Some say the world. Hangover 2017

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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.tn_P1070943tn_P1070943


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 say the world will end in fire, 
Some say in ice. 
From what I’ve tasted of desire 
I hold with those who favor fire. 
But if it had to perish twice, 
I think I know enough of hate 
To say that for destruction ice 
Is also great 
And would suffice.      —Robert Frost


The Alpine Dihedral

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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.




Looking Glass Rock, Trad Time in Pisgah

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Micah leads day 1

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)

gear all laid out

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.

big ropes dangling rapeller micah

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.

cool robbie b

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.




Highlander Hump Hike 2017. 30 Miles from NOC to Fontana

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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.

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.

first legger  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.

tn_P1070745 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.

Image-1499678510  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.


p.s.  It’s coming.  Gonna be a good one.



Obed Trail Day Camp Out

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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.

Image144756496 (3)

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.)

Image144756496 (2)

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.

Image144756496 (1)

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!



Labor Day Activities

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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.  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.




Lower Jakes with little Quillen

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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.






Hangover for the Eclipse-Epic for the ages.

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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.





Rough Fork

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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 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.  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.

” ]



Red River Gorge-Muir Valley

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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!