Spring 2017 Album Is Up…

So, I got the pics for the AT trip a few weeks ago together and uploaded.  You can find a link to the album, as well links to each of the previous years albums here.  Still need to add captions but its progress.  Don’t expect “Ansel Adams” quality photos.  I really noticed this year how bad the Essential Tremor is affecting my ability to get much of anything in focus.  It’s especially bad when trying to get close-ups of flowers and such.  Deep Woods was gracious enough to stop often and get shots for me when my battery died after day three (I left the spare battery sitting on the dash of the car) but I need to come up with some method of taking a decent picture without having to setup a tripod and using the timer every time I see something.  We’ll never make it to Maine if it comes to that!  At our current pace, that’s unlikely to happen anyway.

I’ll spare you the play by play of this year’s trip.  Let’s just say we had a great time once again.  We could have been in better shape…a few pounds lighter at least…and there were some tough sections but there was also a lot of nice, smooth, reasonably rock and root-free trail for much of the way.  We were often telling one another how much we liked hiking this section.  Each day was unseasonably warm, especially the first two, when temps got well over 80 deg.  Day one was the climb out of Allen Gap, Rich Mountain lookout tower (limited views) and a pretty pond past Tanyard Gap.

Rich Mountain Lookout Tower

On day two the trail took us past Lover’s Leap which offered an awesome view of the French Broad River and the town of Hot Springs, NC below.  We proceeded down out of the mountains, across the French Broad River into Hot Springs, NC and enjoyed a big breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner before resuming our trek south.  Along the way we ran into the first of quite a few Pink Lady Slippers and some white dwarf Iris, a first for me.

Lover’s Leap

Crossing over the French Broad River into Hot Springs, NC

Smoky Mountain Diner in Hot Springs, NC

Pink Lady Slipper

White Crested Dwarf Iris

Day three brought rain but it was light and, with the warm temps, we skipped the rain gear for the better part of it.  The Trillium were abundant throughout this section, especially around Roaring Fork, our stopping point for the day.

Painted Trillium

The highlights for day four were spectacular blue skies for the amazing views on Max Patch and catching an equally spectacular sunset from Snowbird Mountain.  Crazy winds convinced us to forego camping on either summit but it all worked out in the end.

Rhododendron Tunnel on way to Max Patch (southbound)

On Max Patch

Wild Geranium

Sunset from Snowbird Mountain

And day five found us back at the car at Standing Bear Farm hostel and heading to the hotel to prepare for the second part of the journey which, as I mentioned in a previous post, was scrubbed due to high winds and access to the trail being closed in the park.

Snowbird Mountain

Dwarf Crested Iris

Spiderwort

Standing Bear Farm hostel

That adds up to only 47.9 trail miles for this go-around.  Too bad we couldn’t have gotten more in but we’re fortunate to be able to do this at all, so I’ll take it.  One thing we did do differently this year, and will continue to do from here on out, was dialing back the number of planned miles for each day.  We shot for roughly 10 miles each day but on most days decided to do a bit more.  The lower planned miles seemed to put us in a different mind-set.  We found we enjoyed ourselves more at a slower pace but still had sufficient time to tack on a mile or two more if the next day looked like it would be more challenging.  The flexibility was great.

That about wraps it up for now.  Loonie and I will try to squeeze in a weekend trip or two over the next couple of months.  Nothing major again until September when we plan to do several days on the Ozark Trail.  And October will be five days or so on the AT in Shenandoah National Park.  Can’t wait!

More to come…

Off the AT and onto the OT…

First off, our plans were dashed once again by Mother Nature.  After arriving at Standing Bear Farm, completing the section from Allen Gap, we got ourselves cleaned up, resupplied and checked the forecast for the second leg of the trip – the three days in the national park.  There was a good chance of rain all three days but 55+ mph winds were predicted the first day.  Regardless, we were ready to go.  Our shuttle got us as far as Sugarlands Visitor Center in the park where the park service had closed off US 441 (Newfound Gap Road) due to downed trees.  We stopped in at the backcountry office to find out what was up and discuss our options.  They told us that they had already closed the Roaring Fork loop road off as well and were now preparing to close Little River Road, essentially closing off the major vehicle routes to most trailheads on the West side of the park. They were also pulling all of their people out of the backcountry…it was just too dangerous keeping them out there with trees and limbs coming down everywhere.  They urged us to bail.  So, with no way to get up to the Gap other than by foot, our original plan was out and we headed back home.  This is getting to be an extremely frustrating and disappointing pattern!!!

Where does that leave us with respect to the AT?  I now have the section from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, GA (as well as the Approach Trail starting at Amicalola Falls State Park) up to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN –  just over 342 actual trail miles (excludes the 8.8 mile Approach Trail).  Other than the 5 or so mile stretch between Charlie’s Bunion and the Hughes Ridge Trail terminus with the AT in the park, Deep Woods has the same.  He made the call to come back and finish that section at a later date.  Next Spring, we’ll start in Erwin and try to get to Damascus, VA…maybe timing our arrival there with the start of Trail Days.  Fingers crossed.

Now then, despite the recent deluge of rain and all of the devastation that has brought upon areas along southern Missouri’s waterways, I headed off on my own to Bell Mountain Wilderness to do a section of the OT (Ozark Trail).  I still don’t have the galley together for the AT section hike but I’ll jump ahead to the OT hike and come back to the AT hike in just a bit (next few days, weeks…who knows).  No problem with high water on the section of trail I would be covering, other than the East Fork of the Black River down by Johnson’s Shut Ins State Park.  I wanted to see the Scour…path of the torrent of water released when the Ameren UE reservoir dam broke back in 2005.  To get there I would have to cross the Black and if it was running too high and fast then I could always take the bridge across.  Long story short, it looked as though I would finally get a look at this trail before Loonie and I return in the Fall.  So here goes…

I didn’t arrive at the north Bell Mountain Wilderness trailhead until 6:00 PM.  Considering the time, it was a Friday and two cars were already at the lot, I elected to do the west side of the loop and catch the summit…on the east side…on my return.  I got two or three miles in and thought I better bed down before it got dark.  Got water at a nice flowing stream, moved on a bit, found a little clearing and called it a day.  The weather was so nice and the bugs were behaving so I spent all three nights “cowboy style” and didn’t bother with the tarp.  The howl of coyotes in the distance sang me off to sleep.  Pretty cool!

Easy trail going in

Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm)

Got an early start…well early for me…of 7:30 AM since I wanted to get all the way to the scour.  Having never done the OT before, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as trail markings, trail condition, etc other than what little research I had done online and by reading bits of The Ozark Trail Guide Book.  Made it to the junction with the OT where I met a young couple headed up to the summit to camp for the night.  They would be the only two people I saw for the next several hours.  The solitude was nice.

Woodland Phlox (?)

May Apple

Common Dewberry or Blackberry – not sure which

White Milkweed (?)

Hung a left onto the OT, heading south.  At times the trail was great…nice tread, clear path…and other times it was as though the forest was taking over.  Tread was still generally good but otherwise you wouldn’t know a trail even existed.  The vegetation was taking over.  Markings were adequate most of the way, though I found myself getting off track several times and having to retrace my steps.  Never so bad that I had to break out the compass but frustrating nonetheless.  For what it’s worth, I didn’t carry a GPS…don’t own one yet…but my phone tracked adequately through Bell Mtn by using the AllTrails app.  I should have downloaded the OT section before leaving and I probably never would’ve had a problem.  Cell service was spotty but on each of the glades, summit of Bell Mtn and at Johnson’s Shut-Ins I had no problem getting calls off to Loonie.  Many sections are extremely rocky, as you would expect in Missouri.  Over the course of the day my feet took a pounding.  The glades on South Bell Mtn and Goggins Mtn were very cool, most offering excellent views.  Loved those.  And considering each day I was out got into the 80’s, the breeze they offered was more than welcome.  When crossing the glades you just need to watch for the sign posts or small cairns to stay on track.

Cairn on the Taum Sauk section of trail

Spiderwort

Coreopsis

Made it to Padfield Branch where I had lunch and got water.  Checked out the old collapsed house and the nice spring behind it and moved on.  For a third of a mile or so the trail appeared to be an old road…easy going…before turning off and back up and over a knob.  For much of the next mile your on about the same contour after which you climb up to a small glade that has a nice little pool to cool off (probably dry most of the year).  Less than a mile more put me at an awesome glade and the junction with the OT spur trail to Goggins Mtn Trail.

Padfield Branch

Padfield Branch

Remnants of old house

Potato Dandelion (?)

Glade on Goggins Mtn

OT spur trail junction. Leads to Goggins Mtn Trail

The hike of 3 miles or so down to Johnson’s Shut-Ins Campground on the Goggins Mtn Trail flew by.  I didn’t know what time the store closed and the thought of a cold Coke and ice cream gave me the strength of ten Grinches…plus two!  I got that cold Coke and ice cream sandwich and rested my feet.  Looked around the restored campground for awhile but since it was 6 PM I moved on.  Walked around the day-use area, however, access to the shut ins was closed due to high water so I didn’t get a chance to see that.  I had been there before but wanted to see the restoration.  From here I had intended to hike over to the scour area and then move into the woods to bed down.  The next day would be the 2 mile loop of the scour and then start making my way back to Bell Mtn.  I needed to get across the Black River so it was either do a wet crossing or go over the narrow road bridge.  The river was up but still looked manageable.  My feet felt like they had just gone 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali…no blisters…just plain sore, so I elected to double back a bit, found a spot just outside the campground and called it a day.  This nights treat was a great show put on by the fireflies!

Wide, easy trail on Goggins Mtn heading to Johnson’s Shut-Ins

Heading out of Johnson’s Shut-Ins Campground to the day-use area

The massive new Ameren UE concrete reservoir on Proffit Mtn

Ox-Eye Daisies

Slept and slept…and then slept some more, not getting out from under my quilt until 10 AM.  And I didn’t actually start hiking until 11.  Crazy!  Once again, I stopped at the store and had another Coke and ice cream sandwich.  Filled up on water and started making my way back up Goggins Mtn.  From here it was a repeat performance of the day before, only a bit warmer.  I had a much easier time following the trail this day so, despite the heat, I made pretty good time back to the Bell Mtn trail junction.  Now it was decision time.  It was 5:30 and I was down to one liter of water.  I didn’t know if I would find any water on the way up to the summit.  The map showed a small pool a half mile or so further on the OT but I couldn’t be sure if that was flowing or not and the next source of water after that was another mile and a half further at Ottery Creek.  Considering all of the rain we had gotten as of late, I decided to take my chances with the small pool down the OT and it turned out to be a good choice.  It was flowing fine and the only water I saw once I got back to the Bell Mtn trail and made my way to the summit was a sketchy looking pool.  I made it to the summit at 7:30 to find it was all mine.  Not a single person there.  In fact, on this day I saw just one other person and he was heading south on the OT so I pretty much had the whole day to myself.  Picked what appeared to be a good overlook and parked my butt there.  Set my stuff up, had dinner, got a call off to Loonie and took some pics.  This spot faced due east so I was looking forward to watching the sunrise.  Sat out on a rock outcropping, looking at the stars, wishing Loonie was there to see it.  The coyotes were howling again as I hit the sack.

More Woodland Phlox (?)

Goggins Mtn Trail on the way back to the OT

Crossing another glade on the OT

Several sections of the OT were overgrown like this.

White Fringed Phacelia (?)

Campsite on Bell Mtn.

Dinner on Bell Mtn.

Overslept again (go figure) and missed the sunrise.  I was disappointed about that but it wouldn’t have been the same without Loonie along so I shook it off and got going.  It was only three and half miles or so back to the van and that flew by.  Did see some more Spiderwort, some cacti and a turtle on the way out.

All in all, a great hike.  It was definitely too warm, with temps of 80+ each day, and my feet took a beating on the rocky sections and due to the fact that I tried doing a bit too many miles on days two and three.  Even with the warm temps, the bugs weren’t bad at all.  Loved the glades and the solitude.  There were sections where the vegetation needed to be cut back but I got through with no problems.  Now that I know what to expect, it would be no problem following this section of trail again.  I think I’ll pass on taking Loonie over the entire section I did and just do overnight hikes to the glade on Goggins Mtn and the overlook on Bell Mtn.  She would love those!  And we’ll have to get back and do the loop of the scour.  I’m also looking forward to checking out more of the OT.  Maybe the remainder of the Taum Sauk, the Trace Creek or the Middle Fork section.  We’ll see.  For now I’ll be trying to wrap up the gallery for the AT section Deep Woods and I just finished and pinning down a time when Loonie and I can get out next.

More to come…

AT update…

Well, we’re getting cleaned up and getting stuff together for the second part of the hike.  Part one was awesome.  Just a few pics and I’ll fill in all the details once we back home.  Sorry, but I gotta get some sleep!

 

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Rich Mountain Fire Tower

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Looking down on Hot Springs from Lover’s Leap

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Fire Pink

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Crossing French Broad River

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French Broad River

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Hot Springs, NC

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AT plaque in sidewalk in Hot Springs

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Pink Lady Slipper

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Pink Lady Slipper

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Max Patch

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Sunset on Snowbird Mountain

So, other than a short section in the Smokies, we’ve done Amicalola Falls State Park, GA to Erwin, TN – just a bit less than 350 miles.  Hopefully we’ll cross into Virginia this time next year!

More to come…

Are we there yet?

Almost go time!  I just about have things wrapped up in preparation for hitting the trail.  Deep Woods picked up an inflatable pillow but I’m not sure he’s done anything else to get ready.  He’s had his hand full with all sorts of other stuff so he get’s a pass.  In his mind, I think he’s already on the trail.  Poor guy needs this trip BAD!!!  As of now the weather is looking pretty spotty for the time we’re supposed to be out but we’ll take it either way.  Now I’m just wishing that I didn’t weigh 15-20 lbs more than I did last year.  Once we hit that first climb I’ll be cursing myself for not putting down the pizza, ice cream and little chocolate donuts and trying to get into better shape.

More to come…

Update…

Finally put some time aside to get back here and post an update.  I’ve been busy with family, projects at home, work, etc. over the last few months.  Trail-life has taken a backseat to more pressing matters.  However, I’m happy to report that Deep Woods and I will be resuming our AT trek in the coming weeks.  We’re looking forward to wrapping things up south of Erwin, TN and GSMNP so we can push on to Damascus, VA next Spring.  There will be no follow-on Smoky Mountains journey for Loonie and I this time around, which really sucks. She’ll be taking a trip with her sister.  So, I plan to head to Missouri for four days on the Ozark trail, focusing on the Bell Mountain Wilderness/Middle Fork section.  Supposed to be an excellent hike.  It’ll give me a chance to become familiar with the section before returning with Loonie in September.

For the upcoming AT trip, I’ll likely stick with the gear I used last year, though, depending on what the forecast looks like, some of my layering options may change.  Only having to haul 17 lbs on your back…which includes 4 days of food…is pretty sweet and I never felt like I regretted not bringing something along.  Of course, if I’m forced to stay in a shelter I’ll probably curse myself for not stuffing the air pad in my pack. We’ll see.

Loonie finally found a pack that fits her nicely and has the features she was after.  Our REI dividends and member coupon were more than enough for her to pick up a Gregory Maven 55L in size XS/S.  At just over 3 lbs, it’s not light but, as I said, it fits her very well and should have more than enough volume for what she packs.  She’s mostly carrying clothing and personal items along with a bit of shared gear so her total pack weight, which includes the weight of the pack and all consumables, should be 25 lbs or less.  Of course, depending on what camera gear she wants to bring along, that could go up a bit.  Could she have gone with a lighter pack?  Sure, but I think the fit sold her on the Gregory and a shake-down hike she did with a total pack weight of just over 20 lbs seems to have confirmed that it was a good choice.  We’ll find out soon enough.

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Gregory Maven 55L

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Gregory Maven 55L

That about wraps it up for now.  I have a bit more food to gather up, a few gear items to check over and a couple of other details to take care of but aside from that, I think I’m good to go.  I don’t think Deep Woods has done a single thing to get ready!  He flies by the seat of his pants so we’ll see how that works out.  He’ll still kick my butt though!  I’ll try to post an update or two as we draw near to kicking things off.  Here’s hoping for zero forest fires, plenty of free-running water sources  and sunny, dry skies our entire time on the trail!

“Think of all of the beauty still left all around you and be happy.”   ~ Anne Frank

More to come…

Gearin’ Up For A Better Night’s Rest…

Featured pic is of the Snake River in Celebration Park, Idaho from our trip back in August.  Been busy with family and working on the house and haven’t made time to work my way through the rest of them. Hopefully I’ll get to those in the next couple of weeks.  Loonie had the two mirrored 750 Gb drives in the computer  nearly maxed out (she’s not a fan of cloud storage for some reason…nor is she quick to go through and cull out the junk) so I swapped those out for two mirrored 3Tb drives.  Now we’ll begin the process of deleting the crap and in the process I hope to upload the pics from the last trip.

After we got back from Yellowstone we decided to hold off on Yosemite for a year and head back to Yellowstone…just the two of us this time…and do a four or five night hike along the Bechler River.  After that, a two night hike in the Tetons.  I made all the lodging reservations for nights we wouldn’t be on the trail but then, after considering the cost of airfare, car rental, a shuttle for the Bechler River hike and on and on and on, we decided to postpone that trip as well.  As part of my “living amends” I’m determined to finally make some LONG-OVERDUE improvements to the house and the expense of those won’t leave much in the bank to spend on either trip.

Now the plan is to head to the Shenandoahs in the Fall and do six nights on the AT, hopping from shelters to the lodges or cabins at Lewis Mtn, Big Meadows and Skyland.  It will be far less expensive, considering we can drive there in a reasonable amount of time and we’ll be able to stay at one of our timeshares when we’re not in the national park.  I’ll be able to knock off some AT miles and the terrain should be much more forgiving for Loonie.  She certainly won’t mind sleeping  in a regular bed every other night either.

Speaking of bed, we’re loving the Enlightened Equipment Accomplice quilt but wanted a better solution for keeping our Exped pads together underneath us. We found that the included pad straps weren’t sufficient in keeping the two pads together and one of us would invariably roll over in the middle of the night only to find ourselves sleeping on the cold hard ground. Enter the Exped SynMat Hyperlite Duo…

exped_synmat_hyperlite_duo Exped SynMat Hyperlite Duo Sleeping Pad

I was freakin’ out about having to haul 28 oz worth of sleeping pad but considering I’ve been carrying two 11 oz uninsulated pads, that’s not too shabby.  Throw in the fact that we gain 3.3 R-value and don’t have to deal with separating pads in the middle of the night, it was a no-brainer.  The only remaining hurdle was the cost.  $280 was too much to swallow but then I found one at BackcountryGear.com for $200.  That sealed the deal.  Here it is with the quilt off and on…

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Exped Synmat Hyperlite Duo

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EE’s Accomplice Quilt on the Exped Synmat Hyperlite Duo

And packed…

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The pad fits nicely in the foot-end of the quilt and I think the existing pad straps will work great at holding the sides down.  Seems to be a great setup.  Still considering whether or not to get the “Schnozzel” Pump Bag.  The Duo pad actually requires fewer breathes to inflate than the two single pads combined but, seeing as how the Duo is insulated, using the Schnozzle would reduce the amount of moisture entering the pad. The insulation is synthetic but regardless, Insulation + Moisture is never a good thing, right?  The weight penalty of carrying it is offset in large part by the fact that it could be used in lieu of the dry sack Loonie currently uses for her clothing.

Exped Schnozzle Pumpbag

Exped Schnozzle Pumpbag

Deep Woods and I still plan to head back to the AT in the Spring and fill in a couple of gaps (Standing Bear Farm to Allen Gap and a short chunk in the Smokies) before we start heading North from Erwin, TN in 2018.  Loonie will then join me and she and I will try to get several nights on the trail in the park so stay tuned.

More to come…

Latest Trip Update…

Back home and starting to dig through the pics from the trip to Boise and Yellowstone.  Details to come.  The trip into the Tetons got nixed due to a forest fire so we spent an extra day in Yellowstone.  Below are a few pics that I’ve pulled out so far.

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“Think of all of the beauty still left all around you and be happy.”   ~ Anne Frank

More to come…

Chippin’ Away…

Just a quick update on what’s been happening since the last post many moons ago and what’s coming up soon.  As I mentioned, I had a mountain of “living amends” to tend to and that’s exactly what I’ve been focusing my efforts on.  Still a LONG way to go but I’ll just keep chipping away at ’em.  Little by little at lunch at work I’ve been going through the pics from the trip to Max Patch back in April as well as putting together a new gallery of wildflower pics.  You can find the Max Patch trip here and the new Wildflower Gallery here.  They’re still all jumbled up and not identified yet but I’m getting there.  (Note to Google: Please add the option to let users add captions to photos like you could in Picasa!!!  It’s ridiculous that you have to click on the “Information” icon for each image when a simple caption would suffice)

The big news, though, is that the countdown has begun.  Twelve more days until we head to Boise to visit our family out there and then its off to Yellowstone and the Tetons.  We are so ready!

“Think of all of the beauty still left all around you and be happy.”   ~ Anne Frank

More to come…

AT 2016 Gallery Is Up…

Most of the pics for the four days on the AT with Deeps Woods are up now.  Still a bit to go through but I’m gettin’ there.  You can find those here.  Next up is the trip over Max Patch and then I’ll start redoing the “Favorite Droppings”.  Should be fun.

Two more months and we’re headin’ for Boise, Yellowstone and the Tetons!  Can’t Wait!!!

“Think of all of the beauty still left all around you and be happy.”   ~ Anne Frank

More to come…

Gallery Update…

I added pics from the day hike to the Walker Sisters’ Place and the hunt for the Yellow Lady Slippers to the gallery I put up last week from mine and Loonie’s four day AT trip.  You can find those here.  Starting to dig my way through the pics from mine and Deep Woods AT trip now so stay tuned.

“Think of all of the beauty still left all around you and be happy.”   ~ Anne Frank

More to come…