Ca$h’s Newest Fee Scheme “Eclipses” all Smokies Fee Schemes.

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Great Smoky Mountains News Release
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Contact:   Dana Soehn, Dana_Soehn@nps.gov, 865-436-1207
Jamie Sanders, Jamie_Sanders@nps.gov, 865-436-1203
Park Announces Solar Eclipse Event
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced event plans for the Great American Total Eclipse occurring on Monday, August 21, 2017. The park is offering an opportunity to experience the total eclipse through a special, ticketed event at Clingmans Dome as well as informal eclipse viewing sites at Cades Cove and Oconaluftee. The park is partnering with NASA, Southwestern Community College, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to provide a special program with featured speakers and storytellers that help explain the science and cultural connection to this unique natural event at Clingmans Dome.
At 6,643 feet in elevation, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park and offers the unique possibility of seeing the moon’s shadow approaching across the landscape. The area will be closed to all public vehicle traffic to better accommodate a safe, memorable experience for about 1,325 ticketed participants. The parking area will be converted into the special event site that will include a jumbotron screen for participating in a national NASA TV broadcast, telescopes, educational exhibits, and stage for special featured speakers.
“We are thrilled that the park lies within the narrow viewing band of this spectacular, natural phenomena,” said Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan. “I have great memories of the time I experienced a partial solar eclipse as a child and I am thrilled to view my first total eclipse from the top of the Smokies in the company of a passionate group of visitors.”
Beginning on March 1, tickets will be available for purchase on a first come first serve basis through www.recreation.gov for $30.00 each. You must have a ticket to attend the event at Clingmans Dome. Participants will be shuttled to the site from Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC by coach bus. The Clingmans Dome tower itself will be reserved for the media and live broadcasting teams to share the experience with the widest audience possible. Special presentations and activities will take place during the approximately three-hour period in the afternoon when the sun will be partially and, for a brief time, totally obscured by the moon.
With a full schedule of entertaining and educational programs, park rangers and partners are working together to provide a worthwhile experience, even if the sun is obscured by clouds on the day of the event. While a unique experience, the Clingmans Dome location does present logistical challenges that visitors must consider before making a reservation. Due to its remote outdoor location, an inflexible transportation schedule, and limited service facilities on site, interested visitors should closely review event details and consider which of the park opportunities, among many other planned eclipse events in surrounding communities, would best fit each personal situation. Visitors should also note that park roads, including Newfound Gap Road, may close on the day of the event depending on traffic congestion. For more information about the solar eclipse events, please call the information line at 865-436-1585 or visit the park website athttps://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm.

Old Settlers, yet again Feb 17-19

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Yes, we went back for two nights, Friday and Saturday.  I finished the long part of that section along with Myers and Rob. Those were needed second lap miles for me and first lap for Rob.

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tn_Feb 20 2017 188 (2) We walked the 11.6 from camp out to Maddron.  Then Laurel and Terry picked us up and shuttled us back around to the manway.

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tn_Feb 20 2017 151 (2) Rob has a new pack.

tn_IMG_3823 Myers did all these photos.  Then he got a nasty stomach bug, and transferred it to Rob.

 

Below is a summary of our mtg with Morgan Co.  The SFW is proud to fight fees in the state of TN.

 

AA+A

By Joe King

Visitors to Morgan County asked the commission for their support in opposition to a proposed fee at Frozen Head State Park, and they got it.

<div class="source">JOE KING/MORGAN COUNTY NEWS</div><div class="image-desc">Morgan County Tourist Scott Noethen of Knoxville makes his opposition to the fee known to the county commission. </div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="/photo_select/37843">Buy this photo</a></div>

JOE KING/MORGAN COUNTY NEWS
Morgan County Tourist Scott Noethen of Knoxville makes his opposition to the fee known to the county commission.

During Monday’s County Commission meeting several residents from nearby counties spoke out about a $10 per person proposed backpacking fee at Frozen Head State Park.

“If they want to charge for back-packing I won’t come back; I wouldn’t pay it on principal,” said John Quillen, an avid hiker and frequent Morgan County visitor.

Quillen and others opposed to the fee see it as an unjustified charge since state parks are public land and funded through tax dollars.

“The whole idea of double taxation and the amount of money that would be spent to enforce all of these fees, makes me think that it would be advantageous to put your resources toward something that would encourage people to visit rather than deter them,” added another Morgan County hiker, Scott Noethen, of Knoxville.

Noethen said if the fee were implemented he would bypass any Frozen Head trips and use Big South Fork instead. Quillen added that when he comes to hike he often spends money locally on food, gas and other supplies, which would be money lost to the county.

The Commission heard their visitors’ concerns and took action. The Commission agreed to write a resolution stating its official opposition to the fee and vote on it next month. The Commission then decided to vote to let their opposition of the fee be known prior to the next meeting, as to accelerate any impact the local government body may have in stopping the fee.

“I think the fee is going to hurt Morgan County,” said Morgan County Commissioner Jerry Zorsch, who heads the tourism committee. “It will be another thing to make the park difficult to access, especially for young people. I think it’s going to hurt us overall.”

Morgan County Commissioner David Hennessee, who is involved in many local nature-preservation groups, agrees the fee is a bad idea for Morgan County.

“I don’t think you should charge any fees at Frozen Head,’ Hennessee said. “It would decrease our tourism, and we need to increase our tourism. I don’t think you’ll find anybody in Morgan County that would favor this fee.”

The response from the Commission encouraged visitors, who said they would no longer travel to Frozen Head if the fee takes hold.

“I’m thrilled that the commission was on board,” said Loral Dunn of Knoxville. “They seem to have the same stand that we are getting taxed twice. It’s our land. As taxpayers, it is public land. I was very excited to see the enthusiasm they had against the fee.”

Quillin, who said he has been fighting fees in parks for years, said he’s not sure what impact the commission can have, but hopes that others will make their opposition to the fee known by contacting their local representatives.

“This very much impacts Morgan County economically,” Quillin said. “I think the state would be remised not to incorporate comments from the local political body. The only people who support this fee are the bureaucrats who will get paid as a result of it.”

Morgan County Executive Don Edwards said he agreed with the commission and opposes the fee, as he believes it will negatively impact visitation to the park.

A representative from the park did not return a Tuesday morning call for comment about the fee prior to the Tuesday afternoon press time.

Freezing Frozen Head’s Backcountry Tax

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NOliner

http://www.morgancountynews.net/content/county-opposes-frozen-head-park-fee

Last night I was proud to stand with fellow SFW members, Myers Morton, Gregg Bostick, Laurel Dunn and Scott Noethen as we presented our concerns about the Frozen Head Backcountry Fee set to implement April 1 before the Morgan County Commission meeting. Morgan County citizens can be proud of their elected representatives as they made a strong statement condemning the fee by means of a resolution and resolved to approach the State delegation in hopes of getting it stopped permanently.

Apparently Frozen Head had tried to sneak these fees in before in the form of an entrance tax. So we had an audience primed. It was a great success for public lands users but the fight isn’t over. Frozen Head will buck them tooth and nail. Keep up your pressure on your state senators/legislators. I have asked my rep, Becky Massey to consider legislation to stop this trend of backcountry fees through the legislature.

Unless you are ready to see these fees in YOUR state park, I suggest you contact your representative as well. The iron is hot. Frozen Head was looking at 10 bucks per person. That’s $40 for a family of four FOR ONE NIGHT! Do you think that families will spend that to sleep on unimproved ground? Of course they won’t. Two nights is $80. They will simply go to Dollywood. Remember, YOUR taxes paid for this land. YOur taxes pay the salaries of these FEE drunks public lands managers. And YOUR taxes give them the power to do so. Take back public lands and help us keep them in public hands. Don’t know your legislator? Find it HERE      “http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/”>

 

 

Frozen Head

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It has probably been twenty years since I wandered into this place. I remember going in there with Wendi and we hiked a good loop and spent the night somewhere. When a break in this usual January dreariness happened, I wished to go outside the Smokies and this was the result.

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Comes by the name honestly.  It was cold but sunny.  The wind was consistent as we embarked along what ended up being 1800 feet of climbing in about 3.5 miles.

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I knew that I could conscript Laurel with a hound friendly area.

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I was reminded of the regional beauty of Wartburg. Proximity to Knoxville is one hour from downtown and it was the opposite direction of Maryville. I drive to Maryville daily and any opportunity to go in another direction is appreciated.
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It was a climb, though and my thighs remembered the joys of toting a true Highlander pack. Still we found solitude and a fantastic campsite high along a 4000 foot ridge.
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By now the wind had increased and as Laurel set up the tent, I walked about in search of the two W’s, water and wood. The latter was no trouble, this spot had obviously seen no action in months. Water took some walking. But it was there as well.
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You see strange things in the backcountry.  I guess Indians were on our trail.

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Good thing we had hound protection.  It was a bit chilly for Longstreet so he took to running the hills till he figured supper time approached.

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Not much on the wood gathering, this mutt, though.
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Sunset was amazing and we braved the wind to soak in full effect.
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So pervasive was the wind, our fire conferred little benefit. Longstreet chilled down some.
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At about 7 pm, the hound decided it was time for everyone to bed down. Problem was, we were not ready. All I could see were his eyes glowing in the dark over by the tent, where he wished to escape the wind. The temperature was in the high twenties and you could certainly feel it.
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Wasn’t that a bodacious sunset?
After a one dog night, wherein the hound crawled into a sleeping bag, (and not with me, I might emphatically interject) Sunday morning rolled in with snow flurries. We hurriedly packed in hopes of catching the buffet at Bombay, Knoxville’s best Indian Restaurant.

And with that, we concluded our ascent in Frozen Head with frozen hands and feet. However, there was one sad reminder of things. I can’t seem to escape it.
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We are moving to get this fee stopped. Please email these Morgan County commissioners to express your concerns. defreels@live.com; jadkisson01@gmail.com; jerry5th@highland.net; mmcgrath@highland.net; pgoad51944@gmail.com; rachelee@highland.net; hennesseed@mcsmail.net

Retired Smokies ranger makes strong accusations against park in fatal bear mauling

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The following was posted on the facebook page of Jerry Grubb, who identifies himself as the ranger who euthanized the bears that were responsible for the only documented fatal mauling in the Smokies in 2000.  I am publishing the entirety of his post.  https://www.facebook.com/SFW.hh.13/posts/1245289758872023

I have been asked why I have so much animosity towards the park service regarding this fire. I guess I should attempt to explain my position.  This is quite lengthy for a Facebook read, but here goes. This incident is about 15 years old and happened in the Smokies while I was a Ranger there. I guess I am like Cash and trying to justify my actions that I thought at the time were exemplary without question.  I endured much stress, humiliation and embarrassment while I was struggling to defend my reputation as a professional ranger against accusations made by the Park Service against me that resulted in me being forced to retire early. There has been no closure for me on this and I continue to be pissed when something as this fire disaster triggers my emotions.
A bear attack occurred in the Smokies in 1999 that resulted in the death of a local school teacher. I responded to the attack along with two other rangers. The attack occurred about 1 ½ miles from the road. One of the rangers was at Elkmont and a lot closer and he was the first to respond. I and another ranger began gathering rescue equipment. The first ranger arrived at the Goshen Prong Bridge where the bear attack occurred. On his arrival he began calling for more assistance and to bring a long gun which would have been a rifle or shotgun. We had left our cruisers at the ranger station and our rifles and shotguns were left behind. He then told us to get up there. I and the other ranger began running up the trail to the attack scene. While we were running, the first ranger on scene could not be contacted by radio after several tries by our dispatch. We assumed this ranger was consumed by helping the victim and not able to answer the radio. I took over the situation and called for all the park rangers and others to respond. The run was 1 ½ miles that took us 27 minutes to get to the scene. We were wearing our gun belts, radio, bullet proof vest and street shoes which was a burden, but the adrenalin overcame this aggravation. We continued running without any communication from the first ranger. I have to add this note because my partner would insist I intentionally left this out. I had just turned 50 and he was 35 and I outran him but I really think he stopped to tie his shoes. 
As we ran up the trail people we met yelled at us to get there. When we arrived at the Goshen Prong Bridge, there were probably ½ dozen people standing along the trail looking out into the woods. I ran up and asked them where the ranger was and they pointed to him standing about 25-30 yards out in the woods with his arms crossed. I then asked where the bear was, and the individuals pointed directly in front of us. The side of the trail was grown over with brush and I could not see into the woods. I pulled my gun and busted through the brush at which time the woods opened up into an open canopy and I could see clearly the victim lying on her back and two bears hovering over her. I could also see the first ranger standing about 30 yards away. It was a surreal moment trying to digest what I was seeing with a ranger standing with his arms crossed while these bears were actually attacking a victim. It seemed like a long time, but was in fact only seconds, as I was running along a small trail towards the victim and the bears. I was able to get within about 12 feet of the bears and a small tree was blocking me from getting closer. The victim was lying on her back with the bigger of the two bears standing over her and was eating her face. The smaller bear was sitting immediately to her right on its back haunches. I wanted to kill both bears but I wanted them off of her regardless. I shot and killed both bears. End of story? Not hardly.
While this episode was going on at no time did the first ranger even draw his weapon or approach us as we were moving in to kill these bears. He had been on scene for a least 27 minutes and watched these bears eat the victim. According to the ex-husband, he had been throwing rocks and sticks at the bears keeping the bears off the victim while someone went to get help. He stated when the ranger arrived, the ranger then made him go to the trail and said the ranger did nothing while they all watched from the trail. The scene with this victim was horrifying at the least. This ranger made a statement later and said he thought the victim was already dead and was the reason he took no action and waited for a long gun.  Was this to mean he was going to watch the bear eat the victim until she was unrecognizable?
I have worked with many victims in a wide range of incidents that included hundreds of deaths from lightning strikes to motor vehicle accidents and body recoveries, but this has stuck with me for many years. Had the incident been handled as it should have I am sure there would have been closure and I would have accepted what had happened.
There were many questions to be answered not related to the ranger that was grossly negligent in doing his job. The victim’s ex-husband was there, the victim was in a wooded area way off the trail and why were the bears doing what they were doing. I immediately did an investigation to determine if this unwitnessed death resulted in an act of human homicide or actually a bear attack. I am trained in tracking and I was able to track the bear and the victim’s path to where I thought the attack began. After I tracked the bear, another ranger arrived and he independently tracked the bear also. Soon after that a wildlife resource management agent arrived and he also tracked the bear. During this investigation, we also found tracks indicating where the second bear was in relation to the attack. Post mortem wounds on the victim also indicated the victim was still alive when the bear attacked her. It was without a doubt this was a bear attack that led to the killing of the victim.
The victim had a backpack, but was left further down the trail. I instructed the ranger (and I use the term very loosely), who watched this attack, to walk the victim’s ex-husband back to the trailhead and I was adamant he get the victim’s pack that contained valuable evidence.
It was getting dark and the victim and the bears were removed. I went back to headquarters to share my investigation with our criminal investigator and get the victim’s backpack.  I was met in the hallway of the headquarters by my supervisor who then told me to “go home”.  I explained to him I had a lot of work to do on this investigation and he replied to me “there’s not going to be an investigation”. He explained to me this was a wildlife incident and there was not going to be an investigation and again told to me to go home. I argued with him and explained this was an unwitnessed death and I needed to get the victim’s backpack that I felt had critical evidence in it. He then told me he had sent the backpack home with the relatives and had not checked it for any evidence. He became visibly upset and again told me to go home. Needless to say critical evidence and information was lost as there was no investigation until the next morning when the NPS started covering their ass.
I was all to hell and went home, unable to sleep and disgusted with what was happening. I arrived the next morning to find there was a news conference held on the front of lawn of headquarters where the NPS Superintendent and his cronies gave the news media a report of what happened. The NPS response was that the victim and her ex-husband were in the park and there was a bear incident, but “they did not know what happened” and the incident was under investigation. The NPS “lied” to the media and continued to give misleading information regarding the bear attack.
I am here to tell you we knew “exactly what had happened”. I was the one that shot and killed the bears and was on scene and the information was confirmed by several trained rangers. The whole bear attack has been covered up with the NPS feeding the people false and capricious statements. As far as the investigation, I was the investigator and at no time have I been questioned by their investigator who was just another ranger that was nowhere near the scene when it happened. This ranger investigated for 10 months before a final statement was released it was a confirmed bear attack. No further narrative was given due to the time the NPS allowed for the smoke to clear with public at which time the next focus was to get rid of me.  An interesting note is the “investigating” ranger that took 10 months to investigate what all of us other rangers knew is now the “CHIEF RANGER” of the Smokies that has been promoted from a field ranger to the park’s CHIEF RANGER. He is one of the managers named in this fire fiasco regarding more false and misleading information and negligence. Just my observation, but it appears if you kiss the bottom, you will get to the top.
As for my personal situation, I was called in the office the morning after the news conference and accused of “stirring up shit”. It was at this very moment my park service career was compromised and I was forced into an early retirement. There is much more to this than I can put on this Facebook page. There are things that the backpack would have told us that has been kept secret and much more evidence that has been deleted from the report and until this day not been shared.  The ranger that refused to do his job which was to protect the visitors of the park was promoted to a Supervisory Position in another park, the ranger that did the colluded investigation is now the CHIEF RANGER of the Smokies, and the assistant superintendent at the time was then promoted to a Superintendent at another park. The United States Attorney’s office in Knoxville refused to allow my supervisor to remain in a law enforcement position because he lied during an investigation. He was transferred to another job where he was promoted after his law enforcement commission was revoked when he should have been fired.  I was forced to retire. I cannot share with you at this time the reason for all the collusion but is just more information than can be shared at this time. 
This fire fiasco is nothing less than another bear attack except this time you have 14 victims that died, hundreds more injured and the devastation off the chart. We now have the same narrative being given by Cash and now is endorsed by his crony and so called Senator Alexander. Are promotions in order here??? The response given by the government militia, and written in the Board of Inquiry said that during the bear attack where the ranger refused to even draw his weapon “did a good job”. He did ABSOLUTLEY NOTHING but, was commended and promoted, while I was accused of putting people’s lives in danger when I fired my weapon and killed the bears. Rather than being commended for my actions, the Chief Ranger stated to the newspapers in a facetious remark that I charged in like “John Wayne”, placing people at risk before evaluating the situation, while maintaining the other ranger did a good job. 
There are many more facts and details that have to be omitted as this story could be written as a book. I Am sure there will be many to view this story as fiction and question the facts as presented. That’s OK. Your city and county has just been burned to the ground because of complete negligence compounded by false and misleading information.  If there was any remorse shown by these park service clowns, it would be different. It was the same with the bear mauling where there was no remorse and just everybody trying to cover their ass by creating bureaucratic manipulation and lying to the public. Next time you see Cash and his lips are moving, you now know what he is saying. Animosity is just a mild way of putting how I feel about the NPS.
Although it has been 15 years, the facts can still be corroborated and I am sure the case file has been destroyed by the NPS.

Orizaba and the Mexican Volcanos. Summits, sun and snow.

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I reached the summit of 18,600 foot pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest point and North America’s third highest point at 8 am on Jan 4, 2017. My path to the summit went through la Malinche, detailed HERE.http://southernhighlanders.com/new/2016/12/29/summit-la-malinche

tn_p1060659Laurel was in great form as she and I ascended the old familiar and dormant volcano that had seen my ascent two years earlier. In fact, this whole trip wa a repeat of this sojourn. http://southernhighlanders.com/mexican_volcanoes.html

tn_p1060661Think I look like a bigfoot?  patterson-gimlin_film_frame_352
tn_p1060668La Malinche was a lot of fun. tn_p1060676 We rode a taxi from Puebla to make the summit in about 5 hours with about three for descent. tn_p1060678 It was a taxing climb straight out of Tn and no elevation. I was proud of Laurel for pushing through the scree field to the 14 k top of this formerly smoking giant. Ironically, la Malinche was named after a native who sold out to the Spaniards and helped them conquer and colonize Mexico. We had our taxi wait for us and then return to Puebla. This is a common acclimatization trip for Orizaba aspirants. You go from 10 k to 14 k and back down. Orizaba is, from the Grand Piedra, a 4600 foot climb from 14 to 18,600. That is huge elevation for a summmit day.

Returning to Puebla, we dined at the famous Mesones Sacristia de la Compagnia, where I stayed on the last trip. Their mole sauce is world famous and cheap. it was the best meal of our trip. Of course, I would proceed to catch a dose of Montezuma’s Revenge from a taco restaurant near the zocalo. That is to be expected of a John Q expedition. Speaking of the zocalo, were enjoyed the festive Christmas adornments and lively holiday atmosphere. img_20161226_193346234
The cathedral is one of the oldest in Mexico and is a reverent and peaceful place. We took a few days to recover from Malinche. Our thighs and quads were spent from all the ascent and downhill pounding. I thought it somewhat strange, given the rapidity of my last ascent without any residual soreness. Attributing it to old age, I ate vitamin I(buprophen) and walked off lactic acid as we toured the following site.

Cholula

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This is a huge pyramid, one of the largest in the world, supposedly. It was touted as a rival to Chichen Itza and Giza. I doubted this but we went there anyway. What we discovered was a purgatory of claustrophobic proportion. And to think we paid to walk through this underground tunnel for an eighth of a mile.
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I would have paid not to have experienced that enclosure. I am not easily unnerved but to have your head scrape the top of something and shoulders rub the side of underground passageways is quite suffocating. I am more of an uphill person, not a burial mound guy. Escape was necessary.

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We clamored for the heights and found the best view in Cholula. Again, a cathedral adorns the top of this former pyramid, reminiscent of the propensity to find Catholic edifices atop Christian sites in Israel and throughout the world.
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We caught sight of Popocoteptl, the unclimbable, currently erupting volcano and Iztacchuatel, a smoking giant at 17k. Our ultimate goal, however, was Orizaba. it shadowed us through another sightseeing side trip to the Mexican train museum. tn_p1060719

I recommend this trip in Puebla if you dig trains in any fashion. I inherited a love of trains from my Dad. Here, they have all manner of engines and cars that showcase the development of travel throughout Mexico. tn_p1060705
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By now we were ready to start making our way to Tlachichuca for our gateway to Orizaba via Maribel and Joaquin Concholas-Limon. Their Orizaba service is legendary and we became family the first time I lodged with them two years ago. Instead of boarding a bus and going through all the hassle therein, we decided to use something that has proven to be of great benefit. If you haven’t availed yourself of the Uber app, I strongly suggest it. We would have had to get a cab from our hotel in Puebla to Capu bus station, then board our 100 lbs of climbing/camping gear and secure two ten dollar tickets to Tlachichuca, some two and a half hours away. That is what I did last time. However, with Uber, we simply had a driver meet us at our hotel, load our gear and go straight there for about $35 US. Can you believe that? Money well spent, in my mind. I enjoy riding buses but in Mexico, you have to watch your gear. Someone could make off with it if you are not careful. This Uber opportunity alleviated that fear. And we got door to door drop off. Touring the Mexican countryside was a treat for Laurel for whom it was her first trip south of the border. We landed in Mexico City but barely caught a few hours sleep before getting on a bus to Puebla at the beginning. Had we thought of the Uber option then, things could have been different. We were super tired then and it was Christmas night.

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This is a pic of the Limon compound in Tlachichuca.
We immediately went to the rooftop to catch a glimpse of our objective, dauting though it may be. img_20170102_190239063_hdr

We walked around the hamlet of Tlachichuca and retired for the evening. In the morning we would make our way up to the Piedra Grande hut at 14 k via the infamous 1.5 hour 4wd trip offered by Maribel’s father, Joaquin. Joaquin is quite a character. At 72 years of age, he has retired from guiding Mexico’s highest peak. Now he is content with navigating the tricky off road ascent from Tlachichuca at 8k to the hut at 14 k. His carriages show great signs of wear as we boarded the same Jeep from two years prior through ruts and wash outs. It is quite thrilling and Laurel enjoyed the adventure, being a 4wd enthusiast herself. (she owns a vintage toyota land cruiser, circa 1985)
tn_p1060764 a view from the dashboard as we straddle the mountainside.

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I found things at the refugio to be much as I left them two years ago with the exception of considerably more climbers. You may remember that I was totally alone on the mountain and in the hut, quite uncharacteristic on Orizaba for October. December and January are the peak climbing times so I was prepared for company this go around and company we did have although not too many. We said goodbye to Joaquin and set about for a mid day acclimitization run of a thousand feet or so prior to our planned alpine start of one am.

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Even from here, the summit seemed miles away. Because it was. Laurel and I started up the wrong path, OK, my fault.
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But she was still smiling and prepared for the longest night of her life. She just didn’t know what kind of really long night was in store. It was New Year’s day, 2017 and I guarantee Laurel will remember this evening for the rest of her life.

Jan 1, 2017 8 pm Piedra Grande Hut:, 14,000 feet, Pico de Orizaba:

I was awakened by the sound of gasping and panting. Laurel was having trouble breathing, which isn’t unusual for someone’s first time at altitude. She was having other problems in addition, though. It didn’t take long for me to diagnose her with Acute Mtn Sickness, a potentially dangerous altitude related malady for which there is but one cure, rapid descent. I had forgotten my pulse oximeter, something that is usually standard in my expedition kit. In this situation, it was probably a good thing because her saturations would have likely been in the 50s. At sea level, you are supposed to be nearly fully saturated with oxygen. My regular TN sats are 98%. In addition she was coughing and having pulse fluctuations. The problem is, we had no way to get her down until the next morning. I knew we were abandoning our summit bid and stayed up with her and tried to be reassuring. I did have emergency Dexamethasone, a high altitude rescue drug handy but didn’t want to administer it because it would be another 11 hours before a 4wd could be dispatched.
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My only option was to sit with her, reassure her and watch her vitals. I made her pressure breathe and reduce anxiety levels and drink water. Lots and lots of water. Water thins the blood and helps carry more red blood cells to the body. Intermittently, I slept and nudged her to keep breathing deeply. During the night, our fellow hut neighbors began their preparations for summit bids. I couldn’t help but notice that the weather was ideal with no wind and a full star scape. Sometimes we would get up and go outside and enjoy a fire at 14 k. Now at midnight, all I could think about was Laurel’s safety and keeping her breathing until we could get her off this hill. It was a long night.

As our neighbors departed, Laurel dozed off and I lay in anticipation of rescue. There was a guide who returned the next morning around 10 am and helped me to radio Maribel to hasten the Jeep. Laurel went outside and began vomiting. Time was of the essence here, my finger was on the dex pill jar ready to pull.
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Soon Joaquin arrived to whisk us and one successful Orizaba climber away. A Japanese lady had summited in record time from the hut and we all climbed aboard the Wagoneer and beat a retreat from Citlatepetl, aka Orizaba. Every thousand feet saw an improvement in Laurel’s condition, as I knew it would. I forced fluids down her throat and we soon were breathing the thick air of 8 thousand feet in the Concholas compound. Remarkable is the rate of recovery from altitude sickness with descent. Laurel was back to her old self by the end of the afternoon but not without a day or two of hangover type symptoms. I was able to consult with my personal, high altitude physician, Dr. Dan Walters via email who assured me that we did the right things and that Laurel would be fine. I will say that Dan has always been spot on with any medical diagnosis. He has not only prescribed my high altitude prescription medical kit, but tended to me through my frostbite situation on Muztagh Ata and aided so many through similar, trying times.

Jan 3, 2017 Tlachichuca Casa de Concholas

Laurel ate food, drank water and started being her normal self. She then insisted that I return for a summit bid. I hadn’t really though of it since I was preoccupied with her recovery but started doing the math. We had several days remaining on our itinerary and it was feasible. I still had plenty of gas in the tank. What was the weather situation? Looking good according to Mtn Weather forecasts. I started to entertain the possibility. I really wanted that summit, especially after the last two attempts. We spent the night again at Maribel’s and I mulled things over. Prior to dozing off, I decided to let Laurel’s condition be my guide. We would reassess in the morning.

Jan 4, 2017: On the rooftop again, peering up at beautiful Orizaba, aka Citlatepetel, Laurel and I enjoyed coffee and she began dancing a jig of recovery. It was at that point I knew it was safe to return to the mountain, so I ordered a Jeep and within the hour was off back up the hill. We said goodbye and Laurel resolved to mill about town and explore the hills and crannies of this small Mexican hamlet. I reboarded the Wagoneer with Joaquin and all the gear and we crawled back up the mountain that had become my nemesis. Orizaba is a beautiful strato volcano with a silhoutte rivaling some Himalayan giants. As we approached her she seemed to wink at me. I hoped this meant I had somehow curried favor in the mountain’s eyes. A few hours would tell.
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Offloading my gear for the second time, I started making for another acclimatization run up the hill. This day I would scramble for two hours and gain about 1500 feet until the base of my dreaded labyrinth. It was here that I lost my way in 2014 and floundered about helplessly for hours. I was determined not to get lost in this maze and had a cache of maps from all angles prepared. As I ascended, the maps were consulted. Rock features looked all the same. I would be doing this in a couple of hours in pure darkness. My trepidation was starting to increase. Some paths would peter out and others climb into nothing. I would have to rely on other climbers as a guide. It would be a sleepless night. Returning to the hut I choked down some dinner and reminded myself why I hate dehydrated backpacker pantry meals. The next several hours would be spent lamenting an overpriced lasagna dinner as my stomach rolled and broiled. My head was formulating ways to navigate the labyrinth in the dark. Soon, the 12 midnight alarm would ring and most of the hut occupants rose to began preparations for the longest of days.

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1 A.M. January 4, 2017 15000 feet pico de Orizaba

An unblemished starscape envelopes the Mexican skyline as I don double plastic mountaineering boots, multiple layers and headlamp. Metal clinks against my heavily laden backpack as a pick and adze clamor for space against two sets of metal spikes. Sooner than expected I will be attaching them to my boots as my fingers begin freezing from the efforts. I spy a line of headlamps not far above me that seem to be veering to the left and hugging a precipitous gully. From the two previous forays I knew the trail to go straight up the ridge line and followed it from memory and stones I had placed for markers just hours before. It wasn’t long before I intercepted that line of lights and found myself in their midst as foreign climbers of eastern European descent squawk at each other indiscernibly.

By three a.m. my water bottle had frozen solid much like my fingers and toes were feeling, although I knew better. Frozen digits are a specialty of mine following some poor decision making on Muztagh Ata. I knew to don down mittens and remove my watch. My hands were happier. I also passed some of the “Russians” and inched up on a guided group. We ascended this tricky section that I was able to video on the descent. In retrospect, I’m glad to have completed it in the dark.

And the steep part was hours away. I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the other climbers as I knew the crux of the labyrinth beckoned. My toes began to numb and the temps bottomed out at what had to bee single digits here at 17 thousand feet. Despite sweating from the effort of ascent heat wasn’t reaching my toes. When I spied the beginning of the true glacier, I squatted to remove crampons, boots and put on another pair of mountaineering socks. This caused me to lose the group but I was not concerned. We had finished the labyrinth and now the glacier was sole obstacle to Orizaba’s summit ridge. It was straight up a precipitous snowfield with hidden crevasses somewhere in the middle of the night. My body was trembling from cold and the time was now 5.30 am.

Praying for the sun, I started duck walking up the 35-45 degree slopes. Soon I was passing the European climbers who were laying over their ice axes in hypoxic delirium in darkness broken by star rays. The sun would soon have to rise and I mistakenly looked West for it to beckon. In mountaineering, you are at the end of your ascent when you resort to step counting. I had been here for about an hour as I spied the prominent feature known as the sarcophagus behind me. The sarcophagus is a notorious feature where an American climber fell to his death two years ago. The snow slope was now approaching 50 degrees in pitch and the seriousness of a fall became very real to me. I would not appreciate how real until the descent. 50 steps ended up being 30 steps which ended up being 20 steps then ten. I was approaching 18,000 feet now and over the wrong shoulder, traces of red broke the stars to suggest the possibility of daylight sometime. I was now past most all climbers and there were but one or two folks a few yards above. There was no definite trail to the volcano caldera. We were spilled out all over the snowfield.

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Orizaba casts her long shadow over Mexico

The rising sun confers a psychological benefit but little warmth. Seeing this made me forget all about freezing. tn_p1060840

There was little chance of not summiting. Two guys were ahead of me and approached the familiar cross and broken metal I recognized from photographs. Sulphur permeated the air as I gained the caldera ridge. Within minutes I was on top of Mexico as the rising sun hung over my left shoulder. It was 8 am and a new morning greeted us here at the top of North America. I was certain that we were, for a brief period of time, the highest people in America as no one was on Denali or Mt. Logan in the middle of winter to my knowledge.

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I was very pleased and very tired. For 30 minutes I lingered, too tired to bust out the Gopro. A guide and his client did make some pics for me and I recognized one of them as John from Florida, with whom I had conversed at the hut. Orizaba was my prize, after two failed attempts. I wish that Laurel had been able to join me but after seeing the technical sections, I was glad she had been in the safety of Maribel’s home.

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Here is a video I shot of the actual volcano crater, aka caldera.

It was a glorious summit day, near perfect in my estimation. However, the task of descent loomed and I wondered how to drop down that 50 degree snow slope safely. My tactic began with an ice axe and one trekking pole, side-hilling with overlapping steps. The ice axe was in my uphill hand with the trekking pole giving me something to lean on with the downhill one. It took about two hours to drop down the slope and I passed a few slit cracks in the process. Thrilled to finally finish the glacier portion, I sat down next to John from Florida who had just finished vomiting for the third time. I had felt that way myself on multiple occasions on the ascent. Now, seeing him in this state didn’t help my present circumstance. I drank some now, partially frozen water to realize it was about one half quart consumed in the last 10 hours. I ate but one energy bar and a gu gel.

It would be almost 2 pm before I got to 15000 feet and everyone had beaten me back. Many with whom I was ascending the dark, cold and precipitous snow slope had turned round, beaten by the hulking volcano. The worst moment for me was to repeat a mistake I made two years prior. On descending the icy labyrinth, there a choice to go straight or turn left. More bootpack had indicated straight but it was the wrong choice. I had, once again, dropped unnecessarily down for an eighth of a mile into the wrong gulley. The sun was now painfully strong burning my already burned forehead and neck. I was in all my layers, still in a climbing harness but stripped down to liner gloves. Re climbing that hill was the ultimate penance. I had very little uphill energy remaining. It added an hour to my return. I recognized every step from two years ago. It was an epic descent. My crampons were necessary for all but the last half mile.

When the refugio came into view, someone waved at me down the trail. It was Laurel and I was thrilled to see her back up the mountain. She was a sight for sore eyes. Not only had she conquered her altitude issue but restated a desire to return to Orizaba. Who knows, it is a fun mountain!

Happy New Year.
John

Summit Orizaba

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I reached the summit of icy Pico de Orizaba at 8 am on January 3. It was a 7 hour solo push from 14 k to 18.6 k and nearly 11 hours roundtrip. Laurel, having succumbed to acute mountain sickness was escorted back to Tlachichuca the previous morning in Joaquin’s 4 WD. There she made a rapid and full recovery. She then insisted I return for a solo run. Having made sure that she was in condition to be left down there in the trusty hands of Joaquin and Maribel, I heeded her insistence and returned to high camp and began my summit push at 1 am.

We are presently in Chattanooga having been caught in the snowstorm in our return from Mexico. Just thought I would share a few preliminary notes before giving a full Expedition report.
Hope everyone is safe and warm.
BTW, Laurel and I just set a SouthernHighlander record that will likely never be broken by any other “highlander claiming” person. Enjoy this 14,000 ft SOUTHERNHIGHLANDER campfire on Orizaba.

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John

Summit La Malinche

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Laurel makes the final steps
Laurel makes the final steps

It was a grueling but worthwhile ascent of 14600 foot La Malinche. It’s best described as two thousand feet straight up to the tree line. Then above the Treeline you get on a scree slope that is quite slippery . I would describe this as the the crux of the climb . You take one step forward and a half step back. When you gain the actual Summit Ridge at 14000 feet there’s a bit of walking and a very small bit of rock scrambling to gain the true Summit . 7 hours and 4 thousand feet of pull produced this remarkable view.
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We could see for a good ways across Mexico and into the eyes of Popocatepetl and Iztacchuatel and our ultimate objective, Orizaba.

When we arrived at the crowded summit a group of Mexican climbers were resting. They asked where we were from and there was a pregnant pause until I related that I did not vote for Trump. At this juncture one of them said they would probably not have to sacrifice us to the mountain gods.
Then they allowed us to take as Summit selfie. img_20161229_102115126_hdr

Laurel got to feel the pain of high altitude and it was truly a thin air experience for her but she prevailed and pushed on. We will spend a couple more days here in Puebla before catching a bus to Tlachichuca. Stay tuned. Below is a pic of the volcano from Puebla
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Puebla

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It is good to be back in this beautiful city. After landing in Mexico City Christmas night we grabbed a few hours sleep and hopped on a bus to Puebla the next morning. Laurel is getting her first taste of Mexico. We are settling in preparing for our first acclimatization run on La Malinche tomorrow. Puebla is awash with Christmas vacationers. It is a festive and jovial place with temperatures in the seventies. Check back for an update on our Malinche climb.
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Citlatepetel Redux for Christmas

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I have unfinished business down there in Mexico in the form of a summit of it’s highest point, Citlatepetel, also known as Orizaba.  Rising to 18,500 feet above the Mexican plain, this dormant giant claims the title of  North America’s third highest peak.  It was Laurel’s idea.  She has long desired to feel the pain of a high altitude suffer fest.  You will remember what happened on my last solo attempt described here.  http://southernhighlanders.com/mexican_volcanoes.html

 

We will follow the same acclimitization path through La Malinche.  Puebla will be our disembarkation point after flying into Mexico City.  We have plenty of time to explore central Mexico.  We will be again enjoying the hospitality of Marible and Joaquin Concholas in their home in Tlachichuca before making the journey up to 14 k via Joaquin’s Jeep and the notorious drive I captured on gopro here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-DKNfc4PZ0

 

So you may follow us here and on twitter for updates.  We will be landing on Christmas evening.  I wish everyone a glorious and Merry Christmas.

John

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