Entries For: January 2010
Western North Carolina has been blanketed with snow today. We've been expecting it for several days and we've been like "sitting ducks" here planning for the worst. It looks like Asheville only got about three to four inches - enough for the Carolina Mountain Hike to be canceled today.
So I started to prepare for my trip to Big Bend National Park next month. I've signed up on a Sierra Club trip for six and a half days of hiking and primitive camping.
Big Bend, in Western Texas, is not easy to get to. I'll be taking two days to get to the park - heck, I could have been in New Zealand in that time. I fly into Midlands, TX, spend the night there and then carpool 200 miles to Marathon, the closest town to the park entrance and spend another night there. The trip officially starts at 9 A.M. the next morning.
They're a very organized bunch and I've received lots of material from the leader including a packing list.
I practice packed today - tent, sleeping bag, pad and ground cloth. It's been a long time since I've felt the need to use a ground cloth but it's on the list and I'm taking it. The list also specifies water bottles for four (4) quarts of water. I can't see drinking four quarts of water, never mind carrying them in my daypack but again I'm not second guessing, just following instructions.
All my equipment fits into my Macpac, a travel backpack with some interesting features.When you check the bag at the airport, you can zip up a flap that covers the shoulder straps, thereby lessening the chances that it will be ruined on the plane. My travel backpack is too heavy for regular backpacking, but great to travel. I can handle it on my back much better than pulling a suitcase.
I reread the trip description - temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Now that's something to look forward to.
State parks in North Carolina reported record attendance in 2009 of 14.16 million visits, a jump of 13 percent over the previous year, and up 5 percent from the previous record set in 2007, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
This can be compared to 1984 when only 5.9 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.
That's great but not surprising. State parks are well-marked, safe, and ready for soft-core adventures. The trails are well-signposted and it is hard to get lost on the trails.
In the mountains, it is difficult to get to Mt. Mitchell State Park right now. But with not much more driving, head for Lake James State Park which is flat and suitable for anyone. Also South Mountain State Park close to Morganton should be warmer and easier to get around.
In Morganton, check out its Greenway- four miles of easy, flat walking.
There's always someplace to hike.
A grant from the Eastman Chemical Company Foundation is allowing the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to underwrite discounts on the fees for the next 500 people to apply for an Appalachian Trail license plate in Tennessee.Once 1,000 applications are received and the state begins producing tags, ATC’s share of the renewal fees will serve as a permanent funding source for the organization's work to protect and maintain the 280 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the state.
As a result of the grant, the Appalachian Trail license plates are now available for $15 instead of the usual $35 annual fee. Renewals will be at the standard $35 annual fee.
ATC is offering its own incentive as well, thanking people who sign up for the license plate with a one-time annual membership to the national nonprofit. Existing ATC members may give someone else the membership as a gift.
The specialty A.T. license-plate program will benefit the state’s natural resources and national treasure in several ways. It will broaden awareness for this resource by widely promoting the Trail on vehicles from Memphis to Bristol. In addition, each plate will generate $15.56 annually for ATC, supporting management of such programs as land conservation, volunteer-based trail and facilities maintenance, natural-resources management, and programs that introduce children and teachers to the A. T. in Tennessee.
For more information and an application to take advantage of this offer, call ATC at (828) 254-3708 or go on line to www.appalachiantrail.org/tnlicenseplate.
Diamond Brand Outdoors have agreed to be a drop off point. Anyone bringing us their old sleeping pad will receive 30% off any one regular priced item. Now that's a good deal.
The first wave of mats will go on Friday but this will be a sustained effort for a month. So check out your hiking stuff and see if you could spare a mat.
Starting with 138.9 miles, 19,250 ft. ascent
Bayleaf Church Rd. to Falls of the Neuse - 12.3 miles 1,050 ft. ascent
We started out in the rain and finished in a downpour but in the middle we had some great sunshine. The mist really helped to make the above picture of the lake.
We started at the dead end on Bayleaf Church Road, a tourist attraction in itself. The high-end Carlyle housing development had some huge McMansions. With our section hiking, we end up on the same road three times so this area really made an impression on me. Three times - when we place a car the day before, when we drive there in the morning to start the hike and when we pick up the car at the end of the hike.
We moved in and out of the Wildlife Management Area. The cut areas were very obvious. In the mountains, they may not keep up the mowing and tree removal as much but here, some areas were as smooth as a baby's bottom. Plenty of beech trees and loblolly pines. The fungus around the bark made a green pattern.
The Falls Lake trail crew had worked on replacing a bridge but didn't finish the job. So we ended up walking in the water a little to get across the creek - the first time that we needed to really step in the water. When the bridge is finished it's going to be a beauty.
When we reached the Falls of the Neuse area, we could hear the traffic and see a boardwalk and buildings but somehow the trail just kept on going. A line of longleaf pine trees had been planted along the trail.
We got to our cars at about 2:30 P.M. in a downpour. We had done 50 miles in three and a half days. We were wet but felt great!
Cumulative after Day 11 - 151.2 miles, 20,300 ft. ascent
Starting with 124.4 miles, 17,850 ft. ascent
NC 50 to Six Forks Rd., Wake County
Today, Dan, Kate's husband joined us for a 14.5 mile hike.
It was a beautiful Saturday and we saw many families taking short walks. The men and boys in the family wore sneakers. Most of the mothers also had on sneakers but many girls were in flip-flops and crocks. These shoes are not only dangerous on a trail but they prevent girls from running and jumping. They are worse than the dresses of a couple of generations back. Why are parents hampering their daughters like that?
The first thing I noted about this section is the lack of garbage. And if I seem to be fixated on trash, it's because the first two days, we saw plenty of it.
We were in Wake County, in and out of the state park and NC Gamelands. There was no concern about getting lost today since much of the trail is over 10 years old, well-marked and patted down by many feet. The trail crew had built several impressive bridges and staircases.
This was an upscale section of Raleigh and we passed several houses just off the trail, many with mean-sounding dogs. We also heard a lot of gun shots in the Wildlife Management areas and hoped that it was target practice - probably not. The deer hunting season is over but small game can be hunted most of the year.
There were almost no artifacts on this section. No houses, cabins or barns. But we did pass the Norwood Cemetery with three headstones.
We went through several coves of holly trees and mountain laurels but no rhododendrons - we were not in the mountains. The surprising tree was the American Beech - I had always assumed that it was a high altitude tree but here we didn't go over 300 ft.
Cumulative after Day 10 - 138.9 miles, 19,250 ft. ascent
Starting with 109.5 miles, 16,650 ft, ascent
Santee Rd. to NC 50, Durham
Between 1978 and 1981, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a dam of the Neuse River, creating Falls Lake. As part of that project, the Falls Lake Recreation Area was created. About 50 miles of trail were built around the lake, skirting inlets and walking the causeway. This section of the MST is all about the lake.
We started on the other side of the lake from where we ended yesterday. Friends of the MST will build a bridge at some point, but for now, we were told that we could skip the five miles around the lake and just pick up the trail at Santee Lake.
The beginning of this section was confusing. At several points, we ran out of blazes but we were now smarter and had more confidence. If we were on a trail, we stayed on it, knowing that we would see blazes at some point.
People must have left here before 1978 and they left their cabins, farms and lots of appliances and trucks. All those artifacts line the trail. The picture above is part of a home site with tobacco barn, chicken coops and other outbuildings.
The walk was punctuated by several types of birds: bluebirds in the scrub and fields, herons in the inlets and gulls on the open water. We walked in the State Park and met the chief ranger, Greg Orcutt, who was staffing the booth and showered us with maps. Once in the park, we walked past plaques which explained various types of trees. We passed the Rolling View Marina, shown above. We were heading into Wake County, toward Raleigh, a more upper crust area.
We reached NC 50 at a very respectable 3:30 P.M. We had walked 14.9 miles with 1,200 ft. of elevation.
Cumulative after day 9 - 124.4 miles, 17,850 ft, ascent
Starting with 101 miles, 15,850 ft. ascentFrom E. Geer St. to Jimmy Rogers Rd., Durham
It was cold and icy in Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed in the mountains and many trees were down. But Sharon and I had itchy feet and wanted to do some more of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. So we decided to go to the Triangle to do the Falls Lake section, around Durham and Raleigh.
We arrived on Thursday at noon and met at the junction of Jimmy Rogers Rd and Little Rogers Rd. in a very desolate area of Durham. Kate Dixon, Executive Director of the Friends of the MST, had agreed to hike with us and we were thrilled. She knew the area and would provide an insider's view of the MST.
We shuttled to E. Geer St. and started our hike. Falls Lake was iced over, a very unusual event here.
We knew right away that we were no longer in the Blue Ridge. We were surrounded by loblolly pines, a southern tree that you don't see in the mountains and even a couple of small longleaf pines. The terrain was gently undulating, certainly not flat. We went up and down between 200 and 300 ft.
And lots of artifacts or garbage, depending on how you looked at it. Cars, trucks, appliances had been left here by residents when they moved out. We passed a tobacco barn, among other structures.
We were going west to east but were following trail instructions written east to west. Not easy. At one point, we misread the instructions and crossed a causeway over an inlet, couldn't find the trail and walked back, losing over 45 minutes.
We ended up walking in the dark and got out of the woods at 6 P.M. We had walked 8.5 miles and climbed 800 ft. Then we picked up the car from the start of the hike, drove to the end of the next day's hike and left a car there over night.
Cumulative after day 8 - 109.5 miles, 16,650 ft, ascent
It's been miserable here in Asheville. Below freezing temperatures, ice and wind has kept even me indoors and working out at the "Y". And of course, all those downed trees blocking the trail.
But we had to scout a hike that Lenny is leading in 10 days for the Carolina Mountain Club - Sassafras Mt. The mountain is the highest in South Carolina, 3,550 ft. Though it doesn't compare to Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina (6,684 ft.), the top is still much higher than Asheville. So how cold was it going to be?
We took extra hats, gloves and socks. We pulled out our gaters that we hadn't used since we moved to North Carolina, just in case there was deep snow. We even took a saw to cut away trees that might be blocking the trail.
We were very pleasantly surprised. The trail to Sassafras Mt. is on the Foothills Trail, a 77 mile trail which follows the Blue Ridge escarpment in South and North Carolina. It is lovingly maintained by the Foothills Trail Conference. They've done a great job building steps, bridges and just taking care of the trail.
But even they couldn't remove the snow and ice. But there was no snow on the trail and only a little ice. On that icy stretch, we used our yak-tracks, a gismo that you put on your boots to give you traction in ice. Up north, we had crampons for that but 10-point crampons with sharp points are just overkill.
We got to the top of Sassafras Mt. and had lunch in the sun. It must have been in the high 30s but it felt wonderful. Going down, we walked the road half-way, just for a change. Of course, we saw no one on the trail and just one car on the road.
It felt great to get out.
Today, the Asheville Citizen-Times published a guest column by Dale Ditmanson, Superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this column, reproduced in full below, Superintendent Ditmanson praises the actions of Congressman Heath Shuler in assuring an initial financial settlement for the North Shore Road.
For a discussion of the North Shore Road issue, look at this article.
This column is reproduced below instead of providing a link to the article, because the Asheville Citizen-Times only keeps its material on the web for a week.
Shuler a friend to the Smokies
Dale Ditmanson January 11, 2010
2009 was a year of terrific 75th Anniversary events, memorable connections to our past and some wonderful commitments to the stewardship of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for generations to come. One of the most significant actions of the year, however, took place late in December, and you may have not seen or heard the news. I wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of the historic steps taken by U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, -Waynesville, toward final resolution of the North Shore Road.
Congressman Shuler successfully obtained $12.8 million for Swain County as a down payment on an eventual North Shore Road settlement. The funding for the initial North Shore Road payment was passed as a provision to the Defense Appropriations Bill. The appropriation releases $4 million to Swain County immediately, with the remaining $8.8 million to be released 120 days after a settlement agreement is reached. As you recall the National Park Service published a Record of Decision in December 2007 which determined that the North Shore Road would not be constructed and that the Department of Interior would instead pursue a monetary settlement with Swain County. Since then, Rep. Shuler has worked tirelessly to guarantee fair compensation for Swain County. I am particularly pleased that he has been able to work with the administration to assure this initial payment and garner support for final resolution of the 1943 Agreement.
You will recall that one of our key goals for the 75th Anniversary was “stewardship for the future.” Resolving this decades-old issue is one of the most significant successes in assuring the protection of the Smokies for future generations. At the same time, I know that Rep. Shuler shares our concern for the history and heritage of those families and individuals who inhabited the hills, valleys and communities along what is now the North Shore of Fontana Reservoir. We will continue to provide transportation to annual cemetery “decoration days” and tell their stories through exhibits and programs.
I cannot emphasize enough that the resolution of the monetary settlement would still be at an impasse without the personal commitment and actions of Heath Shuler and his staff. Our thanks to Congressman Shuler for his efforts in resolving the North Shore settlement and his ongoing support for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One year ago today, I got hit by an SUV. I'll spare you the details but it took me about six months to get back to my original fitness. I'm still doing the exercises given by my physical therapist and will probably do them for life.
A couple of days ago, I was interviewed by a local reporter doing a story on "staying fit in these hard times." He called me while I was deep into some writing and caught me off guard and I probably didn't give him what he wanted. I think he wanted five quick and easy things the average American adult can do to get back into shape this year. There's no such thing.
Then I read about Aaron Saft's fitness schedule in this month's Blue Ridge Outdoors. He owns a running store, FootRX, in Asheville, has a wife in the middle of her medical residency and a two-year old boy. He's a busy man. Yet, he runs every day, starting out at 5 A.M. at the latest, so he can be back before his wife has to go to work. That's the reality of staying fit for life.
That's what I should have told my caller. If you want to stay fit, you have to make it a priority and not let the rest of life take over. If you need to get out at 5 A.M. to do that, well, that's what you do.
When you are stressed and overbusy, exercise is the last thing you should drop. Walking 20 minutes three times a week is just not going to do it.
Happy New Year!