Entries For: June 2011
Having just finished the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, I'm trying hard, really hard, not to think about my next hiking challenge.
I'm putting together my hiking resume, a list of hiking trails and challenges that I've done over the years.
I completed my first challenge in 1978, the New Hampshire 4000 footers and I think I still have my certificate someplace.
My A.T. and Smokies 900 certificates were laminated and are hanging on the wall. I haven't even gotten the Mountains-to-Sea Trail certificate; it's given out by Friends of the MST at the annual meeting in February. I did receive a beautiful certificate from the North Carolina House of Representatives which I had laminated. See above.
What other trails or hiking challenges should I include in this CV?
I've already decided that if I've only done part of a trail, I won't include it. I've done part of the GR5 in France, the Southwest Way in England and 2/3 of the Long Trail in Vermont. The last one really bugs me. A long hard week of backpacking and I could add it to my resume.
But I'm going to include all the distinct multi-day trails that I've done.
Now, looking toward the future.
Should I sample many trails or concentrate on completing a few trails? I know I never want to repeat any long trails that I've done. I respect hikers who walk the A.T. several times but there are so many other places to hike.
I can explain doing the Milford Track in New Zealand three times - honest. That was only four days of walking. But I can't see redoing a six month trail.
This hiking CV will keep me busy for a while and keep me from thinking about my next hiking challenge.
Last week, the following article, entitled Heavier? Go light on the chips appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times
Adults gain an average of almost a pound a year as they age, and much of that weight gain is caused by changes in diet such as extra servings of foods like potato chips, french fries, sugar-sweetened drinks, white bread and low-fiber breakfast cereals, says the largest, most comprehensive study of diet and weight gain in adults.
Other contributors include decreased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other minimally processed foods; less physical activity; more time spent watching TV; and poor sleep habits. The study provides the strongest evidence yet that weight gain is caused primarily by dietary and lifestyle choices, says senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Here's the original study. I would have put a link to the article but the Citizen-Times only keeps its articles on the web for a week.
Back to the findings. Huh?? Did anyone believe that just aging makes you fat?
No. It's an equation. Calories out have to be at least as much as calories in. And yes, the study says, there are bad foods. Potato chips, french fries (which have nothing to do with French cooking) and sodas are manufactured foods that are bad for any living thing. I haven't touched a potato chip since I was 12 years old and memorized the calorie tables. I declared potato chips as just not eatable and that was way before Michael Pollen's books.
The picture above is of Carolina Mountain Club members on a recent hike. Except for the fellow in the back, we're all over 60 and most over 70. Medical research only looks at sick people; they never look members of outdoor clubs that hike (or bike or canoe) week-in or week-out. We may not win races but we're out on the trail all year round.
It had been raining for several days and Lenny had postponed trail maintenance on his Mountains-to-Sea Trail section for a week now. We woke up to rain again this morning but it soon cleared. By 11 a.m., Lenny decided that the rain was over for the day and he could go out and do some weed eating on the trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway - Beaver Dam Gap Milepost 401.7 to Big Ridge Overlook Milepost 403.6. He left me a note which said "I'll be home late. I'll call you when I get off the trail." That was fine with me. I had a little more time to make dinner.
At 6:30 P.M., I got annoyed. He hadn't called yet and the chicken was getting cold. Reluctantly, I put dinner in the refrigerator and went back to my computer. Something was gnawing at me. He's being out almost eight hours. Subtract the 45 minutes that it takes to get to the closer end of his section and it's still too long to be out there. Maybe it wasn't a good idea for him to go out alone with a weed eater.
By 7 p.m., I was worried. If I was going to go out and see where he was, this was the time. Today was the longest day of the year and light for another two hours. I called Carroll, a hiking friend to let him know what I was doing. "I'm leaving now," I said. To my surprise, Carroll said "Let me put some hiking shorts and boots on and I'll meet you at the French Broad Overlook." This is the first overlook on the Parkway south of Asheville.
I gathered my stuff. We were only going to hike two miles but I needed to be prepared for anything that I might find. I put on boots. I checked my pack for my first aid kit, flashlight, and flagging tape. I took a rain jacket, two energy bars, and two quarts of water. That's a lot of water for two miles but Lenny might need it.
I met Carroll at the overlook and he signaled for me to get into his car. "No," I said. "We need to put cars at both ends. No point us walking any further than we have to." We checked our cell phone and we both had only one bar. We knew that we would lose that little cell coverage as we got further on the Parkway. "Do you want to call 911?" he asked.
"No. We got to find him first. He may not even be on the Parkway anymore. We need to find his car as well. "
I left my car at Beaver Dam Gap, one end of the section, and got into Carroll's car. We continued south on the Parkway and saw Lenny's Prius at Stony Bald Overlook, the overlook about half-way on his section. So he was on the trail, somewhere.
We drove to the southern endpoint and started walking on the MST. We could see that the trail had been freshly weed eaten. Weeds and leaves were laying on the trail. We climbed to a local high point as possible scenarios flowed through my mind.
Carroll is a sensible Midwesterner and not a "touchy-feely" person. He's 81 years old and in amazing shape even if he were 30 years younger. He may not be the fastest hiker in Carolina Mountain Club but he's the most consistent and the most dependable. Carroll wasn't going to tell me that "everything is going to be all right" because I knew it wasn't.
The two miles meander up and down and cross the Parkway a couple of times. It's part of the Shut-in Trail, which goes from Biltmore Estate to the remains of Buck Spring Lodge. When George Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt, built Biltmore Estate in the late 1800s, he also constructed a trail to Buck Spring Lodge, his hunting lodge about 18 miles away.
We got through the first mile in 20 minutes. At Stony Bald Overlook, the trail crosses the Parkway. I looked into Lenny's car to make sure that his body wasn't stuffed in the back seat. Nothing had been moved. The equipment bag that comes with the weed eater was still there but the weed eater itself must have been with Lenny.
Without checking his cell phone, Carroll said, "Maybe we should call 911." But I was adamant. "We need to find him. We can do the search. If we can't handle things by ourselves when we find him, then one of us will get off the trail and call 911 for the rescue part. And by the way, for the Parkway, it's 1-800-PARKWATCH."
Our phone number is everywhere. So I've gotten calls from wives who say '"My husband is late from a hike. Should I call 911?" and my advice is always 'no, wait'. "When you call 911, you unleash a process of 50 searchers, dogs and an army of support personnel that you can't stop. Depending on who responds, they may be the local EMTs who aren't familiar with the woods. Some come with slick city shoes and have a difficult time on hiking trails."
After a drink of water, we continued on the trail. More signs of cutting. Good, I figured. The further along he got, the less time he spent in the woods incapacitated. I started to fiddle with my pack and Carroll sped ahead of me. I walked alone and each freshly cut piece is encouraging. What would I find? There's no way that Lenny's still working on the trail. He tells me that it's very heavy work. He has to carry the weed eater on the trail as well as the fuel and other equipment. He's only good for a few hours.
What would I find? A broken ankle sounded good. A heart attack, unlikely. A fall and being cut by the weedwhacker? I was most afraid of that. As I descended, the trail was bushy and overgrown. He must have stopped here. Maybe he ran out of fuel, out of energy or something happened. I looked at both sides of the trail for a body or equipment. Nothing, so I keep walking bobbing my head from side to side, searching for anything unusual.
At a local top, the trail narrows to a point on a rock. I lean into the trail and place my feet carefully until I'm back on dirt. I scan down the steep side toward the Parkway but I don't see anything. Maybe Lenny got off the trail safely. If that's the case, he would leave the weed eater hidden in the bushes, walk back to his car, and pick up the equipment when he had the car. I need to look off the trail to find the weed eater.
Maybe he got hit when walking back on the Parkway to his car. But that didn't make sense. The hospital would have called our house. We're not difficult to find. Being kidnapped by aliens didn't enter my mind.
Then I hear laughter - two men laughing - Carroll and Lenny. "I found him," Carroll yells out. "He's fine." I came down the trail to Beaver Dam Gap Overlook to my car. Lenny was smiling. "I told you I was going to be late," he said. I couldn't argue with that. "I just got your message that you were coming after me. I tried to call you back but you obviously had no reception."
"What were you doing on the trail, for so long?" I asked. I wasn't angry; I was puzzled more than relieved. "It was slow work. I do maybe a quarter mile of trail an hour," he said. The string kept breaking on the weed eater. After I finished the first mile, I walked back to get the car and move it, and on it went." There's no cutting blade at the end of the weed eater. A taut string is the cutting edge. When it hits a rock or branch or something it can't cut, it breaks. This makes it safer on the trail. There's less chance of a rock flying off.
It was getting dark and we were all hungry. Lenny was filthy, with bits of grass clinging to his shirt, pants and hair. I thanked Carroll profusely and drove him back to his car. The Parkway at night was almost deserted. A line of motorcyclists were coming toward us. Two young men in jeans and long-sleeve shirts got out of their truck and walked on the other side of the road. The vehicle headlights were left on. I looked at them straight in the eye and wondered what they were doing.
We took showers, had some yogurt for dinner, and went to bed. We were too tired to talk this out. The next morning, at breakfast, we went through the scenario again.
"Well, I couldn't get started until 11 o'clock so I continued until I ran out of daylight. It was a long day," Lenny said.
"I was concerned. If I was going to go out and find you, I needed daylight. I was not going to wait until 9 p.m. to go out for you. By 7 o'clock, you hadn't called. That's a long time on the trail."
"I understand. But I couldn't get you on the phone."
"Forget cell phones. We've been operating for years without cell phones. I could have said 'well, he'll come home when he comes home.' Maybe I should have waited until the next morning."
And that's what we agreed on. If one of us doesn't come home from the trail in the evening, we're not going to worry or do anything until the next morning.
I got overly concerned but I did something right. I didn't call 911.
A couple of months ago, I got an email, entitled "I love your blog". How could I resist opening it? It was from an employee of Online shoes, who wanted to know if I wanted to get Hi-Tec boots and review them on the blog.
My only obligation was to blog and not ignore them. "Of course", I said.
I chose the Hi-Tec V-Lite Bellville Water Proof insulated boots. I hike week in, week out all year and also do trail maintenance, yet I have only one pair of over-the-ankle boots. When they wear out, I get another pair. That means, I have one heavy pair. This was my chance to get a lighter pair that still gave me ankle support. That's why I chose the V-Lite.
I've never bought boots through the mail, so I was more concerned about that than the quality of the boots. I ordered my regular size. When I got them in the mail, I tried them on with my heavy Thor-Lo hiking socks but they were too tight. I then switched from trekking socks to Thor-Lo hiking socks and the boots fit well. I took them for a spin around the neighborhood because I was going on a Carolina Mountain Club hike the next day.
Now they tell you to never wear brand-new boots on an all-day hike without breaking them in but I took a chance. I'm the one with the hat on the right, as you look at the picture.
It was only an 8-mile hike on the Mountains-to Sea Trail and quite easy for CMC members. I had no problems and they were lighter than my regular heavy boots.
I was more concerned about the socks than the boots so I went to my favorite outfitter, Diamond Brand Outdoors, to see if they could stretch them. "We can only stretch them on the side, not length wise," the wise shoe department said. So I kept wearing the "thinner" socks. Most hikers wear these socks and not the heavy ones that I wear, so it's not surprising that my size couldn't accommodate the heavy socks.
But what about rain? It's been raining on and off for weeks in the Southern Appalachians. A few days later, Lenny and I went to maintain our section of the Appalachian Trail. By the early afternoon, the skies opened up. The boots held up quite well. I didn't slip on wet rocks and the insides stayed dry. I was out another two hours in the rain. I took the picture above of my boots at the back of my car. It seemed more realistic than a picture of them clean and fresh out of the box.
So the bottom line.
The Hi-Tec are comfortable, light and water- resistant. Nothing is water proof except for rubber. They're light boots and not meant to be used for a long-distance backpack but I will use them for light hiking, short distances and even birding.
What is it like to work or live in a national park?
There are many ways to read a collection of essays. I started in the middle, reading about Denali National Park, the most recent vacation park I've been to.
I loved Christine Byl's description of Healy, Alaska, a gateway town to the park. She came to work as a seasonal on a trail crew, came to understand Denali but eventually left the Park Service. Still Byl stayed in Healy and now runs a construction company with her husband. "If you stay in Healy in the winter, you become a local," she says.
Her essay goes through the four seasons but winter takes up half the year.
Cassandra Kircher was ten when her father took the children camping in Grand Teton National Park. Seven years later, they head to Glacier National Park. The children hiked while the father fish. But in the third part of the story, A Portrait of my Father in Three Places, Kircher is the one in charge. She's been a ranger for six years in Rocky Mountain National Park when her father visits her. He stays in her backcountry cabin but he's getting older and feebler. He manages to catch two trout but he can't kill them and the author can't seem to talk to her father about it.
But the stories are not all by rangers and writers. Most western parks have lodges run by concessioners and need all types of service personnel.
Nathan Rice rolls off his bunk at 5:45 AM to flip pancakes, fry hash browns, and scramble eggs for guests at Mount Rainier National Park's Paradise Lodge. He's here to explore the park and doesn't just wait for his day off. One evening, Rice and his buddy who works the dinner shift, start climbing up Mt. Rainier at 9:00 PM. They make it to the true summit at 14,410 feet to watch the sun rise. It's a difficult climb when you're fresh and rested, but to do this climb after a long day of work is amazing.
Kim Wyatt, publisher of Bona Fide Books, explains that the essays in the book were arranged in an arc, from an essay by the most transient employee to the most permanent. This is the first book published by this small press in the Lake Tahoe Basin, though there are several more in the pipeline.
But what about stories on the Smokies, Acadia, Mammoth Caves...? There's now a call for stories from Eastern Parks. They're restricting themselves to National Parks, so no stories from the Blue Ridge Parkway or Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. The publisher writes:
Bona Fide Books now seeks stories about national parks from east of the Mississippi. Whether you spent your time hitting the trails or alligator-proofing your cabin, we would love to read your experiences. We welcome tree-hugging epiphanies and reflections on the daily grind. From the Everglades to Acadia, we want to hear the societal, environmental, and existential implications of living in the park. What happened there? How did you get hooked? What keeps you coming back?
Essays should be approximately 5,000 words or less. Writers will receive $100 for their essay and one copy of the collection. They are accepting submissions through January 1, 2012. For all details see their website.
You can buy Permanent Vacation on the Bona Fide website, in western park bookstores and of course, on Amazon.
Lenny and I went to maintain our A.T. section today. I wasn't prepared for the amount of growth that had accumulated on our section of the A.T. (Devils Fork Gap to Rice Gap). He had brought a weedwhacker to trim back the weeds and blackberries while I clipped and picked up any garbage.
Here he is without the regulation goggles. He claims that with regular glasses, the goggles are uncomfortable. Besides, his glasses are safety glasses.
I soon passed him and entered the rhododendron tunnel which took up the most time. The trail is supposed to be 4 feet wide and 8 feet high and the tunnel was going to obstruct most backpacks.
Since I was on my own - Lenny was slower than me with his weedwhacker - I walked up to the waterfall and took some close ups.
Two logs bisect the waterfall and from the trail, it's not very photogenic. I was able to get a photo without all those obstructions by getting close to it. My dream is to have someone with a chainsaw get rid of the logs but that's not going to happen. There's too much real work to do to worry about esthetics.
Further up, I found a yellow jacket nest in the ground. The yellow jackets were very mellow. They were just walking in and out of their holes and I probably could have stamped on the ones outside their homes. In a couple of months, these placid wasps are going to cause me trouble. I took some duct tape, put it around the closest tree and wrote Yellow Jacket Nest on it, to remind me for my fall visit.
I heard some yelling and exuberance and a scout troop descended down the trail. They were from Lithopolis, OH south of Columbus. A group of nice boys with two leaders. Why, oh, why, have I never met a group of girl scouts backpacking or even dayhiking on the trail?
As I got close to Frozen Knob, the high point of our A.T. section, I saw Atlas finishing up his lunch. He's a section hiker from Florida, out on his second day. He's heading south, hopefully to Springer Mountain. By his own admission, he was slow but cheerful. He asked me to call his son and let him know he was OK so I will as soon as I finish this blog entry.
After lunch, the wind picked up, something fierce. The sky darkened as if the lights had been turned off. Branches cracked and it was obvious that it was going to rain. I was up over 4,000 ft. and I just hoped that there would be no lightning. The wind died down a little but it started to rain. That was OK. Rain is not a problem. After suffering with the heat for several weeks, I was actually cold and put on my rain jacket.
All this while, I was clipping errant branches and thick tall weeds. Finally I got to Rice Gap and walked down to my car. I was soaked and muddy but felt I had finished the trail maintenance for this quarter. Unfortunately, Lenny's weed whacking doesn't go as fast and he has a couple more trips to do.
Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is proud to announce that a new trailhead for the Florence Nature Preserve is now open to the public. Located directly on Highway 74A, the new trailhead offers convenient and scenic public access to the Florence Nature Preserve and the developing Hickory Nut Gorge Trail System.
The Florence Nature Preserve, owned by CMLC and located in Gerton, is a special treasure in the upper Hickory Nut Gorge. The 600-acre property was donated to CMLC in two phases (1996 and 2001) by Dr. Tom and Glenna Florence.
The new trailhead is now the only point of public access to the Preserve. When preparing for your trip to the Preserve, please plan on using this access because Kelly Hill Road and the trailheads off of it (red and blue) are now closed.
Located approximately 0.9 miles east of the Hickory Nut Gorge Community Center and Nita and Susan's Hickory Creek Market, the new trailhead allows for more vehicle parking and provides a much more scenic route of entry into the Preserve.
Look at the map for more information
Ever since the Clingmans Dome Information opened, visitors have been asking for a trail.
It seems that walking the half-mile to the top of the tower just made them famished. After testing out many bars, Joe L., the product manager at the Association, chose the Olympic Granola Bar.
It's a chewy bar that comes in several flavors, all very tasty. I'm not very good at reviewing food. Either it's good or I'm not going to eat it. Food adjectives just escapes me. So I'll let Backpackers review do the talking about this bar.
I looked at the ingredient list and they're all ingredients I can pronounce, starting with rice.
But be careful. This is not an office or snack bar. You'd better be hiking. At 380 calories, the bar is two servings. Are you going to keep half of it for tomorrow? I don't know. It is good.
So when you're in the Park. Stop at the visitor center and buy a couple. You'll be aiding the Park while aiding your energy and appetite.
Gov. Perdue vetoed the budget on Sunday (June 12). Read her statement. There were lots of reasons why the Governor took that action but I was gratified to read the following:
The natural environmental treasures that we cherish and that draw so many visitors to North Carolina will be at risk of permanent damage or destruction;
• Historical sites that attract tourists and stimulate economic activity by commemorating our rich cultural heritage will be closed;
Last week, I received two messages - actually I received many about the environment but I saved two. The first deals with our North Carolina pollution laws:
Bad, bad things are happening in the state legislature and we need your help to stop them. See http://action.ncconservationnetwork.org/rulesrollback
When a legislative session is coming to an end, we typically see some of the worst special interest proposals pushed through the legislature with little or no debate. Well, the end is near (of the legislative session) and, sure enough, legislators are preparing to give a huge gift to polluters with Senate Bill 7811.
SB 781 is similar to the budget language and House legislation that would roll back decades of progress to protect clean air, clean water, and our beautiful natural areas in North Carolina. SB 781 would undo hundreds on critical protections for our natural areas by creating a mountain of red tape for state agencies. Essentially bringing many key protections down to the federal minimum requirements; a move only big polluters can love.
Tell your legislators and Governor Perdue that you want to keep North Carolina protections in place so that we continue to be a great place for family, business, and travel. We won’t be a more attractive state to business and tourism with dirty air, dirty water, or spoiled natural areas.
The second deals with funding the National Parks. It comes from the National Parks Conservation Association which encourages national parks supporters to write to our congress representative.
We are writing to express our strong support for adequate levels of funding for our national parks as you prepare the Fiscal Year 2012 Interior Appropriations bill. We appreciate the Subcommittee’s leadership on the bipartisan effort over the past four years to restore critically needed funding for the parks.
We understand and agree with the need to budget carefully this year and value the tough decisions that Congress and the President have made to trim federal spending. However, we believe that we must continue to support national treasures such as our parks system. National Parks have proven to be a good investment for communities, jobs, and future generations. Furthermore, in this time of economic uncertainty, Americans have again turned to the national parks to improve their spirits, connect with our nation’s tremendous natural and cultural heritage and enjoy affordable time with their families.
A recent survey showed that 91% of Americans have visited a National Park Service unit, and 62% having visited in the past two years. As you assemble this year’s appropriations bill, we encourage you to do all that you can to make critically needed investments in our national parks, particularly for the operating account.
I've been to Dupont State Forest many times. It has great waterfalls, several lakes and a couple of mountain tops. But I've never been there in the summer. Dupont is a cool-weather destination for us.
But on Sunday, one of the hottest days ever, Lenny and I went to check out a grandchildren-friendly hike at Dupont. Grandchildren-friendly includes several factors:
* Fun for the 8-year old. Swimming will be fun.
* A safe place for the 22-month old to run around
* And most important, easy-enough terrain for our son to carry that 22-month old.
Because we've only been there in the fall or winter, we've never really thought of where we could swim. We headed out to Lake Julia and stopped at Lake Dense. We dismissed Lake Dense because the water got too deep too fast. But Lake Julia had great possibilities.
We walked past the long staircase to the picnic tables. This is where two houses remain from the housing development days.
The clubhouse is falling apart. Look at the roof. What a shame. This building could have been a great training center or a hostel. It had lots of potential. Instead the State is letting it rot. Well, they can't mess up the lake, I hope.
Going back, we took the trail to High Falls. Going down High Falls is traitorous. It's slippery and rocky and I can't see our son carrying a heavy load on his back. Besides, on a hot day, it's filled with people who can't control their dogs and sometimes themselves. So we crossed that off our list.
But the bottom of Triple Falls was great. See the picture on top. You can wade, and even swim a little. It's not that difficult to go down and back up from a side trail off of Triple Falls Trail. The Forest is making some improvements where it will even easier.
Right now a security guard is guarding the entrance to the bottom of Triple Falls. It's a shame that the Forest is so poorly funded that they have to hire temporary private security, rather than having rangers.
But the easiest was Hooker Falls. The parking area was overflowing. It was like Coney Island. People had brought coolers, beach chairs, dogs and even a kayak. They were having a ball.
After considering all the options, we'll probably take them to Lake Julia and back, drive to Hooker Falls parking and walk to the Falls.
But the way we did it, we had to walk back on the road back to our cars. It was hot!
I led a Friends of the Smokies hike on Hemphill Bald in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail borders the park on the south eastern side.
Holly Demuth, North Carolina Director of Friends of the Smokies, wants to encourage Ashevilleans to discover the Smokies. Unfortunately, today, we didn't have any members from Asheville, but several great hikers from Waynesville.
The hike started at Polls Gap on Heintooga Road. It was cool most of the day, as the altitude is over 5,000 ft. The flowers were past their peak, but still we counted over 20 different species. In addition, the Catawba rhododendrons and flame azaleas were outstanding.
Columbines bloomed in profusions in one section. I associate columbines with western hiking, but here they were on the Smokies trail.
But wait! What is this beautiful and delicate pink and green flower which attached itself to leaves?
We checked out its flowers. Then I turned it over and it wasn't a flower at all but a butterfly, that had maybe just emerged from its caterpillar stage.
We reached Hemphill Bald at lunch time. Judy Cocker, who owns Cataloochee Ranch, came to talk to us. She outlined the history of the ranch, which was started by her father. It has adapted to modern tourism and is doing well. The third generation has been absorbed by the business.
In 1993, they led the way in conservation by putting over 300 acres in a conservation easement with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. This way, they protect the land from development in the future.
Reluctantly, we finished lunch and our conversation with Judy and walked back to the cars. I'm ready to plan the next Friends hike.