Recent Events

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You may notice a lack of content recently and my friend Adam remarked on it so I had to respond. Sometimes I am just so busy enjoying the outdoors I don’t take time to share it here. This past week saw me do a training run up Leconte via Alum. You can see I caught a great break in the weather and made record personal time up and back.

The week prior, I was in Myrtle Beach for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration. She is a beach person so we organized this and had a fantastic time, leaving just one day before the hurricane. While there, I got in a lot of road biking, some beach jogging and deep sea fishing.

This past weekend was climbing at the Obed. I’ve done a good amount of climbing this summer and not so much backpacking. It’s been hot and that is not my jam. But, it is great weather for climbing and mountain biking, of which I have done plenty.  Next week will be another section of the AT with Frank and November 9 will be Mexico for Orizaba. I have a great team of 9 assembled for this one and we are all excited to get down South. That has taken up a fair amount of my time as well in addition to running my business and writing for Cityview.


So, all is good and sometimes no news is good news. Fall is on, we camped out last weekend and it got below freezing at the Obed. Hangover will be soon. Frank and I depart in a couple of days so I am anticipating some good Virginia mileage along the trail.

In the meantime, enjoy my latest contribution for Cityview. It is a tribute to Legacy Parks.

Land of Giants

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Home of Giants



Visiting the mighty before they make their final—and unplanned—departure

In the 1800s, naturalist William Bartram once remarked that you could swing from limb to limb from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River without ever touching the ground. He didn’t know at the time, but were anyone to take on his challenge, they would cross over the oldest mountains on the planet—so old, in fact, that they once rivaled the present heights of the Himalayan Mountains. Hard to imagine that Clingman’s Dome just over the Tennessee border in North Carolina could have been Kanchenjunga and Mt. Mitchell to its east once an Everest.

However, nestled in a basin called Poplar Cove near Little Santeetlah Creek is a vestigial sliver that will make you a believer. Joyce Kilmer National Forest is the home of giants; a real-life land of lost time. It is a fold in the universe that lets you walk 500 years through a hidden doorway to the real America. One hundred species of trees thrive in this primeval canopy. Buxom ferns, the envy of any florist, nudge rattlesnake plantain so tall I thought it had to be another plant.

I’m between twin poplars that tower 150 feet above me with a girth that defies three big human hugs. My neck is straining to catch errant rays of sun filtering through their crown. Alongside me is the biggest beech tree I have ever touched, its smooth bark irresistible for me and vandals. The Cherokee used to say that the beeches resist lightning, but that immunity sadly does not extend to graffiti. Moving on we weave between hemlock totems—soldiers who have fallen in battle with the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Despite their misfortune, their hollowed trunks still reach 60 feet or more, a testament to their former glory.

Joyce Kilmer’s words inspired a wilderness. “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” Like these mighty hemlock, Kilmer fell in a battle not of his choosing in World War One, never to rise again. Two decades back, I saw quite a different forest here, but you can never climb the same mountain twice. An ecologist told me back then that all I can do is go see them while they’re still here. I would advise you to do the same.

Bland to Pearisburg on the AT

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We started where we left off at Weary Feet hostel on June 24.

And it began with Frank almost getting hit by a vehicle. Our first day was one of the easiest I can remember along the Appalachian Trail.

We only did about 9 mi into  camp and it didn’t feel like we had done five. I wish we’d camped here by this little pond. Frank was shooing a bear out of our shelter site.

After a very peaceful night atop Wapiti, off the next morning to begin our climb up.


1300 ft out of camp we were rewarded with this view.

Barely dripping…

It was super hot and the bugs were pretty bad. And we were also in the middle of a drought which means water dictated our movements. We did about 9 mi to Docs nob shelter praying that there would be water.

We’re joined by three guys who were on our trajectory. They camped near us the previous night at wapiti. Frank and I were able to coax a little bit of water out of the spring but it was barely dripping.

We did a really good food hang and retired to bed while these guys enjoyed the fire to ward off the bugs.

we were awakened at 2:30 in the morning to a screaming noise from their hammock area. A bear had gotten up underneath one of the guys hammocks.

So we all sprung out of bed to go check our food. Fortunately it was okay. And so were the three guys. But that was all for sleeping that night.

Some good looking Rock up here at Angel overlook. Then it was about three or four miles downhill in the rain. Frank and I are always pretty lucky about the rain if it happens it’s usually on our day out. When we finally got into Pearisburg we caught a shuttle back to weary feet. as far as sections go this was a pretty easy one but the bugs and drought gave it a little bit of challenge.

I’m going to say that the heat and the bugs are almost making me reconsider any more sections until it cools off. Almost….

Frank caught me taking a z at doc’s knob…

Blood Mountain Article

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direct link here:


I was cursing whoever decided to put 604 steps up to this waterfall. Maybe it was the four-day pack I was carrying or the freakish 90 degree heat, but I just wasn’t enjoying the start of my solo backpacking trip.

Cresting Springer Mountain and the proper beginning of the Appalachian Trail, not one shred of my body was dry, save for my water bottle. And the spring at this anticipated shelter was but a trickle. It was looking like a solo night atop this iconic peak at the beginning of America’s most famous footpath, so I took advantage of the solitude to completely disrobe, which invited company in the form of another hiker.

Now that we were completely acquainted, (he learned why my trail name is, “Buff”.) My new friend was beginning his thru-hike with a 60 lb. pack.  When the swarm of biting gnats engulfed us, I appreciated some of his bug spray weight. Owls serenaded me to sleep and I departed the following morning amidst a hedgerow of flame azalea in full bloom.

I descended five miles through cascading rhododendron blooms to a beautiful creek called Three Forks for a bite of lunch. As the water rolled over rocks a group emerged in my periphery from the same trail. There, alongside this babbling brook, miles from home, was a Meetup Group from Knoxville and I was greeted by friends with whom I have shared more than a few trails. It was destined for us to join forces for the day, so I followed them to my intended home for the night along Justus Creek some nine miles ahead. We camped in a hemlock grove between fingers of this watershed and marveled at the likelihood of running into each other.

We parted ways after five miles the next morning. Their shuttle plan was for one night, but I still had Blood Mountain and 17 total remaining miles. The Appalachian Trail would carry me over 4,000 feet this day through what can only be described as a Biblical plague of inchworms dangling from laurel in two miles of the most uncomfortable backpacking you can imagine. Blood Mountain was earning its name as I battled both horseflies and these millions of worms now nibbling on every piece of salty skin. Cresting the final steps into the shelter, approaching hikers regarded me as some apparition; perhaps a John the Baptist character caked in dead and dying insects with matted hair.

Despite the vermin, this beginning section and approach of the Appalachian Trail is quite scenic. Views abound from Blood Mountain summit and many other points along this 40.5 mile Georgia chunk. Safe parking is available at Amicalola Falls State Park and a shuttle is reasonable through” A Further Shuttle” at Neel’s Gap back to your starting point for $80.

Amicalola to Mountain Crossings (Neel’s Gap)

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You never know what can happen when you take off on a solo, section hiking journey. As I am on a quest to complete different sections of the Appalachian Trail you may be aware that I needed the bottom part of Georgia. So I decided to take off on a Friday morning at Amicalola Falls State Park with a goal of finishing at Neel’s Gap.

I began the ascent of 600 plus stairs to the top of this waterfall. The start of the route is a little  difficult to follow. but before long I had done about 3,000 ft of elevation and found myself at the true start of the Appalachian Trail. But not before encountering my first two snakes.

The second was a copperhead but I was unable to snag  a good photo. It was very hot and somewhat miserable as I made the climb into Springer Mountain shelter.

I’m pretty much was resigned to having the place to myself and tried to imagine all the thru hikers starting here at the same time in March. Soon, I was completely naked trying to get out of my soaked hiking shorts when ,a little before dark a man by the name of Tony came rolling in with his 60 lb pack. He found out why my trail name is “Buff”. Tony is intent on thru hiking but doesn’t necessarily have the right gear. I made a few suggestions. My pack was much more reasonable this time at around 24 to 25 lbs.

The flame azaleas were flaming along with the rhododendron and mountain laurel. I got attacked by swarm of no- seeums atop Springer Mountain.

They were in every orifice and biting the crap out of me. Thank goodness Tony had some bug spray.

After a very restful night I rose the next morning and embarked towards Justice Creek which was approximately 14 miles from Springer.

About 5 mi into my day I stopped for a little lunch break or a second Hobbit breakfast. While enjoying the sounds of a beautiful creek, I heard a thundering horde approach. The first of about 10 hikers were coming down the mountain to the creek that I was enjoying. I quickly estimated it to be one of the meetup groups. I didn’t expect it to be a Knoxville Meetup group down in Georgia. And who is the first person to recognize me but my friend Patrick Joy. There were two other people in the group that I knew one of which is Annora and the other is Temple. I’ve camped with them before.

That’s Patrick who has just gotten into backpacking from day hiking. it was meant to be that I ran into them so we joined forces and marched on towards Justice Creek.

We really had a good time camping together and I was joined in close proximity by Amber, Annoria Patrick and Temple. It was quite the backcountry party which involves swimming in the creek lounging about and a happy hour. I think most people were just happy to be in camp after 14 miles.

Their following day was short, only 5 mi but mine was going to be 17. So at Woody Gap, I said goodbye to this group. I had to climb blood Mountain and 10.8 miles remained on my plate.

Two of the most miserable miles of climbing ensued on my ascent of Blood Mountain. I came into a plague of inchworms the likes of which I can only describe as Biblical proportion. Imagine billions of strands of hanging insects through which you must walk while going straight up hill and the whole time being attacked by horse flies. The horse flies would dive bomb your head to try to eat chunks out of it. And the strands of inchworms would cover your body and they would begin chewing on the salt l accumulated. I was using one hand to swat the horse flies and the other to scrape inch worms from my body. Of course I was the only person on the trail coming or going. It may well have been two of the most miserable miles I’ve ever hiked.

I’ve never been so happy to see a shelter in my life. I thought about staying up there but realized weather was moving in and I could go ahead and hike out.  I had to secure a shuttle. The following information is important for anyone planning a similar section hike so take note. The guy who picked up Patrick, Temple, and Annoria and the rest of their  group is a thru hiker named Nimrod. I think he runs the above the cloud shelter. I spoke with him as he picked them up and I continued onward to see what he would charge to take me back to Amicalola falls. Nimrod puts himself out there as someone who’s hiked the entire Trail three times. He told me it was 1 hour and a half from Mountain crossings to Amicalola falls. And the going rate was $130. So now we know that Nimrod is a liar. I already knew the going rate was $80 and it was less than an hour. I secured a shuttle from Further Shuttle. This makes me suspicious if any other services Nimrod is providing to Appalachian Trail  hikers. So just be aware of this those of you that are planning a similar trip. I got a Further shuttle for $80. (although the guy was an hour late, he did mail my filter bottle to me as it rolled out in the back of his truck, Cost $17 to postal it back, a filter bottle, but nice of him to do that)

So the snakes and bugs were egregious. But it was freakishly hot in the ’90s. Animals come out when you get a bump in the weather like that.  I’m very pleased to get that section done; now all I’ve got is from Neel’s Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap to be caught up with Frank. Couple of lessons from this hike that were reinforced,  It is always about with whom you hike rather than what you do while you’re there. Don’t trust any guy who’s Trail name is Nimrod, and bring some bug spray for those occasional times when you get into the flying gnats. The approach Trail to Neal’s Gap is up and down and up and down. But very much worth the effort give yourself some time.




64 Virginia Miles

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It’s been a week and a half since Frank and I finished this section.  However, I have promised this one to my editor at CityView so you will have to wait a bit for it to come to press. In the mean time, enjoy a few of these pictures from our delightful saunter through the hills of the Jefferson Forest and five days on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.


If you didn’t get to see my piece on the Cotopaxi Expedition, here is a direct link.



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Conquering Cotopaxi


Finding East Tennessee’s place on the edge of a South American volcano

Wind sandpapered snow across our faces as we experienced yet another false summit. I quit peering skyward since every prominence seemed to just birth another. Stars so brilliant five hours ago were supplanted by abject whiteness. Icicle caverns brushed the shoulder of Karlyn Zandstra, a nurse practitioner from Norris who is the middle person on our rope. What a strange place to find herself in such horrible conditions 19,000 feet high on the side of an active volcano. Karlyn signed on this expedition to find out what if felt like to experience this altitude. She was getting a full measure.

Crevasses lurked just below the surface of this brittle snow. Our feet were invisible and so were any potential slits in the glacier. For that reason, we divided into three-person rope units. Greenback native Steve McQueen was trailing us under the supervision of a local guide. He finally decided that this man, now entrusted with his life, was a liar. Every time he was told one more hour to the top, “…I swear to God it was two. They don’t let us take long enough breaks,” he lamented while shouting across the deafening gale. I gently reminded my friend that this climb was partly his idea. This kind of climbing is a world away from a hike up Mt. LeConte.

It started innocently enough at the Crag last fall. Steve and several others peppered me with questions about mountaineering while scaling the quarried limestone at a whopping altitude of 850 feet. “It can’t be that bad if you did it,” one told me. I vowed to teach them a lesson.

My proposal, modest seeming at the time, was to take this show on the road: “Let’s go climb volcanoes in Ecuador.” Sara Whitt, a Grainger County native and Knoxville resident, perked up. Her belayer, John Creasy, a Texas boy transplanted to Knoxville, was keen to hear more. Having climbed these peaks 17 years ago seemed all the reassurance my stalwart friends required. Like a low-angle avalanche, this expedition began to snowball. Before long, tickets were booked, and nine of us headed south toward the Ecuadorian volcanoes with our eye on Cotopaxi, an active volcano at 19,347 feet. We touched down in the city of Quito at an elevation of 9,200 feet, only 10,000 shy of our goal. Their punishment had just begun.

Kevin FlintCotopaxi, Ecuador – 19,347 feet

None of the charm of this capital city was lost on our group, now dubbed “Team Climb Ax.” From the roof of an open-air bus, we motored through this rainy metropolis and soaked in the visual feast laid before us in the “Valley of the Volcans.” My brother, Todd Quillen, and friend, Greg Moore, from Morristown, tagged along with alternate sightseeing goals.

Headaches abounded in thinner air as we climbed steps around the old town square. Carnival—the celebration leading up to Lent—was in full swing, and here in Ecuador there are government holidays allowing locals to fully participate. Naturally, pranks were focused on the obvious group of gringos. Caleb Kyser, a native Knoxvillian, was greeted with black ash thrown at his face, as I was welcomed with shaving cream to mine, compliments of local school children. This was our relaxation day. True suffering wasn’t supposed to commence until we set foot on our first volcano the following day.

One of our local guides, Pedro, from the hill region outside of Quito, wasn’t faring too well on the approach to our first volcano. He made an earnest run up a slick hillside an hour outside of town, but his minivan was having none of it. We reversed for almost a quarter of a mile and made a second stab. Offloading weight—me—he was finally able to crest the berm and park as we began our first hike a mile earlier than expected. Chickens pecked at our feet as we forked over dollars to someone in a hut with a bathroom that required filling a bucket to flush.

Rain chased us on this first hike as we gained 2,598 feet to the fore-summit of Pasochoa, an extinct volcano. The sweeping views I touted from my last trip down here seemed like a lie. “It was 17 years ago, and in the summer,” I demurred. Nothing seemed familiar, but the pain of agonizing ascent. Our group photographer, Kevin Flint, wasn’t getting those much-anticipated cover shots. A native to Kentucky, Kevin eventually settled into the hills of Tennessee, but his photography has taken him around the world to exotic climbing locations. However, like most of our group, this was his first time in South America.

We made our first summit in the clouds after 4.6 miles. Acclimating to these heights requires climbing a few thousand feet and returning to a lower altitude to help the body adjust to thinning air. Our plan to first scale two smaller volcanoes was time tested. Without doing so, we would never have attempted almost 20,000 feet within a week. Team Climb Ax committed to celebrate upon descent in traditional Ecuadorian fashion: we were off to eat some guinea pig.

Kevin Flint

Cuy was a delicacy wasted on our group. Once gathered back at his van, Pedro navigated our victorious team to his favorite eatery along the road back toward town. While we gnawed our way through this shoe leather, we tried to ignore the nose and teeth eyeballing us from our plates. Having tagged some altitude, a rest day was earned. That night, Todd and Greg greeted our muddy assemblage to share tales from their Uber-assisted equatorial foray, known locally as Mitad del Mundo. Apparently, toilet water really doesn’t swirl on the line down there.

Rucu Pichincha was next in our sights, topping out at 15,300 feet. We once again bravely handed our destiny to the care of Pedro and his minivan. Weaving the upper flank of the capital city the bus rounded hairpin after hairpin, dodging livestock and llamas. Black clouds and rain followed us up another peak as we started at the terminus of a gondola now depositing tourists at a mountaintop café. More than one comment was made about why we didn’t choose this method of ascent as we disappeared into the sky and began hiking above this ancient city.

Clouds broke on occasion revealing layers of the valley’s elusive magnificence. Sara and John relished the rock scrambling sections, reminiscent of our time harnessed up in Knoxville. John is a triathlete, so I wasn’t concerned about his level of fitness or any of the group for that matter. An engineer by trade, he travels the world inspecting nuclear power plants. John tried to blame this expedition on Sara, our resident artist and team name progenitor. However, he obviously enjoys overseas adventures, having climbed volcanoes in Bolivia. Scree slopes made for dicey footing but in the sleet we topped out smiling on Rucu Pichincha as a team. This would be the elevation from which we would launch our Cotopaxi ascent in just a couple of days. We still had a long way to go.

One of the best things about a summit is dropping back into thicker air. Karlyn and Steve were ticking off volcanoes as if they were strolling up Knoxville’s House Mountain. Steve is a physician’s assistant and shared Karlyn’s curiosity about the physiological impact of altitude. Having been to Ecuador once and seeing Cotopaxi, his desire to return was the impetus for our journey. He’s also a smart-aleck. Perhaps it had something to do with making him sign a waiver for me prior to our journey. With each unexpected occurrence, I would hear, “I’m going to sue John Quillen Adventures for,” weather, guinea pig teeth, open air bus, rain, sleet. You name it; it made the list.

A fresh group of local guides collected us from our comfortable hotel in the capital. In two four-wheel drive trucks we smashed gear and bodies for a ride to TamboPaxi lodge the following morning. Perched at 12,500 feet, it serves as an intermediate acclimatization point. Nested in the shadow of our pyramidal spire, (which translated means “neck of the moon”), Cotopaxi can be seen holding the planet in its perfectly shaped cone under perfect conditions.

Kevin Flint

The idea here was to rest before our ultimate ascent. Some interpreted that to mean horseback riding in our now trademark rainstorm. Team Climb Ax saddled up and set off undeterred. But a momentary glimpse of our objective flashed for a few seconds between clouds as they disappeared in chaps across the paramo. Cotopaxi was luring us skyward.

Following lunch the next day, we drove to the base of the massif, donned full packs and sweated for an hour. Kevin shuddered under the weight of two backpacks, one full of photography gear. A new local guide was quick to assist him to the Jose Rivas Refugio. This hut was our last stop before suiting up for the glacier at midnight. It’s fairly typical for alpine ascents to begin at night; the glacier is more frozen and stable. All we had time to do was eat a quick dinner prepared for us and bed down in a bunk reminiscent of a Smokies shelter. We had no more fallen asleep at 6 p.m. before the dreaded 11 p.m. wake up occurred. My team laid out their climbing kit, sorted and resorted gear and tried not to look nervous. “This will be the toughest night of your life,” I warned.

Nine hours into the ascent an unmistakable sulfur smell emanated from the volcano caldera. To Caleb it signified the trapdoor into hell. His face, unrecognizable save for a set of swollen eyes barely visible between a helmet and balaclava, was wind-chapped. This home builder by trade was questioning his sanity. One of our group had already abandoned their discomfort and stopped their ascent at 17,000 feet. That was four hours ago. Visibility was near zero at this point, and the summit must have seemed to my dwindling team another fabrication.

John and Kevin lumbered past the rope Karlyn and I shared. Their local guide was keen to drag them to the crater before anyone else surrendered. It was now 6:25 a.m. in this hazy, apocalyptic snowscape. The putridity from Cotopaxi’s summit reminded me this thing could blow at any time. In fact, following my first 2005 ascent, Cotopaxi erupted in 2016 scouring this route into something entirely unrecognizable, were I actually able to see it.

Little fanfare heralded our final steps to the caldera at 19,347 feet. Scant evidence indicated the summit of my memory from 2005, conditions were that abysmal. Team Climb Ax had the mountain to ourselves. Our strongest guys laid down over their packs, panting. Icicles hung from Karlyn’s helmet in the form of frozen hair. The guys panted through fleece-covered mouths. I lost some feeling in my hands and dug out the mittens. No more layers were forthcoming from my pack; I was wearing everything. Beneath the pain and suffering of our team were eyes conveying collective disbelief.

“Congratulations,” I fist-bumped them, inadvertently calling this mountain by another name. Hypoxia knows no bounds. Celebrating was traded for escape.

If you’ve never descended a glacier in 12-point crampons, the learning curve is both immediate and unforgiving. A competition ensued for style points as to who could trip most creatively without jerking the rest of their rope team face first. And all three groups took our turn. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Steve confessed as we zig-zagged the lower snowfields prior to the Refugio. By the look on everyone’s faces, he spoke for the team. “I’m glad I never have to do this again,” added Karlyn.

Over a celebratory dinner back in Quito, we were reunited with Todd and Greg fresh off a Galapagos excursion. Their tan contrasted our peeling faces from the wind. Sitting around the table were two remarkably distinct experiences, together building a picture of all that this part of Ecuador has to offer.

Once showered and back in the thick air, I was already being asked about “that other volcano in Mexico.” Amnesia is an important skill set in the mountaineering game.

A satisfied soaking in thermal hot springs our final day had this Knoxville group already planning the next ascent. They took all the volcano could throw at them and definitely earned the right to suffer some more.

Lynn Camp

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It was a busy weekend and a lot of things happened prior to it. As expected, the backcountry fee has now doubled from $4 to $8 in addition to a parking fee which is $5 per night in the Smokies.

Please make your comments known. we will foia them and prove that this is an unpopular proposal.

And prove The NPS to be fast and loose with their visitation numbers.

Myers was with us.

Yes that’s Carver and he’s not at Mount Collins!

The trillium are out.

 The dwarf crested Iris are at lower elevations, this is from the River bluff in Knoxville that morning. Knoxville climbers took over 800 lb of trash out of that area. We had 15 people there working to clean up that area. And none of it was climber trash.

Yes it’s that time of year.

This is going to be a short post because I’m getting ready to bite off a big chunk of the Appalachian Trail with Frank.

We will be heading north from Atkins Virginia in a day or two. Check out my Instagram feed for updates.