Entries For: August 2009
A backpacker missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for nearly a week is finally home safe and sound.
Albert "Morgan" Briggs, 70, was found in good condition in the Smokies backcountry on Saturday afternoon.Briggs had planned a four day off-trail hike. But he got off track very quickly.
"What happened was, he made a wrong turn and got off the old trail and got into a drainage and onto a ridge and became lost," said Tennessee District Ranger Steve Kloster.
Briggs ended up in an area of heavy vegetation and extremely steep terrain.An experienced hiker, he knew he had to get to a high point if he was going
to be found alive. So he hoofed 5,000 feet up Porters Mountain and stayed until
he was spotted.
That's the story in a nutshell.
Over 40 searchers looked for him. He had planned to be off-trail. He probably would have defended his right to be off-trail. But as soon as he didn't get back home on time, someone called the park and the rescue wheels were set in motion.
Now it's time to ask again if the park shouldn't charge for rescues. Only a few weeks ago, a woman jumped into the Little River. She was found a few days later - safe and sound.
Other parks and National Forests charge. I don't know if they're able to collect on their bill but at least the message is that "if you go into the woods, you should be on your own." Otherwise, we'll charge for our service.
I led a hike for the Elk Bugle Corp volunteers up to Mt. Sterling. Pat, Buddy, Teresa and me in that picture above.
We drove on NC 284 to Sterling Gap. I was driving and found that the hardest part of the day. Maybe Teresa who sat in the back of my car would agree with me.
Visitors in Cataloochee Valley ask "Is there any other way to get out of the Valley?" "Well technically, yes. You can drive on NC 284 to Cosby but you really don't want to do that." We all agree on that.
In order to make the hike easier, we started from Sterling Gap and walked about 2.7 miles to the top of the mountain and the tower. Easier, you might say? Well, we could have started on Little Cataloochee Trail and climbed Long Bunk Trail. As it was, the climb was about 2,000 ft. - up, up and more up. To slow down, we looked at flowers - cardinal flowers, spiderworts, Joe-Pye weed and one gorgeous trillium with a red fruit.
About three-quarters of the way up, Buddy, another volunteer, caught up with us. He had gotten the meeting time wrong so he really moved.
The view from the top of the Mt. Sterling Tower was outstanding. It was cloudy but the clouds just added interest and didn't obstruct views.
After lunch, we ambled down. Buddy entertained us with a Cataloochee quiz - things he thought we should know about the Valley. After all, he is a teacher.
"How many people lived in Cataloochee before it became part of the park?"
"What four backcountry campsites are in Cataloochee and which ones need to be reserved in advance?"
I won't give you the answers or give you more questions in case Buddy wants to use these questions again.
We may have been a little sore but we all had a good time.
It was a quiet day in the Cataloochee Valley, yesterday. We're in the in-between season. Children have gone back to school and the real rut season has not yet started. Or has it?
After not being in the Valley for three weeks, I noticed that we've moved on to late summer or early fall flowers. Lots of cone flowers, iron weed and jewel weed. I saw only one lonely firepink.
I only had 29 visitor contacts but they were deep ones. Many of the visitors were people who had been in the Smokies before; some come to Cataloochee often.
I encourage everyone to walk to the Woody House and almost everyone thinks it's a great "hike". But as I started up the trail, I saw a woman being held up by two others. Her husband was walking briskly and asked for help. "She's dizzy", he said. I gave her my water bottle and encouraged her to walk out.
"It's only five minutes. You're almost there," I said. "It would take me longer to get help." When I walked back, I found my bottle on top of my car roof, so I assume they made it out all right.
I was heading back to the World's Headquarters to sign out when I saw several cars stopped on the side of the road looking in the field past the Palmer House. There a bull elk was quietly walking around. A few females and calves were grazing. The bull was sniffing several behinds but mostly looking around. Then he bugled. It's the first time I've heard it live. An amazing sound!
But I think all of this is happening too early. They shouldn't be looking to gather their harem and mate until at least mid-September.
Elk Bugle Corp veterans tell me to enjoy myself. Once we're in autumn proper and the rut starts, we just do traffic control.
Sometimes a great guide makes all the difference.
I've been to Cone Park several times for my guidebook Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage but this needed to have a different slant. So I signed up for a tour that takes you to the second floor of Flat Top Manor.
The guide, Sandy Adair, is an interpretive ranger in the park and she was terrific. If I had gone up there myself, it would have been just a bunch of white empty rooms. There's no furniture because Bertha Cone gave all her possessions away to family, friends and workers on the estate. That was a sweet thing for her to do. But the result is that you really need a guide or an interpreter to explain the story of Moses and Bertha Cone.
Phil Noblitt's book, A Mansion in the Mountains, is the only book on Cones. But Sandy added a lot more about Moses' two spinster sisters, Claribel and Etta, who collected art. They were friends with Gertrude Stein and they collected Picassos and Mattisse before these artists were famous.
They left their whole collection to the Baltimore Museum of Art. On the other hand, the Cone Mills have closed down and disappeared.
This time, I only walked the two most popular and short trails: the trail to the Cone grave site and the loop around Bass Lake. Halfway around the lake, the skies opened up. I finished the loop and got soaked. This is one of those times where I'm going to spend more time cleaning up than I did hiking.
But before I sign off, I must show off this outstanding view that I got from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning. It's almost worth making a large print of it.
I'm back home, catching up with mail, emails and more marketing events for my books.
However, as I read about the latest news in our area, I can't help think back on the Rocky Mountains. Their history seems much more national than the history of the Smokies. People from all over the western U.S. rallied to make the area a national park. In the Smokies, the biggest voices were from North Carolina and Tennessee. More about that after I go to the rededication of the Smokies in a couple of weeks.
I checked out hiking guides for the RMNP. Lisa Foster's Rocky Mountain National Park - the Complete Hiking Guide is the book for all maintained trails (and some unmaintained ones). I met Lisa on a trail coming back from Odessa Lake - see the picture above. She's now busy with another project, her newborn, and has no intentions of writing another guidebook, at least for now. Because the book contains unmaintained trails, it was not approved to be sold in the park Visitor Center. It is the equivalent to our Hiking Trails of the Smokies, in that it is comprehensive, bu t of course, the Smokies book only has maintained trails.
The book we used most was Rocky Mountain National Park Dayhiker's Guide by Jerome Malitz. This book describes 33 of the most popular day hikes in the park. For visitors intent on seeing the best of the park, this is my recommendation. It clearly tells you the mileage, ascent, and other statistics and a good description of the trail.
I would not recommend the Dannens' book, even though it is in its 9th edition. The main reason is that the authors, themselves, did not do all the hikes. To me, that's a strikeout. It is wordy and chatty and hard to figure out exactly what the distances and altitude gain is.
So now, I'm back in the Southern Appalachians where it is warm and stormy in the late afternoon. More hiking ahead.
All good things must come to an end. Today is our last day at the YMCA of the Rockies.
We hiked to Sky Pond with the "Y" group. We gathered at 7 A.M. and drove to Glacier Gorge parking area and got one of the last spaces at about 7:30 A.M.
The trail took us past several waterfalls, some unnamed and The Loch, a beautiful lake within easy reach. From The Loch, we could see Timberline waterfall, where we would soon be - it seemed far away.
Then the climbing started on beautiful rock steps and I thought of the folks who moved all these rocks to create this trail. At one point, it got really tricky as we had to climb on all fours on the side of Timberline Falls. We got up there but I wondered how we were going to get back.
We passed Glass Pond and got to Sky Pond for a very early lunch. See the picture above. This is a typical glacier pond, stuck at the base of bare rocks. That's why they call it the Rocky Mountains.
Rocky Mountains National Park (RMNP) is all about the open views and glacial lakes. We have plenty of views in the Blue Ridge and Smokies but they are rarely open. And of course, we don't have glacial lakes. All the lakes in the Southern Appalachians are artificial.
The trails in RMNP are very busy, much busier than in the Smokies. First the park is much smaller than the Smokies (520,000 acres). It has only 350 miles of trail, less than half of the Smokies 800 miles. And of course, the season is very short. Most visitors come here between June and September.
See you back in the Southern Appalachians very soon.
Chasm Lake was our destination today, our first real hike in the tundra. We reached the trailhead at 7 A.M. and the parking lot was full. Cars were lined up on the side of the road and we found a spot.
The reason it was so crowded was because this is also the trailhead to Long's Peak, the only 14,000 footer in the park. Hikers start at 2 A.M. to climb that mountain. However, we climbed 2,360 ft. to reach Chasm Lake at 11,760 ft. That's the highest we've been on a real hike.
The trail is only 4.2 miles one-way, yet enters three zones. The Montane zone has trees and few flowers. The subalpine zone has low bushes and lots of flowers. We saw yarrow, harebells, fireweed and lots I couldn't identify. Finally, as we climbed further up through the rocks, we reached the tundra or alpine zone. There we saw the columbines, pictured above.
The last section of Chasm Lake was steep and very rocky. It was a good thing that we left early since we had to wait for others to scramble up before we got our turn. I would not have waited for hikers to come down. Of course, as we came down, we sometimes had to wait for others. It took us three hours to go up and about 2.5 hours down. It was steep.
At the intersection, those going to the Boulder Fields of Longs Peak turned right and we took the left fork. On the way down, we met two young men who had reached Longs Peak. It took them over four hours but that was a very good steep.
From the Smokies Coalition
President Obama and his family plan to visit Yellowstone National Park on
Saturday and the Grand Canyon on Sunday. We hope this visit will inaugurate
a new commitment to conserving the national park system and to the science
which sound conservation is based. We also hope that the visit will impress on the president the serious fiscal issues threatening the parks.
See the New York Times article on the visit.
We woke up at 5:30 A.M. to strong winds and light drizzle. So we scratched the idea of going above treeline and headed for a hike in the trees to Ypsilon Lake - 9 miles and over 2,000 ft.
Ypsilon Lake Trail is close to the Falls River entrance. We crossed a stream early in the hike but most of the hike was in the trees. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) seems to have two types of pines - Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Both are being attacked by a native beetle which is killing the trees. The trees are too close together because the park has been suppressing fires for a long time.
Before we reached the lake at the end point, we passed a small pond which wasn't even on the map. There are so many ponds and waterfalls here that many are not even named.
Unlike the Smokies, RMNP was subject to the forces of glaciers and has a large number of lakes. Some look more glacier than others. This one had a rocky mountain as the background along with rock falls going all the way down to the lake.
As we drove around, we noticed many private inholdings; private land and homes within RMNP. All these date back to when the park was created in 1915. Unlike the Smokies, people did not have to sell and leave the park. They could stay on their land and pass it on to their heirs. In some cases, the land could be bought and sold on the open market.
So why was this different? Each park was created under an act of Congress and 1915 was a different time than 1934. Still I can't help think that people who owned land in RMNP had a lot more clout than those in the Smokies.
Even the Knoxville families who owned the Elkmont cabins had to leave in the 1980s and 1990s. The last one left in 2001. I'd sure like to hear opinions from others.
Having mastered this short hike on Tuesday, we went up to Odessa Lake the next day. Our leader, Sarah, was a 40ish dynamic woman who lived in Estes Park. Counting her, we were only five but we moved.
Actually, we didn't move that fast - 8.5 miles took us six hours. That's six hours of walking. First we had to set up a shuttle. We parked at Fern Lake and took two buses to get to Bear Lake, our starting point.
Rocky Mountain NP (RMNP) has a set of free buses that will allow you to create shuttles. So we hiked up 1,300 ft. and down 2,500 ft. Odessa Lake, where we had lunch, was the perfect glacial lake surrounded by conifers. Squirrels and chipmunks scurried around us, knowing that where there are people, there's food but of course we didn't feed them.
Fern Lake was smaller but just as lovely. It was the scene of Nevada Barr's mystery in RMNP. We've been very lucky that it's been a late, wet spring so there's plenty of wildflowers, including the exquisite columbine.
It's been a tiring vacation. We get up early because the hikes start early and end early to try to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
Today, we skipped the formal hike to go birding. We met a volunteer at 7 A.M. for a two-hour bird walk.
The volunteer was also an Elk Bugle Corp member in the Rockies. Here the EBC only works during the rutting season, Labor Day to the end of October. There are over 3,500 elk and they're becoming pests. They rub their velvet against the aspen trees and are killing the trees in the process.
We also met the Bighorn Brigade, the volunteers who keep the Bighorn Sheep away from visitors. We didn't see any sheep, just the volunteers.
We walked up to 12,200 ft and I could start to feel the altitude. Another 5:30 A.M. alarm tomorrow, so I'm signing off.
Our first full hiking day in Rocky Mountain National Park was a short one. We hiked to Ouzell Falls from the Wild Basin entrance.
We're staying at the YMCA Estes Park, a huge place with cabins, lodge rooms, day camps, swimming pool - you name it. And they lead several hikes each day.
We were a little cautious with the altitude. The town of Estes Park is at 7,500 ft., the "Y" at 8,000 ft. and the hike took us to almost 9.500 ft. So we chose a short hike to see how we would do. We were fine, partly because the pace was very slow.
We paralleled a river and passed three falls, the last Ouzell Falls, where we had an early lunch. We saw a marmot, a stellar jay and a dusky grouse with several chicks. They blend in so well I couldn't get a photo.
The practice at the "Y" is to leave early and to return early as to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. For example, the big hike to Long's Peak starts at 1:30 A.M. I doubt if I'll do that one. You have to work up to it and I won't be staying long enough for that.
Tomorrow's hike starts at 7:30 A.M. and I have to get ready.
It was a hot and muggy day but Lenny and I did 19 miles in 9.5 hours in the Smokies yesterday.
We drove to Lake Shore Drive outside of Bryson City. Even that had been the source of drama. Last week, Lenny attempted to do Bear Creek on his own. He stayed in Bryson City the night before. When he drove to the trailhead at 7:30 A.M., he found that the park gates were closed. He found a ranger who told him there had been an "incident". The incident was a fallen tree which blocked the road.
Bear Creek Trail is not exactly accessible. First we hiked through the tunnel on the "Road to Nowhere" (officially Lake Shore Rd.) and on Lake Shore Trail. We switched to Forney Creek for a very short stretch and then started the long plod up Bear Creek Trail (5.8 miles). The trail up to campsite #75 was a wide road following Bear Creek.
We met a father and two sons backpacking who could not believe that we were going to get to the top and back in one day. They left us, probably shaking their heads and figuring we didn't know what we were talking about. But we plodded on and arrived on top at the Welch Ridge Trail for a late lunch. At that time, we had done 9.5 miles and 3,000 ft. of ascent, a nice hike on its own right. But then of course, wen had to walk back.
The horse group had obviously come in to maintain the trail and to take out the huge blowdown that had obstructed the trail at the top of Bear Creek. For that I was very grateful. I was not so grateful for the mess they had left at the campsite, including cans, plastic bottles and a large bag of trash hanging up on bear poles.
Orange-fringed orchids lined the trail. It's a very rare flower but like other rare flowers around here, once you see it, you'll see a whole bunch.
The photo is from the USDA Plants profile, which also lists all its characteristics.
A satisfying but tiring day.