April “Doings”

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It was  one year ago when Laurel and I packed up and headed to Nepal for the grand Everest adventure. As we speak, teams are snaking their way up the Khumbu valley for their own shot at earth’s highest peak.  My friend, Howard, is preparing to make the trek into basecamp next week and I have enjoyed helping him prepare for the journey. He is in great shape, has been doing monster dayhikes to Leconte and has the mental attitude for success.

 

If you have followed me for any amount of time, you will notice a definite lack of content recently. That is due to several reasons.  First, work, work,work.  I am still catching up from one year ago and find myself putting in 12 hour days quite regularly. Similarly, Laurel, who lives in Athens, GA, travels for the University of Ga. As a result, when we are able to see each other, exhaustion makes packing up for the mountains almost unthinkable.

Friday I was determined, however, to meet some folks up at Gregory’s bald.  But…………

 

Yes, a plumbing nightmare at home. When a drain pipe breaks in the ceiling, you know there will be no backpacking that weekend.

Alas, such is life.  I have spent so much of mine chasing mountains, wildflowers, waterfalls and rock that dues must be paid on the ranch occasionally.  My only consolation is that I am able to sneak out into the Urban Wilderness and grab a mountain bike ride, run or stroll. Yesterday, I made time for a road bike run late in the afternoon.

On April 30 I will be interviewed by John Becker on behalf of Legacy Parks in their monthly podcast. We will talk about Everest, but more centrally, the importance of our Urban Wilderness areas here in Knoxville. After all, I did most of my training right across the street at Baker Creek.  http://www.legacyparks.org/category/news/

It should be a lot of fun.  I have also spent time with a couple of really sharp graduate students at the University of Tennessee who are completing their master’s work in journalism and media. They are putting together a piece  that I am really excited to share when I am allowed to do so. For now it is a “secret” but I know these girls are really going to produce something spectacular.

In the meantime, I wish all teams headed to Everest great success. I hope the mountain is as kind to them as it was to me. I have also been putting the finishing touches on my Everest summit day narrative and have been shopping it to potential good homes.  If you like following the Everest season like me, my friend, Alan Arnette, is the Everest whisperer.  He writes for Outside magazine and posts dispatches from all teams on the mountain.

Finally, Patrick McKnight is someone we got to know in Nepal. He climbed Everest via the North, Tibetan side while we were on the South, Nepal route.  His climbing mate, Brendan Madden, has just completed one of the best Everest documentaries I have ever seen.  You should check out their climb via his youtube channel HERE.

So I hope that you are able to get out and enjoy spring for me. At this rate, it may be summer before I see our beloved hills again. They taunt me from my car window every morning as I commute in and out of Maryville.

Lake Tahoe

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Spring break. And I desperately needed some snow time. Work was killing me, I’ve been pulling 12 hour days.  So, off I went.

Tahoe has had 40 feet of snow this year. It’s a record snowpack in all my many vacations to the region. I went solo. Laurel had to work. But my buddy, Howard expressed an interest in seeing this region, so he joined me. Howard is embarking upon a trek to Everest Base camp in a few weeks. So Tahoe would be good training. Soon, Howard was donning snowshoes and climbing all around the lake

This is the infamous Gunbarrel double black diamond. In the old days Toad Shrader and I would shred this mogul run up. Nowadays it shreds of my knees up so I made only one descent.

This week I spent a majority of my time over on the backside of heavenly resort.

One day I did make the one  hour excursion over to Kirkwood resort. As you can see Kirkwood is full of imagery. There were no crowds whatsoever and it was a very pleasant ski day.

in the evenings Howard and I would reunite to spend time at the casino where I was able to win back almost enough money to cover my entire

trip.

This is Howard relaxing aboard the riverboat on the Sacramento River the night before we had to depart. We drove back into town and explored the old part of Sacramento which was quite entertaining.

Howard had many good experiences on his snowshoes and his learning curve was apparently rapid.

For me it was a much-needed vacation, a mental break and plenty of time on the snow. Howard is a great travel companion in the absence of Laurel.

We had a grand time.

Now let’s resurrect an old tradition of springtime music and this one is a doozy. There’s nothing like some rocking bluegrass to set off the backpacking  season.

 

Goldmine to cs #2

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 It was a another in a string of quick hit backcountry trips and Friday afternoon saw me hitting the trail from top of the world down into Cane Creek.

 I went at the invitation of Curt and Brian who were doing two days out in their quest to join the 900 miler club.

 That’s Brian.

The temperature had dropped significantly from the day before and dipped into the lower 30s by bedtime.  We enjoyed a relaxing and solo night at yet another campsite showing all  but two spaces full.  This is a familiar pattern for those of us who had suspicions the NPS was cooking the books on backcountry visitation after implementing the backcountry tax.  In fact, Mark Cooke of the Southern Forest Watch exposed this chicanery in a well researched article that I am linking here for your enjoyment.  https://www.smokymountainnews.com/outdoors/item/17708-a-strained-relationship-suspicion-of-nps-lingers-among-some-backcountry-users-parkside-communities

Bullhead

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It was a quick hit Saturday morning run up a newly-opened trail. The results of the fire are still visible. But the weather was ideal for this kind of exercise.

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the wildfire and the national Park service negligence in face of it.

But I wasn’t focused on that Saturday morning; it was just good to be out breathing clean air and walking uphill. 

 

Davenport Gap

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JD had been organizing this big event for a while. But the pending weather sort of changed our plan to go to Bob’s bald with a large group. Instead we decided to do a quick hit Backcountry trip to Davenport Gap and it didn’t disappoint.

This whole thing didn’t even come together until Thursday evening. I texted Myers in the morning and he and Nick were totally up for it so at 8 p.m. we hit the trail Friday night.

When we arrived, Richard, JD, the girls and Brian had this wonderful buffet of culinary senses involving venison and other exotic game.

They had all been there since well before the sun went down and had a beautiful fire raging but we had to add another one outside.

The weather has moderated considerably, so we were able to go in and out of the shelter at our leisure.

Yes that’s a legendary Bert Emerson AKA wildcat a triple crowner. He was the official chaplain on the Appalachian trail a couple of years ago on his second lap. Many of JDs crew are multiple map completers in the Smokies; JD having done at least six of them.

  • We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning spinning tales around the fire and getting to know everyone. Quite the congenial group we all agreed.
  • Early the next morning Richard and Lauren cooked breakfast for us and it was equally phenomenal as the feast the night before.
  • These folks know how to live.
  • My only problem I had the whole night aside from working late and getting in late was not properly closing the valve on my sleeping pad. So I wakened with some sore hippage.
  • We beat the weather and had a fantastic experience with JD and his crew thank you to Richard and all of their hard efforts to host us feed us and entertain us.
  • These quick-hit Friday night trips are excellent in that it gives us the rest of the weekend to have normal weekend activities and to beat the impending weather.

Part Deux-the Paris Portion

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So I started getting that chest crud my last few days in Val Thorens. It was so bad I didn’t even ski that last day and waited on Laurel while she did. (Yesterday three chest x-rays confirmed my first official diagnosis of pneumonia, apparently skiing with a chest cold was bad practice)I will say that Laurel has taken to skiing pretty well. It was bluebird weather and I sat inside watching people rush down these beautifully groomed slopes.

We departed that afternoon on  a bus down to a little town called Moutiers, where we overnighted in a hotel there and caught the tgv back to Paris early the next morning. 

Moutiers is your typical French mountain village. One of the many things I love about France in French culture is just the accessibility and congeniality of the French people. In the small villages folks are very receptive. We make it a point to eat local food and search out traditional fare.  In this particular  region it is called Savoyade.  French take great pride in their cuisine and source local vegetables fruits and meats. There was an unforgettable experience in a restaurant which involved some pate mistaken for meatloaf. The owner of this restaurant had to remove the pan from us before we killed it off in a sandwich.

Early the next morning we embarked upon another High-Speed Rail excursion back into Paris gare du Nord.  I was coughing and wheezing the whole way, as a matter of fact, my bronchial illness seemed to increase by the minute. My malady was offset by our first class accomodation on the tgv since Laurel purchased our tickets and the price difference was only $10. There’s something about going at 200 miles an hour along railway track.  It’s quite thrilling.

Ah, to stroll the Seine again, although bronchially challenged in typical Paris weather. I believe this was our fourth trip together to Paris. I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve been to this remarkable City of lights. Like Sithenge and Hangover and our southern Appalachians, something about France draws me continuously.

Maximizing a bad situation, Laurel stayed healthy and picked out some very nice restaurants for us which is one of the greatest reasons to visit France. I’ve been to every museum,  climbed the Eiffel tower a dozen times, hit the Louvre plenty. But every time I return there’s another place I have found it yet to be explored. Laurel is pictured above at Montmartre. She was sick last time we visited that area so we returned to refresh her memory. And a nice shot of her in front of the beatiful Sacre Couer.  Neither of us had been to the museum of modern art. It is one of the few free ones in Paris and we thoroughly enjoyed that.

Many of you may have been aware from new stories that there is some political unrest in Paris with the yellow shirts. They’re protesting great tax cuts for the rich, sound familiar? We ran into a couple of those yellow shirt folks and they were quite congenial. If only Americans would take to the streets whenever some politician decides to give wealthy people another tax cut but we are far too lazy. Too many folks would rather let Foxnews make decisions for them than actually research issues and believe what the president of the United States is lying to you about that particular moment.

One year after these infamous tax cuts for the wealthy and look at what our economy has done. I’ve been saying ever since his appointment that Trump is unfit for the office of president. I’ve also been a lone, local voice in saying that he did collude with Russia. When you go out publicly and ask Russia to hack into the emails of your political opponent that is the definition of collusion. But far worse than that he is the most ammoral person to ever hold the office.

He has denigrated the United States across the world and made us a laughing stock.  There is not an educated, living human being that can make a concise argument that the United States is any better off since the election of our moron in chief. This was obviously done,by the way,with the assistance of a hostile foreign power AKA Russia, through corrupt politicians who took Russian money through the NRA.

What he has done to the environment, the national parks and public lands alone is justification for impeachment in my mind. But still people turn a blind eye and think and believe his bull crap. Our public lands have gone up for sale to the highest bidder, oil and gas timber or whatever under Trump.  The damage he has done to our environment will take decades to repair if ever. And just look at what he’s done by releasing EPA requirements on coal fired steam plants. That is air you and I are breathing every day. (speaking of breathing, I have been writing a good portion of this blog post in the Dr. office. Looks like this chest crud has morphed into potential bronchitis)

Sadly most people don’t care. Like the French I look forward to the day that we take to the streets and let these corrupt Trump types know that we will not tolerate their corporate rape of America. We can regain our position as the greatest country in the world. But, I understand, and this comes from someone who’s traveled the world, that we have to get rid of Trump in order re-establish our pre eminence and send a message to our vital allies (hint, they are not North Korea, Russia and Saudi Arabia, btw) that Trump was a fluke. Everyone gets a divot.

For the new year 2019 I wish everyone a socially conscious,environmentally aware presence. May you take actions that are in the best interest of this Earth that God has given us, your family which is the greatest gift of all, and endorse the truth above all else. 2018 was one of the greatest years of my life. I enjoyed the support of everyone in my great quest and eventual success on Mt. Everest. Remarkably, at this time last year, Everest was still just a rogue idea. If you learn anything from my experiences, know that you can do and pursue your dreams if you follow God’s plan and listen to what the mountain is telling you.  For everyone here who supported me this past year I extend a sincere THANK YOU from the top of the world.  I wish you and your families a happy, prosperous and healthy 2019. I leave you with a quote from John Muir, forwarded to me in form of a Christmas card by Chuck Adams of Muir Faction fame,

I only went out for a walk, 

and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,

for going out, I found, was really going in.    John Muir 1913

 

John

Les Trois Vallees- Val Thorens

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Les Trois Vallees- France

I travel cheaply. By now most of you are fully aware. How else could a lowly drug counselor traverse this planet? I’ve always believed that a penny saved…..

Anyway, this trip’s genesis was borne from $650 round trip Paris tickets in October. From there we established plan A and B. A was to catch a flight to Lisbon and knock off another country or two. Riots in Paris makes for cheap accommodation. Soon it became apparent that plan B was gaining traction with discovery of a $75 per night slopeside condo at Val Thorens, France.

We landed at Charles de Gaulle early on December 20 and grabbed train tickets to the Alps. I am particularly fond of French rail travel and use them frequently. Laurel assisted with securing the right connections, there were 3 different trains and a 1 hour taxi to negotiate. After two days of no sleep it was great to be in Val Thorens. We set about securing rental equipment and soon were out in fresh powder that dumped our first two nights.

 

Compared to Breckenridge, for example where lift tickets have approached $150 per day, France keeps theirs at a third of that outrageous economic raping. I’m  disgusted with resorts who operate on national Forest lands and seem to have no constraints about inflicting these prices on taxpayers in the US.

So right there is almost one hundred dollars per day saved. I challenge you to find a slopeside rental anywhere in America for less than $200. We had a full kitchen and prepare all meals ourselves. By now you may have some idea of how this slumdog rolls.

Next stop Paris. I have a chest cold,of course. Hoping that clears soon.

Stay tuned.

Quick Hit-Little Bottoms Trip

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Leaving Maryville at 3.30 pm, we arrived at the trailhead aroun 4 pm.  How about that?  And the reservation system was showing half full for good ole Little Bottoms. However, that was false. And it has been false since the NPS has been cooking the books on these campsites and we proved it hands down.

Very fortunate I was to have my buddies throw in and leave work early on a Friday. The rain and weather was moving in and a quick hit was just what the doctor ordered.

We had camp settled before dark, even. Nick is an outstanding fire creator.

An always peaceful Abram’s creek and a wonderful evening with friends around a blazing campfire.

 

Eagle Creek, Highlander Navy Re occupies Sithenge 2018

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The Highlanders have migrated upstream again to  spawn a new year of adventures in one of the most remote spots in the Smokies.

Friday, post Thanksgiving, has been a tradition for the Highlander crew since early 2000s. This year, AJ, Curt and I made the first foray across Fontana into the headwaters of famed Eagle Creek. The paddle takes about an hour and a half in kayaks or canoe.

Then there is the shuttle boat option, exercised here by none other than Mtn. Laurel who passed us right at the mouth of Eagle Creek proper. She got the infamous Highlander discount. In fact, we have been coming over here so long on the Thanksgiving weekend, our presence is expected at the marina and elsewhere.

Styling and profiling, not a bit of mud or water on this diva.  Glad she was able to make an evening out with us.

The story of Sithenge is by now oft told. Suffice it to say, Highlanders made this wonder of the universe way back in ages past.  I did find this link while trying to determine when the Sithenge was christened.

No more had we gathered a nice rack of wood when none other than this guy makes an appearance.

Martin hiked in from the dam but drove down from New York.  Always great to see him and AJ in the backcountry driving from such distance, as did Laurel who came up from Athens.

 

Our evening was pleasant until midnight when the rain torrents chased me into the tent. And it persisted throughout the evening, abating around 9.30 am. Perfect sleeping weather for me, anyway. Sadly, we said goodbye to Mtn. Laurel and hello to Kevin Flint.

Kevin receives the intrepid adventurer award for this one. With no knowledge of the area outside of a print screen map I forwarded, this guy shows up at dusk having paddled in a whitewater boat with a full blown cold. Now there is a hiking cameo!

We spent the afternoon strolling about the Lakeshore trail over towards the upper waters of Eagle Creek. I usually climb Lost Cove up to Shuckstack but it was rather overcast so the views were likely muted. That was my excuse this weekend anyway.

Sadly, Curt’s fishing plans were dashed by an errant fly rod mishap. He was sad and shaken but not stirred. Mostly he was sad that he had carried 25 lbs of fly fishing gear that were unusable that could have been utilized for what he described as “comfort items”.

A rip roaring Highlander fire helped raise his spirits, along with a crystal clear evening and hopes of meteors were promised by Myers, the local astronomer. Sadly, Myers lost his battle with the yard pass and was unable to fulfill his promise of viewing them with us. I believe meteors were seen by some in the group, I’m just not sure if they were of the celestial sort.

(Curt teaches that kindling a lesson by taking out his flyrod frustrations)

Sunday morning found us running into this guy!  Yep, it’s Randy Redwood. And he typically tracks us at Eagle Creek and Hangover. I’m always excited to see Randy in the backcountry. He reminds me of the days when I used to spend every weekend in the Smokies. He spends 100 nights in the backcountry per year and much of it is solo. He is a true outdoorsman, a sort of Tipi Walter of the Smokies.  Edward Abbey and John Muir woul be proud of this spirit of Randy. We spent some time Sunday with him before he departed for the dam on foot. We had a bit of paddling to do back across the channel.

Saying goodbye to Martin, who exercised his inner Muir by electing to remain solo for another night, we cast off and the Highlander Navy set sail having successfully occupied Sithenge another year.

Kayaking is a great way to enjoy this part of the Smokies.

We detoured across to the abandoned Copper mine.

Kurt and I eye a line on this slab, which probably needs a first ascent by me.  Kevin is a climber and agreed with my estimation. We shall bring a load of cams and ascend this rock via trad methods soon! Kevin is an excellent rock man.

The channel was sporting some chop as we battled across on Sunday. But the overall experience was one for the books. Eagle Creek never disappoints and the company was superb. I hope everyone enjoyed as wonderful a Thanksgiving as did the Highlander crew.

My little suzuki was maxed.