Entries For: April 2012
When you hike with others, you have to go - fog, rain or hail. And yesterday was a doozy of a day to be out on the trail.
I had made plans with Hannah E. to scout Mt. Cammerer for a Friends of the Smokies hike later on this year. And so we met and drove on I-40 to the Waterville exit. The skies opened up almost as soon as we got on the interstate. It rained and thundered. Lots of lightning followed. Hannah must have been wondering about the wisdom of hiking but she wasn't saying anything. I kept driving.
Mt. Cammerer can be hiked from several trailheads. We approached it from the Appalachian Trail at Davenport Gap on the North Carolina side. By the time we started the hike, the rain had changed to a drizzle and soon stopped.
The trail started climbing instantly but it was a gentle, gradual Smokies climb. We saw an assortment of flowers from violets of early spring to trilliums and rue anemone. On our 3,000 foot climb (2,000 feet to 5,000 feet), the flower display changed gradually.
Many A.T. thru-hikers passed us, all happy to be done with the Smokies. They had spent a cold, wet week in the Park and were ready to move on.
"If you're out of the Smokies in April, you're doing well," I said. Plodder, a chunky, smiling hiker, had put Listerine bottles on his chest with a tube system for easy access to his water.
After passing two cross trails, we reached an amazing wall, probably built by the CCC. We continued up and at the intersection with the Mt. Cammerer Trail, we met two hikers from Knoxville. They had come up from Cosby campground. We all headed for the tower.
And then hard rain started again. We scurried to the Mt. Cammerer Lookout tower, which was open - see above. After a quick lunch, Hannah and I moved out. It was wet but it wasn't going to get any better soon.
Moth-ball sized hail came down. I felt it most on my head and hands. There was no place to stop and we walked fast up to the junction to the A.T. and down the trail. It had hailed as low as 3,000 feet.
We got to our car at about 4:30, much earlier than I figured.
We felt good. It's been a while since I've hiked up 3,000 feet in a day but with the quality of the trail and grade, it wasn't much of a problem. And Hannah deserves extra pay for hazardous duty.
This past weekend, Lenny and I took our granddaughter camping at Falls Lake Recreation Area just outside of Raleigh. Falls Lake is not wilderness but what areas east of the Mississippi really are?
We camped at Rolling View and hiked eight miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I wanted to see the famous bridge that Friends of the MST built. See above.
I had done this section back in January 2010, when I was working on walking the whole MST. But by now it was all new to me. And besides, we were here at a different time of the year.
Here, the trail is on rolling hills lined with loblolly pines, white pines, and tulip trees. At several points, we came out to the lake and just stared. Way out in the distance, a boater motored across. But otherwise, there was no activity. On a beautiful Saturday, Earth Day no less, we had the trail to ourselves.
The Army Corps of Engineers finished the dam on the Neuse River in 1981, creating Falls Lake. People who lived around the river, had to move out and left many modern artifacts. We came across bricks and a modern barbecue grill. On other sections around Fall Lake, homes and tobacco barns have been left.
The land seemed to have restored itself. With just a cursory look at the scenery, you might call it scrub. But with a child, you look closer and you stop at everything.
Children love lists. On the hike, we made a list of all the wildlife we saw:
Toads, butterflies, caterpillars, a box turtle, centipedes, grasshoppers, spiders, robins, sparrows, crows, mocking bird and a lone sandpiper around the bridge.
We heard a woodpecker and swatted at lots of gnats - yes, we counted gnats. I also saw a deer leap across the road through the campgrounds.
This is an impressive list, given that the land has only had a chance to recuperate for about 30 years.
Flowers were harder to identify. Bluets were huge, compared to those in the mountains. Blue-eyed grass and blackberry flowers were plentiful. I just identified this lily as an Atamasco lily. From the website, I learned that
Rafts of lovely white atamasco lilies announce the arrival of spring in moist open woodlands, meadows and along country roads throughout the southeastern U.S. from Virginia to Mississippi and the northern half of Florida.
I won't find this lily in the mountains.
But what is the other flower, here to the right?
Can anyone help identify it?
We reached the bridge over a finger of the Lake, a beautiful arched bridge, built by Friends of the MST volunteers. Before the bridge, long-distance hikers had to walk about five extra miles around the water. On the other side of the bridge is an island leading to a series of boardwalks.
There's a lot of water between boardwalks. There's been a lot of rain lately and the area is flooded. Word has it that the task force will fill in with more boardwalks. We had lunch at the bridge and walked back.
And what did Hannah think of the hike? Stay tuned.
Friends of the Smokies hikes are getting a larger, more diverse group. Dubbed Classic Hikes of the Smokies, these hikes are getting much more press and attention. We had a woman who's visiting from New Zealand. You can't go any further around the world than New Zealand.
Today, 12 hikers went into Cataloochee and walked the Boogerman Trail. Note that I say, Boogerman Trail, and not Boogerman Loop. At least two bridges are out on Caldwell Fork Trail, so we decided to not go around the loop to avoid plunging into the water.
Instead we took Boogerman Trail after the second bridge on Caldwell Fork , walked up and down to the stone walls and back again. It added a little more distance and elevation gain.
The flowers were amazing - showy orchis, stonecrop, painted trilliums, and even a couple of lady slippers still in bud. This doesn't count the more common flowers that I've seen since February such as violets, star chickweed and toothworts. Bloodroot are gone but most other early flowers are still sticking around.
At a break, Holly gave an impassionate about supporting North Carolina's full-color license plates.
The specialty license plate with Yonah, the bear, brings in $430,000 a year for the Smokies. But right now, there's a law that will force the full-color license plates to disappear.
So call your state legislature and ask them to reinstate the plate.
Catawba Falls opens to the public - April 17, 2012
If all went according to plans, Catawba Falls opened today. I know - it's been open for quite a while. It's even in my second book - Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Forest Service announced the completion of a parking lot and the opening of the Catawba Falls area to the public this week.
Catawba Falls, a 100-foot lower and 70-foot upper falls on the Catawba River near Old Fort in the Pisgah National Forest, was acquired by the Foothills Conservancy in 2005 and 2007 after 20 years of work. The Forest Service bought the 88-acre tract in 2010.
The parking lot provides visitors easy access to the scenic waterway, the Forest Service news release says.
Celebrating Life in the Mountains:
Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 7 pm
Reuter Center in the Manheimer Room. Free, the public is invited.
This fascinating series continues with Points North highlighting points of interest north, south, east, and west of the Asheville area. This program features two iconic landmarks that lie primarily north of Asheville.
Julie Jenkins, Community Program Manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, will highlight the history and numerous opportunities the Appalachian Trail offers.
Over two million people hike a portion of the A.T. -- one of the longest footpaths in the world -- each year.
The Parkway has been voted one of America's favorite drives and consists of 469 miles of scenic and recreational opportunities. Few people are fortunate enough to have the world class opportunities that we have in Asheville.
If you're reading this blog, you probably know all about the A.T. and the Parkway. But it's all about meeting the people behind these organizations.
P.S. If you're wondering, Friends of the Smokies spoke as part of this program last fall.
Another excursion for the Appalachian Trail Biennial 2013. I took two Australian friends, Barrie and Joy, on a Pisgah District drive and short walk to test out a Pisgah excursion.
We visited several Pisgah "top of the pops".
First we went to Looking Glass Falls, an icon of Western North Carolina on US 276 in Pisgah Forest. See the picture above. Then further north to Sliding Rock - no one was sliding in the water since it was about 50 degrees but in the summer, there are lines of people queueing up to slide down into the pool.
The Cradle of Forestry was still closed for the season but we walked around the first school of Forestry in the country. Carl Schenck's original buildings have been preserved in a one-mile walk on a paved trail. Hopefully, walking a mile will still be counted as an excursion.
We reached the Blue Ridge Parkway and turned east to the Pisgah Inn. We ate lunch there which won't be part of the excursion, but maybe it should be. Then on the MST to Buck Spring Lodge, George Vanderbilt's hunting lodge. We found the root cellar and the spring house. The Aussie couple is sitting on a bench on the Lodge property. I didn't suggest that they hike up Mt. Pisgah.
We drove back south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a view of Looking Glass Rock, another Western North Carolina icon.
All this while, Barrie was photographing flowers and views. He's going to have a hard time figuring out where he was and which view he's looking at.
So here's the question - would this make a good ATC Biennial excursion?
I really should announce my own hike. Every other blog has done that.
The Friends of the Smokies "Classic Hikes of the Smokies" series continues on Thursday April 19 with a hike on the Boogerman Trail. The 8.6-mile hike will features streams, big trees, artifacts and history.
We'll see home sites, walk along old stone walls that once protected gardens and home sites, and visit towering hemlock and tulip trees on the next guided hike with Friends of the Smokies. Hopefully there will be still be spring flowers.
We'll also learn why the Boogerman loop is not a loop right now. Also, what happened to the wagon wheel that leaned against the tree for years? I am unsure about the Park's plans to renovate some bridges. But it will be a great out and back hike.
The hike is moderate in difficulty, and has a total elevation gain of 1,800'.
To register, email Hannah Epperson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 452-0720.
What would I want to give air time to Biltmore Estate? America's largest home does very well for itself without my blogging about it.
I'm going to offer a visit to the Biltmore Estate as an excursion for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial in 2013 so I wanted to check it out.
Today I took two Australian friends to Biltmore Estate, the most visited attraction around Asheville. I don't think they count the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Smokies when they say that.
We got there early so we could go through the stately home without long lines. George Vanderbilt, one of Commodore's grandsons, built this chateau in 1895. You can walk through the various dining rooms, sitting rooms, guest rooms and even see one of the 43 bathrooms they have. This was at a time where many homes didn't have one indoor bathroom.
Then the gardens. No matter what season, the gardens are spectacular. We went through the azalea gardens and down to Bass Lake. We drove to Antler Hill, commercial part of Biltmore. This is where they have the wine tasting and the creamery.
So the question is: would you be interested in going to Biltmore Estate when you come out to the ATC Biennial in 2013? It would cost about $50, maybe a little more.
Let me know.
We're in Chattanooga, TN for the weekend. Chatt is the home of moon pies, a large TVA facility, Coca-Cola bottling and of course, Ruby Falls.
Ruby Falls had been advertised for miles as we drove past the Smokies, Knoxville and into Chattanooga. The Falls, located on Lookout Mountain, are privately owned and does things a lot differently from National Parks and Forests.
For one, it can advertise. Secondly, it charges $17.95 for a one-hour cave tour that ends at the Falls. There were plenty of families that were happy to pay the admission price and stand in line. We took an elevator down and into the cave. Most of the cave features were given fanciful names like Tobacco Leaves or Elephant Foot.
The tour guides were spared having to give the history of the cave. At one point on the tour, we reached two TV screens which explained the history of the caves and gave a safety lecture. Another thing you will never see in a Park is a sign encouraging visitors to tip the guides.
At the endpoint, we arrived at Ruby Falls. Leo Lambert who drilled down and found the cave, named the waterfall after his wife, Ruby. The caves have been a tourist attraction for over 80 years.
But there's much more to Chatt than Ruby Falls. We walked around an art district, which had sculptures at every turn. We walked the Greenway by the Tennessee River and we ate too much.
I just heard that a middle-age woman, Diane Van Deren, will run the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. She wants to beat the record on the MST. Well, she only has to beat Matt Kirk, the only person who ran the MST. He did it in 24 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes
But if I look at the website carefully, it says that she wants to set the "time record". Is that the same as beating the record?
Great Outdoor Provision Co. and The North Face are sponsoring Diane's run, and they plan to use it to raise awareness of the trail and $40,000 for FMST. Here's a link to the website they have created about her run: http://www.mstendurancerun.com.
When Diane is running, Great Outdoor Provision Co. will be posting on facebook and twitter to let people know what she's experiencing along the way. They're going to use the photos entered in the photo contest to give the audience an idea of what she's seeing. She won't be able to blog about her experience, that's for sure.
There's no word on how Diane is going to be supported. She's not going to drive or carry a backpack, that's for sure. If you're curious about how Matt Kirk did it, come to the Carolina Mountain Club Spring barbeque where he'll be a speaker along with Sharon McCarthy and me.
Every once in a while, we all have to get a new pack. And it's traumatic.
In a way, a new day pack for me is even more traumatic than my backpack because I use my daypack so often. I know where everything is. I have a mental index of all the different pouches and pockets.
I wanted a pack that sat on my hips a lot more than on my shoulders. I went to Diamond Brand and asked that they "outfit me".
Usually I read tons of reviews on the web and try to make a decision but with equipment that needs fitting - packs and boots - it's so much easier to just go to an outfitter you trust and let them do the work. Chris and John had lots of patience as I kept hopping from pack to pack and going "for a walk" around the store.
After trying on various daypacks, we settled on a Gregory Jade. It's a small woman specific pack with a wide hip belt and straps all over, just like a backpack. The blue seemed to be the quietest color they had available.
I took it out for a day hike yesterday. Nothing too difficult but the pack felt comfortable on my body. Now all I have to memorize is where I put all my stuff.