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!
I had to tap out on a backpack this beautiful weekend. It was an end to a 10 week run. Just like the old days. In the late 90s, Ed Lee and I did a consecutive 34 weekends in the Smokies/Slickrock. I doubt I will ever be able to match that performance but my consolation was ejoying a wonderful 5 mile jaunt with Howard to House mountain.
It was the perfect afternoon, on a perfect day in a perfect weekend. Our training has been tailored to tackle Aconcagua in Argentina over Christmas. At 22,800 feet see this stone sentinel is no slouch.
That ascent will require a lot of load hauling and high altitude acclimatization. It also requires a lot of money. I just paid more for an airline ticket than I’ve ever forked out in my life. It’s Christmas and everybody wants to head home to Latin America, apparently.
We have our usual plan for Thanksgiving if anyone is interested and would like to join us. I wish everybody a wonderful weekend and happy holiday.
Let’s start with the most important news. I got to hang out with yo-yo AKA Frank. Now Frank moves a lot is an upwardly Mobile Urban professional. this means that he has a career that takes him on a path that seems to always follow the Appalachian trail. His newest posting is in Virginia. His last posting was in the Tri-Cities. And that just happens to coincide with miles he needs.
Like me, Frank really appreciates good old campsite 17. As a matter of fac,t I’ve decided that there is no campsite in the park in which I have spent more nights on the ground kicking a fire more than campsite 17. Good old little bottoms.
A very peaceful place we had almost to ourselves with the exception of one girl who is apparently a YouTube phenomena and another couple that all seemed to retire right at dusk. Hiker midnight we used to call it.
A true Highlander knows that their work is just beginning when the sun falls behind the holler. And I needed to get Frank on it as soon as possible. It promised to be a cold one and the weather delivered.
Highlanders like to thrive as opposed to merely survive and that’s precisely what we did. Frank and I have spent many a night around a campfire and done several big mile legs on the Appalachian trail together. Frank also sits on the board of Southern Forest Watch. Everyone is familiar with the epic of how Frank and I met on the way up to Mount LeConte several years ago.
Frank is with backpacking like I am with climbing. He watches everything on the internet about it. That’s how he knew who I was when he ran into me on the trail about 58 million years ago. So it’s a little surprise to me that he would recognize the chick who is in camp next to us from her YouTube channel.
We experienced a wonderful evening catching up on life. It had been almost two years since we shared the trail together on this trip. Howard was unable to join us this weekend. Apparently the shingles vaccination didn’t sit so well with him. We also were deprived of the company of Myers and ballerina britches.
But it was nice that Frank and I were reunited. We both got beaten up in the fee fight but emerged with some measure of victory.
As we circled the campfire, however, a small glow appeared on the ridge up over the hill from us. It was obviously some type of headlamp but it never moved. It was not a star but some kind of lights that were on the hill not far in the forest . So puzzling it was we actually headed off in its direction sometime around 10:30 or 11 p.m.. It retreated back into the wilderness as curiously as it appeared with our approach.
We finally retired as a temperature dropped down into the lower 30s. A very restful night was had by all. I had to rise early to get on the trail and be back in Knoxville for the second stage of the triathlon.
I made it out with such time to spare I was able to actually catch Church before embarking on this phase.
Yes that is my brother Todd and anytime you see the canoe on top of the Aerio, you know an adventure beckons.
This beautiful Sunday afternoon was to find us driving out to West Knoxville and paddling to an undisclosed location. We were met by my friend Frank Harvey, notable local climber and activist. A very interesting side note about Frank, for those of you Smokies enthusiasts is that his grandfather is the infamous Carlos Campbell. You may have read the book he authored about the Birth of the Smokies. As a matter of fact we quoted him in our lawsuit against the fee, as Myers later reminds.
Now there’s three full grown adults in my 17 foot Grumman canoe, paddling on an absolutely beautiful Sunday afternoon with temperatures promising to meet 60 degree mark. We worked for 40 minutes to reach this undisclosed location.
Obviously some good old Tennessee limestone.
the southern Forest watch has partnered with the East Tennessee climbers coalition. Our cabal has been working in secret for the past several months to create an initiative that will benefit outdoor enthusiasst all over Tennessee. Without going into too much detail it was important that we went and documented footage at one of these new areas.
Our vision is to create a connected climbing community much like the urban wilderness and mountain biking model that exists in Knoxville presently.
This project has the backing of may important people and groups. Myers and I are excited about helping participate in move it along, in conjunction with the East Tennessee Climbers Coalition.
The view from this particular area is incredible. Frank and his crew have been developing routes over here for the last couple of years. although climbers have known about this place for decades it is only recently been developed and maintained and cleaned, I might add by members of the e t c c.
Todd adjusts the drone for footage were going to shoot from this beautiful piece of Rock. Despite some technical glitches we were able to capture what was needed. And we had time to paddle back across and get out before dark.
Thus concluding the outdoor triathlon for the weekend.
Howard met Dan as they accompanied each other to Everest Basecamp last spring. When Dan mentioned he would be headed south with friends to hit the best rock in America, little coaxing was required.
Howard analyzes the beautiful Corbin sandstone.
I call it hand therapy.
I’m climbing here on The Land before Time wall. Muir valley has immeasurable routes of all levels and skill sets. But I particularly enjoyed hanging out with Dan and Tim and Ed and Chris and Eric. And of course, Howard.
It also provided a great opportunity for me to test out the new Gregory external frame pack given to me by my friend Adam Law. He noticed that my old JanSport frame pack was showing signs of considerable wear. This one handles days of sport climbing rack. Thanks Adam!
We ended up camping at Miguel’s pizza and landed smack dab in the middle of a reggae festival. Reminded me of the old days, going to bed and waking up sorrounded by stoners. Needless to say, we were ready to bed down at 10 a.m. and they were just getting cranked up. Despite the ackl of sleep we rise again on Sunday to head back to another wall in Muir valley and do a few more laps over there.
Dan and Howard, reunited.
I’m very thankful for the opportunity to climb with these guys. They are very competent and aggressive rock jocks.
And the Red never disappoints.
it’s one thing to start out on the trail when you know it’s going to rain, it’s quite another to get on there when it already is. Throw in the fact you got that big crossing at the beginning of rabbit Creek and we were off to a great adventure.
you may recall the same shot from a couple of weeks ago and Howard was crossing in the dry.
(Incidentally, Nick informed us that Myers had lost his battle with the 9 iron this weekend. He would not be joining us at Rabbit Creek). Nick wanted to redo this trail to improve his time. He got in the camp before the rain started in earnest.
We did not. As a result I will be purchasing a new pair of rain breeches.
Full packs in pouring rain. That is the essence of mountaineering training. On that level, I would say we all killed it.
But since Nick forgot his pants, that earned him a real trail name.
Ballerina britches was dry.
So we spent the evening underneath the tarp with Mark and ballerina britches. Believe it or not we had a blast swapping stories. Eventually the rain relented and ballerina britches made us a delightful fire.
If there’s one thing old bb can do well its start a fire. He didn’t Roach it one little bit.
All were awakened early that morning, post rain, by a loud thunderous crashing sound. At first we thought it was a tree falling but soon realized it was only Ralph driving his Buick in the camp. Ralph’s knocked ballerina britches out of his perch with the Buick.
But Nick recovered nicely.
All is well that ends well and our hike promised some glorious fall views.
Pine mountain is a great place to see some of these nice reds and yellows.
This is magic time in the southern Appalachians. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Did you get out? This is the window. It will close soon. Let’s end with some music. As you know, Myers and I pick a little. We love the classic bluegrass sound. I mean no disrespect to the Father of bluegrass music, but I couldn’t find a live version of my favorite tune. However, Del was a member of the Bluegrass Boys so I don’t feel sacrilege in posting his rendetion.
We barely caught the sunset this year. Our Friday departure schedule doesn’t allow much time for negotiating the dragon and infamous and traditional Lead trail.
I was delighted to make it in record time. Did I mention we shouldered 65 lbs each?
Yeah. We figured the Hang was dry so we toted gallons. Gallons. After all, we are in training.
No fire bans here. And the warmth was appreciated. I would also like to note that the Lead trail has been recently maintained and is in better shape than I’ve ever seen it. Ever. It is volunteer trail maintenance that keeps these areas so pristine. Many thanks to the local trail volunteers who so diligently attend to this classic ascent.
Now, as we unpacked, and well before this photo the following morning, a realization took hold.
It sunk in as Jon Chambers unpacked his 65. It seems as if he omitted one critical piece of gear. That would be the item collectively known as a sleeping system. They’re usually helpful for warmth and comfort in the backcountry. A major component of which is the sleeping bag itself.
We fashioned a work around system with hot hands, a backpack, several down jackets and a sleeping pad. Howard and I retired about 10:30 and Chambers stayed up kicking the fire for several more hours, anticipating the misery of shivery.
Fortunately it didn’t turn as cold as expected and Jon said he was quite comfortable in his tent with our improvised system. But not so much that he was persuaded to take on the second night.
It was Howard’s first time to the Rock and he was impressed. How can you not be, after all it’s Hangover. His time to the top was equally impressive.
We had to depart a day early due to the sleeping bag issue and the pending weather. although John was able to stay warm on a dry evening that was not going to be the case for Saturday night.
And rain it did. As I sit here in the drier comfort of home and Knoxville, I’m receiving texts from my friend Carl on Gregory’s bald.
Wind and rain seems to be their issue for the evening.
As you can see in the photographs, Hangover did not disappoint again this year. It’s always good to return to the Rock during the annual fall pilgrimage regardless of the amount of time spent there.
We had the place to ourselves and I got my Fall dose of Heaven. I’ve missed only one year of October Hangovers since the 80s and that was because my brother got married on the traditional weekend. It was interesting to view our campsite from just a few days prior (see the post below this one) in the distance along the Fodderstack. No colors were seen but a few chilly nights saw the basswoods and sourwoods doing their thing. It was amazing.
There is a place, remote and lightly used, deep within the wilderness of Tennessee that is my favorite of all stomping grounds. And on Sunday, not a Friday this time, we were able to enter and not encounter a soul. Crowder Branch is a finger that drops off the Fodderstack Trail which straddles the spine between Carolina and Tennessee. Fodderstack is the longest trail in the Citico/Slickrock drainage and it takes you from Farr Gap to the Cherohala skyway.
We were fortunate to be joined by Kathy in our wilderness experience. She is an intrepid outdoorsperson. She could have outrun us at any point. Route finding is sometimes necessary in the wilderness. Unlike the Smokies, maps are always handy.
We made our ascent with full training packs.
Somewhere, along the way, a large creature stalked Howard. We never ascertained its intentions. I suspect it to be hog.
In order to have a nice fire, we had to leave the fire ban area of the Smokies. Kathy did more than her share of camp work. It was nice to have someone so willing to pitch in and not relegate it to “the men”.
As Fall is beginning to permeate the Appalachians, a crisp evening made the fire enjoyable. We retired early and rose to a beautiful morning. Howard and Kathy departed out Farr Gap as I dropped back down Crowder Branch. I had halfway expected to encounter the Sage of Citico, Tipi Walter but saw nothing on my solo descent. It was cathartic and my weekly dose of mountain prozac to be alone in the wilderness with nothing but my thoughts. This has been like the days of old for me, going out every weekend. Thanks to Howard, I have a great backpacking partner. And plenty more is to come. We are very excited about this weekend plan.
Our usual Friday night, post work hit, included a bit of early drama. We arrived at the trailhead for our ascent into Anthony Creek via Lead Cove. Greeting us was a cadre of law enforcement Smokies Rangers.
They approached us to determine out intentions, which was not rubbernecking. And it wasn’t to harrass John Quillinger, public enemy number 1. One of the LEO’s subtly informed us that reports had been made about a maniac on the loose. He had made quite a scene up at Spence Field and two young rangers were dispatched to apprehend the barely clothed individual. We later learned that he was wearing one boot, smoking a pipe and sporting orange spandex with no shirt. Spence Field shelter was quite full, which is a surprise given the paucity of water up there. We opted for Anthony Creek because it afforded a good training climb with full packs.
It was nearly a full two thousand feet ascent and we were feeling good. These are necessary in our quest of South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua, in December. Behind me is Howard, who was not the maniac on the loose which the rangers were chasing. Although he is wearing a hiking costume.
We soon passed the intrepid rangers who asked us not to disclose anything to the occupants of the shelter. We had to inform them that Anthony Creek was not the same as the shelter and we departed from them as they made a 1.7 mile further climb and we dropped down to the scarce water site, ever mindful of the potential loose lunatic.
Not much in the way of views, Fall is late this year.
We did come across this feller.
I am learning that where water remains, you will find people nowadays. I haven’t seen it this dry in all my years in the outdoors. You can assume that all springs up top are totally non functional. Factor that into your outdoor plans. We met people who dropped down and altered their weekend plans as a result. This is the site of the infamous “Doo Doo Doug” incident of the olden days.
For a second weekend, we “chose not to have a fire”. Our neighbors did not make that same choice. I am rather enjoying not having a fire for a couple of reasons. One, it is against the law given the fire ban. Two, its hot and unnecessary and three, I don’t have to chase smoke around a ring. Also, there is no wood here at the Anthony Creek site anyway. It is picked clean. We bring a lantern and spin yarns accordingly.
We retired early for a relatively restful evening. There was no sighting of the lunatic on the loose. However, our neighbors came down to visit as we enjoyed a morning brew. They had encountered the madman along the AT the previous day. Their description of him matched the rangers with an addition. He had a pipe and was non communicative. Which reinforces my disdain for shelters as idiot magnets. Shoeless lunacy is not so common when toting a tent is required. I have some theories about what was in the “pipe”.
I have an update on the land rape from last weekend. You will recall we encountered a road adjacent to the Rich Mtn loop. My friend, Dana, was able to determine the culprits and I have notified two Blount County commissioners who knew nothing of it. Perhaps we can bring attention to these folks and mitigate the potential upcoming damage. Scroll down to last weeks trip for details. I will keep you posted.
We made a pretty big climb up out of Rich Mountain. But first we had to stop at the parkway to pick up a sweet present from a friend. Adam Law gave me his external frame Gregory pack after seeing how ragged my old external climbing pack had become. Many thanks to Adam and his wife for taking the time to meet us and hook me up. My climbing rope and gear thanks you.
When you hit campsite 6 from the backside, it involves some climbing, which is what Howard and I are seeking in anticipation of an attempt on Aconcagua in a few months. We are loading up our packs and climbing mountains because that is the only true way to train for climbing mountains.
As I mentioned last week, the springs up high in the backcountry are dry. All of them. It’s no problem for us, we just toted all our water and made our packs 45 pounds or so. Employing our new backpacking calorie counter, I have estimated that I personally burned about 1600 calories in our ascent and nearly five miles of walking. It is much less for Howard and a bit more for Grady. My body is beginning to remember these muscles that have been dormant for a little while.
We also, in the words of the park service, “chose not to have a fire”. Mainly because there is a fire ban but also because it is hot as blazes and with no water up there, it just didn’t seem prudent. We did have a candle lantern and great laughter and no smoke with which to contend. Grady and I regaled Howard with tales of yore. More than he could handle, I’m certain. We retired for a dry storm evening. The wind gusted mightily through the night and I feared widow-making branches that, fortunately, did not rain down upon any of us. Needless to say, it was a sleepless evening.
When we hit the trail the following morning, I was thinking of the last time I had been this way. It was apparently back in 2011. I was backpacking in, solo, to meet a Highlander crew at this campsite. Along the way, I ran into a guy that I had met at my house one year, who met Beth on the trail while she was solo hiking. Anyway, this guy, Patrick, made it to the party at my house. I was thinking about running into him on our ascent because, certain places stimulate association memory. Would you believe that I ran into him at almost the same spot coming out? His name is Patrick Morales and he is quite the outdoor advocate. Here is a link to his version of the time we met on the trail in 2011 on his blogspot. http://wemaybeback.blogspot.com/2011/02/hiking-outlaws.html
I still have an I love Mountains sticker on my old car.
Which brings me to this final, and most sobering occurrence this particular weekend. I believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, so here goes.
At nearly 2.5 miles and 1700 feet up in elevation, this is what we encounter. Take a look at how closely they put this road to the trail on the boundary! Now, perhaps this is private land. Someone spent a significant amount of money to grade a road up there. Why would they do this? I don’t think it is for a single unit home, do you? I contacted two Blount County commissioners, Jeff Jopling and Brad Bowers. Neither of them knew anything about it and are looking into it. Spread the word here because I’ll bet someone is trying to get something big up there and perhaps we can stop it.
It was great to have the g dog back on the trail.
Let’s all work together and see if we can’t keep this view without some real estate blocking it!
This is from the Ben Parton overlook on the Miry Ridge. It is no secret that this is one of my favorite interior views of Rocky top and Thunderhead in the distance. We burned out of Maryville at 3.45 pm on Friday and blasted 5.7 miles and 2400 feet up to my beloved camping spot. Here are some stats from Strava.
Yes, Howard and I are in training for what will be number 5 of the 7 summits for me. Over Christmas, we will depart for deep South America. Aconcagua is our objective and it requires some load hauling. We shouldered full packs for our last two hikes and my body remembers this activity. On a side note, Strava does not calculate accurate calorie burn when carrying a backpack. But I found a formula that does and you may wish to use it for yourself. In summary, I estimated that I burned over 1600 calories ascending Jake’s Creek and Miry Ridge on Friday afternoon. Here is a link if you wish to use this for your backpacking calculus. https://www.outsideonline.com/2315751/ultimate-backpacking-calorie-estimator
I needed a PB&J break here, as a result. 45 lb packs.
It appears as if Nick is doubting our mileage estimates into camp from Blanket Mountain intersection. And rightfully so. However, when you reach this gap, there is still quite a bit of trail left. This trail holds so many memories for me and one in particular when we postholed in deep snow many years ago. Pay attention to the video which was taken not far from this very spot. This was 2010.
We certainly had no snow with which to contend this particular day as summer appears to keep a solid grip on the mountains as we round the corner into October.
Having arrived at dusk, we found the good old Dripping Springs site quite full. We made some space next to a couple of guys that looked familiar. It didn’t take long to realize that I knew them as we had camped together many years ago over on Caldwell Fork.
This is Greg and Ark. And here is where we had crossed trails with them several years ago. I believe it was this trip but am not certain.
Anyway, Myers made what in Highlander lore has come to be known as a hiking cameo. He appeared in the dark at 10.30 pm having completed his journey totally after sunset.
Kudos to Myers for his bravery. Because, unbeknownst to us, there were prowlers in the dark.
Sometime in the middle of the night, after we all had retired for the evening, Greg, who was camped out in the open sans tent, was awakened by a strange sensation. Roaming about and smelling his open cot setup was a bobcat that had entered our camp. How about that?
Since Dripping Spring wasn’t even dripping, we had to do some serious divining for water up there. It is dry, super dry. I predict a fire ban in the park soon and super dry conditions for all questionable sources in the Smokies and elsewhere, yes, I mean Hangover too.
We dropped down after a leisurely and highly caffeinated morning. I stopped at Jake’s to replenish our H20.
Great training, great weather and great friends. Who can ask for more in a Smokies weekend?