Category Archives: Hiking

Up in the air with Friends of the Smokies

Pam and me - Smokies 100 completers
Pam and me – We Smokies 100

It’s hot down here in Asheville.

So it was not difficult to get a large group of Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) hikers to come on a Charlies Bunion to Kephart Prong Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park yesterday.

Sarah Weeks, the development director of FOTS from Tennessee, joined us on the hike. Marielle DeJong, the new associate, was on her first FOTS hike. Even Brent McDaniel, the marketing director, showed up at the trailhead, on his way to check out donation boxes.

FOTS provides some very nice amenities.

On this hike, Anna Zanetti, Director of the NC office of FOTS, organized a bus that shuttled us up to Newfound Gap, the start of the hike. The first four miles to Charlies Bunion were crowded by trail standards. Hikers were going up to the Bunion, some were coming down and some weren’t going to go too far.  But we were all outside, so that’s OK.

Kephart Prong Shelter
Kephart Prong Shelter

The bulk of our group had a leisurely lunch before we felt the first drops of rain. We carefully walked on a narrow, rocky trail around to meet the Appalachian Trail again. We had lost almost all the other hikers.

Then the skies opened up-rain, thunder and even some lightning. By then we were on the Dry Sluice Trail.

Yes, that’s the name of the trail, even though the trail was a riverbed and not dry at all. Well, when it rains, you do what hikers do, get wet. And I did. Though I quickly put on my packcover, almost everything got soaked.

Another right on Grassy Branch Trail. By then the rain had stopped and the sun came out again. Grassy Branch Trail was an old logging road. One spot even has Norway Spruce, left over from when logging companies had the run of the Smokies. For more details of this hike, look at my hiking guide, Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Purple-fringed orchids
Purple-fringed orchids

The trail had blooming rhododendrons, mountain laurel and flame azaleas. This was the day to be out there. And some sharp eyes spotted purple-fringed orchids.

We finally all converged at Kephart Prong Shelter.

Some hikers had waited for quite a while, others just arrived and we left. I usually wait about five minutes for everyone to catch their breath. But this was an unusual circumstance. I’m so glad that everyone had waited – Thank you.

We had been spread out and all the patient FOTS staff members had walked in the back for most of the hike. Now I was the sweep down Kephart Prong Trail and the last one off the trail.

On this hike, I finished my Smokies 100 miles for 2016. Yippee! Looking forward to the celebration with Superintendent Cassius Cash at the end of the year.

Diversity on Rainbow Falls Trail

Family at Bridal Veil Falls
Family at Rainbow Falls

I keep saying that parks aren’t crowded, certainly not the trails.

A couple of days ago, I walked up to Rainbow Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was beautiful May day. The parking lot was crowded when I arrived about 9:45 am.

Black snake on tree
Black snake on tree

But where were the hikers?

What were all these people doing, if they weren’t on the trail? Yes, they could have chosen to walk to Grotto Falls, but still…

It took me 90 minutes to get to the falls, hardly a speed record, but I’m no speeder, just a plodder who talks to everyone. I  even stopped to look up to see a black snake on a tree. I think it was a black snake?

Rainbow Falls Trail is rocky and could be considered steep. Many folks were obviously not going to get to their destination. They were slow and stopped every ten steps.

With all the concerns about diversity in the national parks, I must mention that I saw a good cross-section of the US population. Hikers of every age and ethnic group were represented.

A group of Mennonite teenager girls with two middle-age female chaperones came down from the falls. They were wearing the traditional long, plain dresses, with good sneakers and high socks. I talked to them at length but didn’t take any photos. You can be sure that they reached the falls.

Two families with small children gave me great hope. Look at the picture of the family above. Their two-year old was carried by the dad in a sturdy, structured backpack. The mother carried the three-month old in a front pack and had a daypack with their equipment on her back. They were prepared.

Bridal Veil Falls
Rainbow Falls

But I saw a lot of diversity I could have done without. These hikers were going up as I came down the trail, so I don’t know if they made it to the top.

Lots of millenials with nothing – no water, pack, snacks, nothing but a phone in their hands.

I learned that a  group of young teens had been told by their leaders to leave their water bottles behind. “They were just going to forget them and litter”. What!@#$@

Several women wearing flip-flops on their manicured feet.

A couple with a large dog on a leash. When I pointed out that dogs aren’t allowed on the trail, they claimed that they didn’t see the sign and ignored me.

Rainbow Falls itself was thin and narrow. Not much rain this last couple of weeks, so a lot of the rock was dry.

But reaching the destination was great–and not crowded at all.

Wilderness Wildlife Week – Are you coming?

Little River Trail
Little River Trail

I’m preparing for my first Wilderness Wildlife Week (WWW) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to be held from May 18 to 22.

Yes, Pigeon Forge is the home of Dollywood but it’s still close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All the activities are based at the LeConte Center 2986 Teaster Lane in Pigeon Forge.

Though it’s the 26th year of  WWW, it’s the first time they’ve held it in May. Before, it was always held in January, to attract people to East Tennessee in the winter, I assume. But I’m so glad they moved it to spring time. I’ll be giving a talk on Wednesday evening, May 18. and leading a hike and history walk in Elkmont the next day.

WWW is a series of talks, classes and hikes related to the outdoors and the Smokies. I am one of maybe ten speakers in Wednesday evening. Can I compete with a program on moonshine, Civil War surgery and a native American flute concert?  And that’s before the Keynote speaker, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt repriser, i.e. someone playing FDR. The 32nd president dedicated Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940. It took him six years to find the park but he came to Newfound Gap and spoke to an overflowing audience.

It’s all free

In Elkmont
In Elkmont

Did that get your attention?

The whole WWW is free – the talks, hikes and everything else. Of course, you need to get your own lodging. So it brings a lot of people into the area.

How do you sign up for a hike? The procedure is like how you registered for your classes in college before the age of computers. You need to be in the right room on the evening before the hike.

So for the Thursday hikes, you need to be at Greenbrier Hall A at 6:30 pm and get a ticket. Once your ticket is randomly selected, you get to pick out a hike for the next day. There are lots of other provisos but that’s the gist. You can’t sign up for a hike beforehand. It saves the staff a lot of time.

WWW offers a mandatory shuttle to all hikes. Hikers can’t meet the group at the trailhead. That’s the best news a hike leader can get. No explaining to hikers where to meet. No trying to get folks into car pools. No worries about hikers leaving early. Thank you, WWW.

I can’t seem to find their detailed schedule. So just show up and I’m sure you’ll find some great hikes and talks.