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.


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.

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.



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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Even from here, the summit seemed miles away. Because it was. Laurel and I started up the wrong path, OK, my fault.
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.
tn_p1060804 (read the sign next to poor, sick Laurel!)

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.
tn_p1060809 (its pretty bad when you are laying on a rock for comfort)

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.


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.


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.

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.



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.


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.

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.


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.

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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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.

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.


Think you could do this?

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Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to get a 500 acre piece of land from your county, lease it for $15 and turn around and whore it out to whatever for profit entity you wish? Oh, and did I mention that you could keep taxpayers from using that land for which they pay at your discretion? And people say that the feudal system died in Britain years ago. Well, that is what is happening right here in Knox County. Check it out.

(If you find this somewhat egregious, an email to Mayor Burchett should be in order. Perhaps he can answer your questions as a taxpayer.



Here is the full article:    http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/2016/12/16/ijams-no-private-boats-lake-crag-still-closed/95484676/

Getting Meade’s Quarry and Crag Open

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Mead's Quarry Lake notice





Ijams to consider private boats on Mead’s Quarry Lake
Travis Dorman , travis.dorman@knoxnews.com 5:42 p.m. EST December 14, 2016
Mead’s Quarry Lake
(Photo: Travis Dorman)

Ijams Nature Center’s Board of Directors will discuss Thursday whether to allow private boats on Mead’s Quarry Lake and how to proceed in reopening the park’s climbing crag.

The issues will be discussed at a board meeting at noon, interim Executive Director Bo Townsend said.

The decision to re-examine the boating rule comes after Knoxville resident John Quillen repeatedly asked Ijams’ administrators this question: Why should taxpayers have to pay a for-profit company to access a lake on Knox County property?

Quillen, who is board president of the nonprofit group Southern Forest Watch, met with the Ijams’ management team on Dec. 8. Quillen said he believes taxpayers should be able to access Mead’s Quarry Lake without having to pay $12 an hour to rent a boat from River Sports Outfitters, as is park policy.

In 2013, Southern Forest Watch sued the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the park’s implementation of $4-per-person, per-night fees to access the backcountry. The nonprofit lost the lawsuit. Now, Quillen has taken issue with a sign posted outside the Mead’s Quarry Lake at Ijams, which forbids access to the water “except for paid boat rentals” from River Sports.

Mead’s Quarry Lake notice
Mead’s Quarry Lake notice (Photo: Travis Dorman)
“No private boats. No swimming. No diving. No horseplay. … Violators subject to $100 fine under City Ordinance #19-161,” the sign reads.

While the majority of Ijams is on city property, Mead’s Quarry Lake is on Knox County land. The city has a contract with Ijams for ownership of the land, and the county leases the quarry to Ijams for $15 a year. The lease, which does not mention concessionaires, requires the park to maintain “personal injury liability insurance covering the premises.”

Townsend said he was unaware of the sign’s existence until Quillen mentioned it to Ijams’ management team. Townsend is relatively new to the post — he was named interim director on Oct. 3 after Paul James, the director for 12 years, retired. Townsend previously served as executive director for 10 years before leaving the park in 1999.

Townsend said he’s “not sure where the sign originated” and doesn’t “understand why it’s there,” but said he intends to find out. He also said he assumes a city ordinance cannot be used to enforce fines on county property.

“The sign is a little vague I think,” he said. ” … I don’t know if that’s exactly the message we want to convey.”

Private boats are forbidden on Mead’s Quarry Lake to prevent overcrowding, Townsend said.

Ijams’ website says private boats are forbidden because “Ijams’ current liability insurance does not authorize private boat use.”

Bo Townsend, Ijams interim director.Buy Photo
Bo Townsend, Ijams interim director. (Photo: Steve Ahillen/News Sentinel)
“With a limited resource such as the quarry, we have to have something in place to manage the usage,” Townsend said. “And having the vendor there is one way to control access, because we can’t just open it up to anybody and everybody. There’s also safety concerns, and as with any resource, it has to be managed appropriately. That’s one way for us to control that.”

When asked if Ijams can restrict access to a lake on county property, Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said Monday that the lease “speaks for its space.” He said it’s a question of policy, not of legality, and that the Law Director’s Office provides legal advice to the county and elected officials – “I don’t provide legal advice to the News Sentinel,” he said.

Regarding Ijams’ citation of a city ordinance to forbid access to county property, Armstrong said he doesn’t “know what the intent of (the sign) really means,” and referred further questions to Knoxville Law Director Charlie Swanson.

Swanson said Tuesday that Ijams can cite a city ordinance on Mead’s Quarry Lake if the lake falls within Knoxville’s city limits. The park is in city limits: it falls just west of Knoxville’s eastern boundary. Swanson declined to comment on Ijams’ decision to charge patrons to access the waters, saying it is a county issue.

At a Sept. 26 Knox County Commission meeting, a quitclaim deed, which would give Ijams ownership of Mead’s Quarry Lake, was taken off the agenda after Commissioner Brad Anders “brought up some points” to then-director Paul James, Anders said. Under the provisions of the quitclaim deed, Ijams would not be able to charge people to access the lake, according to Anders.

“They couldn’t live by that quitclaim deed if they were charging people to float,” he said.

Anders, who acknowledged that he has spent “zero days in law school,” said he believes since the county is leasing Mead’s Quarry Lake to Ijams, the park has complete control over the property and can choose to forbid access to private boats.

“It’s like you leasing an apartment or house,” he said.

Four weeks after Townsend said Ijams’ climbing crag, Knoxville’s only outdoor climbing location, would be reopened “any day now,” the crag remains closed as the park waits on its insurance provider to cover unsupervised climbing. The crag was closed on Sept. 19, much to the shock and dismay of the volunteers who spent countless hours preparing it for public use.

Robert Blackwell tests his skills on the climbing routeBuy Photo
Robert Blackwell tests his skills on the climbing route called the Roof at the Crag on March 28, 2015, at Ijams Nature Center. Benjy Darnell belays him from below. (Photo: Paul Efird/News Sentinel)
The insurance company estimated crag coverage would cost between $10,000 to 15,000, Townsend said.

Some advocates have critiqued Ijams’ decision to purchase insurance as unnecessary under the Tennessee Recreational Use Statute, which 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.” But the crag is on city property, and the city’s contract with Ijams requires the park to have liability insurance “with a limit of not less than $2,000,000 each occurrence for bodily injury, personal injury, property damage, and products and completed operations.”

Quillen says the park could avoid purchasing insurance by giving the land back to the city.

“The easiest solution there would be to carve out that piece of property, give it back to the city, and it would be covered under the Rec. Use Statute quite clearly.”

Townsend said Ijams is “probably going to have to pursue other options” aside from the current insurance provider, which he declined to name.

“We’re just as anxious as everybody,” he said. “We’re in agreement with everybody else … We’re looking at every option. We and the city are trying to figure out the best possible solution to this problem. At this point in time, the best solution is to get insurance.”

River Sports owner Ed McAllister has not returned requests for comment.


After the Fire

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Portions of scarred land along the spur on 12/10.


Some sort of fire retardant spray, I imagine.

It’s hard to believe that the relatively small fire we witnessed and videoed after Eagle Creek grew to the tragic event in Gatlinburg. Frank and I were there to witness the damage following an afternoon volunteering to assist victims in a warehouse distribution. We sorted clothing, hauled pallets, assembled boxes and unloaded automobile donations. The outpouring of support was as impressive as the detritus of the fire itself.

We ran into several old friends from the fee fight and had time to sight-see afterwords. I’m glad we went. Frank drove all the way from Nashville because he is committed to helping Smokies folks. Frank is a proud founding board member of Southern Forest Watch. Much has been made about the juveniles who allegedly started the fire. I think the place was a tinder box ready to blow and 60 mph winds will carry it quite a ways. I know adults who are equally irresponsible with their campfires and have quit camping with certain ones as a result. They did say that the Cosby fire was started by a downed power line. I suppose we should all reserve judgement until the facts are complete.

You may also be aware that our president elect has proposed an interior secretary that makes no bones about her desire to sell off public lands. She thinks that boundary areas near public lands are impoverished and allowing folks to log, mine and exploit those resources are the ticket out of poverty. As critical as I have become of the NPS and DOI in general, I feel as if this is a most dangerous direction and we all know it is a veil to allow the same robber barons who originally raped the Smokies to do so again unfettered with fracking and all sorts of corporate negligence. What is needed is an overhaul of the NPS management. Our President elect has an opportunity to “drain the swamp” of entitlement at the DOI and eliminate fees entirely. Unfortunately, this new potential appointee has proven that she loves user fees for public lands.

If you didn’t see the post below this one, please accept my gift of a free download of my last book. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

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.




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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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?
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.

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.

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?

It wasn’t enough that she had encountered many of these critters already.

And we both saw a fair amount of hogs.
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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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