Merry Christmas, here is your gift.

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I am giving a free digital download of my last book, Father of Ice Mountains to all who have followed these exploits over the years. It is an account of my ski ascent of 24,747 foot Muztagh Ata in the Chinese Pamir range and epic descent that resulted in frostbite to most of my digits. The book is readable in many formats and you don’t need a kindle or special device to access the manuscript. Just go to this link and click to purchase, then upon checkout, enter the attached code below.  Here is a link to a video of the climb that is pretty interesting made by our expedition sirdar, Asu Ronqin, an accomplished alpinist.  http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/wNNWNY6tI58/If you can wait through a commercial it is worth watching.

I wish everyone the most happy and joyous Christmas season.
John

fotm-sunday

LQ27J

 

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/622500      enter code LQ27J

Eagle Creek and the Bloody Hatchet Man

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Laurel, Wayne and I steer the “Steenhatchie” through low waters of Eagle Creek on Sunday. But wait? Who is Wayne? And how did Laurel get here and why did I lose a passenger? Questions Questions.

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It all began on Wednesday. Laurel departed from Knoxtown on her quest to knock off Lakeshore Trail, solo. She had concerns about being alone on the trail for 30 plus miles but I assured her that the majority of guys I used to hike with had never spent a single night solo in the backcountry. So she put on her man drawers and embarked from the road to nowhere into nowhere. Because she is not a puss.
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For the past year I have spent considerable time preparing my old truck for this very sojourn. New carb, brakes, alternator, fuel pump, tires, radiator, heater core and voltage regulator. At least that is what I can remember. Then I installed the canoe rack which had to be drilled into the rails. Following a perfect Thanksgiving with my family, Myers and I departed from Knoxville early into the smoke of Walland passing the detritus of a burned hillside. Soon we took on the dragon of 129 and made 10 miles per gallon as we steamed towards Fontana.
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The SS Steenhatchie plowed through the placid lake of Fontana on a crisp post holiday morning with perfect temperatures on the traditional Southernhighlander Eagle Creek weekend. I first discovered good ole Eagle Creek in the 90s and started bringing folks over there annually for a post turkey extravaganza. I was hiking the Lakeshore myself along with a friend when we stopped here for a break. I could feel the good energy of this spot and vowed to return. Many are the nights we spent around what came to be known as Sithenge. tn_p1060582
Dozens of groups have joined me there over the years.  Those are well documented epics readily found in the archives section of southernhighlanders main site.  Improvements at Sithenge were compliments of Highlander fold.  There was one year when I orchestrated a great rock movement.  I knew it would suit me and others for many decades to come.

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There is something about the inherent relaxing ambience of late Autumn sunbathing on the rock seats so perfectly positioned. It was during one of those moments, after we stowed the Steenhatchie that we were met by Mtn Laurel who timed her arrival in accordance with our docking. We were the first humans to cross her path in three days and she was ready for some company. I was happy to oblige.

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And she didn’t stink. We set up a nice camp and began not to gather firewood. Because there is a fire ban. And we observed the ban, to the letter. But it was contrary to our nature. And you know what? Nothing happened other than a couple of good nights sleep.
Anyway, we are lounging about Sithenge when guess who comes walking in out of the blue?
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Yep, it’s Randy Redwood from Hangover last month and the year before. What a surprise. He had also been out for about five days up Hazel and about. The backcountry is a small place and getting smaller. He and Laurel had apparently passed each other along Lakeshore unbeknownst to either of them.
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Randy was going to head up to Lost cove but decided to hang out with us for the evening and we thoroughly enjoyed his company. We populated Sithenge under a star filled canopy of grandeur along the shore of Eagle Creek and I channeled Hemingway for a night of fireless bliss. I’ve spent many a big hiking night along the AT sans pyro displays and even though the temps dropped, we found plenty of entertainment in the crystal clear starscape and stimulating conversations. It was magnificent. Especially as Myers is quite the Astronomer who could describe the phenomena passing above in great detail.
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Now to the bloody hatchet man. Many fans of this page are familiar with the oft related tale of the bloody knife man. I’m surprised how many folks are familiar with the Southernhighlander antics until I get into the backcountry and have people relate these events from this site. Randy is one who has followed our outings and now he is a part of this story. Anyway, I had been teasing Laurel about the bloody knife man story from campsite 18 many years ago. It was in her head as she passed a campsite. And what does she come upon halfway through her journey?
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It wasn’t enough that she had encountered many of these critters already.
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And we both saw a fair amount of hogs.
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Laurel reckoned she spied near 20. I saw three. So she got a good solo dose of the bloody hatchet man in her campsite. And she powered right through. Intrepid backpacker she is.
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On Saturday we all headed up towards Shuckstack tower. It was a 7 mile roundtrip during which we would say goodbye to Randy Redwood who would finish up down the AT and head back to Nashville. Ironically, I met Randy’s former roomate, Suzette, at the Shuckstack firetower three or four years earlier while enjoying the view on another Thanksgiving outing. Our backcountry gets smaller and smaller.
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Climbing Lost cove is an exercize in cardiovascular fitness. It is a couple thousand feet in three miles to the summit, which was clear as a bell and completely devoid of smoke.
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It wouldn’t be that way the next day when Myers re hiked the section to pick up some of his remaining Smokies miles. Myers is near completion of ink. And Laurel is approaching her 350th Smokies mile. She accrued about 37 new ones this past weekend.
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We were joined by Wayne Willis from Gainesville Fla. It was his first Smokies trip. We sat around our pseudo flame in a much chillier evening on Saturday. Temps had now reached the twenties but we are adaptive creatures who thrive on these sorts of challenge. After all, we drove a truck through the dragon, paddled a canoe older than the truck and toted gear more than a quarter mile into a camp. This is the stuff of Highlander lore, the gristle upon which character is milled. No captains are made on calm seas and all earned their wilderness badges in these days. Only the intrepid remain. The fire ban all but ran everyone away from the Smokies but fire will be eternal for some and we were in no hurry to meet such fate on this weekend of perfection.
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Wayne had injured his foot in his miles out toward Hazel so we put him in the canoe and he helped us paddle back across a choppy channel. Myers went back up and over the hump and we were able to intercept him at the dam. Everyone was happy and we made a new friend.
On the return, we picked up Laurel’s car at the Lakeshore terminus unmolested. The 1971 Ford Ranger truck fired back up to haul Myers and I back around through the park in time to witness a now resurgent Chimneys fire that is presently causing the evacuation of Gatlinburg. It is as if the Smokies are retaking the land that has surrounded it and I am sorry for any loss of property. One can’t help but note the metaphorical implications of nature versus commerce here.
I hope no one is hurt. My personal feelings about fire in the forest is that fire is a natural cleanser. There are certain pine cones that don’t release seeds without the heat of a fire. I can remember no wildfires in the Smokies in my lifetime.
Myers caught this photo Sunday afternoon.
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The Chimneys Wildfire

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On our return from Eagle Creek we passed the impressive blaze presently consuming part of the Chimney Tops trail.

I enjoy watching all of nature, the good and bad. As long as I am not a recipient of the warm end. Hope to have a great write up of our Eagle Creek adventure by mid-week. As it stands, I am too tired to presently offload the canoe from the Ford. But we had some epic times over at good old 90.  Check back in around Tuesday or Wednesday.
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Pressing Ijams to Make Crag and Quarry Accessible

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http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/2016/11/16/watchdog-group-presses-ijams-reopen-crag-make-boating-free/93812986/

 

I warned you that you would receive a dose of activism through the Highlander website.  Today, I am proud to share this bit of good news from SFW.

 

Watchdog group presses Ijams to reopen Crag, make boating free

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The Ijams Nature Center’s interim executive director said Tuesday that the Ijams Crag, the only outdoor climbing destination in Knoxville area, will be reopened “any day now,” as soon as an insurance company provides coverage for unsupervised climbers.

“We’ve been told that it is pending,” said Bo Townsend, who was named interim director of the park on Oct. 3 after Paul James, director of 12 years, resigned. “But I can’t give you an exact date because I don’t know. I thought it would have been resolved long before now.”

On Sept. 19, Ijams closed the crag to open climbing after a four-month-long search for a suitable liability insurance policy yielded only one option, which administrators were surprised to learn didn’t include coverage for unsupervised climbers. The management team had just three days to make a decision, and they felt forced to accept the plan or risk having to shut down the entire park, said Ijams’ development director Cindy Hassil. Now, only supervised climbing and instruction classes are permitted on the crag, meaning climbers must pay to play.

Members of Knoxville’s small but dedicated climbing community who worked thousands of hours to prepare the crag for public use were devastated by the unexpected development. Advocates for access to public lands critiqued the closure as unnecessary, arguing Ijams is not responsible for unsupervised climbers if they do not pay to climb under the Tennessee Recreational Use Statute.

The statute states “the landowner … or any person in control of land or premises owes no duty of care to keep such land or premises safe for entry or use by others for such recreational activities as hunting, fishing, trapping … rock climbing.”

An environmental watchdog group that sued the National Park Service over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s backcountry fees told Ijams Nature Center on Sunday it is “prepared to take the next steps” if the crag is not reopened and the quarry’s waters made free to access by boaters. Currently, visitors must pay River Sports Outfitters to rent boats for use on Mead’s Quarry Lake — “Ijams’ current liability insurance does not authorize private boat use,” the park’s website reads.

The Southern Forest Watch, a nonprofit group, argued in a 2013 lawsuit that the Park Service was wrongfully restricting taxpayers’ access to the Smokies’ backcountry by charging $4 per-person per-night fees. On Sunday night, John Quillen, the group’s board president, emailed Townsend to say “many in the climbing community … see the same thing festering right in our own backyard at Ijams.

“As it stands, no one can climb without going through a guide,” Quillen wrote. “Similarly, no one can paddle at the quarry without paying a for-profit entity for the privilege. This is public land, and we are prepared to take the next steps, if necessary. I have been briefed by the Southeast Climbers Coalition and assured that the Tennessee Recreational Use Statutes are in full effect here. That would immunize Ijams were it not for the fact of Ijam’s insistence upon charging clients to climb. This closure has been prolonged during prime climbing season, which has the effect of negatively impacting the Outdoor Knoxville brand and sending climbing enthusiasts to the Obed.”

Townsend responded on Monday morning, saying Ijams is “in the process of reopening the climbing crag.” He said Quillen’s concern about the quarry was a new issue to him, and that he needed to discuss it with Ijams’ Board of Directors and get back to him.

Townsend told the News Sentinel on Tuesday that the park decided to purchase insurance to cover open climbing on the crag, despite some saying it isn’t necessary under the Tennessee Recreational Use Statute. He said he does not interpret the law that way.

“We’re looking into all that, but we can’t act on people’s opinions,” Townsend said. “We have to get advice from experts in the field, insurance people, lawyers etc., and we have to make the most appropriate decision for the organization.”

“They’re covering themselves so they can charge people to go use the crag,” Quillen said of Ijams’ decision to purchase insurance.

Regarding Mead’s Quarry, Quillen said that if Ijams plans to continue to charge visitors to take boats on the waters, he would like to see administrators delineate that the quarry is not on city property.

“The question for me is, is that also city land, or is that specifically Ijams’ property? Because if that’s city land, then we’re back on the same issue with the crag. … To me, the issues are linked.”

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Injun Creek

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It was a fantastic weekend. Starting early Saturday morning, I rose to a breakfast at Ijams Nature center, then across the street for the Fall Festival. When I say across the street from my house, I mean, across the street.
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This is the largest gathering of mountain bike enthusiasts in Knoxville’s history. I have long described Baker Creek as “Christmas in my backyard”. If you don’t know about Baker Creek, then this article will bring you up to speed.  I am fortunate enough to be able to ride or run almost daily on that trail system.  It is the best present of the year.  http://archive.knoxnews.com/news/local/new-downhill-mountain-biking-course-creates-national-venue-3569f26f-8a76-7515-e053-0100007f421e-383446291.html
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After enjoying a huge party across the street with about a thousand of my closest friends, I rushed off to intercept Laurel, Terri, Tom and Sarah at Injun Creek. Since I knew the Manway, it was but a short 40 minute walk to camp. Laurel took off to capture miles towards the Dudley trail and I walked about and made the pilgrimmage up to the Engine, aka Injun.
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We had a delightful evening, devoid of fire, of course because of the fire ban. Ahem, Ahem.
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Tom and Sara were waiting for the sun to fall before meditating upon our imaginary fire.
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It was a shame because there was so much wood lying about.
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There was that awkward moment when no one seemed sure of Laurel’s intentions here. Come to think of it, I believe Terry was aware of Laurel’s intentions.
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But someone did get a new chair for their birthday! (not me)
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The next morning we cruised out and gassed it back to Knoxville for some Indian food at Bombay, the best in town. Outstanding weekend. I cannot remember the last weekend we weren’t in the woods, I am thinking this has been a two month run of consecutive weekend outings. It brought me back to a time in the 90s when Ed Lee and I would do strings of weekends. The biggest one Ed and I did was 34 consecutive weekends. And I wasn’t even clicking miles in those days. We just grabbed a park map and hit the road. It was incredible. I have enjoyed this past year because it brings me back to a simpler time when the Smokies were a mystery and every corner held some new amazement. Escorting Laurel brings me back to that simple time of good company and respect for the environment. Gone are the days of backwoods bacchanals or outshouting owls and coyotes. (although Eagle Creek this year may have some of that) Again, there is a time and place for everything.  A new era has emerged and I am liking it more and more each outing.

As a salute to the old times, I am reminded of this song.

 

Old Settlers

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Headlamp Hiking means a late friday into a familiar spot. This is where I finished my last Smokies mile in 2007. It began a tradition for others to finish there. I spent many a night at this place in support of others who were completing their miles and this weekend was time to support Laurel and AJ who needed all of it.  At the very least, I was definitely improving my immune system through forest bathing.

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It didn’t take long to set up camp before we were presented with a night time adventure that I will have to share around a campfire. It involved a couple of hours of extra night hiking. Fortunately for me, the night was warm and pleasant, perfect for roaming the Old Settlers trail with a headlamp.

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Because of that journey, Laurel was left to tend the fire and when I returned from about 4 miles of meandering, we retired for the evening.

I know this area well.  Many years ago, while sitting around camp waiting for some guys to come in and do their miles in different directions, I decided to explore some of the trails that branched off.  It was then I stumbled upon the “secret corridor” so oft used my my former associates today.  It is ironic that I should hand something so easy to a group that would never dare go offtrail previously.  Sometimes there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for those who dare to explore.

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Next morning, AJ comes strolling into camp after doing the long section of the Old Settlers. It is about 11 miles from Maddron Trailhead. He was sweating like a wild boar but glad to be home. We soon said goodbye to Laurel who would retrace his steps in the other direction.

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My plan was to do some more exploring. There was an old logging road that needed some attention, so I devoted my afternoon to walking up it while AJ recuperated from his journey.
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We hiked back out later in the afternoon, grabbed the car and shuttled back around to Maddron to pick up Laurel who knocked out the 11 miles in 3 hours. Amazing, huh? We also dropped AJ’s car off at the other end in Greenbrier.
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We had perfect weather for a fall outing with leaves and solitude. One of the things I like about Tennessee football is it keeps my mountains empty. Laurel and AJ hiked out and I picked her up at the Greenbrier entrance on Sunday. She clicked big miles along with AJ and they can check a box on the OST. I actually needed the miles back to Maddron but did not tackle it this weekend because my leg was infected from a whipper I took on Geebees at the Obed last weekend. In retrospect, I could have easily done so but messed around those logging roads and popping in and out of the campsite. It still was a glorious two days. Very restful time and with great company.

The Obed

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I was just “hanging out” at the Obed following an invitation from the old crag crew. That is where the mountains and forests led us this weekend.

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Good looking folks.  Having fun on a beautiful weekend for camping and climbing.  That’s Laurel, Asher and Rebecca.

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Your’s truly and the pound hound who wasn’t quite a model of good behavior. One thing about climbing and dogs is, there are plenty of both.  We camped under a star filled sky after doing laps at South Clear on saturday.  A delightful party and campout followed at Del and Marti’s.  They have turned their camping area into quite a festive weekend event with climbers from all over spread throughout their woods.  Apparently they opened a new brewery there as well.  We walked up to check out the scene and found a band, campfires and plenty of merriment.

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Laurel and I got some hiking in. The walk down to south Clear weaves through the river gorge with beautiful scenic vistas.

tn_img_20161022_173141784I took a whipper leading Geebees, a 5.11a.  Below is a pic of a ground view with Asher topping.

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That is Trey actually “cleaning” Tarantella at the Lily Bluff on Sunday morning.   It was just what I needed.  Our local crag is still closed.  We hope to have that reversed with a few weeks.

Stay tuned.

John

 

Hangover 2016–Barking at the Super Moon

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How were the colors, you ask?  Well, they were peak, in my opinion.  Oct 15 usually is the sweet spot.  That’s what the news outlets think as well.

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photo courtesy Myers Morton

I’ve had about the best Fall break one can create.  Beginning last Friday, when Laurel and I camped at Deep Creek and she took me to meet Frank on our epic 67 miles North on the AT ending Wednesday.  Then to be standing on Hangover watching the sun crest Robbinsville after an evening of classic sunset bathing on the rock.  I’ve had perfect weather and perfect company.

left to right: Gary, Kirby , Tom and Sarah, Laurel, Buff, Mark and Myers.

I was proud to escort this group of newbies to the most special place on earth on the Super Moon and traditional Hangover weekend.  I have been to Hangover on the October 15 weekend for about 30 years or so.  I missed one year for my brother’s wedding in 96.  Every time someone has changed the date, the weather has been bad.  I explained that on Everest, for example, most summit windows occur around May 21.  I believe that weather patterns tend to trend on particular dates.  And this weekend bore that observation true.

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This is the super moon that got pulled up when the sun set.  I have never witnessed anything of this nature on the Hangover.

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As the sun set to the West, the Super Moon appeared in the East. I knew we were in for a blessing when, upon arriving on the rock, Laurel and I were buzzed by a bald eagle.  At about the same time, Sarah and Tom popped out on the heath bald as we were standing to the familiar rock looking eastward.  We all saw the same bird as he swooped up from them to us as if to say, “Welcome home, my friends, we have missed you.”

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The Eagle is in this picture, I just couldn’t zoom sufficiently.  Perhaps he smelled me.

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Having just completed  AT miles,  I knew Hangover would be dry as a bone, so we all toted up sufficient water for the night.  My pack was about 60 lbs.  It was a great workout.  Tom and Sarah were feeling the burn of the traditional Hangover Lead South trail.  It is remarkable how dry the entire area had become.  Bob’s Bald spring is completely dry.  Hangover spring is completely dry and Naked ground is such a small trickle it took our friends about an hour to drip a couple of quarts.

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This is the old spring from which we traditionally get water on the hill.  I had to walk down just to make sure.

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Tom and Sarah were blown away.  As was Myers.

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We were treated to a traditional Hangover sunset.

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Mark brought a crew down from Kentucky to experience the Hangover.

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It required them dropping down to the Holiest of Holies.

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All these pics below are from Myers, enjoy the ride for a minute.  It was beyond description.

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That’s Gabby to the right.

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Are you starting to get a sense of the forest bathing that cleansed our souls of any nastiness from the previous year? That is the magic of Hangover.

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What little bit of wood was to be found, we burned with a vengeance.  Like water, it is scarce on the Hang.  But who should come walking up into the night but a friend from the previous year,  Remember Randy from last year’s event?

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Randy Redwood has followed Highlander events for a while via the webpage and knows more about our doings that anyone.  Well, Sunday was his birthday and we wished him a good one.  What a great place to spend it.  Happy birthday, Randy Redwood.

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Above is an archived photo of Hangover prior to 2007,  most likely around 2005 taken by Neighbor Randy.  I am producing it to show the campfire area prior to being clear cut by the forest service in their infinite wisdom.  Here is an article I wrote describing the rape of the clear cut and outlining the type of thinking SFW fights daily.

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(Myers pics turned out much better than mine.  I need a new camera.)

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Mark and I are having a serious discussion.  If you are not familiar with Mark, then allow me to introduce him through his work with Southern Forest Watch.  I believe this article speaks for itself.

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/outdoors/item/17708-a-strained-relationship-suspicion-of-nps-lingers-among-some-backcountry-users-parkside-communities

It was not the intention to hold a SFW outing atop Hangover this year, it just turned out that way.  In fact, everyone is familiar with Myers diligence on the lawsuit and many other matters.  Mark Cooke typifies the type of patriot that not only speaks of effecting change with regard to public lands managers but actually works to make it happen.  For over one year, Mark collected the data in the article above.  It is your duty as a user of public lands to read this article.  We are all very proud of his labors.

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Including Kevin and Gabby and Tom and Sarah.  They have received quite an enlightening about the misdeeds of the National Park Service and are happy to assist the SFW in its advancing advocacy.

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There were many magic moments on the Hang this year.  Too many to describe.  My personal highlights were the Eagle, Myers and SFW presence, Laurel and the Ky Faction and Tom and Sarah’s presence.  Heck, there were no problems, even with the lack of water and wood.  We had lively political discussions, great social banter, incredible comparisons of gear (Mark has a cuben fiber tent that is the envy of all at 23 ounces. The $700 price tag is a bit of deterrent for me at this time)

I heard more oohs and aahs than ever on the rock and we had not a drop of rain.  I am very thankful for all the blessings I have had just in the past ten days of Fall Break.  Most of which I spent sleeping in a tent on the ground.  And that is Heaven.

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Just having Myers outdoors is a blessing!

 

On the trail with Yo-YO aka Frank

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67 Miles North on the Appalachain Trail with Frank, aka Yo-Yo

Oct 8-12 2016

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A snapshot of the miles we completed and elevation is above. All but a few of the Georgia miles are included.

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This is where we began after leaving cars and my girlfriend at the NOC. We were shuttled to Dick’s Creek where Frank left off from his last jaunt.

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We began our ascent and first day climbing up the infamous Bly Gap making for 12 plus and lots of cardio.

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8 miles in, we began the NC section. These were new miles for me as well. I have completed all the AT in TN. Section hikers is what they call us.

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Views abound in this time of autumn.

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Along with Ents.

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The wind was gale force due to the hurricane but I set up outside Muskrat shelter for our first night of falling limbs. We felt as if our limbs would fall after the ascent of Bly Gap.

Part 2 of the Carolina AT walk    October 8-12 2017

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I rather like this one.

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= We enjoyed a beautiful sunset outside of Muskrat shelter.

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Standing Indian mountain.

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tn_p1060277 Carter Gap was busy and cold.  The wind had subsided and we put in about 13 miles this day.

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Our newest best friends were Dave and his son, whose name escapes me presently.  Their fire was the antidote to my lack of down.  It got into the 30s in Franklin this night, I felt it through my sleeping pag.

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The next day would find us making our way to the summit of Albert Mtn and the firetower with exceptional views.

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It was a knee raiser to get here but the payoff was we got to drop for several miles down to Winding Stair Gap where we hitched a ride into Franklin for a motel night and visit to Outdoor 76.  Franklin is a trail town and we wanted to experience it.  We hit the trail next morning at a not so early time of 10.30 because our shuttle, Ron Haven, was unable to depart any earlier.  But he is a character.

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There are a lot of dick creek and lick creek gaps etc along the Carolina section.

This day would find us ascending another  big hill towards Wayah Bald.

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But the view is unparalleled.  I could see hangover, the Smokies and and all the way into Franklin.

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tn_p1060329 Now we were looking back towards Albert Mtn from the day before.  And what a haul it was.  We would end up doing over 16 miles this day on account of a drought situation that necessitated pushing on to a campsite past Wayah.  And our legs and blisters were feeling the love.

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Because of the  unexpected 16 mile days my toes were casualties.

tn_p1060345 How is this for a sunrise view?  From our campsite the final morning, I coffeed up as clouds engulfed the valley floor.

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Somewhere along this point, Frank realized he left his camera high atop the firetower at Wesser Bald.  So Yo Yo got to Yo Yo back up the hill a mile.  And I truly felt sorry for him.  I had to descend to meet Laurel at the NOC.

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Wesser Bald Tower is a nice side trip.  Just don’t leave your camera there.

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I will add that the drop down to NOC was knee jarring.  I feel sorry for anyone having to ascend that beast.  Frank caught up an hour after I hit the ground and put my feet in the water at NOC.  It corresponded with a great fish kill of unknown origin and the water temperature rose 10 degrees.

Frank, thanks for inviting me on this wonderful journey and congratulations on your section hike.  It was a grand, and problem free adventure.  There is a drought, so be prepared.  I fully expect Hangover to be dry as a bone.

 

 

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