This Hiking Life

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

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

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

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Up Pretty Hollow Gap Trail with Friends

Fall, 2014 in Cataloochee
Fall, 2014 in Cataloochee

Yesterday was the kind of day that poets wax, well, poetic about. The day started cool and a little foggy.

By the time I got to Pretty Hollow Gap Road in Cataloochee with Friends of the Smokies, the sun was out and I suggested to the group that maybe coats and jackets could be left in the car.

It was the end of the elk run.

Friends of the Smokies Group - October 2014
Friends of the Smokies Group – October 2014

Yet a bull was in the woods, just off the trail as we started walking along Palmer Creek.

This hike made up for the rain-out that we had last Tuesday. Most of the conversation seemed to center on the beautiful day and how it was different from last week.


Maintenance Crew
Maintenance Crew

About half-way up, we met a group of Americorp members and a ranger. They were working on treating hemlock with chemicals to protect them from the hemlock wooly adelgid. It was a long way up to bring in all that equipment. Thanks, folks, for your hard work.

This hike didn’t have a destination.

We didn’t hike to a cabin, waterfall or view. We didn’t go as far as Pretty Hollow Gap; instead we stopped at a small watercrossing, had lunch and walked back.

Pretty Hollow Gap Trail in the fall
Pretty Hollow Gap Trail in the fall

Two guys scouted the area for good fishing spots and were impressed by the possibility of speckled trout in the creek. They will be back with their fishing gear.

Since the hike ended in the early afternoon, we walked over to the Beech School and Palmer Chapel. Definitely a better day than last week.


ATC membership drive in Charlotte

image_preview9Long distance hiker Hayne Hipp is the featured speaker at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) fourth annual membership drive, “Relive the Legacy: The Appalachian Trail” at McGlohon Theatre, located at 345 North College St. in Charlotte.

The event, held at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26, will also showcase the never-before-seen film “The Appalachian Trail: An American Legacy,” which tells the history of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) using rare film footage and photography. All proceeds will benefit the ATC and its efforts to preserve the A.T.

Hipp, who, on the A.T., goes by the name “Reboot,” began section hiking the 2,180-mile long Trail in 2007. Throughout the next six years, he hiked portions until he completed the entire Trail in 2013 at age 73. “I talked about it so much that I had to,” Hipp said, when asked why he decided to hike the A.T.

In addition to Hipp, other speakers include Sam Henegar, director and producer of the event’s featured film; Mark Hanf, creator of the new board game “Thru Hike: The Appalachian Trail”; and Gary Barrigar, president of the Friends of Roan Mountain. Key ATC leaders, including Ron Tipton, executive director/CEO; Javier Folgar, director of Marketing and Communications; and Rich Daileader, board member, will also speak at the event.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is excited to host this membership drive as it offers a unique opportunity to connect the community with this American icon—the Appalachian Trail,” said Folgar. “It offers participants a chance to hear the stories of the people who volunteer, maintain, hike and protect the Trail and interact with them in a new way.”

Limited-edition prizes like an ATC-branded ENO™ hammock and the new Thru-Hike: The Appalachian Trail board game will also be awarded throughout the evening.

Building Trail at 6,000 feet

From the MST off Waterrock Knob
From the MST off Waterrock Knob
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Lewis, Ann and Kate on the MST

October is supposed to be the best leaf-peeping time. Visitors drive up to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 451.2) and look out at the outstanding scenery. Some walk the half-mile to what is the highest trail on the parkway. Little do they know the work that is going on just below them. Volunteers crush rocks, cut down trees, remove roots, and move rocks to build a small section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Almost all are over 60 years old, many much older. Yet, they come out week after week to work on building this piece.
Yesterday, the Carolina Mountain Club Asheville Friday Crew finished a 2.2 mile section of the MST on the east side of Waterrock Knob. Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and I were there to walk through the section and admire the amazing trail work. Ann Hendrickson, one of two women on this crew, walked with us from Waterrock Knob to Fork Ridge Overlook.

The crew plan was to split into three teams to do a sweep, repair, check some areas, and finish a step and rock section in the middle. Then they’ll pull out the tools and grip hoist and walk them down the cars. Next Friday, they’ll blaze the trail with the familiar white circles.

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Bob Lindsey moving a rock

Building the trail required over 6,000 hours of work to cut through the rocks, roots, and trees so hikers can walk comfortably. It’s hard work to build trail at almost 6,000 feet above sea level. The season is short –May to October– and depends on the Parkway being open. In the winter, the freeze/thaw cycle plays havoc with the trail surface. Rocks pop out, trees fall and water and ice are all over the trail.

The crew leaves Asheville at 8 am and drives an hour to the work site. They work for five hours and are back at 3 pm, exhausted, muddy, and happy. The first concern is always safety. The second is to have fun so that the crew wants to come back week after week. And oh yes, they do want to get work done.

“The skill and artistry of the trail is extraordinary,” says Dixon. “So many visitors come to Waterrock Knob. Even if they don’t hike 1,000 miles across North Carolina, they can walk a mile and get a good feel for the trail.”

My world canceled because of rain

MST through Bent Creek
MST through Bent Creek

This past week, I felt that my whole life was cancelled.

On Sunday, I planned to go on the Carolina Mountain Club all-day hike in Pisgah National Forest. It was advertised as 12 miles with not much altitude. The leaf color was going to be outstanding. But rain was predicted.

Rain doesn’t bother me when it’s warm – or rather not freezing. The leader sent out one Breaking News item.
“Make sure to bring water shoes because the creek crossings may be high.” OK, no problem.

In the evening, I made my sandwich, mixed up some Gatorade; I was being optimistic that it was going to be so hot that I was going to need electrolytes. The next morning, we woke up to drizzle but I ignored it. I checked Breaking News at 6:30 am, two hours before, and no new message.

At 7:30 am, I checked again–the leader had canceled because of high water. What!! What about the water shoes? Isn’t that why we needed them? Oh, well. Leaders can cancel their hike for whatever reason. Maybe I’ll go on the half-day hike. But that one was canceled as well, because of threat of thunderstorms.

So Lenny and I hiked in Bent Creek close to home. It rained a little on and off but there were plenty of other walkers and joggers.

Along the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail
Along the Pretty Hollow Gap Trail

Tuesday, I was scheduled to lead a hike for Friends of the Smokies in Cataloochee. For several days, the weather forecast was predicting heavy rain because of a hurricane. But I have been running these monthly hikes for five years and have never canceled. We go rain or shine and we were going to go this Tuesday.

Again, lunch made, pack ready, I went to bed. The next morning, I woke up to rain but I ignored it. I stretched in front of the WLOS news and weather. Not only was it raining but also high winds were bringing down trees. Downed trees? That got my attention. What if a tree came down on the road into Cataloochee or in the park? We could be stuck there for a couple of days. For the first time, I called Anna Lee, the outreach associate for Friends and we agreed to cancel a Friends hike.

We don’t have a way to let hiking members know that we’ve canceled a hike. After all, it hasn’t happened yet. I went to our first meeting point in Asheville and scoured for anyone who looked like they might be hikers. Of course, it would help if Friends members had Smokies license plates. I walked around the lot several times. It turned out that our hikers are smarter than the leader; no one showed up in Asheville.

I went to the “Y” that afternoon. While there, I got a message that my writing class was canceled that evening. A class canceled because of rain? I know about snow days, but rain days?

Oh well. At this point, I felt my whole world was canceled.

We’re rescheduling the Cataloochee hike for Tuesday October 21. The color and the elk will still be there. Let’s try it again.