Twas a tradition of time’s past. Our Denali crew would gather in Colorado for good ice and fellowship. This year our numbers were diminished due to illness and work obligations but it was still Neil ,JDavis, Neils son, James and I.
Fortunately we didn’t require their services. But the ride from Boulder to Ouray was a little more than dicey. What should have taken 5 hours ended up taking us almost nine. Snow was blowing sideways and mountain passes were closed. I was driving a two wheel drive Mitsubishi. It was solid ice all the way up and down these mountain passes. I will not be driving across the state again in winter time. However I did come across one of the most elusive outdoor sightings of all time on this journey. I finally saw a bobcat in the wild. It crossed in front of the car as we drove through the hills. All my years traipsing through the Appalachians hearing them and seeing their signs. Only to see one run across the road and almost get nailed by my car. Truly a blessing.
Once finally in snowy Ouray, it was time to get at the task at hand. We follow our fearless later John Davis down into the canyon.
We established anchors and rappel down into our first ice climb. Since we were last there they developed a nice new anchor system. Very well marked with the snow. We don’t know what the routes are rated though because this was a new area that just opened up.
We were mostly climbing water ice 3 with the occasional four. It’s not been a great year for Colorado in general. You may have heard about the wildfires that went through Boulder right before I got there. Only about a third of the ice park was open. And all this was top rope. Very little lead climbing sections were even open. It’s been very warm until we got there.
After exhausting ourselves we would have a nice meal somewhere in town and retire early. Having only had a few days on the ice, we needed to maximize them. Neil was down from Alaska and his son James drove up from Durango. It was great to have James join us on the ice. He’s a natural, just like his father.
Good old JD, Dean Davis. Always so much fun to hang out with him and Neil. We missed Lee who was unable to come due to work and Dan who is suffering from chemotherapy complications. Dan’s had a rough time with a lung melanoma.
This is Neil socially distancing his son James who was exposed to a covid positive person prior to the trip. This meant that poor James had to stay in a separate hotel eat by himself and generally distance himself from us except when outside and he always wore a mask. Very thoughtful young man.
it was sometimes five and six degrees in the morning so when we headed back after a couple of days the roads were still solid ice coming out of Ouray. Fortunately the weather was good and allowed us but 4 to 5 hours over into Frisco/ Dillon.
I said goodbye to Neil and James whom I presumed departed for their hut to hut ski trip. And I said hello to Keystone. The first day of skiing was pretty good. The second not so much. And I will add that lift tickets are now about $150 a day.
One thing Colorado does right is they address this virus appropriately. Proof of vaccination is required before entering lodges and certain accommodations. I stayed at a hostel called the Pad my second night. It was a delightful experience, very clean with hot tub. For $50 a night I stayed in the heart of ski country. Compare that to your average $200 night prices elsewhere.
As a matter of fact the skiing was so icy my second day I quit about 1:30. I proceeded back to Boulder and spent the night with John and his wife Zara. She is a gourmet cook and sommelier. She prepared two wonderful meals for us at the beginning and end of our excursion. They are such gracious hosts. I didn’t find out till I returned home that James was unable to join his father on the hut trip due to coming down with the actual covid.
I’ve always valued the time that I spend with my Denali buddies. We all met on that great mountain in 2007. I’m prepared to go to another Mountain that I visited prior to that. in February I will be leading a group downto Cotopaxi in Ecuador. We still have a few spots available if you are interested contact me I will leave our itinerary and details at this link.
We have a very nice crew making the trip down to Ecuador. I’m looking forward to showing them some high altitude beginner mountaineering. if you’re reading this blog and you’re interested in letting me help you develop an adventure give me a call. Would you like to go learn how to ice climb in you Ray with a one-on-one guide? I’m a dirtbag climber and work for cheap. could probably be talked into flying out there if you get hotels and and car.
All in all a fantastic experience in Colorado. Many thanks to the Davis family and Neil and James. Now for some music.
Let us not forget that he was one of the greatest musicians of all time and this guitar lick proves it.
From back to front. This is a shot of us celebrating Richards 60th birthday and retirement from Denso.
This is a View from the road out of Clingmans dome. I departed there on New year’s day after spending the night at the shelter with….
Abby and Kelsey, the Sausage and Bert. Plus our two new friends Tom and Tammy.
It was the Sausage’s birthday. And this is the second year in a row I’ve spent it up there with him.
Bert holds Court.
Madonna has entered the building.
Bert had them eating out of the palm of his hand.
Women folk have to earn their keep around us, though.
I rode my bike from Newfound Gap up Clingman’s dome road and began my hike.
When we departed the following day, the road was closed. This was a flashback to the year before. So, I did the only proper thing which was to ride my bike from Newfound Gap all the way down to the Sugarlands.
On the way out, we found a lot of junk deposited by some kids who didn’t know what the heck they were doing. We know who they were because they showed up at the shelter soaking wet. Carrying Walmart gear. So they just dumped it trailside.
On Tuesday prior to that I met AJ and his friend up at the Crooked arm.
This was on the Tuesday night prior to New year’s Eve. So good to see AJ and so good to get two backpacking trips in one week.
Merry Christmas to everyone. I wish you health and prosperity. My latest contribution for CityView Magazine. Link to story here:
…Prophetic words from our expedition leader, Ron Hoglin. It was a darkening late June afternoon in 2013 when his voice crackled over the radio. (you can hear it in the background of this video on my instagram channel.) I had never seen this footage until this week. It was recovered from the possession of Mojitabbe Jarahi (and forwarded from Iran thanks to Hossein) who arrived in time to help me get Brian to safety. The video and details are in the link below. Unmute the sound icon at bottom right for audio. https://www.instagram.com/p/CXmuP5BMtKz/
After 5.3 mi and 1900 ft of ascent, we arrived at this campsite on Gibson Gap along the Mischa Mokwa Trail in Cumberland Gap.
The plan was to ascend to Hensley settlement but all the backcountry sites are presently closed due to bear activities save for this one. I was reminded of the time that we did this whole 20 mile trail when I was in the boy scouts probably aged 11.
It was a usual Friday night hit. The weather was warm and we began climbing and sweating. It seemed like a rather endless pull with full packs since there was no water up there.
Kelsie and I were very happy to see the end of that climb. Campsite was in a flat little saddle, ordered by some rock formations and rhododendron. The sun was setting as we rolled in but I noticed by the campfire area a little bit of rustling back behind the rhodo. I immediately had sort of a strange feeling about this campsite. I’ve had these feelings a few times before in the backcountry. It’s almost like you’re being watched.
When we registered at Park headquarters they warned us of all the bear activity. In fact Gibson Gap was one of the only available areas for us to camp. After making the five Mile journey, half of which was straight. uphill, we were assured there would be no one else in that campsite.
The stars were in full glory and we enjoyed a radiant fire. At around 10:45 we retired to our respective tents. We hung our food properly on the provided bear cables.
I’ve spent enough time in the backcountry to differentiate sounds. Especially those when you are asleep. For instance squirrels make a definitive sound as do raccoons, possums, and skunks. They fall into the category I would define as small critter racket. Then there are the deer sounds. I can always tell when it is a deer in camp. Their leaf crunching pattern underneath the hooves is without question. But bear are the most distinct.
There’s usually a big thud on the ground and I felt it before I heard it. So I was fairly confident given the weight of the thug that it was not a deer or smaller critter. And it walked right by my tent deliberately, as if surveying the area. First thing I did at 4:30 in the morning was to grab my flashlight, unzip the side vestibule my tent, and shine it in the direction of the footsteps.
In my experience whenever there’s been a big animal in camp and I shine a light outside the tent it tends to move the animal in one direction or another. And it usually moves fairly rapidly. That was not the case with this particular visitor. At which point I knew I had to leave my tent immediately. This is often easier said than done. Your sleeping bag becomes like a prison cell; easy to slip into but hell to escape. I swung my light around by what was left of the embers below our food hang. I donned the shoes in record time.
I was now staring at a set of eyes in the rhododendron behind our now darkened fire pit. It appeared to be my height. And it just kind of stayed there for a few minutes. I moved cautiously in its direction. ever ready for a big charge or the other way. But neither of those things occurred. Whatever had been surveying our camp and was now staring at me through the rhododendron, simply decided to retreat.
Now wide awake I had little choice but to stir the dead fire. Were it indeed a bear I have found fires to be a deterrent. Some of you may recall my most notorious incident back in 1997. So from 4:30 until 6:30 or 7:00 I was there alone trying to scout the area, feeding the fire with what remaining wood we had. I could hear Kelsie stirring in her tent.
Around 7:00 she rolled out with the first rays of sunshine. All she could say is what the heck was in our camp last night? I told her that while looking around trying to assess the situation I came across something that I hadn’t noticed the night before. there at the base of the bear cables from which we hung our food was a crumpled frying pan. I told her that I had not noticed that from the night before.
So either a person was walking around camp or a bear drug a frying pan into camp. Either way that’s some back country weirdness.
Kelsey walks the area behind the food cables. You may notice the pan in the foreground. Little evidence of any other critters was found.
Either way Cumberland Gap rarely disappoints. And it’s always an adventure with me. Cumberland Gap does not have a Backcountry camping fee. And that is the main reason I was there this past weekend. Sadly the old Martin’s Fork cabin is closed permanently. Many were the old Highlander epics we held in that building. But they have shuddered the doors due to mice, rats, and people misusing the space. Here is a link to one of the old trips we had in back in the day.
Let’s conclude this week with some Christmas music and how fitting, this guy playing in the snow.
The post Thanksgiving tradition continues. and the Highlander Navy set sail on a very crisp and cold Friday morning. The temperature was in the low 30s. and we made the four mile crossing with a small bit of chop. Yes that’s Martin up there at the bow. Hadn’t seen this guy in several months. We have been doing Eagle Creek since 2002.
The Steenhatchee sails once more.
AJ and Kelsie provided their own transportation via kayak. A full Armada landed at the beach head on Eagle Creek. In this picture if we were to zoom you would probably see an object. But our group was too focused on getting into camp as it was cold. There was a lot of fire duty to be completed.
Sit Henge was as we left it. Here, I’m making the wood wrist sized.
It got into the very low twenties on Friday night. We were anticipating the arrival of Curt via his kayak.
And before dark he appeared on the horizon. But he was bearing an unusual archaeological treasure. You see, Curt opted to ride over on the shuttle and have them carry his sit on top kayak. He noticed the winds were choppy and decided to play it safe. You also recall that Curt was with us year before last at Eagle Creek. This was the scene of an epic involving Richard. This link will take you to that trip.
after reading that link you will remember that Richard took quite a spill on his kayak on the way out. The result was loss of personal possessions and injury to his arm and no paddle with which to return across the creek. He was literally up the creek without a paddle. the Richard returned several times to try and locate his possessions unsuccessfully. Chief amongst those was his video camera. He even brought a professional diver over on one of those excursions. To no avail.
But there sitting in the mud as he disembarked from the shuttle between our canoe and kayak sat this relic. It had to be Richard’s. Most remarkable are the number of times Richard has returned to Eagle Creek in futility for that very piece of technology. We were all convinced there had to be nudes on that Sim card.
it was in the twenties that night, super cold. But we managed to coax a roaring fire. The next day we were off for our usual ascent of Lost Cove to the Shuckstack tower.
I couldn’t wait to get to the tower because I knew there would be enough cell service there to text Richard and find out if this were indeed his video camera. I was able to fire off a text but not receive a response. We had such a wonderful climb up the 2000 ft to the tower. It was a crisp late fall day and the creek crossings were very manageable. We spent probably 40 minutes up in the tower. Just a glorious hike all the way around during our 8 Mile excursion.
Kelsie took these photographs.
On return to a camp, Kurt had been fishing all afternoon but took a couple of hours to split and chop wood. Real teamwork on this trip. It was a solid crew of fun folk.
We settled in for another cold evening with a roaring fire. I retired a little bit later 10:30 which is late for me. This Crew stayed up all night till about 2:00.
One of the things I most enjoy about Eagle Creek is lounging about with my percolator drinking coffee. It just seems to taste better back there. Once we got packed up and headed for the launch, Mama Bear and her Cubs were waiting for us to leave. That was the only real animal sighting we had on this trip. Usually, I paddle beneath the wings of eagles as we come to the mouth of the creek and boar as we ascend lost Cove. But I’ll take a bear encounter any day even though it was Curt who saw them.
We had quite the sporty -sporty coming back across. Martin and I had to head into the wind. But we all made it safe and snug. A truly epic SitHenge Highlander outing. It just doesn’t get much better than that. Richard met us in Maryville to retrieve his belongings. He was fresh off a hand surgical procedure. And delighted for the recovery of his camera. Unfortunately, we had to keep the sim card to prove it really belonged to Richard. At which point he threatened to fight all of us, thus proving the existence of nudes and multiple attempts at retrieval. None of us needed the accompanying mental imagery.
This really was one for the books. Probably colder than any of the ones we’ve had, but some of the best fires, walking and general outdoor time I can remember.
Let’s conclude this week’s venture with some classic Flatt and Scruggs covered by the incredible Earl’s of Leicester. These guys have nailed it better than Lester and Earl.
Frozen head has a lot to offer. We ascended 1,600 ft and 2.8 mi to this beautiful campsite atop Bird Mountain.
It was a cold and windy night on Friday. Here at about 3,200 ft, the fire laid sideways.
There are some incredible rock formations at the top of this ridge.
That is our loop. We went up the bird springs trail, back down the Jeep road, which is actually the tower Overlook road.
I am fond of Frozen Head; feels like our own little mini Smokies.
Now let’s have some music.
I got some alone time in the Slickrock. This photo is looking towards the Hangover on a frosty morning as I departed to finish my loop on Sunday.
Below is a repost the text of my Instagram write up about this trip . I’ve been derelict in posting of late due to a chronic sinus situation. It started two weekends ago while we were backpacking up at the Big South Fork. Sinusitis is my cross to bear along with holding the record for number of Covid infections. Zero immune system, I reckon.
Here are a few pictures from that BSF outing two weekends ago.
I will mention the lack of trail maintenance in that area. It’s only been a couple of years since I went to this place and it is amazing how the national Park service has let this run down. There are blowdowns that have obviously been there for at least two and a half years. If this were some kind of remote interior trail I might understand the neglect. But it isn’t.
Due to the illness I acquired on this trip I had to miss the following weekend but was able to get out and enjoy the Fall festival at Baker Creek.
Fast forward to this past weekend and I needed some outdoor alone time.
Also wanted to finish some miles over in Slick Rock..
When I walked out of the slick Rock wilderness I ran into two friends Tim and Angie Sexton. It was a perfect ending to a great 2-day outing. Cold Spring is a great Trail and makes a good loop when combined with the Fodderstack.
Yes it’s a cut and paste job. You can see the full post over on my Instagram feed. But I thoroughly enjoyed my solitude in the backcountry.
Now, in case you haven’t heard I’ve been asked to organize a climb in Ecuador in late February. I will be leading a group up beautiful Cotopaxi. we will spend a week acclimatizing on subsidiary peaks staying in beautiful downtown Quito. Your total land cost for 9 days on the ground is $1,300. this includes local guides lodging breakfast and transportation. It also includes all gear on the mountain. I challenge you to find that deal any better anywhere else. Here’s a link to our itinerary and I will be leading this group. Please let me know if you’re interested as we need to finalize our details. Cotopaxi is a great beginner Mountain. you will get experience in the use of crampons and an ice ax and rope glacier travel for one day. Plus you’ll get to bag some 15,000 and 16,000 ft inactive volcanoes.
Don’t know if you saw my latest contribution for CityView Magazine. It was an old trip but good content.
We had a near record crowd for the Southern Highlander Hangover trip this year. And the weather could not have been better. The only people not pictured here that were in attendance are Micah, David and Drew Snider and Tipi. That brings our total to 17, just shy of the record of 21.
I made it up for two sunrises. And they were epic.
Myers was there so you know laundry got done.
But the sun sets were equally spectacular.
A day hike happened. Kelsie led Chris and Chambers down Deep Creek and up the Haoe.
That’s McQueen prior to making a big scene.
Hanging out with Tipi in his usual camping spot over above the saddle,
I didn’t notice what he was wearing for a couple of hours. Until I did. He took my Denali summit photo and whose picture is in my face? Yep.
Micah did a cameo on Friday.
He wasn’t disappointed for his efforts.
No matter how many times I’ve gone this hill the mountain always offers up do you stunning vistas.
The new Peakfinder app points out all the mountains to be seen from the Hang. I never realized we could see all the way to Blood Mountain.
It is always great to see Jon and AJ. Andrew and Chambers didn’t fear the climb.
The week prior, Kelsie, Richard, Linda and I paddled across Calderwood to camp beneath the Hangover. I have been derelict in posting due to all this outdoor time but this photo and the next are from that adventure.
We had a great moon the prior weekend down on Calderwood as well.
Tipi got some views.
Chris’ first time on the rock.
And the week before that, Micah and I tackled the North Ridge route on Table Rock. It turned into a mini-epic as do all of my multi-pitch climbs.
I was also honored for the opportunity to present my Everest story to the esteemed Chicago mountaineering club.
Let’s end this fantastic Hangover adventure with some solid, old school Tom Jones owning Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. I never cease to be amazed at his talent.
It was a fluke decision. This beautiful spate of weather we’ve been experiencing lends itself to these kinds of excursions. On thursday morning way departed four and a half hours north into the beautiful Allegheny hills of West Virginia.
It’s fall and another rail trail called. It all started the weekend before when we were climbing at Starr Mountain.
My old friend, Jeff Grindstaff recommended this one after I had recommended the Katy Trail to him.
That’s Jeff second on the left guiding us expertly up to beautiful Rock faces outside Chattanooga.
This is another view from Starr Mountain down in Benton Tennessee from the weekend before.
So Kelsie and I loaded up her truck and the bikes and away we went.
She made an incredible montage video here.
Starting in the town of Caldwell West Virginia, the first night we peddled 17 miles into our first campsite. And it was right outside of camp that we encountered a large black creature in the middle of the trail. Many times have I come upon large black seeming mounds in the middle of trails that did not move. They often prove to be stumps. This one, however, did move, and it bounded to verify a very sizable adult black bear.
The temperature was pretty cold that night probably in the upper 40s. We encountered the only company we had along the trail that evening.
Leah and Michelle from Florida shaded the same trajectory. Headed north they also chose the uphill version as it was less driving.
They had a campfire ready for us.
We say goodbye to them early Friday morning because we had 50 miles to do that day. If we saw anyone on the trail I hardly remember it. Unlike the C&O and GAP trails this one is almost totally isolated.
Total length northbound was 80 miles. Our intention was to hit the top section in Cass, turn around and repeat. Going uphill, the grade varies from 1 to 3%.
We slept beneath the stars that evening and were awakened in the middle of the night to the thundering crash of trees into the river. it wasn’t until the next morning we realized it was beavers.
There are always vestiges of the rail line.
We made it to the end of the line and then it was time to turn around and head south. This day was going to be a long one though.
By the time we reached another empty campsite we were too tired to even start a fire. We’re even too tired to cook a meal. But I slept like a log.
The final day saw us just doing about 25mi out.
We must end with a song as cool as this trail itself.
It was almost heaven, West Virginia. But that’s not the song you’re going to hear below. Thank you for the beautiful weather, the great company, the perfect riding ,solitude, the animals, The outdoor experience. Glorious Fall has arrived.