Saturday, May 27, 2017

Clingmans (Dumb) Dome - May 26

Sorry for the doubled up emails but this is the first internet signal we've had in six days. 

On May 24 we woke up at Mt Collins Shelter, four miles from Clingmans Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Everything was wet from 24 previous hours of rain. At 38 degrees, 100% humidity and sunshine completely out of the question, no clothes or equipment were drying out. Best Wife and Pappy 12 left camp at 8:00 am with plans for a 15 mile day. By noon we had only hiked a grand total of 4.4 miles to the summit of Clingmans Dome. The wind was whipping us around like a couple of beach balls. 

The summit of Clingmans Dome is unfortunately covered by asphalt paths leading to a 30 foot high observation platform. A spiral elevated concrete ramp allows folks (maybe even wheelchairs) access to the observation platform. 

We had just removed our packs at the base of this ramp so we could cram as much food as possible down our throats. But it was so windy and cold we couldn't figure out which was worse, freezing or starving to death. Just then a park ranger came hustling down the ramp telling everybody that a warning had just been issued for 60mph winds accompanied by hail. No sooner had she passed on the warning when cantaloupe size raindrops began to fall, sideways. We shoved everything back in our packs and ran for cover under the concrete ramp. We lucked out big time when we found an old abandoned storage room built in to the base of the ramp. Thankfully out of the elements, we were able to eat. 

With all the runoff from the rain, the second 4 miles of the day were hiked through the Appalachian Trail River. 

With weather like this blocking any views, we have been able to better focus on the unique dense forest at high elevations in the Great Smokey Mountain Natl Park. Hope you enjoy the photos. 

Check out the size of the rock stuck up within the roots on the underside of a downed tree. It's a big boy. 

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Scat Bear - May 24

Welcome to the Smokies. With peaks up around 6600 feet and valleys down at 2000 feet I'm sure there are some great views around here. Problem is we can't see them. Rain and cloud cover has been our companion this week. But it's still all good. The forest up here at 6000 feet is so dense and dark and thick it looks like it stays wet all the time. Everything not alive is covered with green moss. Very cool.

Lots of bear sightings around. The closest i have come to a bear is the pile of scat left behind in the middle of the trail. Yesterday Best Wife was 10 or 15 minutes from camp when one growled at her from the wood. She picked up her pace.

We passed the 600 mile mark on Monday. We have a friend in Leesburg who is a monk. When we posted our 500 mile mark picture he joked that we should sign the next one in blood. Catsup is the closest I can get.

The picture of a blow down is the first one we've seen that broke in two at the crotch of another tree. Usually a big falling tree takes everything down with it. The tree still standing wouldn't have any part of that.

Lastly, I've done away with the 3/8" or 1/2" slice of beef stick on bagel. Why cut the beef stick when you can just bite it cave man style. Now it's all about the bagel and cheese in one hand and the beef stick in the other. Take one bite of each in whatever proportion feels good at the time and enjoy.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bunk - May 20

Great week. Probably the highest mileage week so far and the biggest elevation gains. We have covered 596 miles, 1594 to go. Monday we will enter the Great Smokey Mountain Natl Park. Really excited about that.

If you have had enough about trees from me then go ahead and hit delete. These forests in GA and NC are full of the tallest, straightest, most beautiful trees I've ever seen. In the deepest forest the branches on these giants start at 60 or 70 feet. Amazing.

Before I came here I would have said all Eastern forests are beautiful, but not that different. Not so. I wish I was a good enough photographer to capture how dope they are. They hold my attention all day long.

Flowers are starting to pop out too. Beautiful orange ones on small trees I've never seen before. The Mountain Laurel are coming on strong too. Sometimes we hike through a thicket of them for a couple hundred feet.

Check out Best Wife in a field of ferns. Ferns are always a treat.

I hope we are all finished hiking through burned areas. They are an interesting change of scenery but not the most pretty stretches of our hike.

I must have spent 10 or 15 minutes admiring the colossal violent fractured oak. The twisted and broken fibers of that mammoth tree are unlike any other I've ever seen. Of course we see blow downs all day long. I need to catalog all the different types because there are plenty. All the way from simple leaners to the big boys who take down half a dozen other trees with them as they fall.

One thing is for sure, that guy who asked if a fallen tree in the forest makes a sound if nobody is around to hear it must have been an idiot. These guys make a tremendous tearing crashing sound on their way down ending with a deep earth rattling thud as they make contact with soil or rock. What a thrill it would be to see a fat 100 footer make her decent in a raging wind storm.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Good Lookin' 62 Year Old - May 18

Good week so far. Two 15 mile days and a 13. A 15 mile day for us is pushing it, but becoming more common. We do much better when we are up by 6 and packs on backs by 7:30. We then have enough daylight to get some respectable miles on. It's time to crank it up and pop out a 17 or 18. 

Because Pappy 12 is busy taking pictures, fetching water or talking to some random hikers, Best Wife will sometimes get out ahead 15 or 20 minutes. Depending on the terrain, I have a little faster pace than Best Wife so I usually catch up to her in an hour or so. If I think I should have caught her and if a hiker is coming toward me in the opposite direction, I'll often ask the hiker if he has seen a good looking 62 year old ahead. I get all kinds of looks and responses. 

Most smile and say she is a few minutes ahead. One guy told me I'd best hustle up because the only 62 year old he saw was not alone, but hiking with a guy. He told me if I didn't pick up the pace I might be hiking solo permanently. 

Another time without breaking stride I asked a hiker the usual question about Best Wife's whereabouts. Without breaking stride he told me she was a few minutes ahead. A few moments later I hear him call out to me from behind me and down the trail. He said, as a matter of fact, she is good looking. Glad he was paying attention. 

Check out the Rhododendron leaf engineering to make a spout to fill water bottles. Nice work. 

In case you need help reading the sign in the dark picture, it reads "Swinging Dick Gap". No lie. I couldn't make up a name like that if I tried. I'm sure some old settler named Dick used to live there who liked to swing on his front porch swing. That's the best I got. 

The charred wood columns on top of a stone building is all that's left of the wooden roof of a beautiful fire tower on top of Wayah Bald, elevation 5300 feet. A forest fire set by an arson a few months ago who lit old tires on fire and rolled them down slopes into the forest can be thanked for the job. 

Lastly, when we reach 13 or 14 miles and no suitable tent sites are found, it's any port in the storm during the 14th or 15th mile. Tenting in the parking area of an old dirt road worked out alright, except for the two carloads of college kids who showed up after bedtime to begin their overnight hike up the mountain. Could be worse. At least they didn't park a car on our tent. 

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Love the Woods - May 14

A guy asked me the other day why Best Wife and I are hiking the whole Appalachian Trail. I told him I love seeing trees and forest undergrowth. Until I get tired of it I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We hit our 500 mile mark and completed the trail in GA. We loved GA and hear NC is even better. We are starting to feel more confident in our hiking ability as we had our best stretch yet covering 42 miles in 3 days including several 1000' and 1500' climbs that used to intimidate us.

Tomorrow we will start an 80 mile section in NC that will take us to the southern end of Great Smokey Mountain National Park, a highlight of the trail. Big climb up, deep deep forests, highest point on the trail, no roads for miles. It'll be a thrill to hike up to 6500' since we have been around 3000' and 4000' so far in GA and NC.

The deep forest green color all around every day couldn't be more beautiful. Even the place names are entertaining: Sassafras Gap, Indian Grave Gap, Blood Mountain, Preaching Rock, Muskrat Creek, Standing Indian Mountain, Chattahoochee Gap. They're all good.

We had a great week hiking with our son-in-law, Beau (Joiner). He patiently hung with the old folks for a week but had to pick up his pace to finish hiking his final part of the AT before he returns to work in 2 weeks. He's been crushing 20 mile days since we saw him last. Go Beau. We miss him already.

Ran across three crews of trail maintainers. And this ain't no man's world either. We passed these two women late in the day and saw the work they had put in place. They weren't playing second fiddle to any of the guys on the crew. Hats off to them.

Baby Alert Take Two - May 12

This morning as a hiker (Sea Dog) was passing me he asked if my trail name, Pappy 12, came from packing a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the trail. Once I stopped laughing I told him he was wrong on two counts. One, the 12 is not a number of beers, but a number of grand babies. Young buck Sea Dog was shocked that I would have double digit grands. I suppose plenty of twenty somethings don't get grand babies. 

Two, I don't even drink beer. I'm a Mormon, no beer. Pappy is what the grand kids call me. Sea Dog and I were laughing so hard we had a hard time making our way up the trail. 

Check out the hiking family. We had heard about a mom and dad thru hiking with a baby. One night Best Wife, Progress and I were minding our own business in our campsite at about 7PM right next to the trail when we saw a couple southbounders coming our way. They pulled up and asked about a campsite. I jumped up when I noticed the woman was hauling a baby on her back instead of a backpack. I hollered for Best Wife to come see the famous hiking family. They kindly let us photograph them the mom's trail name is Kanga, the 14 month olds name is Roo (never heard of better names than that) and since the dad is carrying all the food and gear for everybody, there really is only one name he could choose, Sherpa. 

Best Wife asked how Roo does in the baby carrier so long. Kanga said, we take lots and lots of breaks. These three started in Roanoke hiking south to Springer Mt, GA. Then they will flip to Maine and hike south to Roanoke. They're called Flip Floppers. 

Some people might call them nuts, irresponsible, or crazy. But then some people might say the same about me. Like they say up and down the trail, "Hike Your Own Hike". 

Been noticing trees growing on or through or around big rocks. We could learn a lot about their determination and resourcefulness. 

My eyes about popped out of my head as we crossed GA highway 76 at Unicoi Gap. Right there in the gravel pull off was a 95 F-150 XLT 4x4 rustfree shortbed supercab. As if that wasn't enough, it was a two tone. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. 

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