It was that time of year when Frank and I embark where I left off, good old downtown Damascus, Virginia. Notice the elevation we were facing on this leg.
We overnighted at the Dancing Bear Lodge and left early the following morning after completing a car shuttle. It is roughly 80 miles via Trail to Atkins Virginia. Our first morning saw some pretty good climbing.
The views climbing up out of Damascus along the creeper Trail are, well you can see.
I was weighing in at 37 lbs. Approximately 10 lbs. of which was my food weight. Of course Frank was at 25.
Our first night was by a clear mountain stream. The temperatures dropped into the lower 40s. I was carrying a warm bag and appreciated it that particular evening and the next. But not so much later in the trip when my sticky legs were welded together like velcro.
That’s me hiking with the livestock prior to the big climb up to Buzzard Roost.
That’s Frank emerging from the heath toward the summit of buzzard roost.
Tuesday would end up being our monster pull. I would say it’s one of the toughest sections of the Appalachian Trail I can remember. We ascended to a place called Buzzard Rock. It was over 2,200 ft of climbing. With full packs this was quite the chore but our weather was ideal. Here is a look at the elevation profile of that particular climb.
The work was hard but the pay is good as you will see from these views.
After a short rest it was time to get back after it.
We had miles to go before we slept that day. It was going to be another 14 miler.
Our original plan was to camp at elk garden until we learned there was no water in the vicinity. We found a suitable spot a couple of miles on up the trail towards Grayson Highlands. this cowboy spot would have been perfect had it not been for the water hole being six tenths of a mile down the hill. he was getting dark and by the time we made the second run down to the bottom of the hill to fetch water after 14 miles we were joined by JB. He was out for one night and started a beautiful fire on another crisp and cool evening. We enjoyed his company and conversation.
JB has traveled the world trekking and exploring so we had a lot to talk about. He owns a river guide service called oars.
We Rose the next morning to make the acsent to Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. I’ve been to Mount Rogers several times and the Grayson Highlands area. It is a high Alpine environment, reminiscent of somewhere out west.
Ponies are an iconic part of the Grayson Highlands landscape. Unfortunately, they had rounded up most of them the day before our arrival.
On this, our third day, we missed a turn somewhere. It added to our mileage. We overshot the trail to the tune of a mile, which is aggravating to say the least. This night found us dragging into the Old Orchard shelter. Great camping was to be found here and we knew of this thanks to the ranger who apprised us the previous day. The stars and moon were blazing. The old Orchard campsite was one of the highlights of this trip. Sadly, we were never too far from the sound of traffic noise. Modified muffler cars and Harley-Davidsons sometimes ruin the wilderness experience.
I’m getting older and it’s a point that is driven home on some of these treks. We ended up hiking with a bunch of young guys who were 29 and 30 years old. Granted, I hike most of the time by myself and so did Frank, but we would always end up in camps together. There are things that I forget sometimes. They say that successful mountaineers must have short memories. I’m not that successful but I certainly forget how much pain each previous expedition was. And so it is with these A.T. backpacking journeys. This was one of the more difficult sections I could remember. If you look at the elevation profile it’s self-explanatory. There were many 15 Mile days if you count the backtracks, turnarounds and water fetchings. But our weather was splendid and I watched Fall happen every night before my eyes.
That’s me and Senator Tim Kaine, the Man who would have been vice President of the United States. Not really but it could have been. He does look like him. And I had Frank convinced that’s who it was. Then he tried to convince us that he was. We camped with these guys three out of five nights.
Such variety of scenery and topography. And to see fall emerge before our eyes. This is what I call the good good.
Our fourth night was at the Trinity shelter and it was kind of crowded. We were sharing it with an outdoor wilderness School of teenage girls. So this made for some cramped camping conditions. As you know I’m generally averse to shelter staying anyway. But it is fairly safe to assume that none of us slept well that night due to the snoring of an unnamed man we will just call Larry.
Our final push was into the last shelter called partnership shelter. this is without a doubt one of the nicest shelters I have ever seen. this night we opted to actually sleep in the shelter given its amenities. That in the impending threat of huge rain. To this point we had unparalleled weather. But a hurricane in the gulf was stirring some things up. partnership shelter is also known as a place for being able to receive pizza delivery. So we all were anticipating this luxury after 5 days on the trail. And of course our eyes were bigger than our stomach.
When they said 28-in Pizza they really meant it. I scarf down eight pieces in one quick swell. Frank ate about six. We were able to give some away to a through hiker, and the rest was donated to the girls outdoor wilderness group when they came rolling in later. Those young ladies were very appreciative. We also hung with two guys who were hucking old school rucksacks. Mark and Zulu were doing a section to Harper’s Ferry. They are intrepid adventurers taking off with old school, heavy gear. But I didn’t hear a single complaint from them. Glad to have shared camps with these fellers. It is a grand section so let’s end with a bit of Gabriella doing what she does best.
That’s legendary triple crowner Bert Emerson there. I was joined by him and Richard for a quick hit overnight on Friday. We left Maryville and headed in for our most used spot.
At 71 years of age this guy has not slowed down a bit. Three times on the Appalachian Trail, three times on the Continental divide, and three times on the PCT. Them’s impressive stats in anyone’s book.
When Rambo is in camp you will not go hungry.
The temperatures have cooled off perfectly. I slept like a log in my new tent. We rose early to get out and back into town so I could begin the second part of my weekend.
There was some homemade Tabasco sauce to be dealt with. I grew a variety of super hot peppers this summer. Ghost, Tabasco, and Scorpion.
This set me up perfectly for Sunday morning’s activities.
Scotty Bower is making his first lap at the Obed. I was delighted to escort him on his first trip to the area. We had the place to ourselves for a good hour and a half before the mongrel hordes invaded.
Soon we were joined by Micah, Catherine and Mikayla. Scotty had to be back in Knoxville so we drifted on over to the North Clear area of the Obed. Here can be found some great traditional climbing lines along with little used pieces of sandstone.
That’s Micah putting up a trad line on a route named “Beer 30”.
Getting into North clear means negotiating an obstacle known as The squeeze ledge.
We are so blessed to have this amount of outdoor activity in our region. The Obed is world-class climbing.
I hope that everyone is enjoying this beautiful weather. Backpacking season is on.√
Myers organized this outing. He has a group of friends that were in grammar school together. And all these guys are still reuniting annually. Pretty impressive giving their advanced ages. One of them, Joe owns land on the Holston River. That is where we embarked this beautiful and hot Saturday afternoon.
(I know, it looks like a casting call for Deliverance.)
I am ever eyeing potential climbing spots. There’s some really good bluff line down along that section.
When Seth is in tow you know the photography is going to be exceptional.
This was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip. the largest bald eagle I have ever encountered swooped down over us and landed in a tree hanging over the river. He posed for us for a good while. We floated five and a half miles down to the Indian cave. Like Tom and Huck we were on our Mississippis. This summer has been a river for me. From my bike ride along the Missouri, to my home along the Tennessee. The Holston and French broad feed this water. I’m reminded of a poem by Langston Hughes. I will include it at the end.
Although it was a short outing I very much needed some time along the waterway. It was good to hang out with Myers and Seth again. Myers friends are very interesting characters. You can feel the history between them.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Old Brian Moran learned quickly that people here in Knoxville know him as Broad Peak Brian.( I just call him Bugsy.)
And most everyone who knows me knows why. But for those of you who don’t, here is a brief explanation. It was Brian who was with me on that ill-fated trip to Broad Peak Pakistan in 2013. Just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong on that expedition,. not the least of which was Brian taking a hundred foot spill at 20000 feet. The result was his leg shattered. The rest of the story would take too long for me to tell you right now. Which is why I put it in book form and you may purchase a copy at this link. https://www.amazon.com/Tempting-Throne-Room-Surviving-Pakistans/dp/1494845849
Brian and I have traveled the world chasing mountains. Sadly, Broad Peak was Brian’s last mountain. The results of his injury have relegated him to road biking and low-impact activities. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still hard-charging. For instance last week he rode 300 miles on his bike in 2 days. Brian lives in Griffin Georgia. along with his beautiful wife Ashley and their wonderful daughter Jhola. Jhola is named after the second campsite we stayed in route to Broad Peak / K2.
It has been several years since he and I were able to hang out. And we made up for lost time this beautiful weekend
. But first there was some business to attend. Kelly Brown organized this River Bluff clean up. it’s a new climbing area we’re trying to develop for the city. (That’s Kelly to my right). we hauled out about 1200 lb of trash early Saturday morning. Mostly beer and liquor detritus. It was a great turnout and I appreciate everyone’s help. That place has been so dirty for so long that it felt really good to give it some breathing room.
When I returned, Brian and I took off on the dirty South loop mountain biking. As Brian would later concede, mountain biking and road biking are very different animals. There’s about 1,700 feet of elevation on that loop. And in the middle you have the opportunity to swim at Meade’s Quarry.
Sunday we got up and headed to Loyston where I introduced him to the flow of that Norris goodness. I suppose we’d done about 28 miles of mountain biking by that time in our weekend. Sustenance was in order and Brian brought up steaks and okra. Living like kings we were on this gorgeous low-humidity weekend. Brian was impressed with Knoxville and it’s burgeoning outdoor scene. As a biker he appreciates the activity at Baker Creek. Waterways, climbing, hiking, our great city really has it all.
Ijams crag is home climbing. And Brian killed!
Really was great to have him up this weekend so we could reconnect and share old mountain stories. Brian and I have climbed Elbrus in Russia, multiple peaks in Peru ,Muztagh Ata in China and Broad Peak in Pakistan. We met in Alaska while climbing the most beautiful mountain on earth, Denali. An interesting story there is that Brian summited a day after my team and got stuck on the mountain a full week longer in the storm we were racing out. Even though on different expeditions, we passed each other up that mountain and bonded in the beauty of the Alaska range. I’m very thankful for his friendship these many years. I would like to conclude by congratulating some other folks who celebrated a tremendous milestone last week.
My parents have been together for 57 years. Unbelievable in modern times. I am fortunate to have them in such good health. Last week our family celebrated their time together in Morristown over a meal at the infamous Little Dutch Restaurant. I wish everyone a happy and prosperous week. Fall is in the air!
Frank has been trying to get Myers out for over a year. Last weekend was a rattlesnake epic with my brother, Todd. I will tell you about that at the end of this post.
This time, he succeeded. We were joined by Nick, Houston, Curt who came up from Pretty Hollow Gap and Richard.
There is no shortage of shared camp duties when Nick and Richard are in tow.
These are Myer’s photos.
Houston’s friend, Mark replaced our friend Mark, who lost his battle with fear and the rain.
This is probably where I am telling the story about how my rear end was hanging out of my down suit.
This is Myers abode. It has lights so he can find it in the dark. But sometimes, that doesn’t matter. They won’t keep you from flipping out of it in the middle of the night and dislocating your shoulder.
That’s why we had a laser. And Richard took it atop the tower for some evening fun.
These last two pictures are mine.
The weather was favorable to us. a grand time we had on the highest campsite in the great Smoky mountains national Park.
Laundry was done!
Thanks Myers for your photographic contributions.
Black MTN. Aug 8-9 (below my brother, Todd, looks on as Heather and Micah discuss the beauty of this place)
The weekend before was a rattlesnake epic. I was accompanied by my brother and his friend from Los Angeles, David Park. As we backpacked in past this gorgeous sandstone which is quickly becoming my favorite, we established camp along the Cumberland Trail. A water run was in order, so we set off back down the loop toward the Springhouse. Todd and David turned around halfway when we realized it was getting dark and they could work on firewood while I collected water. As I approached the springhouse, the familiar voices of Seth and Heather Dortch approached and we all filled our satchels to the brim with gurgling goodness from the top of the mountain. Sloshing back toward the trail and camp, I was greeted with hollering from my brother and David. They had been stopped by one of the biggest timber rattlers I have ever seen. They almost stepped on him. This yellow feller had thirteen rattles and the picture does not do him justice.
This is the second rattlesnake we encountered the following day. It was smaller than the first. The markings are nearly identical. There must be a den somewhere near the springhouse.
These climbing shots are the product of Seth Dortch photography.
Back to back backpacking weekends. This has been a great summer.
Some 30+ years ago, while but a green, wide eyed aspiring climber, I accepted an invite to do my first true rock ascent. John Thuren mentored me in this place we called Crab Orchard. I barely remember much but the drive and difficulty for a 20 something with zero experience and even less aptitude.
Now, I have considerably more experience and about the same aptitude. My technical climbing skills plateaued some years back. Micah McCrotty and Frank Harvey escorted us to this conglomerate sandstone paradise alongside the Cumberland trail.
Richard listens intently as Frank explains some history, of which he is an integral portion. You see, Frank is descended of Smokies royalty. His grandfather was Carlos Campbell. If you are not familiar, I suggest a Google search.
Richard flashes this spire. They are all fantastic.
Micah was our lead stud, though. He is a great teacher for all of us. Strange considering he wasn’t born the first time I climbed here. Goes to show that we are and should always remain teachable
Lead climbing is a whole different animal.
Yours truly lovin every minute of it.
Other than the flies and heat, we thoroughly tore it up.
When you end with a view like this, the day is a success. Richard killed it. This was his initiation, like mine. Hopefully he will not wait another 30 years before returning. Because then he would be like 90.
I was certain that Myers and I were headed into the storm. The radar was undeniable. A massive front was heading our way. We packed tarps, clothing, boots and wet weather sundries. Then we dealt with the Cade’s Cove loop traffic. And up for 6 plus miles we climbed. 3000 feet worth. I was weighing in at 50 lbs. Myers was probably more like 60.
(These are Myers photos, by the way, he really outdid himself on this trip)
This is my new tent, courtesy of Heather and Seth Dortch, my neighbors. They knew I had been eying it and bought it for my birthday on June 28. It is a Six Moons Design Skyscape Trekker. Weighing in at 26 ounces, it uses your hiking poles, which I forgot. Fortunately, Mark let me borrow his. I absolutely love this tent. It is super roomy, great big vestibules and plenty of head space. Thank you, Seth and Heather.
They’re still bloomin.
Another view of my room with a view.
That’s a ring-necked snake. I saw quite a few snakes on this journey.
We descended via Parson’s Branch road. It isn’t in great shape.
All I could think about was this. And man, was it refreshing.
So, in summary, an excellent adventure with views beyond description. Myers killed it on the photography (some of these are mine, but the good ones are Myers with a few of Mark’s thrown in).
I’ve been on a climbing spate of late.
Thanks to Seth and his photography. He’s gotten the bug.
If we get out this afternoon after work it will be 4 days in a row. Two at the obed and two at Ijams crag. It is after all climbing weather.
When you’ve got views like this in the middle of the week that heat is really not much of an issue.
That’s Micah finishing my lead for me on a 10a at Lily Bluff.
Seth goes the extra mile to make us look good on the rock.
Then you get to take a dunk in the wild and scenic river. Do you people know that world-class climbing is in our backyard?
Of course it helps to have the guy who wrote the guidebook with you.
Summertime, and the living is easy!
When Mark graciously invited me to join him on this rail-to-trail adventure, I was hesitant primarily because I didn’t have the right bicycle. But when his son, Andrew, offered to loan me a bike and Mark’s girlfriend, Stephanie, provided pannier bags, the ride was on.
We drove from Knoxville to St. Charles Missouri early in the morning. That afternoon we started our first ride which was to do an out and back from St-Charles to Machen . It was good to stretch our legs after eight and a half hours in the car. This provided a snapshot of what to expect in our next 260 +miles of Trail.
Bikepacking is much like backpacking in that you need to be light to be happy. My gear was weighing in at 30 + pounds. Our intention was to camp most of the time. So the next morning we rose early to mill about town, visit the Lewis and Clark museum and catch a 1 pm shuttle west.. We were taken to the other side of the state where we set up camp in the town of Clinton, MO. The folks of this kind hamlet were gracious enough to allow us to camp out in the community center grass sans fee. Fortunately we had the sense to put up under the aluminum awning with the picnic tables because it came one heck of a storm. There’s nothing like the sound of rain on aluminum when you’re underneath it until the lightning cracks.
Little did we know that would be the last rain we would see for the entire trip. This was not what the radar indicated, however. And thanks to the assistance of our global Myers Morton positioning system, we had accurate weather updates every day due to his text alerts. It really was helpful because there were days when I could not get internet service and barely had cell service.
39 miles was a pretty good chunk to me but nothing for good old Mark Jones. He was my mentor and a veteran of several of these type of junkets. Every detail was meticulously plotted by him in advance. Having that much gear on a bicycle makes for some interesting uphill travel as we experienced those first two days.
The second night, in conjunction with the Myers meterological updates saw a change in plans. As I mentioned the weather seemed to be following us. Radar showed a big storm advancing. We initially pulled into the Sedalia fairgrounds where we intended to camp. But realizing the severity of the storm the night before we opted to check on hotel prices. After a conversation with the front desk at the hotel Bothwell, an historic property which President Truman had visited, the negotiations resulted in a room for the both of us in this luxurious hotel.
We became engulfed in a wedding party that absorbed the entire area. Both of us slept very peacefully in anticipation of another 41 mile day. Or what mark would describe as a 30-mile day.
Sometimes we would have to weave through towns to get back on the trail. Mark was easy to follow in his yellow gear.
This third day was easier riding even though it felt like we had the entiretrail to ourselves because essentially we did. The absence of end-to-end riders was curious to me. In fact we were the only two people who were riding the entire length of the Katy Trail, save for a couple who was doing it on e-bikes. (Battery assisted). Maybe it was a function of COVID or the time of year or a little of both.
We rode on past Booneville in to Franklin which was across the river and in the middle of nowhere. I will heretofore refer to this as mosquito camp. Which we curiously shared with no one, despite what Mark says.
This is definitely a quaint little campground and I probably enjoyed it as much as any from the safety of bug netting thanks to Frank Whitehead and the MSR hubba hubba tent body he donated to me. As I settled in for the evening, having secured all of my biking essentials to a pole, the shadow of some familiar creature crossed my periphery, necessitating a near-naked run back to my bicycle for the food stash. Raccoons leave an unmistakable profile.
( Skeeter/coon camp)
Mark and I were very much social distancing.
There’s no shortage of interesting sites along the Katy Trail. Mark informed me that all of these boats were belonging to one individual who rode them up and down the Missouri River. Much of the time you would be riding in the canopy of trees and sometimes along the shoulder of the river. Other times you would be out in the middle of endless corn fields and pastures.
Among the wildlife we ran into and nearly over was snakes, snapping turtles, 1 million rabbits, 10 billion squirrels, hawks, lizards and an injured deer.
Not that didn’t we didn’t encounter some reroutes. These are what make for adventure.
June 22nd was our most intense day. 63 miles worth. You can see from my Strava profile that we earned any type of food or beverage of which there was none in this tiny hamlet that reminds me of Bulls Gap, TN. We came rolling through the capital, or outskirts thereof the following day. We did not even eat dinner that night, which didn’t matter because everyone was so knackered that we crashed early after our tour of the town.
Unbeknownst to me Mark had encountered a flat tire. This would dog him later on in the trip. I settled into our bunkhouse stay at Tebbetts station. When Mark finally came rolling in he had been offered assistance from our bunk mates for the night.
We met a group who was doing a large section of the Katy Trail and would be joined by them for the rest of our sojourn. As it turns out one of the men from Alaska was named Tom Wickwire. If that last name rings a bell it should. Jim Wickwire is a famous mountaineer and the first American to summit mighty K2. Tom is his cousin.
We also met a man named Jim who owned what used to be the only bar in town. He took us on a tour of what used to be the bank and his storage building that contains two or three model A and model T cars. My Dad is a car collector so I was eager to photograph these.
These are the kind of experiences that make a journey like this a real adventure.
It was important to get a good night’s sleep though because we had another long day coming up. We were headed to Marthasville. This was one of my more enjoyable days as the weather seemed to have cooled off a bit from 90 down into the low 80s or upper 70s.
On this day Mark and I managed to ride together when he had his next flat. We spent some time that morning doing some what I call forensic flat- ology. There was a small barb that penetrated his tire into the tube. We managed to get him patched up and on into Marthasville. I was really starting to feel my stride now. Previously some of the miles had felt a little taxing. But I was getting in what we call “Trail shape”. Just trying to keep up with Mark who was there already.
We passed our friends from the previous night who were going assisted on their sections of the Katy Trail. They were gracious enough to provide cool drinks for us upon arrival in their support RV. Very nice folks from the St Louis area, I hope we can ride with them again.
That’s my tent there along the baseball field, we had to wait for them to finish playing a game to set up. It cost $5 to camp here.
On June 24th we did a shorter day, only 41.3 miles.
Mark and I took off and left our friends and ended up having a hotdog for lunch in some little way station. It was more of a biker bar really.
These photos were obviously taken by Mark because he beat me back to the car. It had gotten hot again on our final day.
After celebrating with our friends that afternoon we retired to a hotel and rose early the next morning to visit Daniel Boone’s home.
Highlights for me on this trip was spending time with Mark, who shares my political values and otherwise, channeling Lewis and Clark and visiting their museum, meandering along the Missouri River, and generally feeling the flow of Missouri in my veins. The journey exceeded my expectations and I’m very grateful to Mark and to his son Andrew for allowing me to borrow their vehicles to get there. Special thanks to Stephanie Welch for donating the pannier bags temporarily. I highly recommend this journey. I will end with a video Mark shot along the way.
On Thursday I will embark for the Katy Trail under the tutelage of Mark Jones. (ignore the dates on this map, I snatched it from the web) We will attempt to ride from Clinton Missouri to St. Charles on road bikes, camping along the way. I am excited about this new adventure and will be posting updates to my instagram feed which can be found here. https://www.instagram.com/johnwquillen/
The Katy Trail is a rail to trail which parallels the path of Lewis and Clark. In that vein, I am posting my favorite guitar solo by the same name by the greatest guitarist alive, Mr. Tommy Emmanuel. Please close your eyes and enjoy this musical journey.