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

Mt. Pisgah off the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

MSTPisgah 016AI hate the overused expression “get back to basics”. Usually it means overpriced, overprocessed foods and cosmetics in a environmentally acceptable green color. But sometimes, the saying does work.

When a hiker asks me what trails they should start with in Western North Carolina, I always suggest climbing Mt. Pisgah. Not only is it a classic, but it allows you to orient yourself to the area. Mt. Pisgah is a classic and a basic hike.

From the top of Mt. Pisgah, you’ll see Cold Mountain, Looking Glass Rock, and the Frying Pan Mountain tower.

Sunday, I went on the Carolina Mountain Club half-day hike, led by Bobbi Powers. Since the climb is just 2.6 miles and 750 feet of elevation gain, Bobbi needed a couple more miles to make it a decent half-day hike. So we started and ended at Pisgah Inn. The mile from Pisgah Inn to the bottom of Mt. Pisgah must be the most manicured mile on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the mountains.

Looking into the Springhouse
Looking into the Springhouse

We went past the Buckspring Lodge site and peeked into the Spring house, just off the trail.

Some hikers call it a secret. It’s not a secret, folks. Read Walt Weber’s book Trail Profiles and maps from the Great Smokies to Mount Mitchell and Beyond and my two hiking guides.

Up to Mt. Pisgah
Up to Mt. Pisgah

Then we started climbing Mt. Pisgah. I had forgotten how steep and rocky the trail is.

I’ve been hiking in the Smokies for so long that I sometimes forget that most WNC trails in Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway are full of rocks and roots. I have become so spoiled.

I had to stop a couple of times to take a drink and catch my breath. Since this was an afternoon hike, we were walking in the hottest part of the July day. It wasn’t easy.

Look at the picture to the left.

Now look at the quality of the Chimney Tops Trail. It’s longer and steeper but the trail quality is so good.

Chimney Tops Trail
Chimney Tops Trail

Of course, Chimney Tops has been completely rehabilitated with money from Trails Forever, donated by Friends of the Smokies. I wrote about this a few weeks ago.

What does it all means?

*  Mt. Pisgah is actually on Blue Ridge Parkway land. But the Parkway puts fewer resources into quality trails than the Smokies.

* When deciding on a trail, look at distance, altitude gain and terrain. The latter is the hardest information to get, but it’s important.

* Hike up to Mt. Pisgah. It’s worth the effort.

Carolina Mountain Club Announces New Hiking Challenge

A.T. section
A.T. section

Carolina Mountain Club announced a new hiking challenge:  The CMC A.T.-MST Challenge.

Hike all the Appalachian Trail miles and Mountains-to-Sea Trail miles that are maintained by the club.

CMC currently maintains 93 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Davenport Gap to Spivey Gap (going northbound) and 135 miles of the Mountains -To-Sea Trail from Waterrock Knob to Black Mountain Campground (going eastbound). Members who hike the combined 228 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) and the Mountains -To-Sea Trail (MST) on sections maintained by the club will be awarded a certificate of completion and a commemorative embroidered hiking patch.

MST in the mountains
MST in the mountains

Please check the CMC website Challenge page for details. If you have further questions please e-mail Vance Mann who is coordinating this new challenge. You can reach Vance at

This hiking challenge, like all the other CMC challenges, is on the honor system. As you learned in school, if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself.  Similarly, you have a lifetime to hike these miles. But I wouldn’t suggest you take a lifetime.

The South Beyond 6000 is the oldest CMC challenge. It requires you to climb a specific list of 40 peaks higher than 6,000 feet. Other challenges include the Pisgah 400 (all the trails in Pisgah National Forest), Lookout Towers and Waterfall 100.

For all the details, see the CMC challenge information.

LeConte Lodge with Sixty Friends


 We strode up in the mist undaunted
To capture a prize we all wanted
Despite portents of doom
We marched through the gloom
So now we can say we’ve “LeConted”.

By Rob Howard

FOTS2015LeContecabinematesAI spent the past two days with sixty friends at LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I didn’t know I had that many friends, other than on Facebook. Friends of the Smokies had organized a trip to LeConte Lodge and we took over the whole place. Friends came from Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio and Asheville to be on this trip.

Remember that the Smokies is a national park.

High Top on Le Conte

LeConte Lodge is a full-service lodge at the top of Mt. Le Conte at 6,593 feet. Technically, that is the top of the mountain; the lodge is a little lower. The lodge offers cabins with sheets and blankets; so you don’t have to carry a sleeping bag. The stay includes dinner, breakfast and unlimited coffee. This is luxury. But, everyone, guests and staff, has to walk up and down. There’s no road. But the effort is worth it.

Anna Lee Z., the development and outreach associate at Friends of the Smokies, worked out all the details, with the help of Holly Demuth, the North Carolina director. It’s not easy to organize 60 people of varying hiking abilities.

Several Friends staff came on the trip. Dana Soehn, the press officer for the park, came as did Karen Chavez, the outdoor editor for the Asheville Citizen-Times.

We hiked up the Boulevard Trail from Newfound Gap. I led the “moderate/a little faster” group of 30 up with the help of Holly Jones and Beth Ransom as sweeps at various points in the line. It was hot and humid, but the rain held off. So, to me, the weather was perfect. My group arrived about 3:30 pm or so and settled in our assigned cabins-another detail that Anna Lee worked on.

The second group dribbled in later and by 5 pm, almost everyone was enjoying a social hour at the picnic tables. People brought boxed and bottled wine, cheeses, and dips. We could have made a meal out of the offerings. But at 6 pm, the LeConte Lodge crew struck a triangle, round and round, to call us for dinner – soup, stew, mashed potatoes, … It was a hardy meal, probably much more than we needed for the eight miles we walked.

By then, the last few folks made it and had a late dinner. We gathered at the office/library for fun and games – literally. Anna Lee (again) had organized a social planning committee, that worked on the evening program. We had to draw a pig to figure out our personality. I turned out to be a “optimist/realist, analytical and a good listener”. I thought I was just terrible at drawing. Rob read a few limericks, one which is shown at the top.

Dana Soehn
Dana Soehn

Dana, the voice of the mountains, spoke about what national parks, and especially, the Smokies means to her. Unlike most career national parks people who move around a lot, she came to the Smokies as a college intern in 1989 and stayed, working her way up. The Smokies continues to be a source of discovery for her and for many of us.

The leaders were concerned about the well-being of the hikers who had come up late and tired to the top. Were they going to be safe to go down at a reasonable speed? Who was going to shepherd them down the slippery Rainbow Falls trail?

Dana called Mark Eckert, a medic ranger, to help sweep the second group down. Mark showed up at 8:15 am, while we were having breakfast. He must have run up the trail, with a large backpack and whistle at the ready. I continue to be amazed at the care and thought that the park showers on its visitors.

On the trail
On the trail

Now don’t think that you’ll have Ranger Eckert at your side on your next hike; you have to take care of yourself. But in this case, it was the right call.

I led 15 hardy hikers down Rainbow Falls Trail back to the cars. By the time we got down around the falls, the trail was crowded with visitors wearing flip-flops, without a pack or water.

All sixty friends came down safely, on either Rainbow Falls or Trillium Gap.

Thank you all who came and contributed time and effort to the success of this trip. Our next hike will be on Tuesday August 11 on Big Creek, a much simpler and easier hike.

To sign up, contact Anna Lee Zanetti at at Friends of the Smokies or on 828.452.0720.

Packing for LeConte Lodge

I’m going up to Mount Le Conte tomorrow and staying at the lodge with Friends of the Smokies. About 65 of us have reserved the whole place.  Well, in reality, Anna Lee of FOTS has worked for months to deal with all the details. I’m one of the leaders.

leconteprep02ALeConte lodge is so luxurious at 6,300 ft that you don’t need much beyond your day hiking stuff. But you do need some toiletries.

So I packed a toothbrush and tiny toothpaste that I’ve saved for such an occasion. I hope there’s enough for two brushings. I’m skipping the flossing and all the other incantations I go through to take care of my teeth. I hope my dentist isn’t readingleconteprep01A this.

I’ve got a tiny hairbrush and some face cream. Whoops! Actually, it’s body cream but the tube is small. And off I go.

But another decision looms – shoes for the evening. I could skip that and just stay in my boots, but that is very uncomfortable. We’ll have a lot of activities around the cabins, some outside. I told folks – please no flip- flops. So I’m dithering between Teva sandals and Keene. Sandals are lighter but I’ll need to wear them with socks. No way am I exposing my toes to a chance of stubbing. So it’s Keenes for me.

That’s it. We meet at the trailhead tomorrow and I’ll tell you how it goes.

Dear Bob and Sue – A book review

BookcoverDearBobandSueI just finished a sweet memoir, Dear Bob and Sue, about a couple’s journey through the national parks. It’s written by Matt & Karen Smith, a 50ish couple who visited all the 59 national parks in the United States, including the one in American Samoa.

They write about their impressions of each park, letting their personalities come through. They didn’t do much research or background reading.  They only seemed to write about what they learned when they were at a park. Still a fun read.

This is a funny book, no doubt about it. Matt and Karen, the authors, quit their jobs for a year when they (or at least, when he) were fifty.

They planned to visit all the 59 national park protected by the National Park Service. And they did! Some of the visits were really fly-in, fly out – literally in Alaska. They spend a lot of time drinking and looking for meals, but that’s their way of travelling.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is my “home” park, so I immediately went to that write-up. Since they visited all these parks superficially, they had the usual stereotypes of the Southern Appalachians. Matt even expected to hear Dueling Banjos. He also said that he didn’t want to talk to people in the wilderness. You want to talk to everyone in the wilderness.


Hey, writers. I’m now in the prestigious club of those whose reviews has been rejected by Amazon. In this case they gave me a whole bunch of reasons for rejection. The only one I could think of is that I put “personally identifiable content in the review. So read it on my blog and see if you can pick out why they rejected me.

Answer – probably because I said that the Smokies was my home park. Yeah… Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. I’m not the only one that goes there often. In fact, I’m going there tomorrow. This rejection is done by a computer program – for sure.

What if this was a publicity stunt by Amazon? It surely got people talking.