst of the best snow they’ve had all year. But the decision was not mine to make; it was Vail resorts Incorporated. Thank you very much.
I 50 was chain restricted. And “sporting”, to say the least. It took me 4 hours to cross over Echo Pass. I can now attest to the attributes of the Toyota Highlander AWD and hill control systems. The SUV upgrade was justified.
But it didn’t begin like that. My spring break promised to be full of powder, intermittent sunshine and bountiful recreation. I had purchased a season pass the year before. The one outing it saw any use was absolutely sublime. It was a powder day. Little did I know it would be my only ski day.
I established basecamp at the hard Rock Cafe and casino. Pursuant to my first day of skiing I got the dreaded notification. Vail resorts was closing North American operations for the virus. A couple of the hotel staff intimated that the reason Heavenly and Vail resorts was shutting down is because they expected to receive a bailout from Trump. (Why work when you can get free taxpayer money for sending your employees home and reinvesting that money back into your own stock? This is corporate socialism at the highest level.)
I then realized that I needed to hightail it back home. American airlines was unreachable and I was scheduled to leave a week later. Plus they have a $200 change fee.
I ended up having to book three separate legs on Frontier, and pay separately for all of them. That cost about $250.
So last night I gave myself a consolation dinner at the Sage room, my favorite restaurant in North America.
The sage steak is the best prepared piece of meat you will ever have. And the service and views are unmatched. Perched atop Harvey’s casino this dining experience is unparalleled. Just listening to myself, you would think that I was some type of paid influencer. However, I paid quite a bit for this meal and savored every morsel. You will concur. Trust me.
9.30 pm, Las Vegas airport
The first leg of my departure triathlon was a success.Relatively speaking, of course. I had to purchase another airline ticket because American was unreachable by phone. That cost $240 on Frontier. (And while I am complaining, why is it that you cannot purchase a ticket to Knoxville from Sacramento on Frontier, but can purchase three separate tickets from Sac to Vegas to Denver to Knoxville. Perhaps it is because that is such a ridiculous itinerary they presume no one would ever buy it.) Presently I am awaiting a 1.30 a.m. red-eye to Denver. Surrounded by masked human zombies, I battle through the apocalypse. Everyone knows that I am THE most likely person to contract this scourge. Presently, My health status would be described as a cautious “fantastic”. All my colleagues think I had the plague already. In reality, I was sick continuously since return from Argentina. This is the first time I have felt 💯. Knock on wood.
This amused me. At the Hard Rock is a lot of memorabilia. But, the Elvis karate gi is priceless. He looks drugged up, and probably was. They said that when he came to Tahoe he was always short of breath. So much so they had to build in in varying intermissions during his shows.
John Davis is a Kenpo practicioner. We have a running joke about the mixture of our respective styles. While ice climbing in Alaska in 2018, http://southernhighlanders.com/new/2018/03/15/alaskan-ice/ we created a fictitious entity that called upon the mixture of Alpine, mixed ice route climbing and martial arts. We joked that those skills would be called upon when some high-altitude ass kicking was in order. We named our team Permafist.
Over the years we’ve had a great many laughs over this comical creation. Much to the chagrin of Neil and Lee who tolerate our adolescent antics for fear of facing Permafist unleashed. About once a month one of us will text the other with a photo of our closed fist which indicates a potential for elevation to defcon 3. This virus could well provoke some gi wearing texts between us.
I obviously have some airport time on my hands. Everyone stay safe and healthy. Much love.
The sun Shone brightly on Grady is he descended from campsite 19 after a beautiful star-filled evening.
The shimmering austerity of the Appalachians in winter is something to be bathed within.
I’m guessing it got down into the lower twenties at night at 2700 feet. the way and the warmth of the fire and great camaraderie sharing tales of old times on the trail. Grady and I have many many memories from the Smokies.
But sometimes the devil shows up around a really good Highlander fire. This very same thing happened the last time we camped here as a group. Check it out….. HERE
This may be Sugarland mountain in the distance on the way back down to Curry Mountain trail. It has become one of my favorite walks in the park. We gain about 1,200 feet but are deposited in a really remote section.
Grady and I were alone in this campsite, but surrounded by memories of former times. Life is good and I am feeling better than at any time since returning from Argentina at the first of the year. It has been like a winter that killed off the Settlers. Very wet and miserable. To have a splendid Saturday night and Sunday was truly a blessing.
Winter has retained a full grip on the backcountry of the Smokies. But in spite of the horrible weather that we’ve had it was time to get out for a weekend. Curt and Brian invited us to come join them on a bushwhacking attempt. Frank had already made plans to go with me and was looking forward to seeing Myers.
General Beauregard threw on our rope at the last minute and it was good to have Richard in camp.
You may remember him from his much-publicized debacle at eagle Creek back around Thanksgiving when he tried to paddle fight class 4 rapids. General Beauregard lost his battle with the rapids including his coffee pot camera and a lot of significant gear. He actually used a shovel to paddle from eagle Creek all the way back to Fontana Marina. For that he gets an extra merit badge.
Here is the Big Two-Hearted River spot. I believe that’s one of Hemingway’s finest works.
Frank is standing here thinking why does Myers hate me? The last time he came down in October Myers was not there either. I consoled Frank and told him that we all still loved him. Especially when he drives almost 5 hours down from Virginia to join us.
We hiked 7 miles into this camp spot and it was time to start our wood gathering. When completed, we had time for a small bit of recreation, backcountry bocce ball anyone? Curt and Brian had planned to bushwhack and find the old fish campsite. The water was very high, but we did this several years ago and I am posting a link to that trip here. It was a real walk down memory lane for me to dredge this one from the Highlander archives and you can see why. http://southernhighlanders.com/Goshen10.html
Here, Brian is trying to get the best of Frank, a former semi- professional baseball player.
Soon we were joined by Suzanne who had arrived in camp early and clicked off several miles to the AT.
She’s an intrepid one, hanging out with all us men this weekend. I believe it was a tad bit cool for her taste but we look forward to having her join us again soon. Someone said the temperature got down to 24 degrees Saturday night.
it was a typical Goshen prong kind of fire, not as warm as you would like and a lot of work.
There was another guy who was camped near us who ambled over to the fire about dusk. He didn’t say very much but I knew he was from Cincinnati and noticed a patch on his down jacket. It said Everestgear.com. I asked him about it but he kind of shrugged his shoulders. A bit later in the evening someone had asked me about my recent trip to Aconcagua over Christmas. That is when our new friends ears perked up. Matt pivoted around and said, “You climbed Aconcagua?”
I said yes and then asked if he had. He then proceeded to tell me he had made three attempts on Aconcagua. I then asked if he was going after the seven Summits and he affirmed that he already had done them. That is, almost all of them.
Turns out Matt Brennan and I were on Everest at the same time in 2018. That was his first attempt, I later discovered. He went back again to Everest this past spring. He apparently was stuck in the notorious traffic jam up top and turned around. Matt will be returning to Everest again in a month for his third attempt and I wish him much success. He’s already completed all 6 minus Everest. He obviously has great tenacity and I know many who were able to summit on the third attempt. It is the charm for some peaks. Here is a link to a interview they did with him.
That’s Matt. We had a lot to discuss obviously. How strange to run into someone in the Smokies backcountry with that kind of climbing resume that was on Everest with me in 2018. He has two mountains under his belt that I desperately need, Carstenz Pyramid and Mt. Vinson.
As we departed Sunday morning, Matt headed on up the AT to finish a loop that Kurt and I had completed in 2018. I remember this distinctly because it was on that particular trip that I made the decision to tackle Everest myself. Things had lined up for me that year financially and the mountain was calling. Here is a link to that 2018 memory.
(Greg is a friend of Brian’s that we had the pleasure of meeting) Richard is sporting a boot and I am sporting the other. Someone left them beside the creek.
Really felt as if it had been so long since my own boots had hit the good earth in the great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This past month I’ve been pretty much sick since our returned from Aconcagua. (Howard presently eschews tent camping, having had his fill in Argentina). In addition the weather has been horrible.I had packed and was ready to do a quick hit last Friday with Myers and Nick but decided against it as I don’t have a four wheel drive and they needed it to get out of Abrams with the snow the next morning. This weekend was the medicine that I needed. We experienced great fellowship and comraderie.
I will add here at the end, that I feel as if there is a Smokies entrance fee on the horizon. We have been hearing rumblings from our troops in the field. Just today, the Sentinel put out this article which is clearly softening the ground for public support of an entrance fee into the park. If you read the article, you will see that 80% of monies go toward road maintenance. And most folks hardly step out of their cars but for the purpose of defecating on trails, according to this piece. So remember, our forbears had the vision to enact a deed restriction on this road because they anticipated the NPS trying to pull this very stunt. Southern Forest Watch has a copy of the deed restriction on our website. So get ready! Once the backcountry fee was passed with Lamar’s blessing, they started charging for lightning bug viewing and upped the frontcountry rates. The camel got its nose into the tent and now will be shoving its backside as well.
Our team makes the final steps to the summit of North and South America’s highest peak. 22,800 feet.
Nothing like a little mountain modeling to get us started.
But do not forget this is a serious mountain with significant altitude and some serious challenges.
This is our team at 14 thousand foot Plaza de Mulas base camp. It was an interesting and diversely populated group. One thing they all had in common, Kilimanjaro. Tommy on the left is even wearing his Killi hat. We entertained a great many hours of Kilimanjaro discussion around the base camp meals. People tend to talk about what they have in common. The problem is, however this mountain has nothing to do with Kili. At all.
Yes, I am fully aware that it is one of the seven Summits having just completed my fifth one personally. Many were the days on this expedition that I longed for a personal toilet tent and Porter. How nice it would have been for someone to run ahead of us, say in camp 1, for instance, to prepare a fresh lunch with vegetables while fluffing our pillows on our sleeping bags.
But, Aconcagua is not Kilimanjaro. So why am I beating this dead mule, you’ll pardon the expression? Because I heard over and over about how this was not Kilimanjaro. No kidding? we actually had a girl on our team who could not believe there were no flush toilets and showers at camps. (Even though there were flush toilets at Confluencia and an occasional shower could be found at Plaza de Mulas)
Having been on a few high-altitude climbs in my life I’m no stranger to the anxious discussions that occasionally crop up around the base camp meal. Most will pay around $5,000 to climb Aconcagua. (Of course it is less for me because I know how to shop around). We had people on our team who paid a middleman to broker this deal for them. In exchange, they were rewarded with a price that was $1,200 more than ours. Another member of our team admitted that she did zero research on this mountain at all. Period. This was reflected in her sparse gear and insufficient mental preparedness.
(there are no River crossings like this on Kili)
There is a lot of this on Aconcagua. And it should not come as a surprise. This mountain is very well-documented, heavily climbed, and sufficiently mapped. There are multitudinous YouTube videos, summitpost entries and Instagram logs. Only those wishing to avoid knowledge of the mountain could do so. And somehow they all managed to end up on our team. I’m not saying every member of our team.
When you’ve got $50,000 riding on a summit, like Everest, for example, a wee bit of anxiety about reaching that high point is understandable. When this is the second mountain you’ve ever climbed and summiting dominates your conversation, your priorities are screwed. Its not been that long ago that I can remember my early forays into big mountains. And to this day I share the humility of being allowed to grace the lower flanks of these Giants. Anatoli Boukreev once proclaimed, “mountains are not stadiums where I go to practice my sport. They are cathedrals in which I go to exercise my religion.”
Every expedition for me is a test, a final examination of my preparedness for that particular peak. It is not a place where I would argue with a guide about the need for taking diamox. I eschew diamox. That is a personal decision. I would rather not mask my symptoms at high altitude. This is not to say that diamox is not a right decision for others. Just not for me. I’ve been fortunate in my ability to tolerate elevation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t suffer.
(we all shared a big diarrhea epidemic at camp 2, brought on likely by unfiltered water, I suspect)
The rate of summit success on this mountain is somewhere around 30%. And I attribute this directly to lack of research and experience on behalf of the participants. I tried to make sure Howard was in the proper shape both mentally and physically. Before we embarked we had spent many weekends backpacking and carrying heavy loads up steep hills in the Smokies. We spent many nights out in a tent in rain storms and otherwise.
Howard was fully prepared. However, we had people on our team who were not comfortable sleeping in a tent. I keep coming back to this because I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept. What is the purpose of being outdoors in the wilderness if you are uncomfortable sleeping on the ground. You’re climbing the highest mountain outside of the Himalaya. Did you expect there to be a tea house?
(Howard doesn’t complain about having to sleep in a tent)
Our summit day was 12 hours long. That’s 8 hours up and 4 hours back. This is a big day on any summit. But I will also add it’s a pretty typical day for big summits. Remember that my Everest summit day was 24 hours long up and back. Many were not mentally prepared for this exercise in slogging. We also had a team member who underreported their physical condition. The result was that person had to receive a shot intra muscular of dexamethasone. Then our guide had to short rope him off the mountain. All because he lied to the guide two hours before the summit.
(A major storm was brewing upon our return to camp 3. Raj and I nearly lost our tent, with us in it. So much for a post summit rest!)
(Raj was a great partner; here he rests with our very experienced and capable guide, Tinto)
So, in summary, I would like to say that I very much enjoyed our ascent of Aconcagua. It is a super dry mountain which brings on a different set of challenges. There’s a low amount of water on the mountain. The snowpack is virtually non-existent. We experienced a massive windstorm after-our summit. For 12 hours, my tent mate, Raj and I, had to physically hold our tent down to keep it and us from blowing off the mountain. As our guides screamed over the wind the following morning, “We need to evacuate this camp!” And so we did, dropping all the way down with, for me anyway, a fully loaded pack from 19k to 14k in a matter of hours.
just as I recommend Baraka trails for Kilimanjaro, I endorse Grajales for Aconcagua. Just plan on treating all your water. Augustine “Tinto” is an excellent mountain guide, alone with Julio and Augustine, another guy who has some serious big wall credibility.
Despite our minor “challenges” as a team. We managed to wrangle a good outcome. Here is a video from the summit, which was socked in despite sun most of the ascent.
If you are looking for a “next step” after you Kili conquest then turn your eyes towards Rainier. Go do a mountaineering course then a two day summit. If you are still interested in high altitude mountaineering then get dialed in on your crevasse rescue and mountaineering skill sets and take a shot at Elbrus. Then, after you have spent some time on a mountain, IN A TENT, you may, perhaps, possibly be ready for the highest mountain outside of the Himalaya. But not a minute before. And please, do your team, your guide and yourself a favor. Perform your due diligence prior to setting foot on the mountain and making yourself a liablility for others.
Here is a link to all my gopro videos on youtube.
We had a great climb today to 11,000 feet and the Confluencia camp. Our team is solid and the logistics are incredible. It took about 3.5 hours for us.
Tomorrow is in an acclimatization hike and we will be back here for a second night.
Everyone is healthy strong and motivated.
Merry Christmas to you and your families.
Howard and I enjoyed some street time in downtown Mendoza after my night in Santiago. And I must say that after being in Chile I really appreciate Argentina. Mendoza has a very relaxed and modern feel.
Today we met our guide and did a gear check. I managed to get some laps in at the swimming pool at our hotel, the Intercontinental. Today we’re preparing to switch to our other hotel and then begin the expedition tomorrow.
We are cruising the streets looking for Nazi refugees. Howard’s new trail name is Colonel Taylor, hero of the Falklands. For some reason our Argentinian friends may not appreciate that.
So all is well here in the middle of summer on the longest day of the year 2019.
I hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas time.
- Stay tuned.
A typical gear spread at my house prior to expeditions.
Depending upon your Spanish skills, Aconcagua can mean either of the titles above. The Stone Sentinel sounds better so I’m going to stick with that. I dropped Howard off early this morning at the airport and will be joining him on Saturday, after finishing up my last few days of work. We have been preparing for this expedition since concluding Kilimanjaro this summer, in July. Howard has been hitting the circuit training like a champ and I feel pretty good about my present level of fitness, given it is the holidays and I always have a few extra lbs this time of year.
I am hoping for an illness free sojourn for us both. Everything else can be managed in my head.
So, Merry Christmas to all. Please feel free to share, comment on our varying platforms and send good energy as we take on the highest mountain outside of Asia. At 22,800 feet, Aconcagua is definitely an exercise in altitude. That is why summit stats place successful ascents at around 35%. This mountain requires some serious load hauling at altitude, no Sherpas involved on this peak for me. I look forward to visiting Argentina and my stopover in Santiago, Chile.
Thanks for following and Happy New Year to everyone.
Few traditions are as solid in the Highlander fold as the annual Eagle Creek, Southernhighlander navy pilgrimage. (Not pictured here is Myers and the bail guys, who experienced an acute case of collective, last minute ombrophobia,) You may remember that the Highlanders are advocates of ombrophobia awareness and organized a hike to memorialize those acutely suffering from this malady. Here is a link to that event many years ago.
Howard navigates us up to the headwaters of one of the most beautiful places in the park.
Once again the fully loaded USS Steenhatchee set sail from Fontana Marina. There were so many memories from Eagle Creek such as this one.
- It appeared as if we were about to be overtaken by a Confederate Armada.
Fortunately it was just Richard.
We would soon realize how lucky we were to have him in camp.
That little blip in the top of the photo is indeed an eagle greeting our arrival at Eagle Creek. It actually flew out from the headwaters of the creek, came down to where we were and circled overhead a couple of times. We took that as a harbinger.
Paddling is cathartic. It is also a different way to experience the landscape and nature of the old Eagle Creek drainage. I was able to share gems with Howard such as the copper mine.
We’d just begun setting up camp when Curt comes ambling in from his auspicious start at 20 mile. In fact, he was so relieved that Curt could not help but to break out in song. His rendetion of “The Hills are Alive, with the Sound of Music” was entertaining. He rolled up and over the Shuckstack tower to make for a good full day. He was able to drop a cooler full of stuff off at my house for us to ferry over. Therefore, we tolerated the singing. (Benny Hill is doing camp duties in the background as he soon realizes it may be a long night)
Sithenge was as we left it, virtually undisturbed as if waiting for our return. Richard fans the fire with his improvised bellows device. He toted a fair amount of kit on his small, sit on top, kayak. One of those items included a shovel, take note of this for future reference.
Yeah that’s some show cooking there.,friends. And show cooking brings them out of the woods for show.
Who do I spy slipping along the edge of our periphery? None other than the infamous Randy Redwood. He can smell the peppers and onions and deer roast. This was a backcountry feast for the ages and Richard treated us like royalty. Randy’s timing was impeccable, if not suspect.
With our bellies full and our appetites sated, it was time for a little bit of rest since the rain had begun. In fact rain would be a nemesis for us the entire weekend. Are we prepared for that eventuality?
I’d say so. We retired early with the Advent of light rain, a mere taste of that to come.
(I later learned that this was to indicated 3.5 inches of rain)
The next morning we took off for some day hiking over towards Hazel Creek.
A light mist was no deterrent for Howard and I. We encountered a Viet cong holdout who surrendered without much resistance.
Up and down. That is the Lakeshore.
Howard and Redwood pause to appreciate the size of these Ents dwarfing us deep in the wilderness. We were forest bathing sans costume.
The evening saw torrential rains, the likes of which I cannot recall for some time. Bolts of lighting illuminated Sithenge and the mountain was reigning in all her glory.
Richard recounts the time he was bitten by a bear at Elkmont. Perhaps you may recall having heard of this experience a few years ago in the paper. https://www.knoxmercury.com/2016/06/15/bear-country-learning-big-inhabitants-smokies/
(thanks for the photo, Howard. Howard’s new trail name is Benny Hill(s), by the way, Ballerina Britches.)
Little did Richard realize he would have another story for the ages regarding his dramatic departure from campsite 90 on Sunday.
(First he had to improvise a rain fire for more show cooking)
It was a heavy storm. Eagle Creek swelled to flood stage as lightning crashed around our encampment. Our 12/24 foot tarp was draining dozens of gallons per minute as we took bailing duties on rotation. Since Howard is lord of the Admiralty, he was assigned this dubious task, along with Redwood. By 10 pm, all were run into our tents for a memorable evening of non stop storm that would cure anyone of the most extreme ombrophobia flare up,( Myers and Nick.)
The day dawned promising and our storm had passed on through. Richard prepared a delicious breakfast of eggs and sausage for everyone., Howard was cracking the whip in his post of lord Admiralty of the Highlander Navy, citing his British heritage and direct lineage to Lord Nelson of Trafalgar fame. We would need the calories for our return in what was expected to be heavy winds. The rain had abated but a cold front was expected to brings gusts up to 45 mph. We didn’t want to experience that chop across the Fontana channel, or chunnel, as Lord Howard refers to it.
We hated to leave Richard because he planned to shoot the Eagle Creek rapids in his vessel, loaded down with all the cooking ecoutrements we had collectively enjoyed. Curt and Randy remained so we set sail back toward the marina.
In case you were wondering, it is 3.5 miles paddling over to the marina from Eagle Creek. I know I had always wondered and, thanks to the miracle of Stava, now we know for certain. And good time we made under the leadership of Lord Howard. In short order we had made the crossing uneventfully and were loading the Steenhatchie atop the Slowzuki. By the time we had pulled anchor, stowed our gear and crossed the dam, Curt was rounding the Lakeshore Trail to meet us on cue for a ride back around to 20 Mile. Everything was going according to plan. For us, anyway.
Little did we realize that our friend and benefactor, Richard was in a potential life or death struggle on the rapids of upper Eagle Creek. You see, on Saturday, Richard had drug his kayak up to Sithenge in anticipation of shooting the small rapids upon his departure Sunday. Little did he realize the extreme amount of rain we would experience. What happened was he took a serious spill and lost fair amount of gear to include his video camera, coffee pot and, most importantly, paddle.
But, showing true outdoor improvisation, he employed the shovel for his 3.5 mile sojourn back across Fontana. Now that is one for the ages. He was okay, although wet. It could have been a hypothermic condition but I presume the paddling created enough warmth to offset that potential. So hat’s off to Richard. Very thankful it didn’t turn worse.
And that is the rest of the story!