I was privileged to join my fellow Southern Forest Watch board members, Rob Cameron and Myers Morton in their quest to complete Smokies mileage this past weekend.
We had a bit of company.
Myers, Rob and Nick started Friday at the Dome, overnighted at Siler’s and I met up with them Saturday coming in via Middle Prong. It was 8.6 miles for me and about 3000 feet of elevation, give or take. I had a great solo walk. There was a strange sighting, though. And I welcome any input from those with an ornithological bent.
As I rounded the corner on Greenbrier I came across this.
I don’t have the slightest idea what type of bird this is. After doing my impromptu autopsy, moved on and about 25 yards ahead of me was a wet creek crossing upon which were four of this poor fellows compatriots who flew off upon my arrival. It was quite a mystery as to what had transpired. (update: Roger Murphy identified this as a cormorant. Good catch Roger)
You can see that I had the trail along Greenbrier to myself. I hadn’t been out in the Smokies for a while, last weekend was the Fall Festival hosted across the street from my house by the AMBC. I wouldn’t ordinarily miss peak leaf weekend but the festival was one for the books and I’m glad to have entertained guests who came and went during the two days of big fun at Baker Creek, which I enjoy almost daily. Here is a pic of the nightime fun in my backyard last weekend.
Pardon my digression, anyway back to the ascent of Greenbrier. It was cathartic to sweat up a trail in the crisp Fall temperatures after passing the combat hikers who turn around at Lynn Camp. Three hours was my final time to the shelter.
Catching a nice sunset from the AT.
It was cold, windy and moist. But in true Highlander/Hell Guy fashion, a fire was soul warming.
We had section hiking company from Canada. A good group who retired early.
Myers and Rob hung out with me for a while. I soon realized that Myers bedded down to beat Rob and his talent for both inhale and exhale snoring. He could give Martin a run for his money.
In the morning, we were visited by the coneheads. It was what you may call a “heavy dew” situation. So heavy, one might almost be tempted to call it rain. It was very moist. Myers decided to descend with me as Nick and Rob headed towards Thunderhead and Rocky Top.
It was a great outing with great folks. I enjoy time spent with my SFW board members and friends. We strategized and made plans for the future. SFW has been pressing the NPS to open Parson’s Branch Road and Scott Mtn Trail. We also questioned them about the continued closure of campsite 90 and campsite 17, ostensibly for bear activity. The NPS is dragging their heels.
It is quite possible that the multi year delay in opening Scott Mtn is due to pressure from homeowners along that trail who wish to avert hikers in their backyard. Sound familiar? Yeah, another potential Blackberry Farm/Sundquist situation. I have corresponded with them over the situation. We are plotting additional measures.
I wish everyone a great couple of weeks and plan to be out with Yo Yo and Laurel next weekend.
Three clients canceled on me at 3.30 Friday afternoon so instead of going from my school job to the office, I veered left and ascended o’er Look Rock. My destination was Goldmine and Cane Creek. The weather was looking bad for Saturday and as I pen these words on a blustery, 39 degree Sunday evening am relishing the decision.
It used to be that Hangover weekend was peak leaf time. That certainly has changed over the past decade. But of course, global warming is a hoax and those retreating glaciers are just illusions. It still looks as if next weekend will be the sweet spot. I just needed some solo time down my adopted trails. I was in work clothing but found a pair of tennis shoes in the trunk. Campsite two was totally empty. You know, the overcrowded backcountry of the Smokies.
And things were pretty much as I remembered.
It was a great diversion. I dropped two miles down and about 900 feet. When I returned and reached the Cooper road sign, something growled at me from behind a tree. I stopped and tried to determine the direction from which this gutteral groaning emitted. Soon I heard another one and saw absolutely nothing. Usually in these instances, it has been a bear warning me of his presence. I found nothing and slowly moved ahead to hear nothing more. And that is my Halloween story of 2017.
As I close this weeks hikumentary, I will share updates from Southern Forest Watch and our efforts to keep the backcountry accessible to taxpayers. I believe the letter below to backcountry specialist Christine Hoyer is self explanatory. This is on the heels of Ryan Zinke’s NPS attempting to raise entrance fees so dramatically that most usually pro park groups are opposing them. Check out what he is trying to do here. https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2017/10/updated-brace-big-jump-national-park-entrance-fees
(Of course, Zinke who was accused of travel fraud while a Navy Seal and lately was indicted in the “private jet” scandal so rampant with Trump’s cabinet and just this week, has apparently steered a contract for Puerto Rico’s power grid to a company based in his hometown with no experience in any such matter.)
As I headed back up to the Hang for the annual October pilgrimage, I was reminded of the two previous trips and realized that the eclipse will forever likely be the most magic moment I have ever spent on this mountain. And that is saying a lot for somewhere that holds such import with me.
But it is the people that often make the place, and the memories. AJ chose to spend his birthday up here with us back in June. I dug this up out of the geocache.
That of course, was a lie. The hound followed us up for the eclipse and I could have used him on this one with my 72 lb, record Hangover pack. His utility as a load bearing Sherpa mutt is redemptive.
AJ and I made it up on Friday, along with Mark Cooke and his crew.
Between June and this past weekend I have spent about 10 days on this particular piece of ground. And, being the traditional Hangover weekend that I alone have observed for well over a quarter century, was blessed with the traditionally good weather therein.
Friday’s sunset was not to be missed.
It was a very mellow evening. Since AJ, myself and Mark Cooke and his crew ascended the traditional Lead we had earned a peaceful night of sleep atop the hill. Mark and his crew wisely avoided the late night scene but were not sufficiently far enough away for latecomers the second evening. And for that, and my part in it, I sincerely apologize.
Then Yo-Yo show-showed. He too, took the traditional, true Hangover ascent route pioneered and adhered by the stalwart. Being a hardy man, Frank did the quick turnaround and joined us in a dayhike out to Bob’s Bald.
So off we marched towards Naked Ground. And in the splendor of early Autumn a hint of crispness swept like wispy clouds over the ridge.
I love the way light bends like this tree in the period of refraction we call Fall. Makes for different angles.
The iconic Bob tree has fallen victim to the ages. Many are the times I have camped beneath his flanks.
But a few folks were holding vigil.
Frank is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Reminds me of the time I first met him many moons ago as I ascended Leconte via Alum Trail. In reality, Frank is one of the least unkind folks you will ever meet.
Made me miss my favorite of all Hangover partners.
I had all but given up hope of ever seeing Martin and he busts into camp at dusk thirty.
Martin made it out to the rock where we rocked with another magnificent sunset and an old friend or two. During the eclipse, I shared the rock with friends from many years and trips to the region. If you didn’t see the video, you should. It is HERE.
Billowy vapor enveloped the Fodderstacks and cleansed them. Purging detritus from the edges this moisture flowed through us and did the same. Old air is removed from cobwebbed lungs and replaced with all nutrients essential for second growth.
And suggestive of the view from a lunar landing craft’s window, the place is renewed through both ice and flame. And I end this tale with one of my favorite works.
Some of you may be tired of my climbing tales and I promise we will be back to backpacking next weekend. However, this was a day that involved one of the classic trad routes at the Obed and I was the guest of Chris Buffkin. Besides, this is the view from the top of our route, isn’t that something to celebrate. When people inquire about my climbs, I have to say that the view is probably the biggest payoff on any ascent. In this case, it was the company, physical effort and view which contributed to the overall dynamic.
There really is no way to look good in a climbing helmet.
(This is the second climb we did called Lillian’s Arete. And it is a sport climb, as you can see from the bolt hanger.)
The first part of the ascent from the bottom appears endless. Until you get on it, and realize it is so.
When the treetops get really small, you tend to quit looking down.
Which is why Chris is looking up. Chris did a great job leading this climb, we spent a couple of hours on the rock, about two and a half from bottom to top. Our rappel took two full ropes. Chris took this great time lapse of me coming down that you may enjoy. At least I did anyway.
That’s Micah McCrotty leading the way on our second pitch of Rat’s Ass 5.8+ on Looking Glass South Side. If you are wondering if this is something that may have crossed your rearview, then think Shining Rock and the beautiful stone fortress that stands sentinel from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Here is a pic, not mine, from the web just to refresh your memory.
(no the leaves haven’t changed that much, yet)
Robbie Blackwell, Kelly Brown and Micah McCrotty prepare the mountains of gear required for traditional climbing. Trad climbing differs from sport climbing in that your leader places these intricate devices into cracks and “eyebrows” on the rock. Cams, hex nuts and tri-cams are removable and do no damage to the rock. As Micah led the pitches, I follow and cleaned the route for the next pitch. It is a pure form of the sport and I enjoyed the leadership of some seasoned stone masters. You may remember my last trad experience on the Flatirons in Bloulder, chronicalled here.
The approach on Saturday was 30 minutes, or one mile uphill to the base of Looking Glass. Our rappels required two ropes and at each pitch’s base, we would tie the ropes together and rappel another pitch.
Robbie seems to have it all dialed in with a full rack.
I was happy to clean and be led.
To say that Trad is gear intensive is like saying that Trump kind of likes Putin. This rack belongs to those guys. That big cam on the left, for instance, probably costs in excess of $200. And they take lifetimes to accrue.
Hauling that stuff up about a thousand feet through the forest is backpacking. And the weather? Perfect.
On Saturday, a saltine chupacabre entered our camp. It seemed to follow Kelly.
Sunday’s approach to Cedar Rock was two miles and then this. We had to use rope to descend this section and it wasn’t much more than halfway in.
But the payoff is justified.
Then we got to work. It had cooled in an autumnal spell that made us itch to pull on granite.
Robbie and Kelly followed us up Dave’s Delight.
I took delight in the splendor of Fall.
In the Looking Glass, I see a future.
If you like outdoor tales, consider purchasing my first book.
A well deserved rest after day 2 and the infamous Jacob’s Ladder ascent.
This is Cheoah Bald which was gained after one of the most grueling climbs on the whole Appalachian Trail.
Take note of the elevation gains here. It is approximately 20,000 feet up and down. That comes to 666 feet per mile, which make this the fifth most difficult section of the entire Appalachian Trail. https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/seven-hardest-day-hikes-appalachian-trail
The Southernhighlander Hump hike was a tradition I started many years ago. Back in the day I took a bunch of newbies who were green to hiking on their first multi day trip. This year, I was a guest of Frank and invited AJ and Bill P. AJ is not a newbie but Bill is taking to the trail as if he has been doing it all his life. The last couple of years have found Frank and I completing section hikes of the AT. The completion of this section gives me all the AT from Dick’s Creek Gap to Damascus Virginia. All I lack is from Springer Mtn, GA to Dick’s Creek, which Frank has already completed.
This is straight up out of the NOC in Wesser, where we ended last Fall. Look at the elevation profile on this stretch.
It was as grueling as the chart indicates. We hobbled into Locust Cove in varying states of disrepair.
(the Jump Up, a celebrated photo spot on the climb)
And this little guy was willing to do it.
I needed a little talk with Treebeard. He advised me to keep moving.
Far be it for me to ignore the sage wisdom of a tree.
A couple of things happened at Locust Cove. AJ made a valiant and triumphant entry in great time before dusk.
As a result, I was forced to build a fire. Said fire drew our only companions of the trip.
this is Hot Pants, or as I called him, Hot britches, and Home Ec, a couple of SOBO thru-hikers from Vermont.
And this is YO-YO photo bombing Hot Britches and Home Ec. Home Ec has an interesting story about her trail name that involves sewing while in a shelter. I found it quite original. Hot Britches, not so much. Great people, though. 18 miles they did this day.
Do you like Yo-Yo’s tarptent? I do. It is a sub two pound beast.
And there is my sad sack shelter. During the night, we were bothered by a Bigfoot who ascended an oak and started throwing things during the night. No kidding. Some animal, very large, climbed in a nearby tree and raised cane all night long, throwing things down and keeping us all awake. But not AJ. I can assure you he was unbothered.
Saturday morning dawned beautifully as did all weather on this trip. We were blessed. Big miles awaited, about 12 or so. And we needed to climb Jacob’s Ladder. This is one of the steepest climbs I can remember along the AT. It reminds me of the backside of Jenkins Ridge in the Smokies.
Look at this climb on Jacob’s Ladder. We took a breather at Bown Fork
Gap shelter where acorns exploded like grenades on the tin roof.
AJ and Bill came rolling in with celerity, unphased by the climb.
Saturday was getting longer by the minute with this section proving unrelenting in its offerings to this Hump Hiking group. But we made it across Cody Gap, a beautiful spot and back down for the final climb into Cable Gap.
We were alone here and in good spirits. A peaceful evening awaited.
Yo Yo and Otis share a warming blaze and are soon to link arms and join in a heartening and classic Highlander spiritual entitled “Camptown Ladies”. AJ still thinks that he can somehow negotiate a raise by repping for his employer, Octonorm. I can tell you that AJ is a lot of remarkable things, but “norm” is not one.
Bill is not disappointed with the decision to lug a chair. Some things justify their weight. My pack was hovering around 25 lbs without water. These guys were toting 36 lbs easy. I am very impressed with both Bill and AJ and their perseverance and fortitude. This was Bill’s second or third backpacking experience and I can safely say it is in his blood. AJ is an old hat and Frank is the ultralight king.
Cable Gap is a nice spot with a privy. And it was not Livvid.
Forest Bathing is my new sport and I got three days worth. Ever notice how, when you have been out in the woods on a journey such as this, when you return to work, how cleansed your body and soul feels as a result? We burned a crap ton of calories and went through gallons of water each. That alone is a purification ritual. But to exist on the cusp of Autumn in the shadow of Fontana in the heart of Nantahala in mid September when the days breathe whispers of impending dew? That is about as close to Heaven as we can ever expect on this troubled earth.
Hints of our objective beckoned as Lake Fontana peeped from her watery lair.
I couldn’t have asked for more, other than perhaps to have had Laurel there. She is now with power in Florida following the big weather event. We experienced blowdowns from the residue but nothing overly significant. No yellow jackets and surprisingly no snakes. That is remarkable. Many thanks to Frank, AJ and Bill P for a great memory. I now have an even 400 miles of Appalachian Trail completed. Want to see how many you have done? Use this handy tool. http://www.atdist.com/atdist
p.s. It’s coming. Gonna be a good one.
I returned to the Obed for a weekend of climbing fellowship, trail maintenance and comraderie. it was a scheduled work day and Saturday was perfect weather for some brush clipping and trash removal. It feels good to give back to this resource that provides such opportunity not only to climbers but hikers, paddlers and fishermen as well.
I had a room with a view.
We cleaned up this campsite called Kelly’s Cave.
Of course, we made time in the afternoon to climb. I didn’t want to be “impolite”. Here we worked on new routes on the image wall at South Clear. It ws a day of perfect weather and company. Chris B and I once again tagged teamed a 5.10 that he led up and I graciously cleaned. Then I worked my way back to this point with about 3 lower rated climbs. (That’s Chris in the background helping out some folks we had climbed alongside last Monday.)
Del and Marte hosted the SouthEast Climbers Coalition who sponsored this event and everyone camped there. He had a great band and many enjoyed his brewing talents. Prizes included a rope bag that I won, a water bottle that I also won, and a 20$ gift card, also won by me. In essence, I was a great winner this weekend.
May tales were spun round the campfire on this early pre fall evening with abundant stars and fellowship. We befriended a girl who boasted about working at GSMNP. And who says I am not open minded? I hung with the quarry boys and am appreciative of their continued efforts at the crag and elsewhere on new projects. It was a truly delightful weekend. Sunday morning I rose super early. The hurricane was coming and Laurel was back in the midst of it. Fortunately she survived with no problems other than losing power. If I lost power at home, the neighborhood could eat on my leftover camping fuel remnants. Laurel had no such stock from which to draw.
Many thanks to the organizers of this grand event. The Obed is a worthy place and cared for by many worthy people.
On another, and equally celebratory note, our brothers in arms, the infamous Muir Faction, Highlander Chapter 3, summited contiguous America’s highest peak last week. Here is a photo of Chuck Adams atop Mt. Whitney. He is a true Highlander and congratulations to the Muir Faction. The mountains were calling and they responded.
Chuck is repping Muir with distinction. Outstanding!
Laurel moved to Florida a couple of weeks ago to embark upon her post doctoral studies at UFLA. So we hadn’t seen each other but she decided to get a ticket home and we spent a little more than a day together. It was Saturday, which was rain here, so we ate and relaxed. It was a great visit.
I spent the remainder of Sunday on a road bike ride (with the requisite flat tire) and got invited to the Obed today.
That’s Wesley on a 5.10. She made it look easy. I didn’t get much further than she was in this picture. It wasn’t my best day on the rock.
Chris is left and Frank Cook, who is a legendary figure at the Obed, led up a trad climbing route. I climbed it on top rope and developed a great appreciation for what he did on a trad lead.
You would have expected that Labor Day would bring the crowds. I knew almost everyone there from either Knox Crag or the Obed. It is a small community. Speaking of Knox Crag, I am hearing rumors that Ijams is doing everything in their power to get the crag back. Why? Two reasons, one is, they can charge people to climb there. It is a feather in their hat to offer this service. Two, Amber, the new director, has had a burr in her saddle ever since she was embarrassed over losing it.
So if you are reading this and think that Ijam’s shouldn’t be rewarded for closing the crag, built by local climbers and not Ijam’s, by having this public piece of land handed back over to them, then consider writing a letter to Mayor Rogero, at this link here. If Ijam’s gets the crag back, they will restrict access to taxpayers like before. How do I know this? Because, when Ijam’s controlled it, they would hog the entire area with guided groups. I personally witnessed this on the weekends before it was turned over to the city.
I can’t tell you the number of times I was there when they had ropes hanging from multiple routes, to the exclusion of no guided climbers. That is wrong. So please consider sending a message to the mayor. firstname.lastname@example.org You don’t have to be a Knox resident. In fact, an out of towner may have more impact than a local.
In summary, I had a great weekend and I hope that everyone reading this did too.
No, I don’t have a secret son. But better than that, I have a namesake, and since it was his birthday he decided to let me take him on his first backpacking trip.
Quillen Holmes is turning 10 this week. And he lugged a fairly heavy pack 3 miles and 1200 feet up to Lower Jakes Creek campsite.
Thats Mike in the background. Mike has been one of my good friends since 1988. He wanted to see that his son got a full dose of Smokies so we trudged up towards a good spot.
While speaking with a group descending from Blanket mountain, I spied my only snake of the trip. But he was gone before I could photograph the garter species.
We played in the creek, chasing salamanders and crawdads. Spending time with him is is like walking back in time to my own childhood. He finds great wonders in the natural world.
After eating every morsel of food I brought, Quillen was ready to retire for the evening. Mike and I caught up on life since we hadn’t seen each other for a while. Mike and I used to spend a good deal of time backpacking in the early 90s before he started raising a brood. I was very honored when, upon the announcement of his first born son, he would curse him with the name Quillen. But we all have our burdens to bear.
After a relatively calm night, minus Mike’s snoring in the adjacent tent, we were greeted with a morning visitor.
There was the mandatory Southernhighlander head dunk on the return at this great swimming hole about one mile up from Elkmont.
I forsee a life long future for little Q in the backcountry. He is a real trooper, a kind and gentle soul who isn’t afraid of any bigfoot or hook arm man stories. He didn’t complain one time about anything and was very appreciative of our time together. Thanks buddy for spending your birthday weekend with me in the Smokies.
New photos are beneath the video. Most folks don’t realize that Hangover was in the totality zone. In other words, we experienced a full two and a half minutes of darkness.
It’s like one of those 50s shots of the first 3D movies. We were joined by many friends of old.
You will recognize these people from last Fall. And we were reunited on this trip.
For three days and two nights we owned the Hangover.
Yep, that’s Randy Redwood. We run into him all over the backcountry, here and in the Smokies. He brought Marti and Art with him. Marti was with us on the hill last October. I was heading back down to the water hole, which barely supported a few of us, when he came climbing up. Randy said,”When I saw the set up down there, I knew it was a John Quillen doing!”
So now we have, Kevin and Gabby, Brian and Samantha, Tom and Sarah, Julie and Dave and their two boys, Marti and his crew and countless others that straggled up to hang out with the Highlanders in their most spiritual spot.
And of course, General Longstreet, and Laurel.
You know I made him earn his keep up Lead.
I was more focused on the galaxy than Trump is on Russia.
That’s Kevin and Gabby and Sam and Brian. Kevin and Gabby were with us last October.
There were 55 people on Hangover. We staked out this spot, along with our friends starting early Monday morning. It was easy as our camp was in the usual location. Up high in the sky.
The clouds parted just in time for the big show.
During the height of the eclipse, when totality of darkness hit, fireworks went off somewhere near Tapoco Lodge. It is visible in the eclipse video posted at the top of this report.
right at the start here.
Some people underestimated their climb to the Hang and had to hole up and watch at the Heath bald. I didn’t realize until my descent later on that one of them was………………
Yep. It’s GD Jack. The cavalcade of old Friends just kept lengthening. All backcountry hikers in the know made it to Hangover area at Eclipse time.
You will never see Big Fat Gap trailhead this crammed in your lifetime. At least I hope not.
Words cannot describe the Eclipse and experience of sharing it with Southernhighlander friends, new and old on Earth’s best viewing platform.