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Myers put this one together and epic it was.

Our ostensible pretext was a southern Forest watch board meeting. Which was held in accordance with our bylaws.

When I started out Friday morning three river otters were frolicking in the creek. Here is a link to the video I shot on my tiktok page. https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTRpT99bt/

There’s always laundry to be done.
it’s like we found the perfect little seat of weather window. With all the nastiness that we’ve encountered this winter, it was nice to find some sunshiny and cool days to be outside.
John Dempsey and AJ even came up. Myers had Nick Paul and Evan in tow. We even had a midnight Cameo by Curt. And here in the Smokies back country we had it all to ourselves. Of course the fee has doubled to $8. And starting in April you going to have to pay to park in the Smokies.
I suppose that’s one good thing about these fees is that it has run people out of there. And we can have the place all to ourselves.

then there’s the curious sase of the howls in the night. I heard a cat crawling around my tent the first night. But no one else did. Then the second night this cat was up in a tree around the campfire menacing us. But it wasn’t really a cat. You’ll have to ask Dempsey about that.

he looks like the Cheshire cat, but I won’t let the cat out of the bag.

Paul and Evan and David get the polar plunge awards. Despite all the Smoky pine we had an excellent fire. And great company and a beautiful weekend.

I’m leading a trip down to Bolivia in April if you are interested, check out this link for details.



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we came back for a long weekend to get some laps on the ice. Ouray is a great place to hone your climbing skills. I drove to Atlanta, met Brian and we got a buddy pass for a direct flight to Montrose.

this was exactly what I needed. Climbing during the day soaking in the hot springs at night. Spending time with Brian is always a bonus.

Spruce Flats Ice

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It just so happens that good ole “Johnny on the Trail” showed up. I talked him into taking his first swings on ice and he made this video of the event.

I knew the first time these falls froze solid I was going to be on it. And we made what I think to be the first ascent of Spruce Flats falls Frozen on Monday, December 26, 2022. Judah, John, and Gloria joined me on this totally fantastic day. We were able to get in laps. It was their first time on the ice and may never get that cold again in the Smokies. So I feel truly blessed. I’m going to rate the climb as a water ice 2. We have a lot of waterfalls in our area. I hope for another cold snap so we can explore them for climbing potential.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas and prosperous New Year.


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Here is a link to the Cityview Story online only.



Summiting the Mexican Volcanoes with a Knoxville Crew

Popocatepetl was blowing smoke rings like a fifties French movie star. This volcano cut a menacing triangle across the entirety of Mexico with a halo crown of billowing fumes, off limits to all aspiring climbers. It rumbled occasionally like my stomach as we gained elevation on neighboring Iztaccihuatl, “Popo’s” ill- fated paramour. Legend says that Iztaccihuatl committed suicide after learning of the death her beloved Popo in battle. My group of eight threaded through a cloud forest to an elevation of 13,800 feet. Here we bathed in the evolutionary landscape that peeked beneath errant rays of sun.

We had already summited La Malinche, clearly visible across the plain. Locals named her after the Aztec lover of explorer Hernando Cortes who fathered one of her children. My own children (clients) were feeling the effects of altitude this day as we transitioned from the tree line to scree field. After gaining a rocky precipice and negotiating some class 3 scrambling at 14,400 feet, our team was higher than any peak in the continental US. Kerina Mitchell spied our ultimate objective in the far distance, Citlaltepetl, also known as Orizaba. Snow was all we could register on her back across the high plains of central Mexico.

Fully acclimatized now, we waved goodbye to historic Puebla with its beautiful zocalo and cathedrals. Our group of eight motored toward Tlachichuca and the hospitality of the Concholas, my adopted Mexican family. Patriarch, Joaquin Concholas, speaks little English but hugged me as would a father for his prodigal son of five years.

Orizaba was dominating the skyline here in this small village in middle Mexico. Dogs ran the streets with us, and I befriended  a four-year-old named Juan. Remarkable is the candor and love that locals show us Gringos as we meander alleyways. The following morning saw us boarding Jeeps for a two-hour off-road event that would carry us five thousand feet up to the Jose Rivas Refugio.

Alpine starts mean a midnight wake up. Stoves hummed as headlamps bobbled around the hut. Attrition had whittled our group somewhat as two of our brood decided to remain with the comfort of the Concholas and their infamous mole sauce. As we climbed into a star filled night, six hours put us at the foot of the Jamapa glacier donning crampons and roping up with local guides. It was cold and I dug deeply for my parka. One of our team decided this was his high point and descended safely with assistance as Orizaba’s shadow emerged with the sun.

At 8.45 am, Patrick Caveney, Kerina Mitchell, Richard Hatten, and I gained the final steps to 18,400 feet, North America’s third highest prominence. As the sun rose, so did our spirits in the shadows of Popo, Izzta and La Malinche who winked at us across the glowing desert.

Eagle Creek.

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This is the first year in a long time I didn’t make it over to Sithenge. The weather looked bad and we were all hoping to avoid an epic like the one I am putting out there below. CityView published a version of this story which is online this month but I wanted to publish my version that is longer, as the online version has been edited for brevity, which is a necessary thing with print publications.  So, without further adieu, I present the Eagle Creek Epic, featuring Richard Hatten and his exploits from a couple of years ago.



Few waves tickled the bow of my canoe this splendid morning as the autumn sun raised our chilled cores. Nothing but the occasional smack of a paddle interrupted a light breeze gently skimming Fontana lake. A black speck grew on the horizon, as if on cue, to remind us of our destination. Soon, not one but two eagles circled our small armada as we disembarked on the banks of their namesake creek.
 Our first night ashore in the mouth of this drainage deep in the heart of the Smokies delivered stars of unobstructed radiance. Over crackling embers in this remote backcountry site our solitude was broken only by laughter of experiences long past in this very special place.
Percolating coffee pulled the rest of us from warm bags Saturday as Richard Hatten wrestled his boat upstream over boulders. It was a sizable chore that found him wading over and through partially submerged rocks. We giggled over steaming mugs at his plan to take advantage of low water and be in position for a sporting whitewater exit on Sunday.
Our anticipated side trek to Hazel Creek was abbreviated. Light sprinkles morphed into a monsoon the likes of which I have rarely experienced. This growing storm found us huddling beneath a tarp our second afternoon into the thundering night. We took turns lifting the center with a shovel as gallons drained from straining plastic. Richard’s Eagle Creek exit plan was starting to look like a suicide mission.
 Unplussed, and in between storms Sunday morning, our stalwart friend proclaimed, “It will be an adventure either way.” We offered to carry his boat around but after several assaults on our masculinity we left him with the whitecapping river and all his gear. I had to navigate a 17 foot canoe, anxious friend, and most of the camp gear back across the lake before round two smacked us to the bottom of one of the deepest channels on the East coast. Two of our crew remained for safety and bear witness to an inevitable debacle.
Two years passed and the legend of Richard’s subsequent exploits were shared around many a campfire. My favorite version has him almost making it down the whitewater tunnel as the video rolled along with his sit on top kayak and favorite  outdoor kit. He was Slim Pickens and the boat was the bomb. “Major Kong” was severely bruised and left to paddle back to Fontana marina with nothing but a flat shovel. Everything else was sacrificed to the river. Strangelove indeed.

Something glimmered from the sandy bank as Curt Roberts pulled his boat ashore.  Caked mud flaked from an object partially embedded. “Could this possibly be?”  he asked. Many a joke was made of the scuba tank diving rescue missions twice undertaken by Richard over the past 700 days. What compromising footage, we wondered, could possibly be on that SD card. I was certain Curt had found Richard’s holy grail. Indeed, the salvagable footage was intact up to the point of impact. And we were spared any accompanying video indignities. Eagle Creek verified Richard’s oft repeated epic, as he valiantly battled a raging river. The percolator may reveal next fall.

Summit Orizaba

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It was an epic push from the hut but four of our team managed to top out. Orizaba gave us a full measure this time. I would like to congratulate Richard Hatten, Patrick Caveney, and Kerina Mitchell. They persevered and reached the third highest point in North America.

Everyone is safe now in Mexico City. More later.


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We have been in Puebla for the past several days. We’ve been to the summit of La Malaniche, and climbed part of Izztacchiuatl.

I’m having difficulty uploading photos here so go to my Instagram feed for more specific updates. @johnwquillen


Mexico City

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Patrick and I took a walk around the city today after arriving this afternoon. We were joined by Richard and Kevin who joined us from Georgia. My fitness app told me we did 7 miles. And I believe it.

That night we met Rachel Yurani, and Sara for a wonderful dinner at a Mexican restaurant. These girls were here a day prior to our arrival.

Kerina arrived too late to join us for dinner but she was in good form and good spirits.

Rachel and Yurani.

In a little while we will boardaboard bus and head to Puebla. Everyone is healthy, happy, motivated, and thankful to be here.

Check back in a day or so for more dispatches from this volcanoes expedition, our first climb will be La malinche.

You can also follow us on Instagram





Hangover 22

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Another incredible Highlander hangover outing is in the books.

Friday’s hike up was in great weather and we had an almost cloudless evening with no wind for our fire, unlike the photo pictured here from Saturday.

Among our many activities were hikes out to Bob’s bald. Micah had never been and it was a treat to share this with him.

There were the usual sunrise and sunset spiritual times on the rock.

Various hiking cameos.

A Tipi showing.

An initiation

Patrick drive by.

Rock scrambling on our day walk over to the Bob.

Myers was there for Friday night.

Along with David and Drew.

AJ and John have become a staple of this event.

Some weather moved in Saturday and laid the fire down flat. anyone thinking of going up there right now better plan on toting your own water, though. I was able to coax a very little bit out of a new spring that I made. That was barely enough for one person and it took hours to fill the bag.

There was a flat tire to be dealt with.

But all in all a fantastic trip with 12 total in attendance. We were a little late for the leaves this year but it was still incredible.

We’re gearing up for Mexico next week. Stay tuned here for some content.


Pearisburg North

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In our latest installment of John and Frank’s Appalachian Trail adventures we find ourselves in Pearisburg, Virginia, precisely where we left off several months ago.  After driving for several hours into Virginia and securing a shuttle to drop their car off at the back end we started our 7 Mile ascent to Rice Field. It was largely uneventful and the scenery  unremarkable. We passed a lot of deer stands feet from the trail.

That is until we reach the shelter after about 2400 ft of climbing. Big bad weather was moving in and we knew it. So the rush was on to set up our tents. Reason being there were thru hikers in the shelter. And I prefer to be away from them and their pot smoking antics. I love everything about section  hiking except the actual through hikers. Apparently that sentiment is shared with the shuttle drivers.

We weathered one hell of a storm up on top of that mountain. And while it threatened to blow us off of it my six moons designs skyscape trekker held up admirably. Frank’s tent did great too. I slept peacefully as the rain pelted the nylon. Actually had one of the best nights sleeps I ever had outside.

When we arrived on the scene in the shelter the next morning and the rain had abated they could not believe we were out in it.

The incessant, morning, stoned banter of thru hikers reaffirmed my decision to sleep in the storm. Frank and I have come to realize that our reasons for hiking are different than theirs. I don’t want to speak for him because he loves that thru hiking culture and talking about gear and distances. But Frank is out there for the right reasons not just to do 24 mi in a day. One guy came rolling into the shelter after we went to sleep in the middle of the storm.

We took off in the super wet grass. And I made a huge mistake. On all of our recent hikes, I’ve gotten away with wearing regular tennis shoes. What rain we’ve had has been minimal. But we did 12 miles through fields. And within two miles my feet were completely soaked. Unlike Frankie, who wears proper trail shoes, I just wear running shoes. We did come upon a herd of wild goats that was terrorizing hikers. We were able to fend them off.

And this time I didn’t get away with it.


There’s not enough moleskin in the world to deal with that. So I stripped down to almost nothing and wore my crocs  the next 10 miles. That created a subsidiary problem.

We finally arrived at the next shelter.

And Frank was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

(He loves it when I say that about him)

The temperature had dropped significantly. Like into the 30s. After looking at my feet, Frank wisely made the decision to cut our trip one night short. You know me I was like “oh let’s push on.” I can finish this in my crocs. But Frank called the shuttle and told him we were going after next day. And that was wise.

But I can’t say enough about this shelter, especially since it was called Pine Swamp. It was anything but.  We slept inside it this time since our tents were soaking wet. It was an absolute piece of art. Sporting an interior fireplace and three bunks it was almost like an Airbnb. And again I slept like a baby.I recall the stars bleeding through a moonscape from which I would roll over and soak periodically. We had one guest that night, also named John. Walking 12 mi in Crocs with a 35 lb pack is a little bit more than a workout which contributed to my somnabulance.

We dropped a lot of elevation along with the temperature which was now super cold. It was a short out.

About the section I’m going to say it wasn’t the prettiest that I’ve done. A lot of the forests have been obviously heavily logged. Multiple power line cuts make it look like a geographic crime scene.

As we hit the road, the trail was just starting to get good and I was wishing we could push on. Steam came from our breath as we awaited our exit vehicle.

I got back to Knoxville the following morning. I couldn’t walk and it wasn’t because of the blisters. A certain kind of pain in my foot that I never experienced was indescribable. Every step was excruciating. I self-diagnosed it as plantar fasciitis.

2 days of rest, ice, compression, elevation and heat. Then I woke up today and it was fine. Go figure.

Had “yo yo” not pulled me off the trail I would probably be in traction for a week. He’s a good outdoor partner.