Clingman’s Dome to Bryson City

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IMG_20180728_143420794Lonesome Pine overlook, photo by Laurel.

JD was gracious enough to invite me and Laurel to hike down to campsite 58 on Deep Creek. Since Laurel was in Athens, Ga, we decided it would be fun to meet there and she could come in from Bryson City. Laurel ended up doing 12 miles yesterday as she came up Noland Divide, down Pole Road Creek and into 58.


I hiked down from Clingman’s on Noland solo, flanked by a swath of Yellow Fringed Orchids. It had been a while since we returned to backpack on home turf. I wanted some alone time in the Smokies and told JD I would meet them and Laurel in camp.  Right off the jump, I scared a bear not five minutes downhill.


Pole Road and Deep Creek are in excellent shape. I was amazed.  Didn’t see a soul until I reached the good ole Horace homesite at camp 57.  Two lost hikers were roaming around thinking that they were at the bottom of Deep Creek. Much to their chagrin, I had to correct their estimation by adding about 5 miles and pointed them back towards town. When I asked which trail they came in on, and you will love this reply, they said, “I believe it is called horse trail.”

They didn’t have a map or any water so I remedied that.  It still amazes me how people can go into the Smokies without a proper map or sufficient water not knowing where they are.  I was less than 10 minutes from JD’s camp and my intended overnight home. JD was laughing when I arrived at the two women who admitted their mistake to him.  I believe he castigated them over their lack of preparation as well.


Laurel arrived a couple of hours and several miles later. She earned a seat around the fire and we recounted her grand ascent of Noland, new miles for her map.  She is an intrepid adventurous gal, unafraid to tackle a trail solo.


Deep creek was awash in fly fishermen and apparently the fishing was good, according to the creels we saw coming out of the water. Must be a good hatch presently.

P1080675JD oversees Terri cooking a grilled cheese while Bill photographs.  Laurel convinced me to hike back out to Bryson City with her in the morning after we enjoyed a roaring fire under the moonlight sky of Deep Creek.  It didn’t take much arm twisting. She wanted Pizza at Anthony’s. This means she had to shuttle me back up to the dome, then return back to Bryson City and do three more hours back to Athens.  Thanks Honey!


We had a wonderful time, I swam with the tubers and gorged on pizza. JD’s group is eclectic, well mannered and respectful of themselves and the environment. It was a pleasure spending time with them and returning to home turf.  We have another big one planned for next weekend so stay tuned.


Some of you aren’t on Twitter so I’m going to share a newly discovered photo from our summit push on Everest.  This is a photo of Sange, Neal’s Sherpa, taking Chherring Sherpa off the rope immediately after being stricken by the rock. You can zoom in and see the blood in the background. It was a bloody mess. Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of our Sherpa and Neal, Chhering lives to climb another day after a week in the hospital. I sure wish those guys would consider helmets, though.

cchring and Sange

As you can see, it was of utmost importance to get him down to some easier ground and begin working on a helicopter. We had two of the best Sherpa in Nepal. Many thanks to Sange and Ang Dawa, not only for what they did for this guy but what they did for us.

More detailed photo of the route on Summit Day

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I have annotated a shot from the South Col on May 23 prior to our ascent with landmarks. Understand the South Col is at 26,000 feet. Look closely and you will see climbers on the triangular face.

     annotated from s col

You can see part of our team getting ready below. We had been climbing up to this point for several days, spending two nights at camp 2, one night at camp 3 and eventually two nights here, not including the complete day ascending from the south col to the summit and back.  For me it was 24 hours of movement on Everest from this point.


Ramsay’s Cascades

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Laurel and I accepted the gracious invitation of Jeff Greene and the Newport Kiwanis club to speak about our Everest adventure. It was a fabulous experience and we met a number of wonderful folk and even sold some copies of my first book, “Tempting the Throne Room“. It so inspired us that we decided to leave and go up the road and make tracks to Ramsay’s Cascade.  We timed it perfectly between big storms so the water flow was ideal, as you can see.

strava er


Crimson bee balm patches in front of flowering rhododenron made me feel as if I was chasing the Himalaya back home. I’ve missed the Smokies in all her humid glory last spring. Thankfully, remnants keep me connected.

Image1814017564144973951 These monster poplars are not to be found in Nepal.

Image7399430917639235564 And neither are snakes, up at our Khumbu elevations anyway. This is my first one of the year. Since departing April 4, I haven’t been in the Smokies and reconnecting with home mountains gave me great perspective on the Everest climb. So much goes through my head each day, some new memory or synaptic connection regrows. I think we spent so much time at altitude that my brain is reforming and collating some thoughts from the experience. I could talk for a week about the events of our summit day alone. Laurel is tired of me saying, “Oh, and did I tell you about this?”  I found myself at Kiwanis trying to condense a life experience into 20 minutes. Thankfully, our audience was so accommodating.

Last weekend we spent in Athens, GA. Laurel has accepted a real professor job down there so we helped settle her into a new house, which needs work on the air conditioning we discovered. Athens was a lot of fun; never seen so many restaurants and bars in one place. I suppose that is representative of a college town.  I wish Knoxville had that variety of food.

I’ve got two more Rotary speaking engagements coming up in Clinton and Bearden, then another Kiwanis gig in Alcoa. If you are affiliated, please come by and say hello. I leave you with a shot of me and my Sherpa brother, Ang Dawa on the summit of Sagarmatha. It is looking as if we may have been some of, if not the very, last people to be there this year.

Screenshot_20180530-140142 Dawa is saying “Rock and Roll”!  Then he drug me off the top of the world, but our time was up.  I hope everyone is enjoying their summer here in E. TN. as much as I am.


p.s.  Here is another previously unpublished Everest photo. When I look at it, I am reminded of the cold, stark, lonely ritual known as the “Alpine Start” so dreaded in mountaineering. It is the beginning of the Khumbu icefall as we left basecamp in what would be a weeklong push for the summit. 3.30 am, 10 degrees and 12 hours until our shot directly up to camp 2. Just viewing it sends me into a chill.



News Sentinel Article

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Many thanks to reporter Kylie Hubbard for this one!

Knoxville resident climbs Mount Everest, completes daring rescue

On May 23, Knoxville resident John Quillen sat on top of the world. But the climb to Mount Everest wasn’t typical. John Quillen, Knoxville


On May 23, Knoxville resident John Quillen sat on top of the world. But the climb to the summit of Mount Everest wasn’t typical.

Quillen, a drug and alcohol counselor, arrived in Nepal in early April and hiked for 10 days to reach base camp. From there, Quillen met Neal Kushwaha of Ottawa, Canada, and spent a month participating in acclimatization — climbing between camps one, two and three to get used to the changes in altitude.

On May 18, the pair, along with their Sherpa companions, started their push up the mountain and by May 20 found themselves in good standing between camp one and two, and were taking a rest when the unthinkable happened.

An oxygen bottle fell from a higher point in the mountain and struck at least two people, including the head of a Sherpa. The Sherpas are a Himalayan people whose members often serve as porters on mountain-climbing expeditions.

“The ugliest part about it is that several people walked by this guy and did not help him, in both directions up and down,” Quillen said.

Kushwaha and Quillen knew that they couldn’t be bystanders, so they moved into action.

“That could have been us and we actually said that to each other. Like that could be you, that could be me, that could be one of our Sherpas, that could have been us,” Kushwaha said. “And (also) some people walking right by us but we had to go do something.”

The duo along with their Sherpas moved the man hit in the head to a safer location before Quillen moved to help a different man who was struck on the leg, ripping his body suit.

Meanwhile, Kushwaha and his Sherpa tended to the head of the injured Sherpa, as blood continue to come from his wound.

More: Local author David Brill recounts first-hand experience with Great Smoky Mountains rescue personnel

More: How ‘American Ninja Warrior’ has changed Knoxville native Grant McCartney’s life

“Neal (Kushwaha) and his Sherpa had to get on the radio and beg what they call the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) to dispatch somebody to come up because he’s a Sherpa and he doesn’t have any insurance,” Quillen said. “Western climbers have insurance. We really had to beg some people to come up.”

To make a safe area for a helicopter rescue, Kushwaha and his Sherpa moved the man several feet down the mountain, losing a lot of ground that had already been climbed.

Once the injured were secured, Quillen and Kushwaha along with their Sherpas moved quickly to camp three, but were physically and emotionally exhausted.

“That’s where good fortune I think favors our attempts to help him. It put us into camp three probably late at night around 9:30, 10 (p.m.), which is way too late to be going up the most dangerous part of the climb, the Lhotse Face, which pushed our whole summit schedule ahead several hours,” Quillen said.

This advancement in schedule allowed the duo to take their time to camp four, commonly referred to as “The Death Zone.” They arrived late on May 21 to stay their first night in the the Death Zone, where they experienced rough weather but a clearing the next morning.

“Most people barely survive up there and we were cruising around just re-energized, ready for our summit push, and I can only account for that in divine terms,” Quillen said. “You look at any account of Everest and … it’s a survival game and we were definitely thriving right before our summit push.”

At 7 p.m., the team started their summit push and arrived early the next morning to a nearly empty mountain. Quillen spent a total of 45 minutes on the summit and Kushwaha spent 35, when most get about enough time for a picture.

“It was sunny, it was clear, it wasn’t windy and if it was, it was only at the summit, which is normal. Hardly anybody there and when they did come, it wasn’t anything spectacular,” Kushwaha said. “As magical as it gets, we could probably come to Everest ten more years in a row, and never have that experience again. That’s how crazy it is.”

The two spent two more nights in the Death Zone before heading back to camp two on May 25 and base camp on May 26.

“It was a blessing from God in my mind, no doubt about it. And kind of a nod to the time we took to spend on somebody else,” Quillen said. “That’s the only way I can conceivably see it.”

The Summit Video-Everest 2018

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This is the money shot. You will rarely see a summit video without hordes of climbers. This is a result of my slower pace. I arrived at 10 am, May 23, 2018.  Most climbers had cleared by 8 am. Enjoy.

A touch of Frostbite

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It comes with the territory for me. Everyone knows I had a bit in 2011 following my summit of Muztah Ata. So predisposition to the mountaineers disease is a recurring possibility. As I descended from Everest’s summit last week, my toes on the right foot developed a familiar throbbing. Getting off Sagarmatha was a priority on multiple levels.


“Rocking” From Everest Summit

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(Sorry for the pic of a pic, I need a new wifi camera}

I’m still floating on air since my 24 hours above 8000 meters to the summit of Mt. Everest four days ago. It seems like yesterday. I realize that it will take a while to assimilate the events. One thing that has not been revealed was our role in the rescue of a seriously injured Sherpa at the beginning of our summit push which altered the entire schedule to our advantage.

On May 21, our full team headed up to camp 3 on our summit push and started up the bergschrund on the base of the Lhotse face. Immediately an oxygen bottle comes tumbling down the 45 degree slopes and careens over our helmeted heads. Sherpa eschew helmet use for one primary reason. It prohibits use of the endemic forehead strap that connects them to occasional 100 lb loads.  This day, it would almost prove fatal for one heavily laden porter.

Subsequent to the oxygen bottle near miss, I, along with my Sherpa, Ang Dawa and Neil Kushwaha along with his Sherpa, Sange paused to re evaluate the safety of the route given the recent spate of projectiles.  Within two minutes a large rock dislodged from ascending teams on what was becoming a typically blistering day in the Western Cwm of Everest.

The dull thud unmistakably suggested that someone had received the business end of this one. A fully suited Sherpa came dragging towards me. Down was leaking from a profuse gash in his suit. Aside from the obvious injury to an expensive down garment, this high altitude dude appeared uninjured.  He pointed at the hockey stick gulley and indicated there was another victim.

Neil, Dawa and Sange rushed to the scene as ascending climbers ignored the splattered blood and crumpled form in a pool at the base of Lhotse. A sizeable rock, which had clipped the first Sherpa nailed this poor porter. Neil and our Sherpa essentially carried this considerably bloodied chap to a safer point off the fixed line.

Blood was everywhere. We immediately found a pair of his socks to apply pressure to his skull. It was the one thing Icould recall from my last first aid class years ago. This Sherpa was in trouble and was in shock. He couldn’t remember his name. We gave him water and immediately got on the radio. It was Neal, Sange and Dawa who reached Kaji, our Sirdar at Basecamp. From there, Kaji was able to get in touch with the HRA who dispatched a helicopter. The helicopter made a high altitude rescue above camp 2 and this Sherpa was airlifted to Kathmandu. My Sherpa and Neil walked many extra feet to ensure this guy would live to climb again.

The resulting delay caused us to depart from the South Col one day late. In my next post, I will explain how this made all the difference. Right now we are on hold in Namche Bazaar as flights from Lukla are on weather hold. Thanks for following, I will post more photos soon.