Virginia NOBO

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Virginia is beating a soft spot in my outdoor heart. We left Wednesday March 29 at 7 am from Knoxville. Frank picked me up and had already been on the road for almost two hours from Chattanooga. It was a chilly day but plenty of sunshine abounded. Three and half hours found us deep along the trail where we last made an unscheduled shortening of schedule on that particular AT section. My feet were not in good shape after walking through storm- soaked fields outside of Rice Field shelter.

We dropped off a car at a hiker hostel and had them shuttle us one hour to our beginning point. Some cat with face tattoos slung us round mountain roads until we begged to shoulder heavy packs. It was in the forties as we ascended from VA route 635, Big Stony Creek Road. This day took us up to one of the best vistas to date along the trail. Wind Rock affords panoramic views of Virginia devoid of the development now ringing the Smokies. We took this in and tried to decide about where to bed down. As usual, water was always on our mind, and none was to be had here. So, we pressed on for another couple of miles.

 to a fortuitous encounter. There along the stream was a solitary tent occupied by a Welshman known as Sasquatch. He welcomed our company as it was his birthday and we celebrated astride a roaring fire that cold evening. It was in the low thirties that night. It makes planning quite difficult when the conditions are variable. My pack weight was coming in at 37 lbs., much heavier than usual. We did seven miles and 2,103 feet of climbing. For a first day, this was a shakedown exercise.

Wind rock

The next morning was crisp and cool. I prefer cool when elevation and mileage is involved. And we were not disappointed this day. In 13.43 miles, we would ascend 2575 feet in six hours. We travelled over War Spur into some indescribable forest scenery that made me wonder if I were still in the states or the black Forest of Germany. The elevation profile here speaks volumes and Kelly Nob was another great viewing point. The climb there was brutal. Water was scarce so we had to bed down near a pasture with cattle. No shortage of tent opportunities along the trail, however, you will find it is tied to water and that usually means shelters. After 14 miles, it really does not matter if we are in a cow field or a shelter.

Big weather was moving in, and rain started to greet us as we entered Niday Shelter. This was to be a short day of only ten miles. On the AT, you get service occasionally atop ridges. We knew an intense storm approached and timed it accordingly. I despise shelters but it was nice to be out of the elements when they begin almost immediately. Joining us this night was Just Curtis, another section hiker who was heading southbound. We enjoyed his company as we bedded down early as rain pelted the tin roof of Niday Shelter. You know this makes for good sleeping. I will say the forecast was spot on as it stopped entirely by 10 am the next day.

Which presented another problem. Big winds were predicted. When we saw the call for 60 mph gusts, I shrugged it off. However, the winds were sustained throughout this day, and we had plenty more climbing to do. I was anticipating the Audie Murphy monument atop Brush Mountain. Audie is America’s most decorated war hero. In 1971 he was flying from Atlanta to Roanoke when his inexperienced pilot slammed into the side of this mountain, killing all five aboard. The monument atop the ridge is a fitting tribute to this hero although we battled 60 mph winds to get there. Two days of winds would follow us as we worked our way down to Pickle Branch shelter. Our ascent this day was 2871 feet, and I felt every bit. Frank was sitting on a log at the base of Miller Cove Road. He was speaking with a guy on a motorcycle who was greeting thru hikers like us. Understand that we had seen hardly a soul this entire journey along the trail. These are interior trails and not easily accessed. When “Jason” offered me a cold beverage, I was elated. Producing a store-bought drink from his saddle bag, I accepted his generosity without hesitation. We still had a couple of miles into Pickle branch and the winds were increasing. However, so was the temperature. It was now in the high seventies pushing eighty. What a contrast from the preceding days of near freezing. YoY o remarked about our weather experience on this section. Varied was an understatement.

Arriving at Pickle branch, the trees were bending like Ents. This made our decision to stay in the shelter quite easy. Trees were falling here and there. I was appreciative of the cover should one of those widow makers come after me. Soon, a NOBO thru hiker approached at the end of his 26-mile day. That is what these kids do. We do not. In fact, our longest day was twenty-two miles but not on this section. He warned that a “platoon” of VMI cadets was heading our way and soon his prediction came to fruition. Fourteen sub-20-year-old college kids came plowing into the site and our limited shelter space. A kid squeezed in between me and Frank. He would live to regret that decision.

Frank often warns folks of my night fighting and shenanigans. As the sun dropped, so did the temperatures as the cadets set up tents and hammocks. Unbeknownst to me, two girls had just cowboy camped on the uneven ground. By three am, I had to rise to heed nature’s call. It was near freezing outside as I walked in my socks to find a convenient tree. I ran back to the comfort of my sleeping bag and the five other bunk mates beside us. It was not long before one of my bombastic dreams had me karate kicking an opponent in my sleep. However, the pain in my toe awakened me and my unexpected victim. This poor cadet will learn about squeezing in between people like us in the future as I apologized profusely and hoped I had not broken his tail bone in some way. Outside the trees bent with the wind and I worried about all those kids out there. Not enough to forfeit my space, but I did worry about them.

We rose earlier than most this next day in the steaming cold of our breath. It was near freezing and the wind was still in full gale. I forfeited the second cup of coffee in hopes of hitting the trail with Frank, who was already packed and giving me that look. We had another climb or three before hitting the first of the big Triad of Virginia, Dragon’s Tooth. Two thousand feet up we had to go to see this anomalous rock spire, but it was worth the climb. I knew it would be a short day but was running out of steam after all the climbing the previous four days. We would approach the 50-mile mark on this section as we navigated the hand-to-hand descent from the Triple Crown feature. It was a short, eight-mile day as we dropped back down to the car, passing utility trucks trying to restore power from downed lines. This storm had ravaged more than Virginia we would later learn.

As Frank noted, this was one of the most beautiful sections I can recall. I am growing quite fond of Virginia and, despite the rugged weather, am thankful to have endured this with Frank. We had a wonderful time, and I am already looking forward to the next installment.

Dragons tooth

Scott mountain.

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the southern Forest watch had to attend to some business up there last weekend in the cold.

AJ, Myers, David Snider and Kurt were there.
We climbed over 1700 ft from outside the park along the Rich mountain road. It was below freezing.
When I woke up Sunday morning it was 17°

But we’re definitely working on a project. It was nice to get back on home turf for a little bit. We did not pay the parking tax as we parked outside the park. But this doubling of the backcountry tax really hit us hard in the wallets. Paid $32 for us to spend the night on unimproved ground.

It was great to spend quality time in the outdoors with good people.

Ouray, Pic o the Vic WI 4

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The new Gopro is paying off. Here is a taste of what a 100 foot top belay route feels like. You have no option but to top out. Or swim.

Blanket mountain via Jake’s Creek.

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When you get good weather in the middle of winter you better run with it. And that’s precisely what Richard, Linda, Brian and I did.
plenty of sunshine.
Views abound.
Manhattan put out a Backcountry spread unrivaled. It was deer meat for dinner and duck for breakfast. All procured and prepared by Richard. Probably the best to eat and I’ve ever done in a campsite. Some people go in the woods to survive we go in there to thrive.
Since Sunday was so beautiful I decided it was time to bushwack up to the old fire tower at blanket mountain.
Blanket mountain was the scene of many epic early forays into the Smokies. But few people know the origin of the name. It has to do with the demarcation line between the settlers and the Cherokees and Jonathan Meigs who was exploring those boundaries. While sighting areas between the top of Jake’s Gap and Mary ridge they put a blanket over a rock. I’ll go more into this later in one of my City view columns. But there are remnants of an old fire tower up there.
Footers are all that remain and I can imagine The view. It requires a bit of bushwhacking from Jake’s Gap on up. It climbs roughly a thousand feet from campsite 27.
There’s a pretty well worn path off trail to it.
We needed all the sunshine and Forest bathing. It’s been a dreadful winter in East Tennessee but I would say a typical one. Rain rain and rain.
Many thanks to Richard for all of his exquisite cuisine. It was an outstanding weekend. I hope that y’all got to get out and enjoy it as well.

Join us in Bolivia in late April

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We will be acclimating on some lower peaks that are suitable for trekkers who wish to try their hand at some altitude in South America. Like Butch and Sundance, we will be exploring the backcountry of Bolivia with first class service and accommodation. If you wish to join and perhaps even tackle our ultimate goal, Huayna Potosi, contact me and we can discuss your options. Because there are plenty. It is a fun group and there will be folks who are there for sightseeing and biking, so don’t feel as if you need to be a mountaineer. Click for info.


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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.

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.