Speaking of Everest-the Obed.

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I’ve had a very active few weeks since May 23. Work resumed with a fevered pitch and to date I have made several engagements speaking of our time on earth’s highest peak. This past week found me speaking at Kiwanis Alcoa with old and new friends. Everyone had great questions and uncanny insight as to the process of acclimatizing and preparation for Everest.

Laurel, Longstreet and I spent this weekend getting back to our roots at the Obed. It was a great weather window that allowed us to pull on this magnificent sandstone. It was somewhat crowded and I didn’t realize that one of my favorite areas over there, Little Clear, has been closed as it crosses public lands and the landowner was fearful of being sued should someone get hurt. That’s a shame because it isn’t true. Tennessee has a statute entitled the Tennessee Recreational Use act that protects landholders against this type of liability but folks often are fearful in our litigious society. It happened at Craghead in Knoxville several years ago.

I did laps on one route all afternoon Saturday.  Laurel made a few herself.  Longstreet?

He is leading a 5.6 here

Laurel was quite proud of her four pawed free climber.  We camped out at Del and Martee’s and enjoyed a wonderful, star lit evening.

Great weekend all around.




The Noland Creek Affair

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We were back in Bryson City again this weekend at the invitation of Myers and a crew he assembled. Laurel came up from Athens and I drove over the mtn from Maryville. It is approximately halfway for us and we enjoy the area. Having departed from work on Friday we parked Laurel’s car downtown, drove up into the park and began our five mile walk into a campsite five miles up a very swollen Noland River.  This was where I made my first bad decision of the weekend.  Having erroneously concluded that Laurel was close behind I marched on into the darkess at a steady clip.P1080689

I got into a hiking groove and wanted to beat fading light but failed on that level and one other.  Sorry, Laurel.  So I arrive to a warming fire with Myers, Mark and Nick. Two dripping wet backpackers had preceded me by thirty minutes having dropped down from the dome.  Now think about this for a minute.  The day of flooding rains, they made three very dangerous crossings.  Mark and Gary looked a fright but earned their red trail stripes on Friday making a harrowing ford of an otherwise impassable water crossing.  And they lived to tell about it.  And tell about it they did!  I’m glad no one was seriously injured.


Soon Laurel arrived and informed me that she doesn’t enjoy solo night hiking. Once we got that miscommunication squared away It was a very pleasant evening and no company outside our group was to be counted at good old 68.


(I felt like we walked into Christmas, it was merely Myer’s hammockery luminating-photo by J. Myers Morton)



The next morning, Myers, Nick and Mark left to ascend Springhouse Branch and wind up at campsite 74.  Mark and Gary were slated to press down to 67 and meet friends while Laurel and I were undecided.  Eventually we walked back out to the road to nowhere and took a few minutes of deliberation at the trailhead and car.  It was decided that no major decisions should be made until we had lunch, which was the final bad decision of this trip.  Driving down into Bryson City, hungry as hostages, we somehow agreed that chicken wings would make for an appropriate backpacker’s lunch.  On a sweltering summer afternoon, with three miles more to hike later in the day with full packs, our decision was widely and roundly lamented.  The lamentations did not end until late Sunday evening.  Chicken wings are not hiking food.  And they may be removed from my palate rotation for a while to come.

We shouldered packs once again and set towards campsite 74 to intercept Myers, Mark and Nick. The three miles is undulating and quite boring. Laurel and I just wanted to get somewhere and forget about chicken wings but with every tortuous step out the Lakeshore Trail proffered consistent reminder of our culinary indiscretion. The wings sought their revenge by clipping ours.



If Myers looks gut punched it is because he says that Springhouse branch kicked his tail.  So much so that he had to jettison weight. There will be some happy hikers somewhere up Springhouse Branch soon.tn_IMG_4201

(Photo by J.Myers Morton)

We had a delightful evening around a roaring fire that Nick the former Eagle Scout devised. Everyone went to bed rather early, except me and Myers.  Our second night out was peaceful and relaxing if you don’t count the political arguments that were hotly debated.  The spectre of chicken wings was losing its grip on me as the clock turned midnight.


tn_P1080705 (I don’t have the slightest idea either)

Sunday morning found me at the start of this .22 mile tunnel that signifies the end of the Lakeshore Trail and road to nowhere. Very little remained to remind me of the wings.  Laurel split off and captured the bypass trail for new mileage and a copperhead sighting.  Guess who I ran into at the end of the tunnel?  It was Mark, Gary and their friends who were coming out of campsite 67. Carl, who was at Hangover with us last fall had a video of a rattlesnake that slithered into their camp and crawled right over their sitting log.  It was pretty wild.  Rattlesnakes know they are kings of their domain, I remember seeing that happen over on lower Gregory’s trail once upon a time.


Every time I walk through here it takes me to a sensory deprivation place and I expect to walk out into some level of the Matrix.  The only matrix I hit was the world of Mark Cooke and his crew who had cold soft drinks in their vehicle for us.  That is my kind of matrix!

16 backpacking miles this weekend, no new miles for me.  I skipped the only new, second map miles I needed last weekend to hike out with Laurel and spend more time with this wonderful woman. Perhaps by reminding her of this I will receive forgiveness for other weekend night hiking and lunch choice oversights.  Many thanks to Myers for the invite.

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.