Saturday, December 31, 2011

Catching up--fishing pursuits

In terms of fishing ventures, I have had the opportunity to fish with Dad several times this fall with varying degrees of success. The best trip we took was to River's Way on the South Holston River in probably October. Fishing was slow but at least we caught fish. I got four nice rainbows and browns ranging anywhere from 8-15 inches. River's Way is a fishing club that Dad and Alan have joined with really nice water which is restricted access and catch and release only. You must have reservations because only 6 fishermen are allowed in the river each day. It was a very nice place and I caught as many or more fish than I saw anyone else catch on that day, so I felt pretty good about my technique.

Another day in the fall during a camping trip Bunk and I were fishing in the Smokies. We camped at Elkmont, my favorite camping area in the Smokies. Two cool things happened during that trip in addition to catching a few rainbows and brown in the creeks there. One evening on our way back into the campground from fishing in smaller steams, we decided to stop in the large swimming hole there at the entrance. We had tried to fish it earlier in the trip, but swimmers had moved in on top of us so we had to move. This time, it was a bit too cold to swim and we had this deep hole all to ourselves. I tied on a neversink caddis in yellow and then dropped off a fairly large, maybe size 12 or 14 prince nymph on a pretty long drop. I put it in the deep hole at the end of the little run there, but I was fishing from the top of the rock wall.
I hadn't been fishing but maybe 15 minutes when the largest trout I've ever had on my line hit and hit hard. Boy, did that fish fight. I knew I was in trouble though because I was fishing from the top of a 12 foot wall and I knew there was no way I could get that fish up that wall. As I fought the fish, I climbed down the wall as far as I could go, but that was only about 4 feet from the top of the water. I had no net and no chance to get that fish out from that far up. Sure enough, when I tried to lift the fish out of the water, my line broke. That 6X tippett just won't hold that much weight suspended out of the water. That was a heartbreaking fishing event. I really wanted that fish, but it was not to be, at least not on that day.
Black Bear like the one we saw near Elkmont Campground

Not far up that very same river on another evening this fall,I spotted a place that sure did look fishy to me. We had our poles still together in the back of the truck on our way back into the campground, so we pulled up and got out. I made my way down toward the fishy spot and Bunk went a little further upstream to what appeared to be another promising run. As I was getting my line ready to go into the water, I looked up to assess how best to enter the river. At that same moment a large, young black bear was deciding to go fishing in that same spot but from the other side of the river. I stood frozen in my tracks for several seconds admiring the beauty of this spectacular bear when it finally hit me--that's a bear! At that time, I decided to move quickly away from Mr. Bear! I backtracked toward Bunk and then started telling him about the bear. Needless to say, we let the bear have the fishing hole! But he was one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen. Guess he thought that spot looked fishy too!

Catching up--the Bucket Brigade

The View from Schoolhouse Gap Trail

Not sure what has happened that has kept me from writing but I've missed recording several events that should have been included here. Shame on me! In terms of hiking I made a nice hike in the fall with a group of ladies from school that I certainly enjoyed. We dropped a car at the Townsend Wye (never knew it was spelled like that until I saw it on the trail sign). Then we drove another car to the trailhead of Schoolhouse Gap trail and began our hike. This is the same parking area where Kacey and I parked to do the hike with the Wildflower Pilgrimage group that year that took us to the valley that was totally covered with wildflowers. I'd sure love to find that little valley again.

From there we hiked to where Schoolhouse Gap intersects with Chestnut Top trail and made our way down again to the Wye. Along the way there were some nice views of the valleys and the clouds were laying around the shorter peaks which protruded up through them. It looked like islands rising out of a sea of white cotton candy. It was truly beautiful. Along this hike we formed a bond between the women that I hope continues to develop throughout the coming years. We call our little group the Bucket Brigade and our mission is to be sure we get to do the things that are on our bucket lists! As soon as we got home we created a Facebook group through which we can list our wishes and plan our trips.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Walker Camp Prong--Fishing on the Weekend of the Fourth!

Well, I have officially NEVER seen as many people in the Smokies as I saw today.  There were thousands of tubes floating in the river as we made our way past the Townsend "Y" today.  You couldn't stir 'em with a stick!

Bunk and I were worried as we made our way to the stream that we had been told about by the salesperson at Orvis in Sevierville, Walker Camp Prong aka West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.  Every place there was any sizeable water on the way to our destination, there were people swimming or playing in the river.  I kept hoping that this stream would be far enough away from the congestion of Gatlinburg that folks wouldn't find it.  Well, folks DID find it.  Often, just us pulling our truck in a turn-out was incentive enough for a car-load of splashers to descend upon us, but we did find a few places to fish today.

This creek runs right along Newfound Gap Road just past the Chimney Tops Trailhead and goes almost all the way to Newfound Gap before veering away from the road and plummeting to the valley out of our reach.  However, our source told us to begin fishing it up above the Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead, so that's where we started.  I tied on an Elk-wing Caddis that we had purchased at Little River Outfitters on our way up today, dusted it with floatant, and put it in the water not 20 yards upstream from where a family was playing in the creek.  I figured if I was going to get to fish today, it would probably have to be near some people.  I fished that first little hole then moved upstream to the next one, this one a little deeper and more "fishy" looking.  Sure enough after only two casts into this hole, I had my first keeper-size native Rainbow trout.  He did fight, considering he was only about 8 inches long!  He kept trying to run under rocks to tangle up and break loose, but I got him in, pulled the hook out, and released him.  He was a beauty though!

Bunk and I were unable to fish this stream together because it's so small.  He had to put in either ahead of me or downstream of me and fish different places.  We decided that if we do much of this, we need a set of walkie talkies to communicate with.  Most of the time, I had no idea where he was today.

As the day waned, we tied on a yellow fly that Russell Sloan had given us and told us to fish late in the day.  Bunk and I both caught a fish on that fly.  I'm taking one to Dad for him to replicate this for us so we'll have some extras.  Again, my fish was keeper-size and a native Rainbow.  Since I wasn't with Bunk, I'm not sure about his.  It did get kind of frustrating today dealing with all the people who didn't mind coming into the water just where you were fishing, so we packed it up and headed home.  We had a great time though and vowed to do it again soon.  :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fly-fishing Whitetop Laurel Creek

After we packed our backpacks up, we began the two-mile descent down Straight Mountain.  I believe it was this long downhill trek that ruined my toes.  By the time we got down that day, my toes hurt so bad, I never put my hiking boots back on.  Those Keen sandals felt soooo much better!  It was also during this part of the hike that we decided that we definitely wanted to purchase two more hiking sticks before doing another long hike like this.  Having one in each hand would help balance the weight of the pack and I would be more comfortable when the path edges against an long embankment like it did on that day.  At the end of each switchback, I stopped long enough to switch my stick into the hand that would be next to the embankment.  I felt more secure that way in case I should stumble.  My stick would be in my downhill hand for support and security.

At about 2 miles into today's hike we came across the side trail that took out to Taylor's Valley.  We had decided we wanted to go to eat lunch at the Virginia Creeper Trail Cafe where we had eaten on the day we rode our bikes.  That little trail isn't as well maintained as the AT, but we did make it down to where it intersected with the Virginia Creeper.  We first headed down the Creeper, but then I asked a biker if he had already passed Taylor's Valley and he had, so we hiked back up the Creeper probably almost a mile to our restaurant.
Fly-fishing on Whitetop Laurel Creek

We had a fantastic lunch there, changed from our hiking boots into our fishing sandals, tied on a fly, and began what would be two days of fishing Whitetop Laurel Creek.  We began fishing right there at the restaurant just under the bridge and caught several small trout, both brook and rainbow.  We fished that hole for probably an hour until some kids came down and started to play in the water.  At that point, we shouldered our packs again and set off down the trail.  We stopped numerous times that day where it looked like there should be fish and had a relaxing, wonderful day fishing.  Many people would stop when they'd see us and watch and chit-chat some before going on their way. 

We used caddis flies mostly on this trip.  Russell Sloan had given Bunk a few flies that he thought should work well on this water.  Most of them were these dry caddis flies, but there were also a few nymphs.  We used both throughout our time, but all of our hits and catches were on dry flies.

Our campsite that second night was right above where I had the flat tire on my bike that last trip.  It was near the Straight Branch Parking area.  We chose that area because it would be within walking distance of a privy.  Never a bad thing!  I pitched the tent this night on a deep bed of leaf litter and that proved to be much softer sleeping than the previous night spent on pine needles.  But that was one of the differences in the altitudes--there were NO deciduous trees on the top of Straight Mountain, but there were plenty down at the base of that same mountain.  In fact, it was very interesting that day as we hiked down the mountain to watch as the vegetation changed due to changes in the altitude.  We commented on it as we were hiking down, but it was pleasantly obvious when we crawled into our sleeping bags that night.  It almost felt like a mattress--well, almost!
Hubba Hubba Two-person Tent

Here's a picture of our little home-away-from home that night.  For dinner on the evening of Day Two, we had Beef Stroganoff and again, it was fabulous!  We did miss that picnic table though!  Preparing dinner without a table increased the challenge, but it all worked out fine.
Getting ready for dinner with our Jet-Boil

But at least this tree provided a place to sit other than the ground and even offered a backrest if you could stand it for at least a short period of time.  We sure did miss that picnic table.

On the morning of Day Three, we again packed up our stuff and began fishing that beautiful stream again.  I must say, I haven't seen as many young fish in a river since I was a kid!  The river must be pretty healthy to provide such a prolific nursery for all those fingerling trout.  We fished a couple of hours that morning, then when it began to rain, we decided to just hike the remaining three miles down the Creeper Trail to return us to Damascus where our truck awaited our return.  Between Bunk's heel issue and my sore toes, we were pretty glad to see that truck and I was sure glad I didn't have to put my hiking boots back on.

I feel pretty good about what we were able to accomplish on this trip--overcoming some pretty stiff challenges and really reaching inside and pulling on what you're made of.  We will, hopefully, return again soon to hike the part of the AT that we shortcut in order to fish on Day Three.  I did enjoy the relaxation and the rush of the fishing, though.  It was worth it!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lessons Learned at Saunder's Shelter

The accomodations at Saunders Shelter
After resting for a short time, we did several things at Saunder's Shelter that we had never done before.  Remember all of this backpacking stuff was new to us, so these were real "firsts."  It took us a little while to gather our strength back, but eventually we trekked off down the path to the spring to get water and use our new MSR Miniworks EX water filter pump for the first time.  We were pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of this pump and how quickly it filled our water bladders without a tremendous amount of arm strength (of which we had little left) expended.  We found out that the trick seems to be allowing the little chamber (about the size of a film canister) at the top to fill up before pumping each time.  That seemed to get the most bang for each pump, so to speak.  We did notice however that several bear had been visiting this little path to the spring because they were leaving fairly large "presents" for us.  I thought the first time I saw this it was horse poop, but it was bear...pretty good sized bear.  It left little doubt that we would also have to learn how to do another "first" and that was learn how to hang your food bag in a tree.
Saunders Shelter Fire Pit

But first, we settled down to eat dinner.  We learned that those little individual pouches of Propel or Gatorade are wonderful to have on the trip.  We drank several of the Propel pouches on the trip and they really helped us regain our strength by replacing those electrolytes.  We also were about to prepare our first freeze-dried dinner and weren't sure what we would think about that.  When we were discussing this, Smooth and Spot said they really liked the Mountain House meals, which is the kind we had brought.  So we got out our JetBoil cooking system, boiled two cups of that precious water, and poured it into the pouch with our dinner to rehydrate for 9 minutes.  Sure enough, when we had finished preparing the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce we had for this first night, we were really pleasantly surprised at how GOOD it was!  Of course, I guess it could have been affected by how tired and hungry we were, but really it was very tasty.  After dinner and setting up our tent on a bed of pine needles, we got around to trying to hang the food bag.  That was quite an adventure!  You had to find just the right limb--not too close to your camping area, yet hanging out far enough from any tree trunk that a bear couldn't climb the tree and just reach over and pull it toward him.  After a couple failed attempts, we finally got it hung.  I asked Smooth to look at it and see if he thought it was alright.  He said, "well, I don't really expect a bear will come through here tonight."  That was a nice way of saying, "that's easy pickings for a bear!"  So I told him I guess that really meant that I needed to find a better limb!  This one was too low and a large bear could have reached it if he stood on his hind legs.  So, we found another limb and this time, felt better about the final location of our food when it was hung.  The trick Smooth taught us to make it easier to hang the bag was to tie a shoe (Keen sandal) to the end of the rope and throw the sandal over the limb.  It proved heavy enough to carry the rope where it needed to go and also be heavy enough to fall down from the limb once it had wrapped the rope over the top.  At that point, we just secured the food bag to the rope using a carabiner clip and hoisted it about 15 feet into the air, then tied it off to another tree.  The next morning, all food was safe, so we were happy!
Our Hubba Hubba Tent

The following morning, we had Breakfast Skillet wrapped in tortillas and it was absolutely delicious!  I was so surprised that freeze-dried food could taste so good.  I had packed some regular food, such as oatmeal packets and Ramen noodle soup in case we didn't like it, but I will leave those things at home next time--save those ounces!  We said goodbye to Smooth and Spot and wished them well as they planned on going 18 miles that day.  Spot was looking forward to a "soda" at their final stop for that day because there was a little store there.  She said she "loved 'pop'."  :)  We carefully packed our supplies back into our backpacks using the picnic table to lay everything on before we packed it up.  I thought at the time, we were going to miss this picnic table the evening of Day Two, and we did.  I knew our campsite along the Creeper trail, near Whitetop Laurel Creek probably wouldn't have a picnic table.  At this point, I considered that picnic table a real luxury!  Funny how your perspective changes even on a trip this short.

The Ascent to Saunder's Shelter

Relaxing, finally, at Saunders Shelter
This was already burning when we got there!
This last part of day one proved to be a serious challenge to these two newbies to backpacking.  Come to find out, I had misjudged our remaining distance to Saunder's Shelter by about a mile, so we still had about 4.5 miles to go and most of it was a climb.  The first part of the day had been somewhat downhill, relatively level, or only slightly uphill, but this section was predominately uphill.  The path was rocky and single-file much of the way.  We found ourselves stopping to rest quite often, leaning against a tree, or plopping down on a rock or log along the way.  The afternoon drug on.  We were both tiring and Bunk's heel issue (plantar's fascitis) was really bothering him.  The weight on our backs seemed to be getting heavier all the time and we discussed the need to pack lighter next time, cutting back ounces wherever we could, before doing this again.  The waypoints I kept looking for seemed to never get there and except for the fact that we were still following those white blazes, I would have begun to doubt our course.  What I did begin to doubt was whether or not we had unknowingly passed by Saunder's Shelter.  We were unsure as to whether all shelters on the AT were marked as clearly as Lost Mountain Shelter had been.  I knew that Saunder's Shelter lay approximately 1/4 mi off the path, but I didn't know for sure that it had a sign that would point us to our destination for the night.  I did know that there should be blue blazes marking the path to the shelter since there is a reliable water source there that is in all the guide books.

As we trudged along the ridgeline that topped Straight Mountain, exhausted as we were, there was little conversation going on between us.  Suddenly we rounded a slight bend in the path and Bunk stopped in his tracks and said "Bear!"  We backed up a little ways, and I asked him, "are you sure?"  He said "it was not a black lab!" so we retreated even further.  It had been a male bear sitting only a foot or two off the path who had apparently not winded us because he didn't move until he heard Bunk speak.  At that point, he scampered down the mountain.  Actually that was the only direction he could go because at this point the mountain went down on our left side (where the bear had been) and also down on our right side since we were literally walking along the ridgeline.  We were afraid the bear would double back and come up behind us, so I fished the 32 caliber pistol Bunk was carrying in his backpack out, Bunk put the clip in, and it remained in his hand for a while.  Thankfully, the bear never returned.  After the adrenaline rush from this encounter subsided, our spirits were quite low, thinking we should have already arrived at our destination for the night.  Bunk kept saying he was going to have to just camp wherever we could find a spot, but our need for water drove me forward.  I took the lead for the last mile and a half or so and prayerfully kept pushing forward.

At one point, we came to an old roadbed that took off in the right direction for it to lead to the shelter and low and behold, there were the blue blazes I had been searching for!  So we took that roadbed, although it didn't appear to be as much used as I expected that it would be.  After a while, the blue blazes just stopped.  I kept calling out in hopes that someone in the shelter ahead (hopefully ahead that is) would hear us and we were almost there.  No answer.  No water.  So after praying for guidance again, I turned around.  I bet we added at least another 3/4 mile to our trip that day because we went down the wrong path in search of the shelter.  I've never been so glad to see a white blaze again, when we finally reached the AT again!  And so we trudged on.  I had decided at this point that we had probably passed the shelter because I just knew we had traveled more than 3.5 miles.  But I knew we had to have water.  Bunk was running on fumes and I was afraid we would have to hike all the way down the mountain before we found water.  I was saving my water for him, and he was sucking hard on what he had left.  I was praying fervently now that we find Saunder's Shelter SOON!

And then, it was there!  A wonderful little sign that said "Saunder's Shelter 1/4 mi"!!!  I've never been so thankful in my life as I was to see that little sign!  Even that last 1/4 mile was hard.  But finally, we were there, and the shelter was AWESOME!  As we neared the shelter, a thru-hiker we would later know as "Smooth" asked how we were.  I said, "we are whooped!" He replied, "you look a little 'whooped'!"  Turns out there was a very nice young couple, Smooth and Spot, who were thru-hiking the AT during this summer after they graduated from college already staying in a tent near the shelter that night.  Since they got a late start due to graduations, they were going to "flip-flop".  They were hiking up from Springer Mountain, GA and would go into Pennsylvania.  Then their parents were going to pick them up and take them to Katahdin, MA and they were going to hike back down to their stopping point in Pennsylvania.  They were doing this to beat the cold and snow that would close that part of the trail before they could get there.  They have already completed about 1/4 of the AT and another 1/4 runs through Virginia.  They hike about 18-20 miles per day because they have to average just over 100 miles per week to stay on schedule.  I will think about them often this summer and wonder where they are along the way.  I really hope they make it!

Appalachian Trail--all about ounces, steps, and overcoming challenges!

Our first steps on the Appalachian Trail at Summit Cut in Virginia

Well, we actually DID it!  On Friday morning, June 24, 2011, we set out on a three day adventure hiking and fishing along the Appalachian Trail, Section 45 in Virginia.  We got plenty of "stuff" stuffed into those backpacks, probably too much "stuff".  By the time we added our water in Damascus, they probably tipped the scale at about 30 lbs. each.  I must say, I was worried about being able to carry that much weight on my back for a considerable distance.

We began our hike at Summit Cut, approximately 17 miles north of Damascus, VA where we had left our truck parked at Sun Dog Outfitters.  We rode the shuttle which carries folks and their bikes up to begin riding the Virginia Creeper.  The driver let us off at Summit Cut where Hwy. 58 crosses the AT.  We were fortunate enough that another hiker was standing there when we got there, and he took this picture for us.  He was only dayhiking, so he took out ahead of us and we never saw him again.  We began this trek a little timidly, taking our time to adjust to the weight and the challenge of balancing those 30 lb. packs on our backs as we traversed the rocky, somewhat muddy path that would lead us, hopefully to Saunder's Shelter by nightfall.  We had plenty of time.

Our first waypoint of interest was Lost Mountain Shelter which was approximately 1.1 miles into the hike.  I was pretty excited about how quickly we got there and how good I was feeling even considering the burden on my back.  I was also encouraged at the condition of the facilities at the shelter.  There was a picnic table and a beautiful area where tents could be pitched.  The privy was clean and well-maintained, so I figured Saunder's Shelter would be very much the same.  We stopped there briefly, but didn't disturb the thru-hikers staying in the shelter and ventured on our way.

The rhododendron were blooming along the trail, especially in these lower elevations, making our path encouragingly beautiful as we continued.  Other than the rhododendron, we saw very few wildflowers on this first day, but there were many different types of fungi proliferating in the dampness along the trail.  We did see Indian pipe and an interesting plant/fungus that looked like ears of corn growing up out of the ground in bunches.  Not sure what that was.  There was also some deep orange "fingerlike" projections growing up from the ground too.  Not sure what that was either. :)  Oh well, neither are in my fungus book which I didn't take with me because of the weight.  Maybe I'll get them identified eventually.  Anyway, on Day 1, the fungi were the stars of the show.  Many shapes and colors were prevalent all along the trail.
The White Blaze!

By about 11:30, we made our way to the first point in the trail where the AT comes in contact with the Virginia Creeper and Whitetop Laurel Creek.  There is an awesome campsite here complete with a fire pit and nice logs laid out to sit on.  The creek provides ample water, however, we did not pump any here.  We still had plenty to have to carry up to Saunder's Shelter.  This campsite is below the trestle which is the Creeper Trail crossing high above, so you are somewhat sheltered from the busyness above.

It was still quite early in the day, so we decided to fish!  I put on one of the flies Dad tied for me, learning to actually tie that knot for the first time with fishing line, switched into my Keen sandals which would serve as waders on this trip, and put my line in the water.  I got a strike on that first cast, and before Bunk could even get his line in the water, I had landed my first fish--a rainbow trout, on just the second cast!  He was small, only about 5-6 inches, and he went back in the water, but what a rush!  We continued to fish up and down this short section near where we had left our packs and caught a couple more small fish--enough to keep it fun!  I LOVE dry fly-fishing!  I love to watch the fish come up and snatch that fly off the top of the water!  However, about 1:30 we decided to pack it up and continue our hike.  Before we left that spot, though, we had our first meal on the trail.  I made tuna salad sandwiches on wraps and they were good!  Bunk says he's not overly crazy about the wraps, but I think they make a great alternative to bread on the trail.  We had some nuts to go along with our "sandwiches" and then decided not to filter any water before we left--probably a blessing as it turned out.  We shouldered our packs and headed out on the final leg of our journey for this day.  I thought we only had about 3.5 miles left to go, but I didn't realize the challenges those 3.5 miles would present for us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's beginning to seem real!!!

The preparations for our Appalachian Trail Hike
Ok, so it is finally seeming real to me that we might actually hike a section of the AT this summer.  We finally bought our backpacks!  Bunk's is a Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 and mine is a Deuter ACT Lite 60+10.  We got them on sale at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports this morning for 20% off!  So we saved nearly $40 per pack.  So, now it's a matter of gathering all our stuff and making it fit into the packs!  We'll see how that goes.  :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Virginia Creeper Brings Back AT Plans

Yesterday, Bunk and I got up at 6:00 a.m., loaded the bikes, and headed to Virginia to ride the Creeper. We had reservations for the noon shuttle from Adventure Bikes in Damascus, but after looking at the weather forecast the night before, decided we'd try to get there in time to take an earlier shuttle to Whitetop. Even though we stopped for breakfast and then later for coffee, we still made it to Adventure Bikes in time to catch the 10:00 shuttle. We hoped this would put us off the trail before the afternoon thunderstorms that were predicted moved into the region.

The weather was perfect for a bike ride in the mountains--just cool enough to be comfortable even in the shade. And, the mountain laurel were blooming along the way which made it even more beautiful than my previous ride. The trail seemed rockier than before, so we had to be careful to not let a rock or loose gravel throw us. The top of the ride was fairly uneventful, but as we made our way down, we began to notice the creek that that trail crosses numerous times. This creek, it turns out, is Whitetop Laurel Creek and is apparently one of Virginia's best trout streams. We didn't know that at the time, but we kept commenting that it sure looked like there should be lots of fish in that creek! We also noticed several places where the Appalachian Trail crossed over the Creeper trail and even ran together with the trail at one point. All of this together got us to thinking about our desires to hike a section or two of the AT this summer. We had decided back in January when the AT planning began that we wanted to try to hike where there might be an opportunity to fish. I've already purchased a collapsible rod for Bunk's birthday, so now I'll just have to go get one for me! This part of the trail definitely meets that part of our criteria!

As we rode along and after talking to the people at the bike shop when we were done, we began to pull together ideas about how we could hike this part of the AT, including a shuttle to Whitetop Summit which would allow us to park our truck safely in Damascus at the bike shop. It looks like it can easily be done with just one night spent on the trail, which will break us in slowly. According to the 2011 Data Book we purchased in Damascus, we would be hiking Virginia Section 45 beginning at Summit Cut, VA where US 58 crosses the AT. There's a campsite about 5 miles in and Saunders Shelter at 7 miles in. Fishing would be done on Day 2, south of Saunders Shelter during the four miles where the AT and the Creeper Trail run together along the creek. We should probably be prepared to spend a second night on the trail in case we have a really good day fishing and don't make much time. We could fish and camp close to the river and then finish the hike where the AT goes back up and runs along the ridge leaving about 5 miles for Day 3.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mt. LeConte!!!

Out on the precipice at Cliff Tops, Mount LeConte
One week ago today, I hiked my way to the summit of Mt. Leconte with Laura Watson and Jennifer Miller, two teachers from HVA. We left the school parking lot at 6:30 a.m., arrived at the parking lot of Alum Cave Bluffs at 8:30 and began the hike by about 8:45. What a hike this was!!! We made pretty good time, expecting it to take about 5 hours to reach the top, but we actually made it in four. The hike via Alum Cave Bluffs has many interesting features to view along the way including Arch Rock and the Bluffs themselves. We stopped many times along the way just to take in the breathtaking views from many different vantage points, catching our breath and taking in a little nourishment at the same time. I packed some of the Clif Bars to eat along the way and was quite pleased both at the taste and at the surge of energy they provided. There were also several places where we stopped along the way to look at the wildflowers. Painted trillium were the stars of the show on that day. We also came to one beautiful place where the rocks were covered with several different types of mosses and water was cascading gently down the rock face. It was quite beautiful, but the pictures we took just didn't do it justice.

We reached the summit a mere four hours after we left the parking lot. We were tired, but we were also pretty pumped at the shape we were still in after making that trek! The awesomeness of the views might have had something to do with how great we felt though. The views were spectacular! There was a large river snaking back and forth below us in the valley. I'm assuming it was the Tennessee River, but I'm not sure. We were able to see peak after peak stretching out before us. The weather was perfect and views were unobstructed. While we were up there, the clouds did begin to move in, but by then we were ready to head back down.

I had read that many people stop their journey at Mt. Leconte Lodge, which was a neat little collection of buildings, but I had also read that one should really continue on a little further to one of the observation points. We decided we would hike on up to Cliff Tops and I am SOOOOO glad we did! After only another .2 miles from the main camp, we cleared through a little brush and beheld some of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. It was almost as exhilirating a feeling as when I cleared the very top rock at Chimney Tops. I think I would have felt that way if I hadn't already done the Chimney Tops climb a few months ago.

One thing I love about hiking is the people you meet along the way. We ate lunch at a picnic table we shared with a couple who now lives in Knoxville, but is from Montreal. They were preparing to hike through the Pyrenees Mountains beginning in the south of France. They were very nice and shared a little about their travel plans. When we were at Cliff Tops, we share the summit with three nice ladies from Chattanooga. Two of them were also school teachers and they hike LeConte every year. They showed us a great place to take a picture, the one I uploaded to accompany this post. After they got their shots, Jennifer and I each made our way out to that perch and got our pictures taken too. Laura has a fear of heights and didn't go out there, but next time, we'll help her get out there because she's already wishing she had.

After spending a couple hours on the summit, we began the gruelling hike down. This part is much worse than the trek up, partly because the adrenaline rush begins to fade. By the time we reached the parking lot we were three exhausted women! In fact the funniest part of the whole day was when we went to the "comfort station" at the Chimneys picnic area only a few minutes from where we climbed back into the truck. This time, when we tried to get out of the truck, we could barely walk! We were already stove up and sore and laughing so hard we could barely make it to our intended destination! What a great way to spend a day with a couple of friends. Laura, I'm so very glad this was on your "before I turn 60 bucket list" and that we put it on the calendar all those months ago and made it stick!

To view all of my pictures from this incredible trip, click on this link: Mt. LeConte May 7, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

John Litton Farm at Bandy Creek

I had an interesting hike today near the Bandy Creek Campground in Big South Fork Park. Went with the Great Smoky Mountain Hiking and Adventure Group for the first time. Turned out to be a group of really nice people who just love being in the outdoors and feel that there's safety in numbers when hiking. This trail was a 5.9 mile loop through the forest with only a slight elevation change. It was rated moderate but I think only because of the two ladders you have to use to climb down two separate areas where the descent is just too steep to do otherwise.

The most interesting part of this hike today was these massive outcroppings of rock! Wish I knew more about geology--I'm sure there is quite a history behind these formations. There were many of these on the first half of the hike. It wasn't raining today, but water from last night's rainfall was making a bit of a waterfall over the rock in this picture as the trail passed under the outcroppings.

About 3 miles in we came across a small but pretty waterfall in the creek that ran alongside much of the trail. It was very pretty, but I must say, the scenery today wasn't as beautiful as the vistas you find in the Smokies.

We took a short break at the farm, ate a quick snack and snapped a few pictures. There was a pretty reflecting pond near the farm buildings and we were looking at that when a young hunting dog came out of the woods--lost and hungry. We fed her much of our food and then decided to lead her out. One of the ladies on the hike decided to take her home and leave her contact information with the ranger station in case someone was looking for her.

I don't know if it was the excitement over the dog or what, but coming up from the farm, we must have taken a wrong turn. We turned a 5.9 mile hike into a 7 mile hike by following a GPS into a dead end trail. We were "temporarily unsure of our exact location on the planet" became the joke of the day. We weren't "unsure" for long, but it gave us something to laugh and talk about.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gear-gathering continues! Gotta love a bargain!

We hit the bonanza today! Bunk and I went to Gander Mountain as a chance for him to get out of the house after surgery. Two days and he's already climbing the walls being cooped up! While wheeling him around in a wheelchair through the hiking section (wishful thinking, I guess), we discovered a display of Jetboil Cooking Systems on sale. The camo-colored ones were $79, but the solid black ones were tagged $59.97. We decided to purchase one since we had decided that IS what we want to use when we backpack. When I got to the checkout line it rang up $44.97!!! A JETBOIL for $45!!! I couldn't believe it! After we got such a great deal on that we went back and purchased two insulated mugs, the only long-handled spoon like we wanted that they had and our ONE luxury item: a coffee press! We are very excited now about our accumulating gear, especially since we are finding at least some of it on sale.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rainbow Falls Trailhead to Grotto Falls in the Snow!

Last Sunday, my husband and I were determined to enjoy the gorgeous nearly 60 degree weather on that late January day. This winter has been brutal, so a rare day of beautiful weather just couldn't be ignored. We headed to the Great Smoky Mountains unsure of where we would end up, except that we knew we wanted to go in Great Outpost after our hike to continue our quest for gear for out AT trip. There is so much we still don't know about what exactly we need to purchase.

Anyway, we were going up to do Abrams Falls, but decided to try to hike closer to Gatlinburg so we could shop at the end of the day. We hadn't hiked in awhile, so we thought we'd just do the little 2.9 mile Grotto Falls trail that we could extend on past the falls for a bit if we were up to it. However, after stopping at the Sugarlands Nature Center, we discovered that the Roaring Forks Nature Trail (which is the access road to the hike) was closed for the winter. A ranger told me we could still do the falls, but it would be a 6 mile hike leaving from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead parking lot. We decided we could do 6 miles in the time we had before Great Outpost would close, so off we went.

Upon arriving at the trailhead and getting our packs on, we headed up the trail about .1 mile until we came to the sign for the Trillium Gap Trail which takes you to Grotto Falls. However, our ranger had misled us slightly: the signpost read 3.7 miles to Grotto Falls which would mean a 7.5 mile hike round trip. We deliberated but finally decided to hike for a time period whether we made the falls or not, allowing us enough time to spend at least an hour at the Outpost. So, off we went, but we hiked at a pretty quick clip! We started off in layers of long sleeves, but quickly shed down to just a single lightweight layer of short sleeves, the weather was so nice. I really liked this trail. It was a nice mixture of ups and downs, creek crossings, and beautiful wooded views. We kept thinking we would see some deer, the landscape was perfect for it, but I guess they heard us coming long before we got to them. As we ascended, the weather began to change slightly with the air cooling considerably. Within a couple miles of the falls, the ground became snow-covered and closer to the falls, there were some treacherous spots where fairly deep snow covered the trail. One creek crossing was more like ice skating, and I was somewhat concerned that the thick ice covering the creek would break under our weight, but it held and we crossed ok. Our hiking sticks were a blessing on this trip due to the unsure footing in the snow and ice.

The falls was absolutely beautiful surrounded with snow drifts and hanging icicles! It was well worth the quick pace and straining of winter-rusty muscles. Bunk and I were pretty proud of pushing ourselves through a 7.5 mile hike in 3 hours and 15 minutes in all kinds of terrain and obstacles. I feel really good about our ability to hike 10 miles or so a day this summer on the AT. Granted, we weren't carrying packs with much weight today, so that will increase the challenge, but with training between now and June/July, I think we will be ready.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gearing up!

So, our goal for this summer is a section hike of the Appalachian Trial, right? Well, this month we have begun gearing up for just that.

Gander Mountain has been running their backpacking/camping equipment on sale this month and we have made a couple large purchases. A couple weeks ago we bought two new sleeping bags. These bags impressed me with some nice features intended to keep us warm. Of course we may have the opposite problem on our summer hike, but I HATE to be cold, so we should be OK. We also bought Bunk a sleeping pad. We just bought the short pad that is self-inflatable--like the one I used on Ossabaw Island last summer--to decrease stuff we have to carry. It was only $15 (half price), so if we don't like it we can always upgrade later.

Today we made what I think is a really great buy! We purchased a Hubba Hubba 2-person tent that I absolutely fell in love with! It's mostly mesh for great ventilation and pretty views on clear nights. It also has a rainfly with two full vestibules for storing wet or muddy gear outside the tent. We saw the tent at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports first and really liked it but didn't want to buy the first thing we saw. Later we saw it again at Gander Mountain and it was 25% off. We bit! After I got home I googled it to see if we had made a good purchase, knowing we could take it back if we were disappointed in the reviews. I was NOT disappointed with the reviews! On the contrary, (Backpacker Magazine) rated it one of the best finds out there in tents. In fact, the exact words were: "Meet the new benchmark in lightweight, three-season shelter." I'll take that! I can't wait till it warms up enough for us to try it out.

We've been looking at food, water, and cooking resources for our trips too. Right now I'm leaning toward the JetBoil system for each of us, thinking that is pretty much all we'd need in cookware if we stay with freeze-dried which seems to be the most common recommendation. Obviously we'll purchase some sort of stove to attach to the fuel canisters too. I'm not sure yet what to do about water purification though. A man we talked to today (a customer at Gander Mountain), said he really like the Steripens. I'm probably leaning toward the pump filters like Katadyn or Hyperflow, but I don't have enough information to decide yet. I could use some help in this area, that's for sure.

I sure hope we like this as much as I think we are going to like it! I can see this becoming addictive and a fantastic way to see lots of places around the world. I'm really glad Phillip and his friends have decided to go with us on our first section hike of the AT. Psychologically, I'm ready! Gear-wise, I'm not there yet, though. Lots to think about---lots to decide!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Riding out of 2010 and into a Hopefully Happier 2011

2010 has held some horrendous challenges and I must say, I am glad to see it in my rear view mirror! The optimist in me says 2011 WILL be better, so I'm going to go with that! I ended 2010 though with an awesome bike ride of the Alcoa-Maryville greenways with Lynn and her husband Stewart. I'm so thankful they allowed me to come along and hope to do more riding with them in the future. Stewart spoke of the Silver Comet Bike Trail and it sounds wonderful. I will definitely have to check it out. We did 16.17 miles on a beautiful New Year's Eve day with a high of near 60 degrees and sometimes cloudy/sometimes sunny skies. At one point on this greenway, you reach the top of a hill to a gorgeous view of the Smoky mountains and Look Rock. It was breathtaking!

I wish I could describe here the way I feel when I ride my bike. I absolutely love the endorphins rush I get, but I also enjoy interacting with the people you meet along the way. It's funny how differently people respond to you when you ride. Some people refuse to make eye contact, which I always try to do when meeting people on the trails. Others smile, wave, or even speak! It was great to see lots of children out yesterday enjoying the beautiful weather after all the terribly cold and even snowy days this winter has already brought to us. Many of them were sporting new bikes. One cute little girl was on a highly decorated girls bike with training wheels attached. I'm quite sure it was a Christmas present. Mom was walking alongside her with her hand lightly on her shoulder for security. I told her as I passed her how pretty her bike was and what a great job she was doing! It made me smile inside. I think bicyclers get a bad name because they often look at pedestrians as a nuisance and are sometimes rude to them. I try to remedy that to the best of my ability. I have fun speaking to others and enjoy the smiles and "hellos" I get back from them. I hope it gives them just a little bit of warm, fuzzy feeling. It certainly does me!

So, on this first day of the New Year, what do I see on my Hiking/Biking to the Heights "bucket list"? In the Spring, I definitely want to ride the Virginia Creeper again, this time the entire length, not just the downhill section. I would love to do some of the Silver Comet that Lynn and Stewart have talked about. It might be neat to set a goal of riding all the greenways here in Knox County. I'm not sure how many miles that is, but I know there are quite a few I've never been on. If Bunk will get his knee fixed, maybe he will start riding with me. I'd really like that. As for hiking goals, after having spoken on the phone with Phillip this week, I want to take him and Maddie (maybe I could get Kacey and/or Nathan to go too) to the Chimney Top. Phillip would LOVE that hike! Phillip also expressed interest in doing the section hike of the AT with us. He might even bring a couple of his buddies. That would be great. I'd feel much safer in a group than just Bunk and I alone since this will be our first trip on the AT. I also want to climb Mount LeConte, even if we don't do the overnight. Maybe by early fall, I'll be in shape to go up and back on the same day. And hopefully, along the way to these lofty goals there will be lots of days spent in the woods or on the bike trails just having fun. Here's to 2011!