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.

Hangover 2023

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This year’s annual event was one for the books. We ascended in a storm that produced sleet and a bit of hail. It was very cold that Friday evening as I shouldered a 60 lb pack for my favorite summit. We were prepared for this weather.
The first night saw me Myers Tyson Mark and AJ riding out the winds up near saddle tree Gap. Of course Tipi came rolling into camp. It’s always good to spend time with him. It was a very cold night with a lot of wind.
AJ and Mark drove up from Georgia and Tyson drove 12 hours from Louisiana. They understand the value of this place. By my account I’ve been coming up here for 37 years. And never been disappointed. Patrick Caveney came up for a daytime cameo. Up and back down in the dark.
Sunrises and sunsets are the name of the game in this place. We bathe in them all.
Can you identify the peak Myers is referring?
It just never gets old.

On Saturday, we were joined by Micah, Robbie and Mikayla. They brought excellent weather.

glad to be there.
Laundry got done.
A few lies may have been told.
It was a glorious and majestic weekend of splendor of fall and all its Glory. God broke the mold when he created this view. Peace to all.

walnut bottoms

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First, let me acknowledge my dereliction of posting. I have been consumed with writing projects for the magazine. It’s not that I haven’t been out at all, to the contrary, I’ve been out quite a bit. I’ve done several weekends at the Red River gorge camping and climbing. I’ve done a Day hike to LeConte. I’ve been to the Obed for trail Days. But having neglected posting things here. If you did not get a chance to read my latest piece about Del Scruggs I would encourage you to do so it’s an entertaining look at his experience diving on the Atocha as a backdrop to the Obed in general. Patrick Caveney contributed amazing photography
https://cityviewmag.com/obed-treasure/
This was a solo outing. I hiked up and over Low Gap and back down into Big Creek. I needed to be lulled to sleep by the stream underneath canopies of magnificent trees. I’ve been sleeping on the ground every weekend for the past month and a half but it’s just not the same. Not that I don’t love being at the Red River gorge at Miguel’s but it’s kind of populated.
I came out the next morning and startled a pretty good size bear hiking up an over Low Gap. Snakes are still out.

It’s looking to be a beautiful fall, I think the colors are going to be exceptional. I hope you’re able to get out and enjoy them. I will try to do better with content here.

peace to all!

The Meigs Line

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https://cityviewmag.com/the-meigs-line/

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

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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

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https://cityviewmag.com/lightning-in-a-bottle/

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

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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

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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

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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.