When there’s snow on the ground they will close the park. Which is why we set out to sneak into the old settlers Trail.
Myers and Nick preceded us. Friday they had all the wood gathered. So Saturday it was time for us to bust in.
That’s Kelsie on the left and Jimmy “the flying sausage” Dean on the right. We embarked in the spitting snow.
We were looking forward to seeing Frank and AJ but due to family issues neither them were able to attend.
Ballerina Britches earned his totenship badge.
Laundry got done.
She was warm-ish; a real trooper for being the only female in a group of alpha males. It dropped into the low twenties. But our fire was more than sufficient.
Myers woke up Saturday morning to a coyote in camp. We followed it out back to the car.
David Snider and his son came in along with Robert Carver. Even Curt made a cameo. just a fantastic winter outing on the old settlers Trail.
New year’s Eve was Jimmy the flying sausage Dean’s birthday. he had invited me up to join him in several others at Mount Collins shelter on Thursday. I followed the Appalachian Trail in 1600 ft of elevation and it was like an ice skating rink.
I arrived in advance of predicted bad weather. And who was there to greet me in the shelter but good old wildcat AKA, Bert Emerson. With the flying sausage were several other guys. Robert carver, Ed Fleming, and another guy named Nick. Ed Robert, and I had crossed many of the same paths and hiked with a lot of the same people over the years. it was amazing the connections we figured out while sitting inside the nice warm shelter with firewood they had hauled up.
In the midst of the festivities, we were joined by three boys from Michigan. These young gentlemen were also interested in mountaineering along with the flying sausage. So we had a lot to discuss. Wildcat bedded down early while we rang in the new year with the flying sausage. He obviously had a good time. Ed and Robert had made the same Smokies journey in parallel universe. I believe we all come from the same generation of Smokies backpackers. I had recalled their names from the Southern Forest watch days as they had supported our efforts by signing petitions and so forth. I would consider them sons of the Smokies for certain.
I departed on New year’s day and started 2021 in the piss pouring rain. My fear was that they would close Newfound Gap road and leave me at the top. Almost five soaking miles later I found that to be the case. By the time I dropped down within sight of the sugarland’s visitor center I phoned the park dispatch office as directed by the sign on the locked gate. The lazy guy who answered the phone gave me the combination to the lock. He could not be bothered to get out in the pouring rain like I had been. Having changed into the only set of dry clothes I had,his instructions were specific. I was to go through the motions of locking the gate back. Now I can tell you having driven down newfound Gap road by myself I saw no obstructions whatsoever. that there were no trees, no rock fall, nothing to suggest that the road need to be closed. And the rangers refusal to come out and unlock the gate put icing on the cake.
I did not lock the gate back as instructed. He could get out and do that himself , that Sargent Schultz. NF Gap road should not have been closed on the first place. As we speak they’ve closed newfound Gap road again today. This is an anticipation of another storm. Sargent Schultz probably needs another nap.
I wanted to return and prepare to head back into the woods again on Saturday. My friend Kelsie had asked me to take her somewhere for her first post surgery backpacking trip.
This girl used to go out and do like 50 mi in a weekend. No wonder she ended up having to have ankle surgery. I couldn’t imagine if I was out of the game for a couple of months though and she was itching to get back out. So we booked reservations for campsite one. Saturday morning when we got there, cars were parked all up through the road. It was obvious there was some blow Downs on the road that headed down into the backside of Abrams Creek. So we followed suit pulled off the side of the road began to unpack. That’s when we were confronted by an angry landowner. he proceeded to take photographs of everyone’s license plates and threatened to have us towed. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have given a crap. but since I know he had personally told us I saw my car as a potential object of vandalism. That is one way decided to go to plan b which was to drive up and go down into Cane Creek.
You can see that Kelsie seems to be navigating the waters of recovery quite well. Cane Creek was as I left it peaceful and just the right medicine.
She heard a lot of stories from me. like the ones about how the bowhannons get out of their grave in the middle of the night and come walk into camp with hatchets. she did seriously hear about the whole Cane Creek adventure with blackberry farms and the four wheeler trip referenced here. And all the southern Forest watch stuff and a lot of other of my Mountain tails. I think she believes I have a lot of stories to tell. But she indulged them with grace. Here is the great story Alexis Zotos completed as a result.
Light rain forced us to retire peacefully.
It was a fitful night’s rest for me. She seemed to do pretty well. I was very happy to get a couple of nights in different places in the backcountry with different groups. Our original plan had been to section hike the AT Georgia but I got covid and then Brian’s wife got covid and that derailed the whole project. Obviously, my recovery is apparently complete.
I’m pretty happy with the start to 2021. Two separate backpacking trips is a good way to start any year. And great company on both.
Many thanks to Jimmy Dean and Kelsie for their company over the course of an active New Year. Best wishes to all. Let’s have a great 2021.
Yep, you guessed it. I was diagnosed with COVID two days ago.
It all began one week ago with a serious sore throat. That persisted for a couple of days. I went out to meet two friends, socially distant and outside, on Thursday. Then I did my last day at our school on Friday. I was fatigued and upon return home just laid down that afternoon. I bailed on a backpaking trip with Jimmy Deane citing low energy and the feeling of fatigue.
Saturday was a complete wash. I barely had the energy to walk around the house. I did leave in hopes of finding a COVID test but you can’t access those on the weekends here in TN apparently. On Sunday, I started feeling a little better and went outside for a walk. First thing Monday morning, I had a couple of clients in my office. Straightforward went I to the Blount County Health Dept and tried to be one of the first in line, failing miserably as it wrapped around the block that morn. Returning at lunch, was soon met with the news they had closed the line for the day. I wondered about how many people were in my situation and said to heck with it. However, determined, I proceeded to the knox County Health Dept the following morning and waited in the cold weather outside. 45 minutes is what it required to finally receive a swab.
Celebrating my success, I returned home and suited up for a run over in the Urban Wilderness. It was a four mile saunter, and no record was set. (I am blessed to have this resource in my front yard and was delighted to share my training routine there with John Becker a while back if you didn’t get a chance to hear it.) But the sunshine raised my spirits. I hadn’t done much cardio at all for the past seven days. Dripping sweat I received a notification on my phone. Morning lab results were in from Memphis, already. The result was quite a surprise, POSITIVE for COVID.
Two days hence, I am feeling much better but on quarantine until Dec 21. AJ, Jon and Becca had been organizing a trip up to Cumberland Gap that I was anticipating eagerly. We were planning to do two days up there at Chadwell Gap but alas, my wings are clipped. So, in summary, if you get a sore throat, get tested so you don’t infect anyone else. I am a diligent mask wearer and try to exercise social distance. But, anyone who knows me is aware of my low immunity to virus. It was just a matter of time. For reference, my friend Wendi is on her second go around with COVID. The health dept told me that I would have immunity for three months. And that is precisely when Wendi acquired her second infection. She also works in the school system.
Be careful. Don’t infect your parents and friends. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If I can get better, Bugsy and I are looking to do the AT from Springer to Dicks Creek after Dec 27. Now, let’s break it all down with some bluegrass. And who better to lead us than the father of Bluegrass music. A little trivia about this selection below. You may notice the guitar picker as Peter Rowan, but do you now who is playing the banjo? (I’ll bet Greg Hawkins does)
Stars dominate the night on a cold mountaintop evening..
A new friend, Jimmy Dean invited me up to join him. Jimmy hit me up a while back and wanted some beta about getting into mountaineering. He backpacks the Smokies almost weekly.
I relished the notion of the years first snow hike. And getting to make a new acquaintance.
It was more than a little bit cold. In fact, my water bottle froze solid sitting outside the shelter. Jimmy and I were eventually joined by a southbound through hiker named Cowboy from Atlanta.
My water bottle froze then grew a nose.
It was a typical Highlander fire and we worked hard for it.
Jimmy showed some outdoor acumen with his fire building abilities.
Yes, it’s hatchet totin time.
We had an incredible evening atop Cosby knob. I outline my thoughts for Jimmy’s mountain ambitions, and for anyone reading this I always suggest starting on Mount Rainier. (click for a link to our trip there in 2004)
I leave Jimmy Dean to return back out across Mount Cammerer and back down the AT.
Plenty of traffic was heading up to the AT for views from the tower. And I saw hikers wearing a mask or scarf and exercising social distancing. That is encouraging.
Becca stirs the flames in anticipation of nightly events.
But we’ll start at the beginning. It was Greg Hawkins who asked me about doing the Eagle Creek trip this year. I ran into him several weeks ago over at Abrams Creek. But you may remember him from over a year ago from up at Mary ridge. He is the one who awakened to a bobcat in his face and was accompanied by Ark. We had all apparently originally met several years ago over at Caldwell fork. These guys obviously share our love for backpacking.
As we pulled into Eagle Creek, Richard and Paul were paddling around after looking for his belongings from the previous year’s outing there. You may recall that Richard took quite a spill and made an epic paddle across with a shovel. Since they both had to work the following day they were only able to paddle over for the afternoon but we enjoyed their company and he left us with fire-making accoutrements.
There are three eagles in this photo but you probably can’t detect them. For the past three years as I paddle into the mouth of eagle Creek, we are greeted by at least one of them.
Ark his wife Jennifer accompanied me along with Greg and his wife Amy. It was a perfect Friday afternoon paddle, we made really good time as you can tell.
Jennifer and Amy put on quite the show cooking seminar . Ark performs his usual supervisory duties.
There is a bit of fishing up the creek.
Following a very restful Friday night, we arose Saturday to f percolate a lot of coffee and begin the traditional sojourn up t Shuckstack summit.
It’s one mile from eagle Creek to campsite 91 and there are six stream crossings; wet ones I might add. At the Lost Cove campsite, a big ascent looms which culminates in 2200 ft gained to the Appalachian Trail terminus. I look over my shoulder after spying on two monster boar gliding the adjacent ridge and here comes Becca, barefooted. She had rubbed a blister on her heel from all the wet crossings and decided to forego boots.
She’s definitely John’s daughter, and gained our respect accordingly. There was a crowd at the tower base and I had forgotten my jacket, so not much tarrying occurred here.
It was an A+ day. Bluebird all the way. I kept hoping to see Myers and Frank. AJ was unable to join us as his wife had experienced some medical issues and I hope she’s recovering well. Myers was supposed to paddle over with me but his father also experienced medical issues and he was similarly unable to join . Fortunately he was released from the hospital without much diagnosis.
Not a single cloud in the sky.
Ark and Greg chose to attend to the campsite in our absence. After all, I told Ark it was part of his duty as a potential initiate to gather wood and water.
Soon, everyone was back down from the top of the mountain and our 8 mile hike. Ark and Greg spent some time gathering wood for the festival council fire at Sithenge.
Split and stacked, that’s how we roll.
Becca Stokes the flames as we begin the initiation process. Ark was eager to cast his lot with the southern Highlander crew.
There was much discussion about the history of Highlander initiation ceremonies. Ark made his case for installment and even performed a small skit. After a round of voting, however, it was determined that he was not quite ready for full-fledged membership this year. The deciding vote was cast by his sponsor, Greg who determined that Ark had not fully passed the bribery portion of his duties. Greg agreed to mentor Ark for the next year in anticipation of potential induction at that time.
In summary, we had an incredible time at Sithenge and campsite 90. I will say that someone has cut down a lot of trees out on the Sithenge area. And that is incredibly disappointing. These were obviously healthy trees that have been here for years. This only tends to happen in places where boats or horses frequent, haven’t you noticed? Folks who are too lazy to work their way into a site are apparently too lazy to cross a bridge for firewood. The same thing goes for canned foods. No backpacker carries this type of item but we find them in these places, often toted by the same offenders. The pandemic has brought folks off the video game world into the natural one. But with that comes responsibility. I think a mandated leave no trace course should be considered before a backcounty permit is issued. What are your thoughts? We found wet wipes dumped in the creek and food left in the fire pit. This is inexcusable. I also had a guy with his dog up at the Shuckstack tower. This is ridiculous.
Aside from this, we had a perfect weekend. And I really enjoyed the company of Ark and Jennifer, Greg and Amy, Jon and Becca. Eagle Creek did not disappoint and our weather was superb. The only rain seen was a bit after we all bedded down on Friday. We made the channel crossing as the winds picked up, just in the nick of time.
I’ve walked by this place so many times I couldn’t remember the last time I actually spent the night there. This one falls in the category of the Friday night quick hits.
Oh ballerina britches and Mark joined us this time.
Myers was not able to attend for some unknown reason.
The weather was perfect for a short shot out of Maryville and a two and a half mile climb. The chill night made a warming fire that much more important.
This site doesn’t see a lot of use apparently. There’s plenty of wood and water to be found.
for the second week in a row I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by the shrill screaming of a neighbor. It was Nick who said something had come up under his tarp. I believe it likely was the deer. Either that or were hainted.
Just a short jaunt with friends and company in the out of doors. A back country reset I call it.
Instead of music this week, I am sharing a bit of comedy. See if you recognize anyone’s acting talents here. It tickles me every time I watch it.
We planned to go toward the remote part of the world where the crowds would not ford. For some reason Flint Gap and this little low sideling campsite came to mind.
Bugsy was in town. He drove up Friday afternoon and we had time to get in a good mountain bike ride .
The splendor of a Smokies Autumn is unequaled.
Mark assumed fire duty this trip. Outstanding job he performed all around.
We shared fireside tales with our new friends, John Koehler and his grandson. Flint Gap is not a nice campsite, barely room for two tents. John and his son got the good area..
We had some dinner and celebrated news from John’s grandson via his inreach satellite connection. Biden defeated Trump.
This was met with skepticism. But ended up being true. Huzzahs all round because the environment was under assault under that regime. Not to mention all the other damage inflicted. But I digress.
2:45 am. I am awakened to shrill screaming down at the flat spot. There was a bear curiously sniffing a tent and our neighbors were startled. So ended my sleep for the evening. Mark was unaffected.
This little stream crossing is all it takes to keep people off of that side of the world. And I’m very thankful. Other than not sleeping after the purported bear incursion, it was an entirely successful journey with Mark and Bugsy.
Brian reminded me that he had camped over here about 5 years ago. I put him on this spot and two others during a journey at that time. Oops! So much for a new Smoky’s experience but Mark did get some new miles. Hannah mountain is undoubtedly one of my favorite trails in the Smokies. Tis but a 6.1 mi one way ticket from the back side of Abrams Creek.
Just understand that the water source at Flint Gap is low. And it tends to be that way most times I’ve camped there. Here are your Trail stats compliments of Strava.
Wilson, Mikayla, Sarah and I went up to the greatest rock in the south.
Sarah makes a descent from one of these beautiful sandstone Cliff faces.
Mikayla was our lead though. She gets better every time we climb together. There’s a lot of stuff down there in Muir valley. Here we are on the Animal Crackers wall.
We camped out at Miguel’s and started a fire there.
This is a 5.10 +. And if you think it looks hard you have no idea.
Getting into the pmrc took some four-wheel driving. Thank goodness Mikayla captained the diesel Ford. We decided that the acronym for pmrc is Putin makes Republicans commies.
We got on the aptly named volunteer wall.
The weather was quite chilly up in Slade, Kentucky this past weekend. And on Sunday we dealt with a lot of wind. But overall we couldn’t have asked for better. We set up about four routes each day. And all of us gave it our best shots. Fun stuff always at the Red River Gorge
(Seth Dortch makes this photographic magic happen)
But Myers captured the one above. In fact, Jon, Seth and I only made it up to here before the sun set on us Friday.
(Myers was on the rock and captured this photo of us actually emerging from the heath bald)
We made good time with full, heavily laden packs.
(another of Myer’s shots above)
This photo is but a small fraction of the near record-breaking group in attendance at the annual SouthernHighlander Hangover event. The last big number was during THIS event.
Hangover 2020 was one for the ages. It beckons back to the days of John Muir and Ronrico.
We began late Friday afternoon. The weather was fine and we wished to hit the rock before sunset. We only made it to the heath bald because I ran into this guy.
(Not Bert, but Tipi. Bert came up with us.) Tipi was camped at Grassy Gap as our team scrambled up to the Hangover. We briefly visited before departing into the sunset. Tipi promised to come up the next morning. Tipi and I have been friends since 2008 when we worked on trying to reverse the damage done up at the Hangover when the forest service clear cut all those trees. But that is a story for another campfire. I always enjoy running into him, he is a kindred soul and sage of the Citico. If you run into Tipi, it is a blessing and we enjoyed catching up since it has been a few years since we crossed paths back down on the lower Big Fat Trail shown here.
We met Myers and AJ and Jon Dempsey and David Snyder who had established camp. We had the Hangover to ourselves and what would end up being 18 of our closest friends.
(yours truly Sat. morn) If that face looks familiar, it should. It’s Jon Dempsey. In the background is Jacqui who didn’t quite summit Friday night, despite their best efforts. She did make it to the Grassy Gap spot and camped alongside Tipi with her daughter, Marguerite and Andrew.
Myers was missing something on this trip. Ballerina Britches opted out after hefting his pack and deciding in was too much to bear. That never stopped 71 year old Tipi, though. At 75 lbs, his pack was the prize winner. You can say, he was definitely humping a heavy pack.
Richard’s kite of diversity. And somehow it now has my name on it. He has flown it from all the high peaks of the South, or a lot of them. Ok, maybe three or four.
This was a Saturday group photo. Because everyone else was tent bound. Why? because it was piss pouring the rain. Buckets. We had a lot of rain through the nights and a good hour torrent at sunset Saturday. But here we were, minus Curt, who had hiked up all the way from Slickrock via the Nutbuster. Backpacker Magazine rated it as the toughest backpacking trip in the South several years ago. Tipi would agree, and so do I. It is a hefty pull. So Curt ended up in his tent for the evening. It was great to have David, Jon and AJ come all the way out with us. Myers did a great job establishing camp and taking photos, even though he looks like Kilroy here.
Mikayla and Summer arrived Saturday, along with Robbie and Marley. It was nice to have some of the climbing crew along for this special place and time.
There was a Russian in the midst wearing a MAGA hat. I have always said there is a correlation between the two. Now you have proof. We had to do some engineering on the water source. The main one was but a drip. Years ago, Danno and I excavated this one , so I brought alone some flexible tubing to make it flow like a river. Richard and Jon assisted in this engineering feat. Too bad Robbie B is a water engineer and arrived too late for any input.
AJ, David Snyder and Myers relax after a hard earned ascent.
Seth made it up and provided those great initial shots. In fact, there were so may great shots, I couldn’t possibly upload them all here. But man, the clouds made for some good refraction.
Somehow, the skull and crossbones has been replaced by Dixie colors. Again, that is a Richard thing.
Marguerite set a record for youngest ascent of Hangover. At five years old, she and Tipi whipped me up pretty good. But, I am used to taking beatings from young girls, and have the scars to prove it.
Myers really gets some good ones.
It was a festive crowd, undeterred by a little rain, unlike others in the past. I don’t know anyone who bailed because of a frightful forecast,,including a 5 year old child. It was great to catch up with old friends and GET DEM DISHES! When I look at the people that were together on this trip, it represents diversity and optimism. I hope you plan to vote or already have on Tuesday. This is the most important election of our lifetime and what happens to places like Hangover, hangs in the balance. I would say, if you are happy with the daily drama gushing from Washington, then by all means reject any efforts to restore America to its rightful place on the world’s stage. I am looking forward to a time when we can be proud to travel overseas again instead of having to explain why our leader is doing the bidding of Putin.
Now let’s end on a musical note with a little Stevie Ray in hopes his Texas vibe will carry the state into the BLUE.
It is not often that we get to join forces again with the mighty Muir faction. The story about how we all came together is the stuff of Smoky’s legend.
When Chuck, Ledge and bunion told me they were coming down this weekend, I needed to clear the schedule. Although they are aging and suffering from some physical issues, the Faction was undeterred in their hiking goals. Ledge and Chuck made the ascent up to Ramsay’s Cascades with about a thousand of their closest friends.
Even though it was car camping we still had a blazing fire and a most excellent meal was prepared by Bunyan. These guys are incredible, stalwart outdoor men. but one thing I really appreciated was two years ago before leaving for Nepal, Bunyan drove all the way down to hang out with me. He wanted to wish me good tidings for my trip to Everest. What he did was bring the Muir faction luck which carried me to the top of the world. I was very happy to carry them and Muir along.
Upon my return, we had a welcome home party and all three of these guys drove down to share this moment with me. That the the sign of true friendship. Looking back over the people that are important in my life I have realized that some of them haven’t been around forever. And some of the folks who have been around forever, ended up not being there when you need them. They say that integrity is defined by doing the right thing when no one is watching. I’m happy to be surrounded today with friends who do have personal integrity. These things are blessings from above.
I left them that morning after a leisurely breakfast in hopes of doing the offtrail to Injun Creek. It was another glorious Smokies Fall morn, with steam rising from the river as I rounded the corner into Greenbrier. I jogged into campsite 32 and passed more people than you could imagine. Three of them were my neighbors and Highlander pal, Andrew, Jacqui and Marguerite, their daughter. You can imagine their surprise as I came emerging from the woods all sweaty from jogging uphill for three miles.
There are so many people out and about in the Smokies right now it’s ridiculous. It’s almost as if people didn’t know the outside world existed pre Covid.
Anyway, I had to get back home and rest a little before part three of my weekend started Sunday morning.
This is one place you don’t have to worry about crowds. Michaela, Scotty, Micah, Davey and I embarked for what I think is the best rock in town. But it is a secret, undisclosed location.
We did have it to ourselves. Multi-pitch climbing in Knoxville is a little known venue. You can see the weather was perfect. We spent about 4 hours to climb this one route. That’s with three of us on one rope. The way multi-pitch works is you have a leader, which in our case was Mikayla. She led us up to the first anchor point. Then we set up another lead to the next anchor point. There were three pitches on this route and a bees nest in the middle. Again, our group was alone on this rock and my reluctance to publicize the whereabouts are understandable.
A fair amount of rigging is required at the anchor point. Along with a bit of a blood sacrifice. This limestone is sharp and rarely used. So I had to deposit some skin.
That’s where Michaela comes in. She breezed right through that 5.10 crux like it was nothing.
It was such a fantastic and glorious weekend of activity in Knoxville and the surrounding area. Sometimes you got to take a break where you can find one.
I would say that was the end of our weekend but we found time to go commune together afterwards. Many thanks to Micah and Robbie for the beta and shuttling.
Now, let’s end with a musical note, shall we? It’s Del’s version, but since he was one of the Bluegrass Boys, I don’t think Uncle Penn or Bill would mind.