In Lukla

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Check my Twitter feed for photos because there is little use uploading them here. But maybe tomorrow weather in Lukla will be better and I can go into greater detail. We are safe, reunited after separate flights due to weather and healthy. We walk towards Namche in the morning. Check my Twitter feed if you can and thank everyone for your well wishes. I read each one.

John and Laurel.

Setting Off

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It has been a flurry of activity for the past several months in preparation for my attempt of Everest. These past two weeks in particular have seen more work and preparation than you can imagine. At this point my training is dialed in and my mental preparation is where it needs to be.

I was feted with a couple of going away parties by very good friends and coworkers. In addition to spending quality time with my family over Easter. Laurel and I are packed and tomorrow morning will be off to Kathmandu via Qatar.


My students at Maryville Academy and staff organized a truly heart-felt send off. The most common sentiment being “don’t die”. Similarly, Laurel and I dined with my friend Wendi and Mike and Eric and Skidmore and my brother who christened our venture over sushi. Wendi reminded me that we did the same thing prior to her AT through hike in the 90s.

Image4606657057928891811 send off

I even had a drive down visit with a representative from the Muir faction and sincerely enjoyed an evening with the legendary Bunyan. To think that he would travel almost four hours to wish me well is truly appreciated.


Stay tuned here for dispatches from Katmandu & beyond as Laurel and I initiate our trek into the Everest region. I’ll also be posting regular updates on Twitter and Strava as available. (Strava is a GPS app. I’m going to see if we can track or progress through the trek to include elevation and mileage between villages and camps)




Alaskan Ice

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Valdez Harbor.

My Everest training kicked into high gear this week with a “pre expedition” expedition to Alaska. Our experience was most excellent and we climbed for almost a week.  Lee and Neil and Angela did their usual over-the-top taking care of us. We began the first day climbing the beer can routes outside of Anchorage. IMG_20180313_120110174

Then we moved on to bigger things. Soon we’re at Caribou Creek a couple of hours outside of Anchorage on the way to Valdez. While climbing here, one of our members took a lead whipping fall and injured his rib. His name is Martin. Martin is a Polish climber now living in Anchorage and friends with Neil and Lee.


Just driving through the starkness of Alaska in winter is breathtaking.


I realize this image is sideways but I’m editing it from my phone in the Anchorage Airport and can’t seem to find a way to rotate it. As a matter of fact about to give up on this whole post because my phone doesn’t have the editing tools are required for the blog but suffice it to say we found an outstanding trip with tons of ice climbing in great camaraderie.


There’s an interesting story about this picture of our second day climbing ar caribou Creek.


We started off in single-digit temperatures and snowmobiled across a frozen creek to this area 5 miles back in the middle of nowhere Alaska. It was brutally cold.  In the picture above this one with the snowmobiles Lee is finishing off a lead with our new-found friend Martin. Martin takes a lead whipping fall and nearly cracks his ribs. We were climbing across from him on another route on the same piece of ice hanging off the side of the mountain. We heard a thunderous crash which was apparently Martin falling and landing on his rib cage. Bang a tough climber he stayed the rest of the day and we all proceeded to head out on the snowmobiles whereupon Neil insisted that I drive his snow machine.   There was a caravan of three of us going out Caribou Creek. I was following closely in Martin’s tracks on the machine that carried me, Neil and most all of our gear on a sled. Before I knew what happened the front part of my snow machine was pretty much down into a hole and ejected me off across the frozen creek bed. I launched a good 10 feet. Meanwhile, Neil is struggling to keep the machine from totally flipping over.  John Davis and Lee came to the rescue and we were able to reverse the machine and put enough weight on the right side to keep it from flipping.  I had to eat ibuprofen for dinner and learned that I could put my legs in delivery stirrups if necessary.  Neil learned never to hand me the wheel. It turns out Martin did not crack his ribs, just severely bruised them. It’s good to have a doctor with you in the backcountry.




Thank you Neil and Lee for a perfect outing. You may notice that Denali Dan was not present this year.  He is getting ready and fit for the next trip. Everest is 2 plus weeks away so stay tuned to this space for more pics and information.


Leconte via Alum

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It was a perfect bluebird day so a training run to the lodge was in order. Sunday marked one month to the day that we depart for Everest so these high volume cardio activities are imperative.


ice trail alum

Beautiful though it were, that’s ice on them thar trails and I saw a woman truly bust her tail coming down it. I was surprised at the amount of frozen stuff to negotiate past Alum Bluff.

rails frozen

I reached the lodge in record time, just under two hours.  The view did not disappoint.


But I chose not to tarry long. Overall I made the ascent and descent in record time, about three and a half hours round trip.  And that is the kind of shape I need to be in for the Himalaya.



Blessed to have been given such a perfect day for this ascent.

I leave for Alaska on Thursday, we will climb the ice of Anchorage and do some training up there with my Denali buds.



Chimneys and Road Prong

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It was a workout day where I went for some quick elevation gain. Having not been to the Chimneys since the fire, it was a good excuse to warm my legs before Everest in 5 weeks.


My new Motorola phone takes crisp photographs.  Makes me realize that I may need to retire my old Panasonic prior to heading into Nepal. Saturday was spectacular and uncharacteristically warm, in the 60s.  I crossed the lower creeks and headed up.


This is the new Chimneys view. You are no longer allowed anywhere near the actual pinnacles.  I was surprised how far back the NPS has stopped visitation. They apparently cut some trees here to create this overlook.  I stayed for a few minutes and dropped back down to Road Prong.


I’ve always found it one of the park’s hidden gems. I soon lost all dayhikers and was absorbed in a springlike walk up what used to be the main thoroughfare between North Carolina and Tennessee. Climbing this slender trail which hugs the creek, it was difficult to imagine a wagon ever negotiating this wilderness.


Little pieces of Heaven are found up Road Prong. My piece was solitude and great weather, a blessing from above. The weeks are falling quickly for me as I prepare and begin to travel the road to Sagarmatha. It is a period of finalizing the arrangements to shutter my multiple business interests for two months, organize gear and complete preliminary paperwork. In March I will fly to Alaska for some final prep on the ice with Neil, Lee and John Davis. Soon afterword, we will depart Knoxville for Doha, Qatar, then on to Kathmandu.  After some days in Nepal’s capital, we will embark for our flight to Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport. From that point our trek into Everest Basecamp begins.

I am excited, frantic and mildly nervous, not about the ascent but the details here at home.  But it is all coming together by the grace of God.

Stay tuned, be well and get out on the trails.



The road to Sagarmatha

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for blog everestIf you had told me this time last year that I would be gearing up for the top of the world, it would have immediately been met with scorn.  In fact, the notion of entertaining a climb on Everest had all but vanished from my aspirations. It was too expensive, too crowded, too too overdone. There were more remote places which summoned me round the world.

Two years ago, I stood on a hill outside of Tingri, Tibet. We were acclimating for a start up Cho Oyu.  The dusty backwater of Tibet ceded a cloud formation that relented and exposed what the locals called Chomolungma, or, Goddess Mother of the Earth.  As I peered across the border of China into Nepal the familiar ice plumb was jetting into the sky from the summit of earth’s highest peak. It was Everest in all her glory and my first ever sight of this mountain.

Days later when our expedition had made several camps up to what would become our base camp for Cho Oyu, the thin air of 18,000 feet held secrets of her own. Down valley from our tents, across the Cho La pass was Nepal.  And not far was base camp for the southeast ridge side and standard Everest route. Something told me I would end up there at some point.

It has been two years since I went on a climbing expedition and that has become my pattern. Early last summer I began training in anticipation of some type of venture.  I was seriously considering a return to Pakistan and the Gasherbrums. They have long since held fascination for me.  But with our President now calling them a terrorist supporting nation, things changed quickly over there and not for the better for us Americans.  (Words have consequences when you are the President of the USA, regardless of how ignorant and uninformed they are)

After corresponding with Ashraf Aman, owner of ATP with whom we contracted for ground services on Broad Peak, I was forced to abandon that notion.  Pakistan would have to wait a while longer.  Still I trained with a fervor throughout the summer, primarily mountain biking, sometimes twice per day with big hill climbs and long, leg burning sessions. I interspersed those with interval runs, swimming and a weight lifting routine. Rock climbing days were the “easy days”. I was getting in the best shape of my life, cardiovascularly.

About this time I began to hear from my team mates on Cho Oyu. Not surprisingly, they were all readying for Everest this spring. Two of them invited me to join their expeditions but it didn’t move me primarily because they were planning to attempt the North, Tibetan side. You may remember this is the side from which my teammate Andrea summited last spring. If ever someone invited me to climb the South Col route, that would present an appealing proposition.  But it didn’t happen.

Fast forward to January when an old friend contacted me about one of her relatives in hopes I could advise the family with advice on handling a loved ones substance abuse problem. (This happens way more often than you would ever believe, ever). As we navigated the choppy waters often accompanying the disease of addiction and developed a plan to secure treatment for the person, I realized that my friend, (not the one in trouble), had accepted a position with a fortune 500 company.  Long story even longer, I approached them with the idea of sponsorship.  And to my surprise, everyone at the company was excited about my proposal. I would hike to Everest basecamp using their communications device, showcasing its potential at the top of the world.  I couldn’t believe this could possibly come together.  As the negotiations continued, I began to envision myself climbing Everest on someone else’s dime.  At that point, the vision of Sagarmatha was consuming my brain.

My friend got approval for full funding all the way up to the CEO. His last words were, “Let’s just make sure engineering signs off on this”.  I checked my email daily until that dreaded correspondence arrived.  It began like this.

“John, I am very sorry but we will not be able to equip you with our _________ device for your Everest climb. Our engineering department is afraid the equipment will not work at high altitude.”

And with that, my sponsorship dream evaporated. After taking a few days to regroup, I decided that  my ship had already sailed too far in that direction.  The mountain was calling  and I decided to go regardless.  As you know, Everest is not cheap.  I was due a sizable discount from Summit Climb following the Cho Oyu debacle. My decision to return with them was not without consternation.  I was seriously looking at another company.  After several phone conversation with Dan Mazur, owner of Summit Climb, I began to feel as if he was truly trying to make up for the Cho Oyu issues. He matched my price from the other company and added my discount to boot. Knowing Dan was going to be personally leading this expedition pretty much sealed the deal.  Dennis climbed with Dan last spring and said, “It is a totally different trip when the boss is running the show”

So, in summary, not only will I be climbing Everest, Laurel will be joining me in the famous trek to base camp.  It is described as one of the most breathtaking journeys in the world.  We land at Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport, featured here From there we begin our 9 day walk to Everest base camp.  I am super excited and incredibly busy. Being self employed means taking care of all your obligations therein, not to mention the mountain of accompanying logistics. But it is all coming together quite nicely. In March I will fly to Alaska to do some ice climbing and training with my old Denali buddies. There I can dial in last minute gear purchases in the frozen north and enjoy the fellowship of these fine men.

I will, in usual fashion, be posting updates here on this site.  If you are an environmentally responsible business entity and are interested in attaching your name to this project, I would love to hear from you and discuss how to market your product at the limits of upper earth. Seeing your name on the highest peak is always a great marketing tool. You can contact me here.  I would love to discuss the possibilities with you.

It will be a grand adventure, and I am incredibly excited.

Everest is calling, and I must go.

peace to all,




Spruce Flats Manway via Lumber Ridge

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Laurel was in so we did a bit of walking in the Tremont region.



Lumber ridge is a new mile segment for her and a good little hill to pull on a nice, mid winter saturday.


We gained about a thousand feet in 4 plus miles and decided to drop down the manway to Spruce Flats falls.  It was the absolute right decision.



Artifacts abound in this well worn trail.  That didn’t used to be the case.  Years back I felt like we were the only ones who ever trod in there.  Here is a link to the last time I walked it.

Note the dead bear we encountered.






Overall a wonderful, relaxing outing and here are the strava stats.

strava stats lumber

strava stats 2 lumber

Loads of fun.  My friend Roger told me that the wolf introduction project, which failed greatly by the NPS in the 90s, happened along the Spruce Flats manway section.  Interesting bit of knowledge. I would like to know how much was spent on that.

Anyway, the manway is more like a highway now, I suppose the institute folks have beaten it sufficiently down.  Seems as if a lot of new construction has occurred at the Institute with tent/platform houses etc.


Groundhog Ridge Manway to Mt. Cammerer

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When JD called and asked if I wanted to hike, it didn’t take much arm twisting.  When I asked if he was up for an adventure, he didn’t bat an eye.  His response? “I have always wanted to do that offtrail”.  And with that our plan was solidified on Friday afternoon.

By Saturday morning, we had two more conscripts on board and one of them was familiar to me. You will appreciate this story.  JD said we were meeting “Dave” at the trailhead.  Imagine my surprise when “Dave” steps out of his vehicle and I am face to face with a guy I had a hand in hiring to replace a vacant position at the school where I do counseling work less than a week ago.  He and I had already put in two days at the Academy this week.  Dave has been hiking with JD and Bill for several years. When we were interviewing Dave, I asked him what he did in his free time as an outlet.  He proclaimed, without hesitation, “hiking”.  And without hesitation, I uttered, “Your’e hired”.


I found this old pot as we plodded into the Smokies. It was barely protruding from the snow.


JD has completed four complete laps in the Smokies.  Both Dave and Bill have also finished maps.


We got turned around twice. The slick snow was just another small hazard. Climbing the manway is a challenge in good weather, as you may recall.



There is quite a bit of rhodo pulling. With the snow, it was often one step forward and one step back.


That’s Dave.  Our newest science teacher, probably wondering why he followed me on an offtrail.



This is really what the untracked trail looks like.  Steep.  How steep?  Well,

profile of cam

Strava captured our stats.  It took us two hours and 45 minutes to top out and reach the tower.




I soaked every piece of clothing. When I took off my layers, steam came off my body like an iron plugged into a 220 volt outlet. I had apparently cut my nose while Rhodo surfing.


We decided to descend via the regular trail which gave us 8.5 miles for the day. As we were leaving the tower, I run into a  friend of mine, Stephanie, who had also taken advantage of the government shutdown long enough to make a run up the AT to the lookout.


As we descended, the weather improved and a warm front raised the temps so much a fair amount of snow had disappeared from the bottom of our trek.


But the scenery was fantastic.  As well as the company.  It was a wonderful mid winter outing.


27 Icy Smokies Miles with Curt

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tn_map highlighted2

I was supposed to be in Banff, Canada this week.  However, due to the selfishness of some woman who decided to board a plane from Knoxville with the flu and seat herself next to Laurel, the result was as expected and in keeping with the John and Laurel Christmas flu tradition.

So Laurel landed in Orlando with a full blown case and we had to cancel our plans. I was still in Knoxville and knew that Curt was wanting to do a big loop. He graciously allowed me to accompany him and our journey began in the icy morning of Wednesday, Dec 27, 2017.


Curt is no stranger to these waters of the Little River. As a fly fisherman, his knowledge of the drainage around Goshen is extensive. He had not, however, climbed above campsite 26.  If this sounds familiar, we completed this loop in reverse a few years back.  Here is a link.


I have some strange fascination with this log as you can see from the link above.  However, on this trip, I took a full boot bath that dogged me for the remaining 20 miles.  It was in the teens cold.




We spent the better part of the evening getting this guy to flame.  It provided little warmth and my boot and sock were frozen. It required quite a bit of finesse to keep a cold, formerly frostbitten foot warm.


We lay in 15 degree bags wishing I had brought my mountaineering kit. Fifteen is a survivability rating and survive I did, but thriving is always my outdoor goal. My toes didn’t warm until we were two miles into our big climb up Goshen Prong.


We had 12 miles to do this day and I was very happy to reach the AT above Double Spring. We saw no one along the AT whatsoever.


But it was beautiful. These are new miles for Curt, who now has the bug,  and you know what I mean.


The Narrows is what this section is called and it conjures memories of epic trips from long ago such as this most notable one..


I really love the Narrows, and its sister Sawteeth on the other side of Newfound Gap. These exposed ridges really produce in winter when the vistas are endless.


Curt soaks it up.


We made record time getting to Goshen the first day. Seven miles in under two hours.  Today, our pace was slowed due to the cold and frozen trail. We found areas that were pure ice and required negotiation. Not to mention the elevation from Goshen to the AT. We were also losing the battle with daylight in these shortened hours. Movement along Miry Ridge was “sporty” given the blowdowns, icy conditions and sloped trail that tries to pull you down the valley with each step.

It was a 12 mile day.  tn_P1080282

I’ll give you a dollar if you can tell me where this is.  I made it here just in time for a glorious sunset and busted out my headlamp for some more ice walking into 26.  I followed bear tracks into camp thus proving my oft stated theory that complete hibernation is all but a myth for Smokies bruin.


there was no fire in the ridge of Mire. Curt needed no explanation as to the nomenclature for this trail. As is the case with paths which accommodate equestrian use, some muck is par for the course. I bedded down at 8.30 after a quick dinner in my sad sack tent.  Curt has a nice tarp system that you may appreciate.



He had virtually no condensation, a continuous problem with winter backpacking. For a guy doing his first big mileage event, he proved up to the task. I have mountain biked with Curt for a while and can attest to his cardiovascular endurance.  And cardio fitness is what ensures success on these types out outings. Curt also comes from the fishing/hunting world so outdoor exposure isn’t novel.


One of my favorite interior views of the AT is from Miry Ridge just about a mile down from camp.



It warmed up in the sun long enough for me to strip down for a Buff shot. Our water bottles, boots and fuel would freeze overnight, along with our toes if not careful. When it reached almost 28 degrees, it felt like spring.


Back down towards Jakes Creek we re entered the snow zone.


These bear cables took a big hit at Jakes Creek.


So we ended up back at Elkmont.  Heated seats never felt so good!  A grand adventure with great company and weather, for the time of year. I’ll take cold over a cold rain any day.

Happy New Year to all.  2018 looks to be chock full of Huge adventures so stay tuned.

(If you have enjoyed this trip report, consider taking a look at my first book recounting our ill fated journey into the Karakoram in Pakistan)





Solstice Stroll: House Mountain

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The view wasn’t much, it had been quite a dreary looking day, but the temperature was good and Laurel was in town.


Image-584449221 vfvfvfv

She stops at the summit where we didn’t tarry for lack of vista. It was a stroll for the solstice, our shortest day of the year.


Like her visit, this little “walk” was but a spur of the moment surprise. And getting out in nature at any time, is preferable to not.

And enjoy our time outside and together, we did.

Merry Christmas to everyone.  Another adventure awaits on Christmas day.