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There’s a lot that goes into climbing a mountain as tall as Chimborazo. Here Richard is seen putting in the work on Pasochoa. There’s a lot of acclimatizing that needs to be completed. This was our first volcano.
My previous post discussed our success on Ruccu Pichincha. This photo illustrates our climb to high camp on Chimborazo. It sits at 17,500 ft. We were feeling pretty good.
Enclosed are the peaks that we ascended prior to taking on this, the tallest in Ecuador.



Ruccu Pichincha

Cotopaxi (16,200 feet of it)

San Juan Achontilado.

Base camp.

this distance is wrong, it was over 3 miles to 17,600 feet.

We set off at midnight for the summit of Chimborazo. Once again Strava was wrong here on this one. I turned around at over 19,000 ft.

Strava and garmin failed me bigly here. Along with my body. I have several theories about this. One is that I did not fully get acclimated on pasachoa due to having to descend with a client. The other is that I did not take any altitude medicine. Ordinarily I do not take altitude medicine. And I seemed to be acclimating really well. But as we slept in the high camp I woke up with a terrible headache. It was soon accompanied by nausea. This was classic a cute Mountain sickness. I still suited up and pressed for the summit, along with members of my team Richard Dan Emily and Chris. We all had private guides. My Guide from two years previous, Christian, took me on a sporting route up the via ferrata. The weather was fantastic and windless but that was soon to change. Snow moved in as we crested the peak of those metal ladders. And transitioned to the glacier. Here I caught up with the rest of the team. Richard was having trouble with his crampons. Cris was still struggling with a chest infection that dogged her throughout the journey. Emily and Dan were well ahead of us. As we slogged up in the middle of the night in the cold temperatures, wind increased. And snow peppered our faces. This was proving to be a tough endless slog. As I gained altitude my nausea took over. The dry heaving I had done in the morning after breakfast was now uncontrollable. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. I’m usually able to push on through it. But here on the side of this mighty Mountain my guide gave me that look. The same one I have given other people that I’ve led up mountains. We still had a thousand vertical feet to go. And my body wasn’t having it. I descended and wished Chris and Richard the best of luck. They were in the hands of more than competent guides.

It took a couple of hours to get back to advanced base camp. There, I laid in a sleeping bag very altitude sick. I watched our team trickle back in. Dan Emily and Richard reached the first summit of Chimborazo. Although not the true summit of this peak it is over 20,000 ft. And that is quite an accomplishment. I’m proud of their determination.

Richard battled his way to the top.
I’m very proud of the entire team.
every member of my team reached a new personal altitude record. (Except for Howard and I who had been higher on Aconcagua and elsewhere).

we did so much more down in Ecuador though.

we battled the elements, our bodies but pushed on
we had fun.
Riding horses through the paramo was exceptional.
Base camp was luxurious and comfortable.
Plenty of good food and drink in town.
Waterfall hikes were a bonus.
It was an adventure. And I’m thankful to have had such a good team.

summit, Ruccu Pichincha

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it has been a fun-filled week down here in Ecuador. Yesterday saw most of our team topping out on Pasochoa. Today, we reached the top of this beautiful peak.

I’m so glad our entire team made it. Today we’re up for a rest day and then tomorrow we head over to the high mountains. This will include an acclimatization run on Cotopaxi or at least part of it some horseback riding at tambopaxi lodge, and then we move over to Chimborazo base camp.

Quito has been good and the weather so kind. Everyone is healthy and acclimating appropriately.

I will add some pictures from our venture.

Ouray 2024

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James Murphy is a professional photographer that we were fortunate to have along. He hung off the side of ice walls to get pictures like these of me (above) and Neil (below)
Neil is picking up the Vic, WI5.
Robbie and Caleb screwing around.
I look like a spider.
I knew this was going to be an amazing group. Wet excellent weather and good conditions.
Satisfying is sound of my pic penetrating bullet ice.
Thankful to have all eight guys there. Really missed John Davis and Lee whiten and Dr. Dan.

Morristown Chamber Keynote

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I was so honored to be asked to present the keynote speech to the annual Morristown Chamber meeting. John McClellan, Natasha Morrison and my brother, Todd were integral to making this happen. I was honored to share this with my family and all the Morristown people that braved the elements to support my hometown. The message was bouncing back after failure. I’ve had plenty of those, as have we all. But we push on. Where does this motivation derive? It is different for everyone, mine is but one perspective. Mountains are great levelers of men and women. As they say in N.A. and A.A., you must live “life on life’s terms”. We can’t change reality, instead, we must adapt to it. The universe is always teaching us, and that is how God makes us better in hopes we can inherit eternity. I know the good people of my hometown are ambassadors for this sentiment. I appreciate their indulgence and support. I wouldn’t have wished to grow up anywhere else. I know my home people are good stewards and reminded them of the importance of keeping public lands in public hands. This is something we at the Southern Forest Watch have fought for and continue to fight. There are battles ongoing behind the scenes. Land grabs on the Smokies borders. Myers and I are digging in and challenging the NPS on their political fealty. We did it before with a “private resort”. We now are faced with having to do it with encroachers who have not abided the park boundaries and a superintendent who turns a blind eye.

Stay tuned.

Ecuador is Calling, are you going to answer?

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Looks like a lively crew is going to go back down to Quito with us this year. If you are interested, I would be glad to answer any questions. Below is the link to details about the trip. It is a great experience hiking and trekking with the option of climbing Chimborazo, the tallest point in Ecuador. This trip includes all boutique hotel lodging, guides and gear. Airfare is not included. There is a reason we have two return hikers on this one, Quito is magnificent. Hot springs, great restaurants and breathtaking scenery. I’m rather partial to Ecuador.

Sithenge @Eagle Creek

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It’s one of the most ancient Highlander traditions. And this year was no exception. If you have not read about the epic exploits at eagle Creek then here is a link. This story was one for the books.

Many years ago we constructed what came to be known as the most famous rock circle in the Smokies. And it was so dubbed, Sithenge. Here is a link to that trip from way back in the archives.

This year I was delighted to have Martin hunley at the helm, guiding the USS Steinhatchee to Port.

we were loaded for bear but only saw eagles.
It’s always a good omen when you’re met by eagles coming into Eagle Creek. I captured a video of an eagle dipping down pulling a fish out of the water.
Sit henge is in a little bit of disrepair. So we had to do a little rehabilitation.
The reservation website was showing eight people had booked campsite 90. Of course that was BS. Martin and I had the place to ourselves for two nights and 3 days. And perfect weather. If you are wondering why there is such a discrepancy in the NPS site and actual numbers in the backcountry, then let me help educate you via the fine work done by the Southern Forest Watch and member Mark Cooke, outlined in this article.

NPS Fudging Number again.

An eagle landed on the tree behind Martin. That makes about four we saw.
crisp and cool makes for good climbs on a steep trail.
Per custom we made the Saturday ascent via Lost Cove to the Shuck stack. For those of you keeping a score at home that’s seven miles and 2400 ft of elevation. And five or six pretty good creek crossings.
the views rarely disappoint up here.
I’ve climbed this thing a million times but for some reason this one wore me out. Did not see any feral hogs which was unusual. As a matter of fact other than the eagles we saw almost zero wildlife. Which led to some speculation on our part. For instance why no bear or deer. Or turkeys for that matter. I see more wildlife across the street from my house than I do in here. Strange given the remote ness. Years ago I used to see stuff in there all the time. Hmmm.
As far as weekends go there are none better except perhaps the one we had the weekend before. It’s good to be back in North Carolina in the wilderness with Martin.
Happy Thanksgiving to you.


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Ike Branch and Nichols cove were like a bushwhacking experience. No one had obviously been through there in quite some time. It was good to be back on the trail with scooter.
It took us almost 3 and 1/2 hours to get four and a half miles into this campsite. That’s how remote and rugged it is in there. Of course we didn’t see a soul which is why we went.
on one of the better stretches of Nichols cove.
the weather was ideal. First night was star filled and glorious.
The second morning we got up and climbed to The hangover big fat Gap parking lot. It was a steep two and a half miles. I think we gained about 1,800 ft.
Do you know what that is in the distance?
you simply can’t ask for a better late November weather.
You find some odd sights in the backcountry.
We were pretty tired and hit the bed early because we were going to exit via slick Rock Creek. That proved to be a great adventure as well.
it is so beautiful in this wilderness. Still did not see a soul. We missed our turn at the bottom to exit slick Rock Creek and come back out by the river. We inadvertently we’re climbing back up like branch. But it may have saved a little bit of mileage. And that’s a trail I needed. All in all we did about 15 miles that weekend.
and we relished every second. This is the good good. Wilderness. Praise God.

Ekaneetlee Trace

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The search for a forgotten crossing from North Carolina to Tennessee

My relationship with Ekaneetlee runs as long as the creek. Since first reading of this secret passage from North Carolina into Tennessee, I was consumed with a desire to follow its genesis from Fontana Lake. Research into this defunct trail was as thin as the crossing itself. Some had heard of or done the shorter Tennessee section, but no one would claim any successful attempts of the longer Carolina “trace.” It was not looking as if anyone had moved through here in quite a while though, and following one stretch during which I was simultaneously ensnared in saw briars and dog hobble, I convinced myself of the minimal likelihood of popularizing this bushwhack.

John Quillen on an earlier bushwack

They call it a trace, and anyone who has been briar bit and rhodo slapped chasing manways understands why. Having followed similar traces along abandoned routes before, you begin to realize the accuracy of that word in relation to this path. In these places you feel for traces of the people who crossed and their reasons for passing. Little remains now to indicate human beings ever stepped into this drainage. But the Cherokee regarded Cades Cove as a place of commerce and forged this path into our Tennessee valley. Pro-Union sympathizers fled North Carolina’s borders across this trail into Tennessee as well. They say at one time you could have driven a wagon from the Cove over Doe Knob and back down the mountains into Native American land.

This manway’s obscurity is beholden to access. Unlike more popular Tennessee side off-trail routes such as Porter’s Creek, the main obstacle is just getting to Ekaneetlee Creek. For us—my off-trail-enthusiast friend, Steve, and me—it meant a two-hour drive to Fontana marina across the notorious Dragon of US 129. If a couple hundred curves in 11 miles does not wear you out, then a one-and-a-half-hour canoe paddle across the frigid channel into the headwaters of Eagle Creek might. Assuming the former did not turn you around, a quarter-mile backpack to base camp and all the creek crossings could. We stashed the canoe, established base camp, and settled in for the next day’s mission. This is really no day hike.

Hour three on this crisp, November morning found us at the confluence of a creek running in from the north which appeared to be a drainage off Little Grill Ridge. We had walked Lakeshore Trail to campsite 89. From what I remembered of the topography map, climbing would start here for certain. In the shadow of Hurricane Mountain, I crawled through rhododendron following hog wallows. Sometimes a bear-scratched tree would pop up along with other signs of their passing. How the Native Americans knew it was a low point along the spine of what now is the Appalachian Trail, I will never know. Ekaneetlee is hick for Egwanulti, which in Cherokee means “by the river.” We were in their river and climbing their river.

We pulled ourselves through tunnels of rhodo and dog hobble. At hour four, we paused to measure the lowering sun. My accomplice, Steve, gave me that look of desperate times. The AT ran one of the ridges ahead; did it circle around this hill to our right? It was worth a shot. We hunkered down and lunged up, pulling small saplings from their roots. A few more feet and that blessed trail would have to appear. As I crested that razor ridge nothing but disappointment greeted our soaked skeletons as we muscled our way into the setting sun.

Hour five was grim. It was late afternoon, and our creek was but a trickle that I waded with squishy boots. Steve hopped back and forth. That V in the gap was suddenly upon us as we rushed forward pulled by the promise of a trail. As the gap eventually leveled and ultimately began to drop across the invisible state line, so did our spirits.

Sunset was fading into the lights of Maryville as we descended a bit more. Completely immersed now in a patch of mixed hardwoods, we entered another dimension of mystical forest. Fanning out to net trail in the remaining light, we simultaneously stumbled into a flat stretch, topping out on the Appalachian Trail. Steve resisted the urge to kiss the ground as winds from this notch whistled through our chilling cores. It was cold and my boots were not getting any drier. We had around two trail miles left to climb up to Doe Knob so we could immediately lose all that elevation by then descending six miles back to camp. Our elevation here was 3,842 feet. Our quest began that morning at Lake Fontana, at 1,760 feet—and none of the climbing was done on any real trail.

Our return is best described as dark, undulating until the Gregory Bald trail terminus, and interspersed with mirages. Steve spied a campfire that was nothing more than a visual created by alpenglow filtering through beeches and birch. I would have mine a few miles later after we dropped back down into Lost Cove via one of the steepest maintained trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a gigantic lizard on a log when we resumed our crossings back on the Carolina side. Steve reassured me that it was just a broken piece of bark. It could have just as easily been Gollum. I was strung out in the hills again. But we had completed the magic crossing into Tennessee. 



John Quillen 22 Posts 0 Comments

John is a self-described orophile whose mountain addiction has taken him across the globe in search of fresh peak experiences. After completing all the Smokies trails, he sought high points both obscure and well known. With two remaining, he hopes to become the first Tennessean to complete the global Seven Summits.


Home for the Holidays


Knoxville Orthopaedic Clinic

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Big Ridge

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Into Dark Holler we go. How many years since I’ve been there God only knows. It was back in the Ricky Bobby days. My friend Toni is trying to get state parks on her passport. So we paid $17 to sleep on the ground. Actually she paid it so I shouldn’t complain. But to think it’s more expensive to sleep on the ground in a state park than the Smokies is just inconceivable . Of course we were the only people there. I suppose solitude comes at a price.
The weather and company were both warm.
Full moon illuminated the campsite at 2 am. Reverse eclipse.
We hit three state parks. Including Big Ridge there was Cove lake and Norris Dam.

it was peak leaf weekend.

Hope y’all got to experience it.