Rough Fork

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 ]

We weren’t a tenth of a mile up Rough Fork when we encountered this fine specimen. He was docile but gave us a nice rattle show that didn’t translate as well to the video.

Laurel and I had some miles to finish.  Have you been up Rough Fork?  It is about 1300 feet in a mile and a half or so.  That is fairly steep.

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It was a two snake trip, about par for me.  This was an ordinary Garter snake just minutes from the Rattler.

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She wonders if it ever ends.

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I lied and told her it would.

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There used to be two Grand Poplars, now there is one.  It is the largest in the park, we are told.

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Caldwell Fork was virtually empty.  So we grabbed the nice creek spot.  I will have to say that it is probably equivalent to Rabbit Creek on the TN side.  Laurel quickly proclaimed it one of her favs and definitely best on the NC side.

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It is peaceful with good stream access.

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Two weekends in a row of perfect weekend weather is unparalleled.  Last weekend found us in the Red River gorge and this one placed us by a cool creek on a crisp August evening that required a fire.  When is it that cool in August two weekends in a row?

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And a near full moon to bark at the coon?  Huh?  What?  How about it.  Great outdoor Karma.

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Life is good in the “uncrowded” backcountry of the Smokies.  On a beautiful weekend, we had a campsite almost to ourselves.  (One other group from G-burg came in after struggling over Rough Fork)

One thing I will note is that Caldwell Fork is absolutely ruined from horse traffic.  So ask yourself this question, if the NPS in their infinite wisdom, can close a campsite because it is overused, why would they not close a trail for the same reason to horses?  If you have been to Cataloochee then you see that horses have rutted, mudded and eroded every inch of the place and still bridges are out all over Caldwell Fork.

You can walk on a path and step from manure pile to manure pile with little ground in between.  Why wouldn’t the NPS close it to horse traffic?  Money, clear and simple.  The Catalochee and Cades Cove horse consessions but thousands back into the NPS in form of concession fees.  So they dictate policy there.  Just like national policy in Washington.  The reason we don’t have a healthcare bill is because folks like Lamar Alexander are breaking their necks to find a way to avoid single payer or Medicaid for all.  He wants to protect the Blue Cross Blue Shields of the world from losing relevance and billions of tax dollars.  That is who he is protecting.  It sure as hell isn’t you and me.

And we all know that Lamar was the main reason we have a backcountry fee.  Remember, we offered to give them a software reservation system for free.  But the NPS had no interest in that because it wouldn’t allow them to get kickbacks from Recreation.gov and all the other vested concessionaires.  Follow the money folks.  That is where all evil lay.  Just as it was said in Watergate, the money trail will lead to the sin.

And there is plenty of sin to be uncovered in Washington, I assure you.

I will leave you with a quote that is extremely relevant today.

The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.―H. L. Menken

When we first met with Dale Ditmanson prior to our lawsuit, he assured everyone he was going to do so many things.  What he did was bought time to prepare themselves for implementation of this backcountry tax.  A bureaucrat is good at doing that.  Lying has now become institutionalized in the past six months.  I implore you to get your news from outside sources because your local media and others have agendas of which most are unaware.  There is a reason WBIR never covered any controversy in the Smokies during the fee fight.  We now know it has to do with Blackberry Farm advertising revenue.

Stay sharp folks, its going to get worse.  The Secretary of the Interior threatened an Alaska Senator if she didn’t vote for the White House healthcare bill by saying he would lock up public lands in Alaska.   These mafioso tactics are now accepted.

Quit accepting this. The world needs some strong men and women today.  Do something folks, take your freedoms back. Other countries have great healthcare, a self employed guy like me shouldn’t have to pay almost $500 a month for lousy health insurance. Yet the White House answer is to rollback protections for nursing home residents.  Aka, your parents, grandparents and consumers of healthcare.  He doesn’t want you to be able to sue healthcare providers if they sexually assault your parents in a nursing home. http://thehill.com/regulation/healthcare/345411-fight-over-right-to-sue-nursing-homes-heats-up  If we can spend a billion every six months in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can insure and protect our own folks. But Trump and Lamar want to protect the theiving corporations.  And selling their lie is a news network that really pushes Fake News, on a daily basis.

Now lets enjoy some music.  I like this new Killers Song.  Very relevant.

” ]

 

 

Red River Gorge-Muir Valley

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Since we first visited Muir Valley some two years ago, Laurel and I have developed a great fondness for this pristine and responsibly developed climbing area.  Rick and Liz Weber had a vision and guided this marvel to its fruition.  It is the “smartest” developed area in the United States.

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This is Johnny’s wall, where some very grippy Corbin sandstone feels like hand therapy for which chicks in New York would pay hundreds of dollars.

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Laurel was bringing her Mojo from Rifle, Colorado a week or so ago.  It is to my benefit that she has been in a climbing frame of mind.  We took off Friday and arrived in Kentucky just as the rains subsided and brought in a much needed cool front that made for perfect climbing conditions.

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We found a great camping spot just minutes from the valley floor.

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It may seem dichotomous, but this is fun warm up.  I spent most of my time on lower grade climbs but did flail around on two 5.10 a/b’s

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The walls we visited were: Bruise Brothers, Sunnyside Wall (pictured here), Guide Wall, Practice Wall and one of my new favorites, The Land before Time. There is so much to visit at Muir Valley, it could take weeks to hit the major areas.  Honestly, I prefer this Corbin Sandstone to granite like that found in Rifle, Colorado.

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We were blessed with perfect mid summer weather wherein the temps didn’t hit 80 degrees.  We made some great friends who may or may not have retrieved gear for me.  I saw a good deal of wildlife and we had an epic John Quillen snake tale.  And here it goes.

Muir Valley and the RRG is in a very remote section of Kentucky. Rolling hills, horse barns, green grass and breathtaking valleys are just a slice of the pastoral bliss to be found in this relaxing part of Appalachia.  I grew up in a smallish town and have always been connected to the land as a child of the rolling hills who romped around in lakes and streams and hills.  Therefore it wasn’t a great surprise when, as we departed the crag Saturday afternoon, fully arm pumped and smiling from a blessed day on the rocks.  Driving back up from the valley floor we rounded a corner and two shirtless boys stepped trepidly upon the road, oblivious to our approach or in spite of, I wasn’t certain.  I slowed to allow the first guy to cross and the second boy, clad in a camaflouge cap and tight jeans, hesitated as his older friend skipped to the other side of the road.  We crept by and soon realized the purpose of their mission across the street.  Kentuckian#1 reached into the grass and picked up a freshly shot copperhead that dangled from his armpit to the ground.  This was a healthy snake and they wished to share this prize with all passers-by.  It was a healthy copperhead that must have, unfortunately, crossed into the yard and was quickly dispatched.

Thus was the story of the snake that crossed our path this week.

Bad luck for the snake.  But good luck for us.  Thanks to Muir Valley for never disappointing.

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Ya’ll come back now, Ya hear!

 

Enough is Enough

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Greetings fellow outdoor enthusiasts.  Many of you may have heard that today, interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska that if she didn’t support President Trumps healthcare proposal, he would retaliate by freezing up more public lands within his power over the National Park Service and NFS and BLM.  Here is a link.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/report-interior-secretary-called-alaskas-senators-to-threaten-them-over-health-care-vote/

Now I don’t care what your political leanings may be, mine are more libertarian than anything.  But this is ridiculous.  As a result, I have sent the following letter to both Senator Corker and Congressman Duncan.  (My Duncan letter is more personal since I know the guy, somewhat)

You loyal readers of this site may think that politics should be left out.  I disagree. I also warned you that you will be entreated to a dose of activism on occasion when necessary. When politics affect public lands then it becomes part of my personal website, which is not affiliated with the Southern Forest Watch, I will add.   So I wanted to share the letter and my concerns about the leadership of this country and urge each of you to write letters of your own to your elected officials.  Enough of this is enough.

Sen. Corker,

I am writing to request that you consider the impact of President Trump’s 
erratic and immature behavior upon our democracy. As a member of the 
foreign relations committee, you have to be concerned about his 
alienation of the world and today, his own staff.  The Russia 
investigation continues to implicate most every member of his inner 
circle and his response is to refuse to acknowledge that Russia even 
meddled in our elections.

My greater concern, other than his obvious disdain for the rule of law 
and horrible example presented to Boy Scouts (I have worked with 
disadvantaged teenage drug users for over 30 years and do not use 
profanity in front of them like he did the other day at a jamboree) is 
what he will be willing to do to redeem himself in the eyes of the 
public and his fractured party.  With threats from North Korea looming I 
could envision the President launching a pre- emptive strike to appear 
“decisive” in the eyes of the world.  You know that the consequences of 
this type of action would be disastrous but it isn’t far-fetched. 
Despots have long employed this tried and true chapter from public 
relations playbooks.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  Responsible leaders from both sides 
of the aisle are expressing concerns about amateur hour at the White 
House.  In summary, our democracy cannot afford another six months of 
daily denigration and mockery of the rule of law. We cannot wait until 
Trump does something else that has irreversible consequences and puts 
American lives in jeopardy further at home and abroad.  He has put a 
target on the backs of Americans and now our military.  During 
Watergate, it was the late Howard Baker who stepped up and held Nixon to 
task.  The result is that he is held in high regard as a patriot today 
for standing for the good of all Americans and not just a shrinking 38% 
base.  The passing of each day’s news proves that Trump does not possess 
the temperament or stature to continue as leader of the free world.

I implore you to support articles of impeachment for the safety of the 
United States of America. As a well respected Senator, you are in a 
position to influence fellow legislators.

I appreciate your consideration of this critical issue facing our democracy.

Sincerely,

John Quillen
Knoxville, TN

 

Colorado Mountain Fun

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Behind me is Neil Murphy and Laurel. On the port side is John Davis, the groom, Zahra, his beautiful bride and Lee Whitten, who also hails from Alaska.

We converged in Boulder for the nuptials of our friends. Being mountain folk, that led to one thing that led to another.  Above, we are enjoying the Colorado river outside of Glenwood Springs.  It had rained the previous night and we had the river almost to ourselves with some great rapids.

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It was a beautiful ceremony.

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we came from all parts of the US.

tn_IMG_20170710_113508970 the day after their event, we headed up across Vail pass where we climb in the winter to the Colorado Trail.  It is a 13 mile bike route the follows the river.  Here, Lee is standing next to the great falls behind Hanging Lake.  Hanging Lake was an 800 foot climb that took us about an hour and a half round trip.

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It is, as you can discern, worth the ascent.

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It wouldn’t be a John trip without a serpent sighting.  John Davis has lived in Colorado his entire life and hardly ever sees them.  Of course!  It was my bike across which he slithered.

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One of the three big outdoor events was to explore the world class rock climbing in Rifle.  Rifle, Colorado was an hour from our not so humble abode in Glenwood Springs.  Glenwood Springs was 3 hours from Boulder.  Rifle has long been on my radar as a very advanced climbing area. I don’t think they know a number lower than .13  (For you non climbers, this means that the most advance rock climbing is a 5.15.  My comfort zone is usually no more than a 5.10.  This is a real crag)

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It took me a good deal of time to top out on a 5.8. Of course, a 5.8 here is like a 5.10 anywhere else.

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But Lee makes short work of it.  In all, we spent two days in this paradise of granite.

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Laurel arrived halfway through our time and got jiggy with the rock.

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Our group is a fun one.  Angela, Neil’s spouse, organized a dance party in our spacious digs. I have come to greatly appreciate the company of these fine folks.  Everyone gets along famously.  We were happy for John and Zahra.

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This bike ride was repeated when Laurel arrived from Orlando.  We retraced our path down the river the day before.  It was followed with a dip in the icy flow fresh off the mountain snow tops.

 

We bathed in the natural hot springs, cooked gourment meals at our rented home, hiked, biked, rafted, climbed and exploited all recreational pursuits in this wonderful location.  Many thanks to John Davis for hosting our crew and congratulations to our friends for the beginning of a new life together.

Deep Creek and the Holiday Hell

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We were indecisive about our July 4th weekend plan.  The weather was sub optimal so we determined that waiting until Sunday would obviate some of the crowds and rain.  We settled on a plan to car camp at Deep Creek so Laurel could get her miles over there. ( I have abandoned any semblance of finishing my second map even though I probably have less than 20 miles remaining. )  We fought a monster bear jam on the Newfound Gap road and arrived in Deep Creek car campground after noon on Sunday.  As expected, it was a zoo full of idiots.   Dogs competed with children to see who could outbark each other. Tubers floated lazily, cigarettes in hand along with their lap dogs and children. Laurel and I strolled about to find a tent pad.  There are many reasons to despise car camping.  It is akin to shelter stays in my book.  It attracts those who need creature comforts.  Personally I find it more of a headache than not.

It did afford me the opportunity to fulfill one of the Southernhighlander covenants.  And that is the special skill of appearing in the flames of campfires unexpected. As we walked around in search of suitable digs for the evening, I spied what can best be characterized as the main reason I modified my backcountry associations some years ago.  Alone, likely stoned and sorrounded by dogs and a daytime smoker, the drug dealing geriatric pretended not to see us as he made a beeline for his car knocking his noontime beer over in the process of escape.  Laurel noted that perhaps he was going for a gun.  I said he was more likely going for another zanax and depends undergarment. We ended up planting ourselves not far from that area, there was little from which to choose on this extended holiday weekend.

I now knew that there would likely be other familiar faces from the old group about.  As we erected the tent, I prepared for a trail run.  Deep Creek is a great place to click a few miles so I headed up toward the Indian Creek Motor Loop.  Before long, I had passed the infinite line of inner tubers and cyclists and was enjoying some moderate climbing up past the split for Stone Pile Gap.  After an hour or so, I turned around to descend back to the “mayhem”.  There were fishermen, hikers, backpackers and photogs.  It was a jam packed Deep Creek experience.

Rounding the corner where Deep Creek trail passes over the water is a bridge.  On it were two more familiar faces that I had not seen in about two years. It was clear they had not expected to encounter me emerging shirtless and covered in sweat from the backcountry. IMG_20170703_125236069

It was the Trail Bailer and Jenny.  I returned to camp and they came over to visit and catch up.  There was a lot of catching up to do.

Laurel and I decided to go into town and chase some pizza in Bryson City so we bid farewell to the Howe’s and missed the pizza place by 3 minutes. We were on the verge of missing food altogether until the owner of the sports bar agreed to feed us.  I was ravenous after a 6 mile trail run.  We retired early in hopes of Laurel embarking upon her quest in the morning. The night-time arrivals next door saw fit that sleep would not occur as they banged on tent poles and yammered in Spanish from midnight until two am.

Morning saw neither of us moving far from camp as I pressed coffee and lounged about.  Jenny and Will returned, having suffered the same fate in their site with two German Shepherd dogs competing with the children in that area. Laurel packed up for a 10 mile trek around the notoriously unremarkable motor loop.  I love hiking and she later remarked, ” I should have known when you declined to join me on this one, it would suck.”  And the motor loop really does suck.  I did little that entire day but lounge around camp, visit with Will and Jenny and drive up to Stone Pile terminus.  It rained while I was there but I decided to amble up to the cemetery and lay in wait for Laurel who was scheduled for a 5 pm appearance.  On schedule and fighting sprinkles, she was subsequently sprinkled with a bigfoot laying in wait.

It was collectively decided that another night in that maelstrom of humanity was more than either of us could bear.  Laurel had already done Leconte and Brushy mountain trails day-hiking last week.  It was solid mileage for the mileage queen. Given that we both had trips upcoming it was agreed that we would head back over the mountain.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the monster bear video click on last weeks blog post.  Laurel has also posted another bear video from Brushy Mtn.  She saw three more on that trip.  They are active.

I will be in Colorado next week, so expect some pics of Western Slope mountain fun soon.

black snake

One can’t help but absorb the potential symbolism. For me, the king of snake enounterers it was time to quit ignoring the messages. The universe speaks to us in many ways.  I have a gift/curse for snake encounters so well documented through the Southernhighlander pages that a certain notoriety has developed as a result.  This guy crossed my path on Tuesday as I rode the mountain bike through Baker creek preserve.  My three riding partners had just called it a day.  We had been launching off the table tops of Cruze Valley and Barn Burner downhill runs. Before the July 4 rains enveloped, I was alone on the acreage when I rolled up to this fellow. You only see his tail, and this is a frequent position for black snakes in my world.  The tail was the tip of a longer serpent, beautifully marked with white marbling rolling across his scales.

A snake crossing your path could, at first blush, have many negative connotations. However, ancient wisdom holds quite the opposite. Across the board, it is generally considered a sign of metamorphisis and shedding of old skin. Contrary to popular belief, snakes aren’t necessarily bad. Numbers 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” This was of course in response to a plague of snakes and snake bites. I’ve heard preachers struggle more with that particular symbolism than just about any in the Bible.  Snakes have long been regarded in Eden terms.

But for me, the consistent crossing of my path by snakes means much more and particularly in context of that weekend. Snakes symbolize healing, a connection with the earth, awareness of surroundings and shrewdness.  When Jesus dispatched his disciples, he conveyed the following dispensation,  16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  Matt 10.

Snakes have long held a high place in native American lore and rattlesnakes, especially, are considered good luck charms.

 

Earlier in the day I was rounding another corner and startled a hawk that had a freshly killed rabbit. He picked up that animal with a talon but was unable to fly with this meal that probably approximated his own weight. Because I was on the mountain bike, he had little time to escape with his bounty. Whether he was feeding or just killed the animal is undetermined.  But to the treetops he retreated as my biking buddies rounded the corner and I related the tale.  They spied the fresh kill and reveled in the grandeur of nature that is often cruel and powerful but equally awe inspiring as the hawk patiently awaited our departure.

In nature is strong symbolism embraced by all religions of man.  Losing our connection with nature is the genesis of many psychiatric disorders.  ADD/ADHD did not exist a few decades ago.  I struggle to compete with video games when we take alternative school kids to the Smokies. The ones who make any sort of connection with the natural world are, to me, fixable.  Not that the others are not. But like the black snake, we need to feel the rhythm of nature, move shrewdly and with little impact upon our environment and share our healing powers with fellow man.

These are gifts sorely needed today when our faith is placed in leaders and political figures who have never experienced any connection whatsoever with the natural world. Of course someone proposes cutting the Environmental Protection Agency who has never been into the natural environment.  Of course political leaders support re activating coal mines and dropping out of the Paris accords when they have never left an ivory tower and are bowing to corporate interests to the detriment of all other humanity.

It is not a revolution until there is blood running in the streets.  When 20 million people lose their health care so a bunch of millionaires can receive a tax cut, that time may be nigh.  And if it happens, then we will be shedding skin collectively.  As someone who has experienced the shedding of skin, I can attest it is painful and at some points blinding when that last bit covers your eyes for a spell.

But what is left is a new skin and fresh eyes.  It is our job to see what we are supposed to see instead of what we are told to see by false prophets and corporate charlatans with agendas to match their egos.  For someone with children to support the aforementioned policies is blindness of an unfixable sort.  But the sins of the Fathers will be visited upon their brood.  Be wise and shrewd and good stewards of our environment.  We are judged according to our treatment of this sacred trust.

John

 

Leconte Marathon and Monster Black Bear

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We decided to do a marathon up on a perfect day so 19 miles was our final tally.  You may be asking, “how 19 roundtrip to Leconte?”  Well, if you do the “True Trillium” trail starting from Rainbow Falls, it is 19 miles.  And that was our day.  It was anomolous in that the weather was somewhat chilly even in the valley.  True Trillium parallels roaring fork and Cherokee orchard roads.  It was coming back when we encountered one of the largest bears I have ever seen.

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Of course, I couldn’t just do a dayhike.  I had to make it more by adding a 25 lb pack filled with water, snacks etc.

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Dr. Dunn had never been to cliff tops so we topped out to a view that afforded a real insight to the Smokies wildfire of last fall.  The Chimneys were definitely altered to great significance.  As you can see with the strava profile below, we made good time in our near 20 mile day.  If you are not using strava, I suggest you put in in your tool bag.  I employ this free app primarily for mountain biking but it is becoming quite handy for backpacking as I have been able to map data from Frozen Head and now Leconte.  Cell service in the mountains is improving, which is bad, but good for use of strava to log your data.

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Late yesterday afternoon, we were hitting the Bataan Death march portion of the dayhike and suffering through the final three miles back to Rainbow.  I spied something ahead and this was what we encountered.  He was an ever loving monster black bear. Kudos to Laurel for capturing this video.

Hangover June

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tn_P1070227We Highlanders never tire of Hangover and its blessings in all seasons.  Our friend, AJ, wished to spend his 51st birthday on the rock, so we accompanied him to the sacred spot.

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It was time the hound earned his keep.  And with a fully loaded pack of my liquids, he made some headway.

tn_P1070206 Flame azaleas on Lead South were a welcomed surprise on Friday afternoon as we disappeared into laurel and rhodo for three days of bliss.

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The trail was in spectacular shape considering the great storm damage from weeks ago. We made good time in our ascent of the traditional pathway to the most beautiful summit in the South.

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tn_P1070216 We met AJ on the rock and he was the company of another Highlander friend.

tn_P1070218 Yes, its the legendary Patman.  Patman has met us and run into us on multiple occasions on the Hangover and elsewhere.  Needless to say, Patman, like many others, were relieved that this was not going to be one of the old Hangover bacchanals from days of old.  When I assured him there would be none of the drug fueled festivals from which I and others have so assiduously distanced themselves, his relief was palpable.   Patman was going to drop down and meet Tipi somewhere near Yellowhammer the next day.  He actually carried a 15 lb watermelon up lead trail.  That is a feat of great pride.  Patman puts in considerable time on the trails and is a gear tester for trailspace.

tn_P1070238 We communed in the cathedral at magic hour.

tn_P1070235 Is there ever an ugly sunset on the Hang?

tn_P1070248 Longstreet climbed down the rocks that lead to the Holiest of Holies.  Then he climbed back up.  And did it over and over.  I know humans that can’t climb down there.  We may have found his redeeming quality.

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tn_P1070289 Saturday was AJ’s birthday and he reflected on 51 years of life.

tn_P1070263 … And we convinced him NOT to jump.

tn_P1070261 There was too much remaining beauty to behold.

tn_P1070241 It was cool at 5200 feet so a fire was in order.  It is always cool on the Hangover.

tn_P1070267 All I did was get up to go to the bathroom.  You would think he had treed a bear.

tn_P1070274 I figured he could have scaled that tree after his heroics on the Holies.

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tn_P1070276 I found the old geocache on the Hangover.  In it is a book that outlines several of our trips up there, along with varying items through the years.

tn_P1070277 We sunbathed and moonbathed up there, since both were full at the time.  No rain at all.  Bugs were minimal.

tn_P1070297 We moved the fire night two a bit closer to camp.  Did I mention that water was flowing?  It was a gamble.  One that paid off with the recent storms.

tn_P1070314 Even birthday boy warmed to the General.

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tn_P1070310 Nothing but magic on that rock.

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Shout out to the Muir Faction.  The meat and cheese board lives thanks to you guys.

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tn_P1070344My only complaint about climbing to the Hangover is the amount of photos I have to cull.

Happy birthday to AJ.

Peace to all.  As John Muir said,  Climb the mountain and receive its good tidings.

-John

 

Synchronous LIGHTNING BUGS. Because no local ever called them fireflies.

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IMG_20170603_105048007 The water was inviting so I availed myself of the opportunity.,

tn_IMG_20170602_130042303_HDR It was a great day for bikepacking into Elkmont. I went solo.  My absence from the Smokies has been situational.  Several trips have been cancelled due to Spring storms.  Last weekend was a doozie and judging by the after effects, am appreciative to have slept indoors instead of campsite 15 as planned.  That makes two recent trip plans upended by weather.

tn_IMG_20170602_182131717 There was one spot remaining at 24. Our usual lightning bug viewing site is closed for bear activity.  I had been craving a solo night in the woods.  I would not be solo, however.

tn_IMG_20170602_181949147 Although my intention was to interact with the infamous insects, these were the ones with which we all had to contend.  A swarm of honeybees infiltrated the entire drainage.  I spoke with a guy who got run out of campsite 30 because of the intensity of bees only to find them equally thick at Rough Creek.  And they persisted from dawn to dusk.  I have never experienced a bee issue of this magnitude.  It is reminiscent of the black fly hatches I also seem to nail with equal precision.

tn_IMG_20170602_181955790 Anyway, I found some solitude along this beautiful spot full of memories.  My first true backpacking trip outside of the scouts was with my friend Chris when he got his driver’s license.  We took off to this campsite and fished.  I remember catching a small brook trout on my second cast and with that it was I who was hooked.  I figure this was sometime around 1981.  No true count exists of how many times I have stayed here but it must be nearing a hundred. (There are likely 30 on the Southernhighlander site)

As the afternoon sun began to drop, a couple from Ohio came down to ask about the bee phenomena.  They noticed I was now bee free so I suggested that Maggie and Everett take a swim.  It is the salt to which the stingers are attracted.  Soon the pyrotechnics began slowly about a half hour into 9.  With rolling crescendo a cacaphony of silent and initially muted lights began to ebb and flow in chorus.  As I explained to my neighbor, John C from Cincinatti, it is the stopping that is synchronized.  No matter how many times I witness this miracle, I am humbled by nature’s majesty.  Soon insects had infiltrated my treeline and light free campsite.  I was enveloped in their swarm and carried away by the symphony.

No photographic evidence exists, though I made great efforts.  Forty five minutes of gopro were wasted trying to share this with Laurel who is out of town.  I believe that the lightning bugs are only to be experienced first hand and look forward to taking her into that din.   As the hour approached midnight the Christmas blinking diminshed as I fell into my tent with the vestibule wide open.  My eyes drifted, losing a battle with the urge, but the twinkling still was visible as I fell into a trance.

The sun showed up at 6 am and breakfast was simmering by 7.30.  After all, I had to feed all those well rested bees.  By 9.30 they had run me out of Rough Creek and a beautiful stroll was reward enough.  That, of course, entailed another swim at the Husky Gap intersection.  I thought about the Muir Faction.  We had scheduled a backpack into Goshen several weeks ago when the big storms closed the park.  Chuck and Ledge were stranded in Townsend at a hotel, their trip to the Smokies thwarted by Mother Nature.

Ironically, I received a text from Chuck Adams and it was a picture of a black snake.  He thought of me.  The irony is that while he was sending me the picture, I was on the motorcycle departing Elkmont.  About halfway down the road before you reach the Little River road, Brian and I came upon this big black snake years ago and we stopped to move him from traffic.  I was thinking of this as I rounded the corner, and guess what?

IMG_20170603_114432963_TOP cropeIn the exact same spot. Could it be the same snake?  Snakes are following me, falling on me and nipping at my heels.  Skeptic?  Read below.

 

Apparently I am quite the snake whisperer.  More people equate me with snakes than anything.  I’m not one of those herpetological freaks but respect them and tend to be in the snake place at the snake time.  On the way over the day before I narrowly missed another big, likely five footer, black snake draped across the pavement in Sevier county.

However, the big serpent tale comes from my So Knox abode.  Upon entering my shop building two weeks ago, this gal dropped down almost on my shoulders.  She was halfway between the door and the frame.  When I cracked the door she fell right across my arm. My response, slamming the door shut injured the creature.  Anyway, she wasn’t happy, as you can see.  Notice how she is able to make her tail rattle leaves to mimic a viper.  Why do I think she is a she?  I am told that the females are aggressive during birthing periods.

” ]

 

so in summary, it was great to get into the Smokies again.  Mostly.  I could have done without the bees but Lightning bugs were the focus and disapoint they did not.

 

Andrea summits Everest

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I am very proud to announce that my climbing partner and good friend, Andrea Rigotti summited Mt. Everest on Sunday.  His dedication to this goal has been inspirational and his olympic training regimen has paid off.  I am very proud of Andrea for this monumental accomplishment, We began on Muztagh Ata together in 2011 and climbed Cho Oyu as a team last year.  Andrea embodies perseverance and focus and I congratulate him on his hard fought victory.  Andrea climbed the North route with Arnold Coster Expeditions.  He was accompanied by our mutual friend, Rasmus Kragh who made an oxygenless attempt and got within 250 meters of Everest summit before being turned back by weather.

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http://trentinocorrierealpi.gelocal.it/trento/cronaca/2017/05/24/news/il-trentino-andrea-rigotti-conquista-l-everest-1.15387437

Big Stack, SlickRock and the Stiffknee Journey

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AJ and John Dempsey are friends of ours and we rarely miss an opportunity to commune with them in the wilderness.

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There were miles for me to capture in this area and high water or not, we did them.  Laurel negotiates one of about 20 serious crossings on Slickrock.

tn_P1070116 AJ and John were set up at Crowder Branch with a complement of wood and good company.  AJ even brought me a generous birthday present that was shared around a roaring fire.

But first they had to clear the road up to Farr Gap.  It is a wilderness and fortunately, someone had a chainsaw.  That is one road where you probably need to carry one.

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tn_P1070183 AJ pointed out a huge prize in our campsite.  I will add that we usually camp at the Crowder Horse camp in the shadow of Hangover.  But they had set up down here and we almost didn’t find them in the fading daylight of a friday evening. It was a better choice for two reasons.  One was the abundance of firewood and the second is a spring with some extremely sweet tasting water.  We caught up with each other and bedded down for what was going to be a big day for me and Laurel.  Here is a map of our loop.

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It is a 12 mile loop and begins at Farr Gap.  We dropped from Crowder Branch down to Slickrock Creek.  It was hot, snaky and full of bugs and ticks.

tn_P1070123 This is Big Stack Gap.  It drops about 1200 feet down to Slickrock Creek.  Every stop promised to uncover a timber rattler much like the one John and AJ almost stepped on hiking in on Friday.  Fortunately, we saw none of those, but we also didn’t see our feet.  The flame azaleas were amazing.

tn_P1070120 Bear Reserve

tn_P1070128 Know what that is?  Let me zoom in for you.

tn_P1070129 Yeah, its a bed frame and the tree has grown through it.

tn_P1070121 Big sawbriers and weeds.

 

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Wildcat Falls is iconic.  Given that we were steamy hot from two hours of hiking, a swim was in order.

tn_P1070145 Man, was it refreshing.  I was so taken with the bath, I almost didn’t notice this guy.

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Little did we realize the amount of work that lay ahead.  About 20 serious crossings of Slickrock creek ensued.  A weekend of record rains had set the tone for this epic.

tn_P1070160 Looks like even the hornets wanted near the cool water.  We were soaked the entire time and I took an epic fall.

tn_P1070155 This was one of the easy ones.  With record rains came record crossings.  There was a reason we saw no one at all on this trail.

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tn_P1070162 This was more representative of our trials by this trail.

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tn_P1070167 Rocky Ledge would know this one. I’m looking forward to being with the Muir Guys next weekend.

When we made our last crossing of Slickrock and began the Stiffknee, I was prepared.  Stiffknee is 1600 feet of climbing in 3.2 miles.  And aptly named.

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tn_P1070166 Stiffknee can best be described as a second growth scrub forest with some incredible uphill pulls.  It came by the name honestly.  By now we were running out of steam.  Slickrock had kicked our butts and we still had 7 miles back to camp at Crowder Branch.  We climbed, and we climbed and we climbed.  Laurel reached a wall about the time she encountered a bigfoot.  Or a rock thrown that sounded like one.  That resulted in her stepping in a suck muck and totally muddying her shoes.  She wasn’t amused.

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What you are looking at is 1800 acres of wilderness that I hope will be added to Citico.  It has been held up in legislative hell for many years and since I was heading that way, decided to do a little investigating.  I found out that the TN Wilderness Act was approved but never enacted.  Apparently there was some problem with Congressman Fleischmann down Chattanooga way.  A lot of these guys don’t like taking land off the table when there is a dime to be made by milking the crap out of it.  I contacted Will Skelton, because I knew he would have the scoop.  As expected, he confirmed that Fleischmann was holding things up.  I told Will I would pass along the word so any of you folks down in Chatty or in his district should contact him to let your thoughts be known.  This stretch of Wilderness is an important corridor between Slickrock and the Smokies.  I would hate to see it developed, as I’m sure some politicians would.

tn_P1070172 Left turn Laurel was playing with the dying ring necked snake when I approached.  Judging by the wound, it had been bitten by a rattler.  I advised her to drop the snake and move on because the rattler was probably nearby waiting for it to die.

tn_P1070184 More flame azalea action was found along the Fodderstack Trail as we drug ourselves the final three miles back into camp.  AJ and John did the Mill branch loop for their daytime outing.  Our total time on the trail was 8 hours, six of which was hiking if you discount the swim time and a break at Farr Gap.

tn_P1070177 We exchanged tales of our respective journeys into the Wilderness.  If there is one good thing about the Smokies fee, it is that I have been driven to Slickrock/Citico.  Slickrock/Citico is wilderness and I am thankful for the efforts of those who made it such.  Let’s help them add that portion to it.

tn_P1070180 We coffeed up Sunday morning.  I was sore from my fall on Slickrock.  We got out of camp for the three miles back to Farr gap where my intention was to fish down the creek.

tn_P1070192 And fish I did.  Citico hasn’t failed my in the last two outings.

tn_P1070199 I call that dinner for two nights.  And also a perfect ending to a wonderful weekend.  Yes, there were snakes, ticks (I pulled about four off), bugs and heat.  However, the offset was new miles, great company, good fishing, and a 20 mile hiking weekend.  If that isn’t success, then I don’t know what is.tn_P1070186

Mtn. Laurel was in full bloom.

tn_P1070198  Fish ON!

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