The Ageless Hiker – Carroll on the Camino Norte

At our monthly WNC American Pilgrims on the Camino, Carroll K. presented his trip on the Camino de Santiago – the Northern route. The Camino Norte is the coastal route from Irun to Santiago, Spain, the route that Beth and I are taking in only a couple of weeks.

Carroll flew to Europe in September by himself and quickly found amigos from many countries. He’s known as the ageless hiker because at 87 years old, he might be the oldest serious peregrino on the trail. But unlike the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the Camino doesn’t keep track of these things. There’s no ATC for the Camino, no overall body that promotes, advocates or maintains the trail. Locals deal with their own section.

This trip was Carroll’s ninth Camino; he’s a serial pilgrim, starting when he was 77 years old. First he went with a few other guys from Carolina Mountain Club, but now travels by himself. Like other experienced pilgrims, he knows that he won’t be alone for long.

“I think that the Norte has the best albergues on the Camino. Albergues are hostels along the way. One of his favorite albergues was in Guemes, La Cabana del Abuelo Pueto,  where the hospitalero, Ernesto Bustio, took a photo of Carroll and said he was going to post it on his board. Now, when we stop at this hostel, and we will, we’ll have to take a picture of Carroll’s picture.

Lenny stone on top

Carroll averaged about 11 miles, not a record but got him there steadily.

He moved on from the Norte to the Primitivo at Oviedo, a route that many take. There he saw a huge shaggy ram.

He also placed a Lenny stone, in tribute to my husband who died while Carroll was on his route.

All this Camino talk reminds me of my 2013 Chemin de St. Jacques pilgrimage from LePuy to St. Jean Pied de Port in France. On that trip, the unifying factor of every village, every place I stopped, were World War I memorials – remember the war to end all wars. I took a photo of every WWI memorial I could find.

Tomorrow, April 6, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the war.

I wonder what the theme of the Camino Norte will be for me.







Getting Ready for Fontana – Twentymile Trail

Marielle and Anna

I don’t use the word “remote” easily but the Twentymile area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is remote. It is certainly the most distant from population centers in North Carolina. Imagine going to Fontana Village off US 28 and then driving another 15 minutes.

Anna Z., Marielle D. of Friends of the Smokies and I headed that way to plan our Classic Hike overnight trip to Fontana Village. On the first afternoon of our trip, we’ll be leading a half-day hike on the Twentymile loop. The hike is a lollipop consisting of Twentymile Trail, Wolf Ridge Trail, Twentymile Loop Trail (yes, they sound the same) and back on the Twentymile Trail. It’s 7.6 miles all together.

As soon as we started from the Twentymile Ranger Station, we knew we had come at the right time. Carpets of wildflowers were in full bloom: violets, hepatica, bloodroot, and a couple of early nodding trillium. But the star in my estimation were the Sessille Trillium. See the photo above.

Stream in Twentymile Area

Sessile trillium are big maroon flowers. Their distinguishing characteristic is that the flower is attached directly by its base without a stalk. They’re also known as toadshade, big  enough the shade a toad, I guess.

Each part of the loop trail had its own stream. We were never far from a stream, creek or cascade. We crossed and recrossed several streams on sturdy split log bridges. Maybe the area isn’t as remote as I think.

The waterfall worthy of a name, Twentymile Cascade, has its own side trail but is difficult to photograph. So no pictures. You’ll just have to come out and see it for yourself.

After the hike, we headed back to Fontana Village where Anna and Marielle worked out where to have all the events of the overnight trip. I hung around the parking lot, talking to a group of young New Yorkers who had come down with their Ferraris, Mazaratis and other car names I can’t spell to drive the Tail of the Dragon. They even had a support vehicle with equipment to keep their cars clean.

I found the guy who I felt was the leader, at least the persuasive leader, and encouraged him to take the group into the park – a national park. And I told him about Friends of the Smokies.

The trip to Fontana will be on Monday-Tuesday August 28-29, 2017. We’ll have hikes both days with one going to the Hall Cabin. Sign up now!

Friends of the Smokies on Mingus Creek

Water pipes

Friends of the Smokies kicked off a new season of Classic Hikes today. Thirty-two people walked on Mingus Creek Trail to the Mingus Family Cemetery and back.

As this was our first hike of the year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we chose a four-mile hike with lots of history and artifacts.

From the time we got on the trail at the Mingus Mill parking lot, it was obvious that there had been an active human history in the area. The trail started out paved and wide. We passed a firing range, still used by park rangers. Then a water plant built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You can still see the pipes. But we also identified yellow and purple violets, blood root and hepatica. Spring is definitely here.

We got to the intersection where Mingus Creek Trail takes off to the left and the cemetery trail (not its official name) goes right. And though the trail is not an official trail and not on a map, it is well-maintained by the park. Two sturdy walking bridges makes it obvious that this path to the cemetery hasn’t been forgotten.

At Mingus Family Cemetery

The turn to the Mingus Family Cemetery is obvious since there’s a sign. We scrambled up the short but steep way to a small field of field stones marking the graves.

Hikers wandered around trying to glean information on the people buried here. A few markers had faint dates.

Back at the cars, we headed over to Oconaluftee Visitor Center where Supervisory Ranger Lynda Doucette talked about the Mountain Farm Museum.

“It’s a museum because on a real farm, you wouldn’t have buildings so close together.”

Lynda Doucette

She spent most of the time describing the challenges of dealing with elk who just love all the crops in the fields. She and her staff have come up with various fence configuration to keep out the elk.

The elk reintroduction brought challenges. In olden days, farmers would have just shot the elk but that’s not an option today. Elk have now been seen (but not confirmed) as far as Cades Cove.

The next Friends of the Smokies Classic Hike will be on April 11 to Big Creek. Register online and bring your flower book. You’ll use it.