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. email@example.com 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.
We weren’t a tenth of a mile up Rough Fork when we encountered this fine specimen. He was docile but gave us a nice rattle show that didn’t translate as well to the video.
Laurel and I had some miles to finish. Have you been up Rough Fork? It is about 1300 feet in a mile and a half or so. That is fairly steep.
It was a two snake trip, about par for me. This was an ordinary Garter snake just minutes from the Rattler.
She wonders if it ever ends.
I lied and told her it would.
There used to be two Grand Poplars, now there is one. It is the largest in the park, we are told.
Caldwell Fork was virtually empty. So we grabbed the nice creek spot. I will have to say that it is probably equivalent to Rabbit Creek on the TN side. Laurel quickly proclaimed it one of her favs and definitely best on the NC side.
It is peaceful with good stream access.
Two weekends in a row of perfect weekend weather is unparalleled. Last weekend found us in the Red River gorge and this one placed us by a cool creek on a crisp August evening that required a fire. When is it that cool in August two weekends in a row?
And a near full moon to bark at the coon? Huh? What? How about it. Great outdoor Karma.
Life is good in the “uncrowded” backcountry of the Smokies. On a beautiful weekend, we had a campsite almost to ourselves. (One other group from G-burg came in after struggling over Rough Fork)
One thing I will note is that Caldwell Fork is absolutely ruined from horse traffic. So ask yourself this question, if the NPS in their infinite wisdom, can close a campsite because it is overused, why would they not close a trail for the same reason to horses? If you have been to Cataloochee then you see that horses have rutted, mudded and eroded every inch of the place and still bridges are out all over Caldwell Fork.
You can walk on a path and step from manure pile to manure pile with little ground in between. Why wouldn’t the NPS close it to horse traffic? Money, clear and simple. The Catalochee and Cades Cove horse consessions but thousands back into the NPS in form of concession fees. So they dictate policy there. Just like national policy in Washington. The reason we don’t have a healthcare bill is because folks like Lamar Alexander are breaking their necks to find a way to avoid single payer or Medicaid for all. He wants to protect the Blue Cross Blue Shields of the world from losing relevance and billions of tax dollars. That is who he is protecting. It sure as hell isn’t you and me.
And we all know that Lamar was the main reason we have a backcountry fee. Remember, we offered to give them a software reservation system for free. But the NPS had no interest in that because it wouldn’t allow them to get kickbacks from Recreation.gov and all the other vested concessionaires. Follow the money folks. That is where all evil lay. Just as it was said in Watergate, the money trail will lead to the sin.
And there is plenty of sin to be uncovered in Washington, I assure you.
I will leave you with a quote that is extremely relevant today.
The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.―H. L. Menken
When we first met with Dale Ditmanson prior to our lawsuit, he assured everyone he was going to do so many things. What he did was bought time to prepare themselves for implementation of this backcountry tax. A bureaucrat is good at doing that. Lying has now become institutionalized in the past six months. I implore you to get your news from outside sources because your local media and others have agendas of which most are unaware. There is a reason WBIR never covered any controversy in the Smokies during the fee fight. We now know it has to do with Blackberry Farm advertising revenue.
Stay sharp folks, its going to get worse. The Secretary of the Interior threatened an Alaska Senator if she didn’t vote for the White House healthcare bill by saying he would lock up public lands in Alaska. These mafioso tactics are now accepted.
Quit accepting this. The world needs some strong men and women today. Do something folks, take your freedoms back. Other countries have great healthcare, a self employed guy like me shouldn’t have to pay almost $500 a month for lousy health insurance. Yet the White House answer is to rollback protections for nursing home residents. Aka, your parents, grandparents and consumers of healthcare. He doesn’t want you to be able to sue healthcare providers if they sexually assault your parents in a nursing home. http://thehill.com/regulation/healthcare/345411-fight-over-right-to-sue-nursing-homes-heats-up If we can spend a billion every six months in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can insure and protect our own folks. But Trump and Lamar want to protect the theiving corporations. And selling their lie is a news network that really pushes Fake News, on a daily basis.
Now lets enjoy some music. I like this new Killers Song. Very relevant.
Since we first visited Muir Valley some two years ago, Laurel and I have developed a great fondness for this pristine and responsibly developed climbing area. Rick and Liz Weber had a vision and guided this marvel to its fruition. It is the “smartest” developed area in the United States.
This is Johnny’s wall, where some very grippy Corbin sandstone feels like hand therapy for which chicks in New York would pay hundreds of dollars.
Laurel was bringing her Mojo from Rifle, Colorado a week or so ago. It is to my benefit that she has been in a climbing frame of mind. We took off Friday and arrived in Kentucky just as the rains subsided and brought in a much needed cool front that made for perfect climbing conditions.
We found a great camping spot just minutes from the valley floor.
It may seem dichotomous, but this is fun warm up. I spent most of my time on lower grade climbs but did flail around on two 5.10 a/b’s
The walls we visited were: Bruise Brothers, Sunnyside Wall (pictured here), Guide Wall, Practice Wall and one of my new favorites, The Land before Time. There is so much to visit at Muir Valley, it could take weeks to hit the major areas. Honestly, I prefer this Corbin Sandstone to granite like that found in Rifle, Colorado.
We were blessed with perfect mid summer weather wherein the temps didn’t hit 80 degrees. We made some great friends who may or may not have retrieved gear for me. I saw a good deal of wildlife and we had an epic John Quillen snake tale. And here it goes.
Muir Valley and the RRG is in a very remote section of Kentucky. Rolling hills, horse barns, green grass and breathtaking valleys are just a slice of the pastoral bliss to be found in this relaxing part of Appalachia. I grew up in a smallish town and have always been connected to the land as a child of the rolling hills who romped around in lakes and streams and hills. Therefore it wasn’t a great surprise when, as we departed the crag Saturday afternoon, fully arm pumped and smiling from a blessed day on the rocks. Driving back up from the valley floor we rounded a corner and two shirtless boys stepped trepidly upon the road, oblivious to our approach or in spite of, I wasn’t certain. I slowed to allow the first guy to cross and the second boy, clad in a camaflouge cap and tight jeans, hesitated as his older friend skipped to the other side of the road. We crept by and soon realized the purpose of their mission across the street. Kentuckian#1 reached into the grass and picked up a freshly shot copperhead that dangled from his armpit to the ground. This was a healthy snake and they wished to share this prize with all passers-by. It was a healthy copperhead that must have, unfortunately, crossed into the yard and was quickly dispatched.
Thus was the story of the snake that crossed our path this week.
Bad luck for the snake. But good luck for us. Thanks to Muir Valley for never disappointing.
Ya’ll come back now, Ya hear!
Greetings fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Many of you may have heard that today, interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska that if she didn’t support President Trumps healthcare proposal, he would retaliate by freezing up more public lands within his power over the National Park Service and NFS and BLM. Here is a link. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/report-interior-secretary-called-alaskas-senators-to-threaten-them-over-health-care-vote/
Now I don’t care what your political leanings may be, mine are more libertarian than anything. But this is ridiculous. As a result, I have sent the following letter to both Senator Corker and Congressman Duncan. (My Duncan letter is more personal since I know the guy, somewhat)
You loyal readers of this site may think that politics should be left out. I disagree. I also warned you that you will be entreated to a dose of activism on occasion when necessary. When politics affect public lands then it becomes part of my personal website, which is not affiliated with the Southern Forest Watch, I will add. So I wanted to share the letter and my concerns about the leadership of this country and urge each of you to write letters of your own to your elected officials. Enough of this is enough.
I am writing to request that you consider the impact of President Trump’s
erratic and immature behavior upon our democracy. As a member of the
foreign relations committee, you have to be concerned about his
alienation of the world and today, his own staff. The Russia
investigation continues to implicate most every member of his inner
circle and his response is to refuse to acknowledge that Russia even
meddled in our elections.
My greater concern, other than his obvious disdain for the rule of law
and horrible example presented to Boy Scouts (I have worked with
disadvantaged teenage drug users for over 30 years and do not use
profanity in front of them like he did the other day at a jamboree) is
what he will be willing to do to redeem himself in the eyes of the
public and his fractured party. With threats from North Korea looming I
could envision the President launching a pre- emptive strike to appear
“decisive” in the eyes of the world. You know that the consequences of
this type of action would be disastrous but it isn’t far-fetched.
Despots have long employed this tried and true chapter from public
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Responsible leaders from both sides
of the aisle are expressing concerns about amateur hour at the White
House. In summary, our democracy cannot afford another six months of
daily denigration and mockery of the rule of law. We cannot wait until
Trump does something else that has irreversible consequences and puts
American lives in jeopardy further at home and abroad. He has put a
target on the backs of Americans and now our military. During
Watergate, it was the late Howard Baker who stepped up and held Nixon to
task. The result is that he is held in high regard as a patriot today
for standing for the good of all Americans and not just a shrinking 38%
base. The passing of each day’s news proves that Trump does not possess
the temperament or stature to continue as leader of the free world.
I implore you to support articles of impeachment for the safety of the
United States of America. As a well respected Senator, you are in a
position to influence fellow legislators.
I appreciate your consideration of this critical issue facing our democracy.
Behind me is Neil Murphy and Laurel. On the port side is John Davis, the groom, Zahra, his beautiful bride and Lee Whitten, who also hails from Alaska.
We converged in Boulder for the nuptials of our friends. Being mountain folk, that led to one thing that led to another. Above, we are enjoying the Colorado river outside of Glenwood Springs. It had rained the previous night and we had the river almost to ourselves with some great rapids.
It was a beautiful ceremony.
we came from all parts of the US.
the day after their event, we headed up across Vail pass where we climb in the winter to the Colorado Trail. It is a 13 mile bike route the follows the river. Here, Lee is standing next to the great falls behind Hanging Lake. Hanging Lake was an 800 foot climb that took us about an hour and a half round trip.
It is, as you can discern, worth the ascent.
It wouldn’t be a John trip without a serpent sighting. John Davis has lived in Colorado his entire life and hardly ever sees them. Of course! It was my bike across which he slithered.
One of the three big outdoor events was to explore the world class rock climbing in Rifle. Rifle, Colorado was an hour from our not so humble abode in Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs was 3 hours from Boulder. Rifle has long been on my radar as a very advanced climbing area. I don’t think they know a number lower than .13 (For you non climbers, this means that the most advance rock climbing is a 5.15. My comfort zone is usually no more than a 5.10. This is a real crag)
It took me a good deal of time to top out on a 5.8. Of course, a 5.8 here is like a 5.10 anywhere else.
But Lee makes short work of it. In all, we spent two days in this paradise of granite.
Laurel arrived halfway through our time and got jiggy with the rock.
Our group is a fun one. Angela, Neil’s spouse, organized a dance party in our spacious digs. I have come to greatly appreciate the company of these fine folks. Everyone gets along famously. We were happy for John and Zahra.
This bike ride was repeated when Laurel arrived from Orlando. We retraced our path down the river the day before. It was followed with a dip in the icy flow fresh off the mountain snow tops.
We bathed in the natural hot springs, cooked gourment meals at our rented home, hiked, biked, rafted, climbed and exploited all recreational pursuits in this wonderful location. Many thanks to John Davis for hosting our crew and congratulations to our friends for the beginning of a new life together.
We were indecisive about our July 4th weekend plan. The weather was sub optimal so we determined that waiting until Sunday would obviate some of the crowds and rain. We settled on a plan to car camp at Deep Creek so Laurel could get her miles over there. ( I have abandoned any semblance of finishing my second map even though I probably have less than 20 miles remaining. ) We fought a monster bear jam on the Newfound Gap road and arrived in Deep Creek car campground after noon on Sunday. As expected, it was a zoo full of idiots. Dogs competed with children to see who could outbark each other. Tubers floated lazily, cigarettes in hand along with their lap dogs and children. Laurel and I strolled about to find a tent pad. There are many reasons to despise car camping. It is akin to shelter stays in my book. It attracts those who need creature comforts. Personally I find it more of a headache than not.
It did afford me the opportunity to fulfill one of the Southernhighlander covenants. And that is the special skill of appearing in the flames of campfires unexpected. As we walked around in search of suitable digs for the evening, I spied what can best be characterized as the main reason I modified my backcountry associations some years ago. Alone, likely stoned and sorrounded by dogs and a daytime smoker, the drug dealing geriatric pretended not to see us as he made a beeline for his car knocking his noontime beer over in the process of escape. Laurel noted that perhaps he was going for a gun. I said he was more likely going for another zanax and depends undergarment. We ended up planting ourselves not far from that area, there was little from which to choose on this extended holiday weekend.
I now knew that there would likely be other familiar faces from the old group about. As we erected the tent, I prepared for a trail run. Deep Creek is a great place to click a few miles so I headed up toward the Indian Creek Motor Loop. Before long, I had passed the infinite line of inner tubers and cyclists and was enjoying some moderate climbing up past the split for Stone Pile Gap. After an hour or so, I turned around to descend back to the “mayhem”. There were fishermen, hikers, backpackers and photogs. It was a jam packed Deep Creek experience.
Rounding the corner where Deep Creek trail passes over the water is a bridge. On it were two more familiar faces that I had not seen in about two years. It was clear they had not expected to encounter me emerging shirtless and covered in sweat from the backcountry.
It was the Trail Bailer and Jenny. I returned to camp and they came over to visit and catch up. There was a lot of catching up to do.
Laurel and I decided to go into town and chase some pizza in Bryson City so we bid farewell to the Howe’s and missed the pizza place by 3 minutes. We were on the verge of missing food altogether until the owner of the sports bar agreed to feed us. I was ravenous after a 6 mile trail run. We retired early in hopes of Laurel embarking upon her quest in the morning. The night-time arrivals next door saw fit that sleep would not occur as they banged on tent poles and yammered in Spanish from midnight until two am.
Morning saw neither of us moving far from camp as I pressed coffee and lounged about. Jenny and Will returned, having suffered the same fate in their site with two German Shepherd dogs competing with the children in that area. Laurel packed up for a 10 mile trek around the notoriously unremarkable motor loop. I love hiking and she later remarked, ” I should have known when you declined to join me on this one, it would suck.” And the motor loop really does suck. I did little that entire day but lounge around camp, visit with Will and Jenny and drive up to Stone Pile terminus. It rained while I was there but I decided to amble up to the cemetery and lay in wait for Laurel who was scheduled for a 5 pm appearance. On schedule and fighting sprinkles, she was subsequently sprinkled with a bigfoot laying in wait.
It was collectively decided that another night in that maelstrom of humanity was more than either of us could bear. Laurel had already done Leconte and Brushy mountain trails day-hiking last week. It was solid mileage for the mileage queen. Given that we both had trips upcoming it was agreed that we would head back over the mountain.
If you didn’t get a chance to see the monster bear video click on last weeks blog post. Laurel has also posted another bear video from Brushy Mtn. She saw three more on that trip. They are active.
I will be in Colorado next week, so expect some pics of Western Slope mountain fun soon.
One can’t help but absorb the potential symbolism. For me, the king of snake enounterers it was time to quit ignoring the messages. The universe speaks to us in many ways. I have a gift/curse for snake encounters so well documented through the Southernhighlander pages that a certain notoriety has developed as a result. This guy crossed my path on Tuesday as I rode the mountain bike through Baker creek preserve. My three riding partners had just called it a day. We had been launching off the table tops of Cruze Valley and Barn Burner downhill runs. Before the July 4 rains enveloped, I was alone on the acreage when I rolled up to this fellow. You only see his tail, and this is a frequent position for black snakes in my world. The tail was the tip of a longer serpent, beautifully marked with white marbling rolling across his scales.
A snake crossing your path could, at first blush, have many negative connotations. However, ancient wisdom holds quite the opposite. Across the board, it is generally considered a sign of metamorphisis and shedding of old skin. Contrary to popular belief, snakes aren’t necessarily bad. Numbers 21:8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” This was of course in response to a plague of snakes and snake bites. I’ve heard preachers struggle more with that particular symbolism than just about any in the Bible. Snakes have long been regarded in Eden terms.
But for me, the consistent crossing of my path by snakes means much more and particularly in context of that weekend. Snakes symbolize healing, a connection with the earth, awareness of surroundings and shrewdness. When Jesus dispatched his disciples, he conveyed the following dispensation, 16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. Matt 10.
Snakes have long held a high place in native American lore and rattlesnakes, especially, are considered good luck charms.
Earlier in the day I was rounding another corner and startled a hawk that had a freshly killed rabbit. He picked up that animal with a talon but was unable to fly with this meal that probably approximated his own weight. Because I was on the mountain bike, he had little time to escape with his bounty. Whether he was feeding or just killed the animal is undetermined. But to the treetops he retreated as my biking buddies rounded the corner and I related the tale. They spied the fresh kill and reveled in the grandeur of nature that is often cruel and powerful but equally awe inspiring as the hawk patiently awaited our departure.
In nature is strong symbolism embraced by all religions of man. Losing our connection with nature is the genesis of many psychiatric disorders. ADD/ADHD did not exist a few decades ago. I struggle to compete with video games when we take alternative school kids to the Smokies. The ones who make any sort of connection with the natural world are, to me, fixable. Not that the others are not. But like the black snake, we need to feel the rhythm of nature, move shrewdly and with little impact upon our environment and share our healing powers with fellow man.
These are gifts sorely needed today when our faith is placed in leaders and political figures who have never experienced any connection whatsoever with the natural world. Of course someone proposes cutting the Environmental Protection Agency who has never been into the natural environment. Of course political leaders support re activating coal mines and dropping out of the Paris accords when they have never left an ivory tower and are bowing to corporate interests to the detriment of all other humanity.
It is not a revolution until there is blood running in the streets. When 20 million people lose their health care so a bunch of millionaires can receive a tax cut, that time may be nigh. And if it happens, then we will be shedding skin collectively. As someone who has experienced the shedding of skin, I can attest it is painful and at some points blinding when that last bit covers your eyes for a spell.
But what is left is a new skin and fresh eyes. It is our job to see what we are supposed to see instead of what we are told to see by false prophets and corporate charlatans with agendas to match their egos. For someone with children to support the aforementioned policies is blindness of an unfixable sort. But the sins of the Fathers will be visited upon their brood. Be wise and shrewd and good stewards of our environment. We are judged according to our treatment of this sacred trust.