The Meigs Line

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Walking in the footsteps of a forgotten expedition

Iwas surfing through bottomless rhododendron patches on Blanket Mountain for miles. This stretch out of Elkmont, Tennessee, in the Smokies, was as off trail as it gets. My objective was a long forgotten passageway that exists only in defunct maps and the imagination of Smokies historians.

In 1802, Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs Sr., agent to the Cherokee Nation, and surveyor Thomas Freeman set out to define the line between Cherokee lands and those of new settlers. Meigs was a hero long before accepting this assignment from President Jefferson. In 1777, Revolutionary Army Colonel Meigs led 220 men across British lines in Sag Harbor, New York, where he burned 12 British ships and captured 90 prisoners without the loss of a single man in his detachment.

 These pioneers stumbled along my present route delineating a boundary using everything from marked boulders to unusual arboreal arrangements referred to as “witness trees”. Some called this the “White path”. Meigs’s directive was to settle disputes from earlier boundary attempts. In many ways, his foray was the progenitor of Lewis and Clark’s more well-known journey two years later.

2023 Cityview Magazine, Inc.Meigs Line Marker | John Quillen

I eventually stepped on some flat ground and was confronted by an anomalous quartz rock embedded into an ancient tree. Later, I was made aware of its significance. Turns out, I had discovered a boundary marker integral to Meigs’s mission. That was 15 years ago, but my quest to uncover the Meigs Line secrets continues to this day.

I recently returned to Blanket Mountain. While I won’t share the exact location of the marker—souvenir hunters and day hikers can get into trouble off trail—the path up is well-worn. From Jake’s Creek, I ascended the junction of Miry Ridge. Trekking the unmaintained trail to the right, I came across the remnants of an old fire tower. 

Back in Meigs’s day, their methods were somewhat rudimentary. When Meigs needed to mark something, they supposedly threw a red blanket over it, allowing it to be sighted across the col between Jake’s Creek and Miry Ridge. A prominence I found there bore direct resemblance to Meigs’s writings on the subject.

Back in the ‘70s, a couple of Smokies rangers traced this trail from its beginning outside the Smokies to its end near—something of particular interest to me—Mt. Quillen in South Carolina. Like Meigs, these government employees encountered all manner of bears, snakes, and geographic encumbrance albeit with the resources of their positions within the National Park Service. Vinn Garoon, who was nearing retirement, was one of them.

2023 Cityview Magazine, Inc.Blanket Mountain | John Quillen

In the shadow of Clingmans Dome, Garoon got seriously lost having forfeited a boot in the headwaters of the Little River. As he was more than a day late for scheduled completion, park service colleagues organized an extensive search involving airplanes and seasoned trackers. They found the aging ranger hobbling shoelessly in the back of beyond, having learned a final lesson from the mountains he thought he knew. I’m sure Garoon was pining for the amenities of Meigs’s survey group, which included Cherokee scouts and seasoned locals. I could seriously relate to the frustration of false summits that these hills and hollers can produce when alone and bushwhacking.

High atop Mt. Collins is the most important marker for this survey expedition, a stone which has seemed to walk across the mountain alongside the surveys, elusive as a bobcat. Some blame the lumber companies who sawed full bore right up to the day these lands were marked as federal property. I have wandered in search of this particular stone to no avail, but treading through time definitely channels the spirit of these early adventurers. Next stop for me is the ending point and my namesake mountain. It’s probably through private land, and I will end up with a backside full of buckshot. Any takers? 

Grassy Ridge Bald

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Yo Yo and I met up for a quick overnight on the AT at Carver’s Gap.

It was chilly up there at almost six thousand feet. Plenty of company.

After all, this is what Roan Mtn is known for. The next morning, Frank went south and I went North. Had to do a shuttle for a friend who was thru hiking. She left her vehicle at Damascus so I drove up and got her (and her dog) and drove them back to Iron mountain where she left off. A grand weekend for certain. So good to be back on the AT, if but for a minute, and see old Yo Yo.

Lightning in a Bottle

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Prior to his service as a Seabee during the Second World War, my uncle Jay was quite the prankster. I’ve oft envisioned him scouring the family farm fields on the Jefferson/Hamblen county line, glass jar in hand, filling it with any fluorescent capable insect trying to contain this lightning in a bottle for later in the evening. That is when he would enter White Pine’s only movie theater, position himself somewhere in the middle to back rows, and release all manner of hell upon the establishment.

Photography by Seth Dortch

We can only imagine to what audience his flickering spectacle was met. But their night was definitely “Gone With the Wind”. Jay’s lightning bug release remains the stuff of legend in our family and we miss him dearly. One thing is certain, he never called them anything but lightning bugs and neither did we.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until the park service began monetizing their viewing that any of us locals had ever heard this foreign “firefly” blasphemy.

Yesterday, I backpacked 1300 feet over a mountain and into our secret spot to meet my friend Myers Morton and the Hackenberg family, Tyson, Elizabeth and Henry. We have been congregating for years to receive our annual dispensation of Smokies goodness and they did not disappoint. Synchronous is misunderstood as we shared this with some newcomers who wandered into camp and astutely noted, “They all stop at the same time!” Myers was quick to note the pause typically adheres to seven second intervals.

The lightning bugs are a wave that moves through you as a school of fish for a diver. Averse to light and movement, they accept you only after your stillness is verified. The first Europeans to reach these hills noted this anomaly in divine terms, and I still do. We have been privately enjoying the show for decades, long before anyone ever had to pay to park, hike and view them. If you have never experienced this blessing, then go up and do so. They exist in multiple places along with the much trafficked Elkmont hordes. One thing is certain, I’m not giving up my honey hole and I’m lighting up anyone who calls them fireflies!

Neels Gap to Dick’s Creek

posted in: Uncategorized | 0
This was the last section I needed to catch up with Frank. So I began spur of the moment on Friday at mountain crossings where I left last year. The weather portended beautiful skies for about 4 days. For memorial Day weekend I couldn’t have asked for a better temperatures.
I stopped at hostel around the bend and caught a shuttle to mountain crossings. Fortuitously I could spend $60 to get that 40 minute ride. At mountain crossings I began my Ascent up to Whitley Gap shelter. It was 7 miles but the shelter was 1.2 mi off trail. After getting set up I was met that night by AJ Sisson. AJ was en route to the Smokies and decided to join me for the evening. I welcome his company there in the spot that was filling.
We said our goodbyes the next morning and sent it back down the trail . I had 13 miles ahead of me.
as far as the Appalachian trail goes you won’t find any better section of cruisier miles than this. I did 13 that day and it just felt like seven. People warned me about the ups and downs of this section, but I didn’t find it that way. I pulled up at Blue mountain shelter and ran into some very fine folks. We prepared for what appeared to be a night of rain. And at 10:00 the rain did start and rain through until about 7:00 in the morning. It was a light rain so no big deal. It did serve to drop the temperatures for my next short day which was only 8 mi over to Tray mountain. This section was a bit more typical.
As you can see by the elevation profile. I made it a shorter day because there wasn’t really a place for me to pull up. There, at Tray mountain, I ran into my friend Toni from Blue mountain. She was slack packing up the hill with her friend. The view atop this ridge was breathtaking.
my new friend Adam did this with Peak finder.
we were in the shadow of Currahee. I kept wondering about that little hump on the horizon. The temperatures have dropped considerably as the wind picked up. I settled into a great tent spot on top of the hill away from the shelter. Having retired early I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. to the sound of rocks banging together. It was my neighbors down past the shelter who were trying to scare away a bear. I also heard the sound of a motorcycle coming up the trail in this remote section of wilderness. I’d seen a motorcycle down at the forest service road as I was ascending. I suppose he thought the middle of the night was a good time to poach a trail. I’m getting pretty tired of motorcycles ruining my wilderness experience. As an avid motorcyclist myself I resent the noise the Harleys and off-road bikes make. There is no excuse for this. Modified vehicle noise is so preventable but yet no one wants to enforce that. It’s getting to be that you can go nowhere in wilderness without hearing the sound of a Harley. But I digress.
I managed to hit the trail at 8:30 a.m. because I misfigured my mileage for the day. Looking to see if I had 11 mi back to my car at Dick’s Creek Gap or actually the hostel around the bend. Actually it turned out to be 13. It was so cool in the morning that I spooked a bear on the trail. Other than that I saw almost no wildlife. That is if you don’t count a snake and a salamander. Monday’s walk out was divine.
took lunch here at the shelter. It was 3/10 of a mile off trail but I had to go down there and get water. Water was so plentiful on this section that you needn’t worry about it at all. You can see the elevation profile here lots of ups and downs.

So I’m very pleased to be caught up with Frank and reaching the 700 mile marker on the Appalachian trail. This is such an enjoyable section it ranks up there as one of my favorite. I don’t think you’ll ever get a memorial Day weekend with cool temperatures down in Georgia like that. In total I completed 40 miles. My total is ascent was $11,840 ft, my total decent was 12,300 ft.

An excellent weekend.

Huayna Potosi

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

it was the best of times it was the worst of times. Two to three feet snow stopped our summit bid at 17k. Add 30 mph winds and avalanche danger and our team was forced to descend. The bad weather would continue for several days so no future attempts were allotted for. Thus we had to pack up and head back to Colombia. It was a freakish snow storm. And no one of the many people on the mountain even attempted it from high camp. Our descent was sufficiently challenging.

But, I’m very proud of the team and their efforts. We summited Austria Peak and Charkini so that is two out of three. Our time in n county also included a side trip to Copacabana and a cruise on lake Titicaca.

Austria Peak Bolivia

posted in: Uncategorized | 2
17500 feet. Richard Steve and I made it to the top. It was an incredible ascent and I will let the pictures do the talking. Tomorrow we tackle Charkini.

we’ve had an incredible experience and it gets better daily.

Virginia NOBO

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Virginia is beating a soft spot in my outdoor heart. We left Wednesday March 29 at 7 am from Knoxville. Frank picked me up and had already been on the road for almost two hours from Chattanooga. It was a chilly day but plenty of sunshine abounded. Three and half hours found us deep along the trail where we last made an unscheduled shortening of schedule on that particular AT section. My feet were not in good shape after walking through storm- soaked fields outside of Rice Field shelter.

We dropped off a car at a hiker hostel and had them shuttle us one hour to our beginning point. Some cat with face tattoos slung us round mountain roads until we begged to shoulder heavy packs. It was in the forties as we ascended from VA route 635, Big Stony Creek Road. This day took us up to one of the best vistas to date along the trail. Wind Rock affords panoramic views of Virginia devoid of the development now ringing the Smokies. We took this in and tried to decide about where to bed down. As usual, water was always on our mind, and none was to be had here. So, we pressed on for another couple of miles.

 to a fortuitous encounter. There along the stream was a solitary tent occupied by a Welshman known as Sasquatch. He welcomed our company as it was his birthday and we celebrated astride a roaring fire that cold evening. It was in the low thirties that night. It makes planning quite difficult when the conditions are variable. My pack weight was coming in at 37 lbs., much heavier than usual. We did seven miles and 2,103 feet of climbing. For a first day, this was a shakedown exercise.

Wind rock

The next morning was crisp and cool. I prefer cool when elevation and mileage is involved. And we were not disappointed this day. In 13.43 miles, we would ascend 2575 feet in six hours. We travelled over War Spur into some indescribable forest scenery that made me wonder if I were still in the states or the black Forest of Germany. The elevation profile here speaks volumes and Kelly Nob was another great viewing point. The climb there was brutal. Water was scarce so we had to bed down near a pasture with cattle. No shortage of tent opportunities along the trail, however, you will find it is tied to water and that usually means shelters. After 14 miles, it really does not matter if we are in a cow field or a shelter.

Big weather was moving in, and rain started to greet us as we entered Niday Shelter. This was to be a short day of only ten miles. On the AT, you get service occasionally atop ridges. We knew an intense storm approached and timed it accordingly. I despise shelters but it was nice to be out of the elements when they begin almost immediately. Joining us this night was Just Curtis, another section hiker who was heading southbound. We enjoyed his company as we bedded down early as rain pelted the tin roof of Niday Shelter. You know this makes for good sleeping. I will say the forecast was spot on as it stopped entirely by 10 am the next day.

Which presented another problem. Big winds were predicted. When we saw the call for 60 mph gusts, I shrugged it off. However, the winds were sustained throughout this day, and we had plenty more climbing to do. I was anticipating the Audie Murphy monument atop Brush Mountain. Audie is America’s most decorated war hero. In 1971 he was flying from Atlanta to Roanoke when his inexperienced pilot slammed into the side of this mountain, killing all five aboard. The monument atop the ridge is a fitting tribute to this hero although we battled 60 mph winds to get there. Two days of winds would follow us as we worked our way down to Pickle Branch shelter. Our ascent this day was 2871 feet, and I felt every bit. Frank was sitting on a log at the base of Miller Cove Road. He was speaking with a guy on a motorcycle who was greeting thru hikers like us. Understand that we had seen hardly a soul this entire journey along the trail. These are interior trails and not easily accessed. When “Jason” offered me a cold beverage, I was elated. Producing a store-bought drink from his saddle bag, I accepted his generosity without hesitation. We still had a couple of miles into Pickle branch and the winds were increasing. However, so was the temperature. It was now in the high seventies pushing eighty. What a contrast from the preceding days of near freezing. YoY o remarked about our weather experience on this section. Varied was an understatement.

Arriving at Pickle branch, the trees were bending like Ents. This made our decision to stay in the shelter quite easy. Trees were falling here and there. I was appreciative of the cover should one of those widow makers come after me. Soon, a NOBO thru hiker approached at the end of his 26-mile day. That is what these kids do. We do not. In fact, our longest day was twenty-two miles but not on this section. He warned that a “platoon” of VMI cadets was heading our way and soon his prediction came to fruition. Fourteen sub-20-year-old college kids came plowing into the site and our limited shelter space. A kid squeezed in between me and Frank. He would live to regret that decision.

Frank often warns folks of my night fighting and shenanigans. As the sun dropped, so did the temperatures as the cadets set up tents and hammocks. Unbeknownst to me, two girls had just cowboy camped on the uneven ground. By three am, I had to rise to heed nature’s call. It was near freezing outside as I walked in my socks to find a convenient tree. I ran back to the comfort of my sleeping bag and the five other bunk mates beside us. It was not long before one of my bombastic dreams had me karate kicking an opponent in my sleep. However, the pain in my toe awakened me and my unexpected victim. This poor cadet will learn about squeezing in between people like us in the future as I apologized profusely and hoped I had not broken his tail bone in some way. Outside the trees bent with the wind and I worried about all those kids out there. Not enough to forfeit my space, but I did worry about them.

We rose earlier than most this next day in the steaming cold of our breath. It was near freezing and the wind was still in full gale. I forfeited the second cup of coffee in hopes of hitting the trail with Frank, who was already packed and giving me that look. We had another climb or three before hitting the first of the big Triad of Virginia, Dragon’s Tooth. Two thousand feet up we had to go to see this anomalous rock spire, but it was worth the climb. I knew it would be a short day but was running out of steam after all the climbing the previous four days. We would approach the 50-mile mark on this section as we navigated the hand-to-hand descent from the Triple Crown feature. It was a short, eight-mile day as we dropped back down to the car, passing utility trucks trying to restore power from downed lines. This storm had ravaged more than Virginia we would later learn.

As Frank noted, this was one of the most beautiful sections I can recall. I am growing quite fond of Virginia and, despite the rugged weather, am thankful to have endured this with Frank. We had a wonderful time, and I am already looking forward to the next installment.

Dragons tooth

Scott mountain.

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

the southern Forest watch had to attend to some business up there last weekend in the cold.

AJ, Myers, David Snider and Kurt were there.
We climbed over 1700 ft from outside the park along the Rich mountain road. It was below freezing.
When I woke up Sunday morning it was 17°

But we’re definitely working on a project. It was nice to get back on home turf for a little bit. We did not pay the parking tax as we parked outside the park. But this doubling of the backcountry tax really hit us hard in the wallets. Paid $32 for us to spend the night on unimproved ground.

It was great to spend quality time in the outdoors with good people.

Ouray, Pic o the Vic WI 4

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

The new Gopro is paying off. Here is a taste of what a 100 foot top belay route feels like. You have no option but to top out. Or swim.