Entries For: December 2009
What happened in the Outdoor World in the Southern Appalachians? Here's a short list of outdoor happenings in 2009 - not all of them good
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th anniversary. To me, that was the biggest story.
2. A rock slide on I-40 closed the interstate from exit 20 in North Carolina to the Tennessee border.
5. Concealed weapons will now be allowed in national parks starting in February, 2010.
6. The North Shore Road issue is one step closer to being settled. For a discussion on the background of this issue, see an article that I wrote in National Park Traveler.
7. Gov. Mark Sandford used the Appalachian Trail as an excuse to see his mistress. Please.... If you're going to mess around, don't use hiking as an excuse.
8. Dry Falls in Highlands has reopened, after being closed since 2007
9. The Art Loeb Trail celebrated its 40th anniversary.
10. Catawba Falls outside of Old Fort is now full accessible.
I am sure that you can think of plenty more. Send them on.
Here I am on top of a "mountain" in Miami Beach. I'm visiting family in Miami Beach and getting used to the flat lands.
I walked the path which parallels the beach and encountered a mountain - an artificial sandy mount created for exercise. Runners go up and down, practicing for real hills.
I can't wait to get back to the Southern Appalachians to real muntains.
I've just spent three days in Disneyworld. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot... It's of course all fake or as I tell my six-year old granddaughter - pretend. And that's fine when the rides are obviously fantasy like "It's a small world" or "Peter Pan".
But many rides pump up the thrill and pretend to be active - like Splash Mountain above. Visitors are not rafting - they're just sitting there and screaming. I wonder if they feel like they've had a rafting experience. Would that encourage them to do the real thing or do they just like the safety net of Disneyworld?
In all that fakery, real birds manage to get in. I spotted an egret and ibis on top of a Frontierland building. No one else even looked at these birds.
Maybe I'm just being a grinch. Happy Holidays, everyone.
Congressman Heath Shuler successfully obtained $13 million for Swain County as a down payment on an eventual North Shore Road settlement in a House vote on Wednesday.
The funds for the initial North Shore
Road payment was passed as a provision attached to a spending bill. There's a lot of excitement in the regional environmental community. Finally all that work and meeting is starting to pay off. But the operative word is "start". The final financial settlement has not happened.
Read Heath Shuler's full press release. http://...shuler.house.gov/2009/12/northshore-settlement.shtml
The picture above is of a car left by the residents who lived north of what is now Fontana Lake. For background, see the Conservation page.
This past October, President Obama signed an Interior Department appropriations bill into law that includes funding to buy the land near Catawba Falls from the Foothills Conservancy for $713,000.
That means that the access to the Falls will now be permanently protected and part of the Grandfather Mountain section of Pisgah National Forest.
In 2007, Foothills Conservancy moved quickly to buy a 23 acre piece which provided the only direct trail to the Falls. This allowed hikers legal access to the falls. Carolina Mountain Club started leading hikes there. Thank you Foothills Conservancy.
This picture is of the Upper Falls, which at this time does not have an official trail. But now that whole area is part of the forest, the Forest Service may just put in an easier trail to the upper falls.
A cold and rainy day yesterday - and I wasn't going to go on the Sunday hike, so I finished a great book.Just Passin’ Thru by Winton Porter (Menasha Press).
For every thru-hiker who makes it as far as Mountain Crossings, there's a story. But many stories are not about thru-hikers or even real hikers – they’re also of employees, hangers-on or just tourists. The stories are inspirational, off the wall and down right funny. Winton's book has become a favorite of many Appalachian Trail enthusiasts.
In 1997, I "passed thru" his building on the Appalachian Trail before Winton owned it. I remember the relief I felt in seeing his place after three days of backpacking from Amicalola State Park in Georgia. No, I wasn't overloaded and didn't ship anything home but it was a great place to stay.
Winton’s book is a good read.
Yesterday I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a meeting of the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
Which way to go from Asheville? Because of a rock slide, I-40 is closed for a couple of exits before you reach the Tennessee state line. So through the park or around? I was concerned about ice and snow on Newfound Gap Road but I took that route anyway. Cherokee was quiet - even the Big Boys restaurant was closed.
The road was clear and even Newfound Gap (over 5,000 ft.) had no ice - see the photo above. This gave me a chance to stop at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, say "hello" and sign some books. The Visitor Center was quiet.
Over at Sugarlands VC, there was a lot of action. Many visitors were milling around and hopefully buying stuff. Now that I'm on the board of the "Association", I'm eager to have people buy books and knick-knacks at the Smokies store. I bought 3,000 Miles in the Smokies by Bill Hart and Smoky Mountain Magic by Horace Kephart.
After the meeting, the Association hosted a Christmas party for park employees in the Gatlinburg Convention Center. I stayed in town and left very early this morning - so early that I was not going to drive through the park in the dark.
So I took the around the mountain route. Up US 441 to Sevierville, Dolly Parton's home town. Instead of going up to I-40 for a couple of exits, I turned right on US 411, the Dolly Parton Parkway. It was a slow road through some very small communities toward Newport.
Then I picked up US 25/70 and followed the French Broad to Del Rio, TN in the Cherokee National Forest - no Mexican restaurant in Del Rio, or much of anything else.
Finally I went through Hot Springs and now I was on old, familiar ground. This way was not much longer or slower than going through the Park. It just seemed that way to me because it was all new territory.
New information says that the I-40 closure might last as long as May. So what's the verdict on the way to go?
I would go the Newport route at least once to see new territory. I went through terrain that I know I would never find an excuse to go to otherwise.
I got home early enough to unpack and go to Malaprops for my one-hour book signing. The store was packed with browsers and coffee drinkers. Lots of energy in that store.
I don't have another book signing until March, giving me an opportunity to do some writing.
Starting with 92.1 miles, 13,650 ft. ascent
A short day today. Rain was predicted from 9 A.M. on but it wasn't raining when we were ready to leave the house, so we went.
We hiked on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Folk Art Center to Bull Gap at the second crossing of Ox Creek Rd. Only 8.9 miles but the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed after that and we couldn't go further.
We are in hunting season. Though you can't hunt on Blue Ridge Parkway land, the public land is a thin ribbon through private property, so we heard plenty of shots.
We walked through a wooded section, mostly uphill, though we did see a few houses.
Our first unusual find was a zip-lock bag, attached to a tree and blowing in the wind. The piece of paper inside said "In Loving Memory of Linny" and it had a picture of Linny on the back. Maybe Linny loved this piece of the MST. No other clues.
We reached Lunch Rocks mid-morning. Every place has a Lunch Rocks, These rocks look down on Hawk Creek, an Asheville neighborhood.
The turn-off from the trail to Lunch Rocks used to be well-signposted but now, we just had to guess at it. The view is mostly of houses below, with some houses scattered above.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is very intent on protecting viewsheds off the Parkway. But are people really bothered by seeing civilization from an overlook? I think it makes it interesting. "Where are we looking at?" I ask. I don't think people want to hike or drive in a green tunnel.
As we continued up, we saw a barrel that we think was left from moonshine days. Based on survey markers pounded into the ground, this land only became public in the 1960s, so it is not that far-fetched.
Mountain laurel lined the trail almost the whole way but there was almost no rhododendrons.
I wonder why. I always seem to associate them together.
It didn't start raining until a half-mile before we reached our car - not bad planning.
That evening we went to Diamond Brand Outdoors to listen to Bill Hart talk about his book, Three Thousand Miles in the Great Smokies.
The whole point of this MST adventure is to see our state and Sharon got to see Diamond Brand and Bill.
Cumulative after Day 7 - 101 miles, 15,850 ft. ascent
Day 8 was a sad day. The weather was getting worse and there were predictions of rain, wind, snow and general messy weather and roads. So we didn't hike the next day. Though the sun came out, I didn't feel too bad when I read the following in the Asheville Citizen-Times.A number of counties in Western North Carolina are reporting downed trees and flooding along with some power outages after a night of heavy rain and wind.Downed trees were reported in Haywood, Cherokee, Swain and Graham counties, emergency dispatchers said.
Starting with 78.7 miles, 11,700 ft.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has been closed for a couple of weeks - here and there. The problem is that now it's closed from MP 393, French Broad River Overlook south to the Smokies.
Sharon was in Asheville. We wanted to do some MST hiking so we needed to be inventive.
Reluctantly, we decided to skip ahead east and do a couple of sections through Asheville. The Parkway is almost never closed in Asheville. So we placed a car at the Folk Art Center MP 382 and start down at NC 191 MP 393.5. I was hoping that we could do the whole MST continuously but as long as we're going west to east, I figure we were doing OK.
This section offers urban hiking or commuter hiking. First we crossed over I-26 and waved at the drivers below - truck drivers waved back.
Then we paralleled a fence closing off Biltmore Farms, an upscale housing development. Biltmore Farms, an offshoot of Biltmore Estate, was founded in 1897, two years after George Vanderbilt built his home in Asheville. The enterprise really did sell dairy products until it sold the business in 1985. Then it went into the construction business. The houses that we could see were gigantic.
We were walking through land that had been lived on. The most obvious sign was English Ivy which was crawling on trees and spreading out on the ground.
Then a dog running free was followed by a woman on a cell phone. We tried to tell her that dogs had to be kept on a leash on the Parkway but she blew us off. When I do see a person walking a dog on a leash, I make sure to thank them.
Finally we reached the split between the Parkway Destination Center and the Folk Art Center. There was a dispute in the signs. One sign said 2.2 miles to the Folk Art Center and the other right next to it said 2.5 miles.
You would think that they would get it together.
We got to the Folk Art Center at about 3 P.M., having walked 13.4 miles - not bad.
Cumulative after Day 6 - 92.1 miles, 13,650 ft. ascent
And so I led the hike to Kitsuma Peak. The snow had left the area yesterday, though several hikers cancelled out, afraid of the weather. But by the time, we met at the McDonald on I-40, exit 73, it was dry and cold. We had 11 people - six CMC folks, and five from the Carolina Berg Wanderers.
On my scout, I had found a huge blowdown toward the beginning of the hike and called the Grandfather District of Pisgah National Forest. I asked them to cut that tree and they did. See above. Thank you U.S. Forest Service.
We had lunch on top of Kitsuma Peak - no wind. The railroad history fascinated some and others just walked on the road without noticing the railroad line and the many tunnels. But we all noticed the new blowdown on Point Lookout Trail.
I'm not going to bother to call the Forest Service on that one. The bikers will be more affected and get to them.
After the hike, we all drove to Andrews Geyser. It was spewing out water just fine. It's an artificial geyser; Western North Carolina doesn't have natural geysers.
For days, they're been promising one to three inches of snow for today, Saturday, followed by a dry day tomorrow. And I'm leading a Carolina Mountain Club hike tomorrow. On top of it, it's a joint hike with the Carolina Berg Wanderers from Charlotte. We're going to Kitsuma Peak out of Old Fort - at a lower altitude than Asheville.
What shall I do? Should I cancel it? Should I take a chance that the road and the forecast are correct? If I cancel the hike and the weather is reasonable, I'll really kick myself tomorrow. If I go with it and the roads are tricky, I'll worry that a hike is just not worth the potential problems.
CMC and most hiking clubs leave it up to the leader to cancel the hike for any reason. I feel it's important not to be too cautious but on the other hand, I need to be realistic.
So I keep checking the weather forecast obsessively, as if it will change within the hour. Right now, it''s stopped snowing and I've even seen the sun for a short while but still I'm concerned. I probably won't cancel. Let's hope I'm right.