Saturday, August 24, 2013


After a fairly minimal hiking schedule this spring/summer, I decided Friday, August 23rd, was the day to get back ‘in the saddle’ so to speak. Since I had committed to a 14 mile hike next week I thought it was a good idea to get my lungs/legs acclimated so I don’t have to be carried back to the car! I drove through heavy fog through Blairsville to Hwy 180 (where I saw a black bundle of fur cross the road and scramble up an embankment –baby bear) and stopped at Lake Winfield Scott. By now, the fog had lifted and blue sky overhead promised a great hiking day. 

Across the lake, I found the Slaughter Creek Trail and hiked the moderate climb of 2.7 miles through a damp forest up to the intersection of the AT.
The climb on up to Blood Mtn Shelter was a bit steeper but so worth it. When I crawled up on to the big rock I met a couple who lingered a few minutes and then left.
For the first time I was able to be on that big rock with that gorgeous view by myself!  The stunning view gave me pause to thank God for his Creation.  Then, a couple of young ladies joined me and we had a good visit before I took off back down the AT in the southern direction.
I passed the Slaughter Creek Trail intersection and continued a couple of miles to Jarrard Gap where I turned right on the old road bed. Another mile and I was back at Lake Winfield Scott. I had not met a soul on the trail except for up at the rock. There are times when I long for a companion and there are times when I appreciate the aloneness. Today, I appreciated the time by myself: hearing the crack of a limb from a squirrel moving about in a tree, the sing-song of a bird, or seeing the beauty of rain glistening on wet leaves. It was a good day to be on a trail. (about 8 miles round trip)

Friday, April 26, 2013


When 15 of us arrived at Blue Boar Retreat on Tuesday, April 16th, it was a perfect spring afternoon. We had enjoyed a nice lunch at Murphys Chophouse and the drive through the greening mountains along the border of TN/NC from Robbinsville to the Cherohala Skyway. The long driveway in to the Retreat took us past a gorgeous lake and on up to the picturesque house tucked in to the hollow between two ridges. The house had bedrooms on each side of a long hallway that opened to a huge living area, dining space and kitchen.

We quickly stowed our gear and loaded cars for our first hike just a short distance away at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

The air was fresh, the forests dewy green with budding trees, and I sensed giddy spirits among the hikers as Trish led us from the parking lot to the trail. Shortly, we came to the plaque memorializing Joyce Kilmer, the parks’ namesake, and his poem ‘Trees’. From here, we took the middle trail. Soon, we were ensconced in a wonderland of trees, several of which were massive, and spring wildflowers literally carpeting swaths of the forest floor. We basically strolled 3 miles at a leisurely pace so we could  stop and gaze to our content.

With so many of our mountains in the Appalachians logged in earlier centuries, we seldom get a chance to view trees of this size.
Laura noted it was like being in a magical place and we all agreed. However, we did notice one small serpent that some might not welcome:-)

By the time we got off the beautiful trail, we were all relaxed and ready to get back and enjoy a nice evening at the Retreat. But I'm guessing Bill and Kathy were the most relaxed as they enjoyed a massage given by Laura - talk about a giving friend!

Dinner was especially nice as we all celebrated Arlene’s’ birthday (which we had tried to keep quiet about until Suzanne brought out her delicious Peña Colada Cake!).  The evening became complete as darkness fell and we spied the fire Bob built outside. We cozied around the ring with soft laughter and easy conversation before finally drifting off to our rooms with expectations of another fantastic hike the next day.
Next morning, it was a bit cool as Trish led us to Maple Springs Observation Point where we stopped to gaze at the mountain ranges folded into one another in the distance.
Bill pointed out the spine of Shuckstack where most of us had hiked before.

 Backtracking, we took off on a side trail directly across from the Point before Trish realized we needed to head back down the road to the actual trailhead of Haoe Lead Trail. Our goal was the Hangover Overlook, a little over 4 miles ahead. The trail led up a fairly easy grade where we found ourselves on a ridge, but as we climbed, the trail became more difficult with overgrown weeds, briars, and big blow downs to maneuver around.

The air became heavy with the promise of rain. We pushed on encountering a sloping narrow trail that made it even more challenging.  Emerging from this section, we could spy Lake Santeelah far below and for quite a distance it stayed within sight. It was only 3.6 miles to the junction of Jenkins Meadow where we had the option to head down to our shuttle cars or go on ahead to the Hangover. After more and more blow downs, more and more briars, treacherous boulder fields, we were all anxious to get to the junction, but we realized we were only going approximately 1 mile an hour! By now, we had renamed the trail – Haoe Lead Trail aka Hell Trail. We made it to a clearing and wanted to stop for lunch but rain was imminent so we pushed ahead and then it hit. Rain. Hard, driving, rain with rumbles of thunder bouncing through the mountains; the air was so thick and hot it promised lightening. Every one took off, each going as fast as manageable with the elements and the hindrances of the trail. We wanted off the ridge, but the only place to go was down off the side into brambles. With rain biting into us like pellets of sand, we kept going, pushing against the force of the winds and encountering more blow downs now made worse with slick rocks and mud. It seemed to take forever before we got to the Junction where the rain slacked off long enough for us to grab a bite to eat. It had taken us 4 hours to get here!Trish checked her iPhone for the weather and saw another front heading our way. We all agreed the Hangover Overlook was going to have to wait for another day when access was better maintained! She gave those ready the go ahead to get off the mountain. I took off like a shot with several ladies behind me. Again, the trail was a beast with numerous blockages. Rain began again as we descended.  I could feel heat settling like a cloak over the forest and still fearing possible lightening, I kept on with my fast descent. I had to stop in two places to gauge the right direction. When it was discerned, we left a big arrow with sticks to let those behind know which direction we went – not that we were sure it was right! Finally, I emerged at the bottom with Wanda right behind me. We sat on a wooden fence and watched the ridge in front of us as others descended. However, as everyone came off the trail in the next hour, each one emerged with a spring in their step having met and conquered this horribly maintained trail. We have a special group of folks! (Trish had asked a ranger beforehand about these trails and he had stated they were good for our group. Obviously, he hadn’t been on it in quite a while!)
We all looked like drowned rats, most had scratches and some had wounds to display like badges of honor for completing this hellacious trail!

But again, we had high spirits as we got home, showered and enjoyed a nice cocktail hour in the covered deck area. Karen once again spoiled us with a great dinner and nicely decorated tables.
The next morning, Madelaine’s’ daughter and son-in-law took off for Knoxville, and I headed home. The rest of the group was going in the other direction along the Cherohala Skyway to Hooper Bald. I understand they were spoiled with wildflowers and a gorgeous day! Trish, Wanda, and Suzanne pulled together a great trip and a great time was had by all. Once again, we all met the challenges of the trail. I can truly say I am proud of this group and the great attitude we have toward the trail and with each other.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bucket Lists and Making Memories On The Appalachian Trail

Friday, April 5th, I drove to Mercier Orchard for a fantastic breakfast with my daughter, Rebecca, newborn Abigail and the rest of her family: husband, Ian, Elizabeth (5), Nathaniel (9), Gabriel (8), Asher (6), Micaela (10), Ians’ parents, Ray and Maxine, and cousin, Bradley. After breakfast, we picked up my gear and took off for Springer Mountain. That slow drive up FS 42 to the parking lot gave us time to think about what was ahead. For Ray, he was about to check off a bucket list item, but doing it with Maxine, Ian, 4 gkids, and me! Once there, we quickly headed up the muddy climb with blustery winds pushing us along. By the time we arrived at the plaque on top, Elizabeth had mud from top to bottom, but true to form, she didn’t care.

Rebecca even arrived with Abigail. After a few pics, we headed back down to don our packs and enjoy a treat from Mercier, a fried pie!

It was 1:30pm before we finally headed north.
 Along the way, we adjusted packs, encouraged the young ones to keep moving despite their interest in stopping to point out items like sticks and rocks, before settling in to an easy pace with Nathaniel (Racer) moving to the front. I mostly saw his back all the way to Woody.
 Our goal that night was Hawk Shelter, but our back up was Three Forks if it proved too difficult for them. It didn’t take long to see that Gabe was now Popeye- strong and sure- but also always a gentleman. Popeye would make sure to stop to hold out a hand to his Mamere and Nana when crossing a creek or needing help in any way. We made it to Three Forks by 3:30pm and had a good snack break.
All the kids carried their own snacks for the weekend, and it amazed me how much they could chow down at any moment! At 4 o’clock, we crossed and headed toward Hickory Flats with a nice spring in our step. Asher (Mini-Chuck) by now needed a little help carrying his 10lb pack, first me, then Ray (The Builder).  After Micaela (Book Worm but this changed over the weekend!) began asking how much further to camp, Mini-Chuck replied, ‘Any mile now’. And that became our mantra for the weekend. J Climbing Hawk was a challenge, but we finally spotted tents. The shelter was full and most spots were taken, but we searched out a spot for us to camp near each other as we had 2 tents: a 3 person tent for the girls, and a 5-person tent for the guys. It was after 6 o’clock so worked quickly to set up tents, filter enough water for 8 people, clean up for bed, and hang our bags which didn’t get accomplished till after dark.
With everyone snug in their tents, I eased in to my sleeping bag and felt my body begin to relax. A night’s sleep was going to be so nice. BAM! Something fuzzy on my head was reverberating! I jumped and yelled, before Bookworm cackled. She proceeded to show me Mr. Fuzzypants who only came out at night to torture me. She was now The Jokester. A giggling fit ensued which apparently bothered the guys beside us. Sorry, boys.

The next morning, we took our time to get ready which was a good thing because there is no hurrying with 4 kids under age 10J Popeye made a shoulder pad for his hurting shoulders with the bottoms of his hiking pants. That’s what I call a good backpacker- able to figure out an answer to a problem.
Most of the hikers were gone by the time we started out after 10:00am. The hike was going to be tough with Sassafras, Justice, and most of Gooch ahead of us. Our goal was Gooch Shelter and we aimed to get to camp earlier than the day up before. Chuckwagon started out carrying Mini-Chuck's pack but by the time we stopped for our first break The Builder had devised a bribe for Mini-Chuck. If he carried his own pack up Sassafras he could have a milkshake! He grabbed that pack and took off with his Papere and we didn’t see them until we got to the top. It was one slow step at a time and there were a couple of rests, but we finally topped Sassafras and found a proud Mini-Chuck with The Builder waiting on us.
We kept our pace and made it to Justice Creek where Chuckwagon had promised the kids they could dip their toes in the water. They had a nice break playing in the cold water while we had a nice break sitting!

We took off anxious for Gooch Shelter and we made it before 6. We took two of the last sites and made camp faster than the night before: we were getting the routine down. However, the boys had to let some steam off and sounded like monkeys in the jungle for a bit, but hey, it’s all good. I proved to be the crumb-Nazi and kept fussing about the granola they were spilling around my tent so I sent them back to their tent spot so they could attract the mice there! The Jokester set up the girls tent by herself (she was earning a badge for her American Heritage club.)
Everyone was exhausted and in their tents by 8:30pm. Chuckwagon had figured out what it took to get Mini-Chuck asleep at night—backpacking!

Maxine tried to make sure The Jokester was warm enough since she had been very cold the night before. Then it was sleep…so good till I woke up with something fluorescent in my hands. ?? After holding them up, trying to figure it out, it became clear I held 2 glowing centipedes…hmnnnn. I threw them somewhere above my sleeping bag and put it down to The Jokester asleep beside me. 1:30am she needed to pee so it was out of the tent I go where I took her down below our tent site which was a fairly sharp bank. I’m shining my headlamp for her when what do my wondering eyes do I see? The toilet paper rolling down the steep embankment….50 feet at least. In 20 seconds my sleepy brain registers: do I have enough toilet paper of my own for the 8 of us tomorrow? No. Do they have anymore? I don’t know. So, with a grumpy, ‘Micaela, I’m going to get you for this,’ I take off down the bank. I make it and grab the roll and start back up. However, I hadn’t tightened my Keens and they kept sliding off. I lost one in the deep leaves but I found it after shining my headlamp around and kicking with my feet. Finally, The Jokester and I are back in the tent. Ahhh…I’m in my bag again…happy to be going to sleep when I feel Mr. Fuzzypants again. This girl is in trouble! The next morning, I find in my  sleeping bag the rest of the florescent bugs she had hidden in my bag (and I slept with all night).

We all awoke to the hoot of an owl. Knowing we had a short 5 miles had everyone in a good mood. Chuckwagon led them in a few stretching exercises.
We gathered up and started out again about 10 o’clock. Popeye had been enjoying the wildflowers all weekend, and he kept pointing them out. The Racer was still out front. Mini-Chuck never quit talking. Maxine and I were both tired. The Builder seemed fine, but Chuckwagon might have been a little tired. But to his credit, he had helped carry the kid’s packs (except Racer) off and on and kept up with them; constantly watching to make sure they were okay. When we stopped for a break on top of what we thought was the last mountain, it was a sigh of relief: almost to Woody.
Then we headed down and realized we were once again going up. Yikes, The Jokester was at this point, over it. I could tell Maxine was pretty disappointed, but she persevered. Like she said, ‘what else can you do? You have to get out.’ And so, we did- 20.1 miles to Woody Gap! It never looked so good, but what a great weekend.
The sore feet, hurting hips, and smelly bodies were forgotten. We had experienced a special time with each other and our 4 gkids. The Builder had checked off a bucket list item and we had all made memories with our grandkids they’ll ever forget. Along the way, I had special time with each one on the trail; sharing secrets or them telling me little things that were important to them. That’s what it’s all about…those sharing times. It was a very satisfying feeling as they headed off in their van to Mercier Orchard. By now, Mini-Chuck had changed from a milkshake to a fried apple pieJ
Hiking With Kids Truisms:
1)      Sticks are fascinating- they can be broken, hit against a tree so one can watch the pieces go flying in different directions, or used as another hiking pole
2)      Why walk by a big rock embankment when one can climb on it and see how high one can get without possibly breaking ones neck
3)      There is no such thing as too much mud. It is imperative to see how deep it is or how much or how far one can splatter it
4)      A small tree is there to see if one can bend it or climb it
5)      If one has enough drink and food, one can drink and eat constantly
6)      If one drinks and eats constantly, one has to pee and poop a lot
7)      You will get grumpy long before the kids get tired
8)      There are endless shapes of trees and rocks in the woods which prove to be endlessly amazing
9)      What’s important to you, will not be to them
10)   Expect your world to be expanded…they see so much more than you realize.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shuckstack, Lost Cove, Lakeshore Trail, and Winn-Dixie

It was a dismal morning as Gary, David, Owen and I got on the AT about 10:20am, Feb 5th We were all mentally prepared for the infamous climb up the Twentymile Ridge to reach Shuckstack Firetower - 3.5 miles and about 2100 feet elevation change.  The gray skies shrouded any views we might have enjoyed and the wintry chill matched the bleak naked trees around us. Joking about the climb and the lies the weathermen told kept us going as we neared Shuckstack and encountered snow on the ridge top. 
It was important for the Map Geeks to research our exact location before we started up the slippery tenth of a mile climb to the tower. Here we braced against the wind and had our lunch. Gary decided to climb the tower and made it near the top before the cold had him coming down.  As we had lunch, the skies finally began to clear and we could see a bit of blue off in the distance heading our way!

Getting back down to the AT trail from the Tower proved dicey as our previous footsteps were now packed and even more icy.  I sighed with relief when we made and but we took off in search of the right turn on Lost Cove Trail. Arriving at the junction of the Benton Mackaye Trail we were surprised at the depth of the snow, but took off in high spirits.
For a while, we hiked in silence, soaking up the beauty of the snow-laden branches against the blue sky, and that soft, expectancy that swells inside when you feel gifted by Mother Nature. Then, the descent became steeper and more slippery; slowing our pace as we all tried to make sure we stayed upright and uninjured. The snow hid the trail so we scanned the forest ahead, seeking clues to make sure we followed the trail. After a couple of miles, we found more level ground with patches of snow and encountered the first stream crossings of Lost Cove Creek. 
Then we reached creek crossing #9. This one was not a rock hop crossing- it was a foot or more deep, swift moving currents that promised danger if we didn’t take caution. Gary took off upstream and was gone for a while before reappearing on the other side.  With his advice in hand, Owen and I headed back and re-crossed #8 stream and then turned right and delved through rhododendron bush and vines to get to the better spot to cross. Once, in my mid-crouch, Owen pointed out a fungus covered tree that was amazing, but the timing to point it out was a bit off! We made to the creek edge, but again, it didn’t look like a great place. We could see David down from us, still on the same side, too. I saw an area that showed promise and told Owen I was going for it. I jumped in and got across without soaking my soaks, but then encountered even worse brush on the other side! Suddenly, Owen was coming up behind me, so I plunged in and began a slow push through the limbs and vines. First, I was crouched down, but then forced to my knees with my face almost shoved into the forest floor.  At one point, with every limb, plus my backpack entangled, I thought ‘why am I doing this? - I could be home watching soap operas'! I didn’t realize I had said it out loud until Gary laughed and said, ‘for the adventure!’  He had worked his way back to try and help us through. Owen referred to it as rhododendron hell. :-) We finally made it out and realized we had wasted a lot of time on this crossing, and knew there were more ahead. The next crossing, Owen and I took socks off and rebooted before crossing.
We kept them off for the next several crossings until we reached the Lakeshore Trail intersection. Here we stopped and put on our socks. David was the Boy Scout in the group. He brought a dry pair! By this time, we had 14 creek crossings under our belt.
It was now 5pm and 5.2 miles to get off the trail. We were faced with the realization it was going to get dark before reaching the end of the trail. Determined to make time, we booked it over the next mile or so, crossing more streams, but none was deep as before. Darkness began to descend, but we kept on without lights, trying to keep night vision as long as possible. We passed by several of the old cars abandoned back in time alongside the trail. Ultimately, David and Gary stopped to retrieve their headlamps. Mine was buried deep in my pack and I hoped to make it out without digging for it. At one point, David and I had gotten ahead and stopped to wait on Gary and Owen. When they arrived, we found out Owen had paused to get his lamp out. As he turned it on, it went out, but fortunately Gary had extra batteries to loan.
With a few more climbs we weren’t in the mood for, we finally spotted the car and made it off the trail about 7:20pm. At the car, Owen checked out his bad batteries to find they were bought from Winn-Dixie! I won’t even guess how old they were! With some relieved banter, we took off for Andrews where the guys couldn’t wait to eat at Hardees. Well, I’m not so much of a fan, but let me confess, I ate a burger with onion rings and it was some pretty good eatin’J With some of our meandering, the 11.6 hike turned in to 12.59 miles and 24 creek crossings- now that’s what I call a hike.