This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog abEdgy in Montreat Wildernessout my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m writing a book on visiting all the national parks in the Southeast – the battlefields, monuments, historic sites as well as the traditional national parks. My book, titled Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, will come out next year, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

See my bio if you want to know more.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

To Hike or not to Hike

To Hike or not to Hike – that is a common question. Shakespeare may not have asked but I do, quite often.

MST east of Folk Art Center
MST east of Folk Art Center

On Sunday, the Carolina Mountain Club leader had scheduled a hike to Whitewater Falls on the North/South Carolina border. Yes, it was at a lower altitude than most of Pisgah National Forest, but it was a long drive. With all the snow, the leader hadn’t scouted the hike, a requirement on CMC hikes.

The knee-jerk reaction was to cancel the hike.

No, don’t do that, I cried out. So he substituted a simple Mountains -to-Sea Trail hike east of the Folk Art Center. It was 5.5 miles up in snow, ice and mud but it was great. I was grateful to be out for the day, no matter what we did.

Shedding clothes
Shedding clothes

Good, old reliable MST.

It can rain, snow, ice up. The Blue Ridge Parkway could be closed but we can always hike on the MST close to Asheville. We kept shedding clothes as we climb.

Today, I was not supposed to be at home writing a blog post. I was meant to be scouting a hike with Anna Lee of Friends of the Smokies.

We postponed the hike last week and it was a good thing too with the snow dump on Thursday. We rescheduled the scout for today. But I’ve been looking at the weather forecast obsessively.

Who should I believe?

WLOS, our local ABC-TV affiliate, loves to hype up the weather. So I take it with a large grain of salt and check You can spend hours on its hour-by-hour forecast. Here’s what it said. The weather today was going to be fine, even warm, in Asheville. But in Bryson City, the closest town to our trailhead, there was a significant chance of rain. Anna Lee and I hemmed and hawed and she suggested that we postpone the scout. I agreed.

Well, if I look outside, it’s 76 degrees and sunny in Asheville. It’s 67 degrees and just as dry in Bryson City. Obviously we had made a mistake. I rarely overreact to a weather forecast but I hate to encourage someone to hike and then have it pour on them.

But spring is here and we’re not going to cancel as easily anymore.

To Hike or not to Hike. Erring on the side of hiking is always the answer.

Carolina Mountain Club – Training leaders

20150226CMCleadersdinner 037AIt’s not all hiking.

Sometimes, Carolina Mountain Club hike leaders get together to talk about good hike leadership. This past week, 57 hike leaders – all day, half-day, occasional leaders – discussed principles of leading a good, enjoyable and safe hike. The CMC hiking committee hosted the dinner and the program. See the picture on the right.

Here are some obvious pointers we discussed.

20150226CMCleadersdinner034A*  Know your sweep.

Sweep, tailender, trailend Charlie. That’s the hiker at the end of the line who makes sure that no one gets lost. He or she is a strong hiker. You don’t want to accept someone who says “Well, I’m slow. So I’ll be your sweep”.  A sweep is really a co-leader.

*  Stop at trail intersections.

Isn’t that obvious? Well, no, because Marcia Bromberg, above, had to emphasize this. Sometimes leaders get so gung-ho on socializing with others (good) or keeping a reasonable pace (also good) that they forget that the whole group isn’t behind them.

20150226CMCleadersdinner035A*  Stop to rest.

Another obvious point. We are hikers, not racers. We keep moving but we need specific rest stops. I always schedule in a morning break at about 11 am, calling it  elevenses, from the British custom of morning tea at 11 am. By 11 am, we’ve hiked a couple of miles. Just as important, most of us had breakfast hours ago. I have a lunch break and then, if it’s a long hike, an afternoon break.

When I lead, a rest break starts when the sweep sits down. So everyone has a scheduled break. The hikers in front just have a longer one.

* What happens if there’s a problem? The leader may have forgotten to lock her car or someone doesn’t feel well? However the leader deals with the problem, she or he has to remember all the other hikers in the group. A new leader should assigned, if needed. Better, the original leader should assign a strong hiker to help the person with a problem. The important thing is not to let the rest of the group flounder or just wait.

Lots more was discussed. But if you’re a leader, think about some of these principles. And think about volunteering to lead. That’s the way hiking clubs work.

Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Smokies

Dwarf-crested Iris
Dwarf-crested Iris

If you like wildflowers and hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, now’s the time to register for the 65th Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, April 21-25.

Each year, more than 700 people from more than 35 states and even overseas descend on the Smokies as spring flora color the forest with flowers and vibrant spring migratory birds return to their summer home.

Pink lady's slippers
Pink lady’s slippers

Register online at Registration fees are $75 per person for two or more days, or $50 for a single day. Students pay $15 with valid student ID presented at onsite registration.

The pilgrimage offers 146 guided walks and indoor presentations. This year features 32 birding programs along with programs on wildflowers, ferns, mosses, medicinal plants, bears, hogs, insects, bats, fungi, salamanders, ecology, tree and wildflower identification, cultural and natural history, and bird and wildflower photography and sketching.

crested dwarf iris
crested dwarf iris

The event also hosts a photography contest and a gallery of vendors, native plant growers, exhibitors, a native plant display, and a series of documentary and natural history films about the park.

The pilgrimage kicks off with a welcoming luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21, at the Mills Conference Center. Speaker Kim DeLozier will deliver the talk, “Bear in the Backseat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” Talks on birds and fungi in the park will be given in the evenings.


Cabin Fever on a Warm Day

Did you have cabin fever this week? If you live anyplace on the East Coast, I don’t have to tell you about the snow, ice and cold weather. But today was scheduled to be a beautiful day in Western North Carolina. High in the 50s and no rain. I was going hiking. But to my dismay, both Carolina Mountain Club hikes were canceled because of poor trail and road conditions. What!@#$!

20150222snowdaydupont003ASo Lenny and I went to Dupont State Forest between Brevard and Hendersonville.  The trails are wide and easy, perfect for a winter day. We didn’t leave until 10 am, so that any ice on the roads would have a chance to melt. But when we got to the Visitor Center entrance, the trail was just a sheet of ice.

The few people we saw were inching on the trail. This wasn’t good. But to my amazement, the Dupont visitor center was open. Two NC Forest Service volunteers were staffing the desk and we inched ourselves toward the building, trying not to slide down.

Dupont Visitor Center
Dupont Visitor Center

The Aleen Steinberg Visitor Center is small but beautiful. The exhibits are well done and so much better than the ones in most NC State Parks. The information panels are national park quality. Right now, the visitor center is only open on weekends but  it will expand its hours in the spring. It was a great 15 minutes or so, talking to the volunteers, but this wasn’t curing my cabin fever.

We drove back and went to Hard Times Road in Bent Creek. By then, it was past noon and the parking area was almost full. We hiked the “loop”, as we call it – about six miles up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, plus the distance to go up to the Arboretum visitor center.

20150222snowdaycmtail 008AYes, the trails had snow but with all the runners, dog walkers and even bikers, they weren’t icy. Slush and mud were almost welcome. We climbed up the Carolina Mountain Trail –  the photo on the right – and followed a lot of footsteps.

This was a luxurious hike, since we had our lunch on the porch of the visitor center at the NC arboretum. Then we climbed up to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

20150222snowday MST010AThe MST climbed straight up from the Parkway. It was icy. I don’t think too many people are hiking the MST seriously, right now. But it’s here, waiting for hikers.

Hang in there. Spring is coming.

So what did you do today?



Sign up for Classic Hikes of the Smokies

If you live in Western North Carolina, you know that it’s been a brutal week or so. And, according to the news, it’s not over. The weekend doesn’t seem too great either. I have such cabin fever. So what to do?

Reserve every second Tuesday of the month, starting in March. Sign up for our Classic Hikes of the Smokies series, offered by Friends of the Smokies. Our hikes start Tuesday March 10.

Here’s the official press release.

Lufty Baptist Church
Lufty Chapel

Shed those winter layers and get on the trail with Friends of the Smokies for the first Classic Hike of the season and discover Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Tuesday March 10th hike the Smokemont Loop Trail led by hiking guide and author Danny Bernstein.

The Smokemont Loop Trail is 6.2 miles in length with a total elevation gain of 1,400 feet and is moderately difficult. Hikers will visit the historic Lufty Baptist Church and the secluded Bradley Cemetery named after a family that settled in the region in the early nineteenth century.

Bradley Cemetery
Bradley Cemetery

Participants on the hike will learn how donations made to Friends of the Smokies help fund stewardship projects in Great Smoky Mountains National Park including protection and treatment of ash trees. Invasive insects like the emerald ash borer can devastate forests by feeding on the inner bark of ash trees, which disrupts the tree’s ability to carry water and nutrients. These insects can be transported in untreated firewood which is especially important in the Smokemont area because of its active campground.

Friends of the Smokies hikes are offered on the second Tuesday of each month. Guided Classic Hikes are $35 and include a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. Current Friends members receive a discount and hike for $10. Members who bring a friend hike for free.
All registration donations benefit the Friends’ Smokies Trails Forever program.

To register for a Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact To view a complete listing of Friends’ monthly Classic Hikes of the Smokies, visit