Monday, December 10, 2018

Something To Remember: N.E.A.R

You've probably heard dozens of times the old adage that you should remain in place if you were ever to become lost or injured in the wilderness. But does this advice makes sense in every situation? Last week I was watching SOS: How to Survive on the Weather Channel. The host, Creek Stewart, introduced a "test" to determine whether you should remain in place, or take steps to self-evacuate. The "test" asks three simple questions. The answer to these questions could save your life one day:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Saturday, December 8, 2018

What Was The Firefall Tradition in Yosemite?

In 1871 James McCauley began construction on the Four Mile Trail, a precipitous footpath that still carries hikers from the Yosemite Valley floor to Glacier Point, while gaining more than 3200 feet along the way. McCauley, who was closely associated with the Mountain House, a hotel built atop Glacier Point in 1873, is most famous for initiating the “firefall” tradition, which lasted almost one hundred years. Although there’s some dispute as to why, when and who originated the firefall, McCauley is generally recognized as being the first person to shove fire over the cliff at Glacier Point, likely in 1871 or 1872. During the first several decades the ritual was conducted on an irregular basis, but by the 1920s it had become a nightly feature during the summer months. According to the June 1934 edition of Yosemite Nature Notes, workers gathered red fir bark from fallen trees during the day, sometimes accumulating as much as a quarter of a cord of wood. Around 7:00 p.m. a bonfire was lit, and then at roughly 9:00 p.m., after the pile had been reduced to a mound of red hot coals, the fire tender would slowly shove the glowing embers over the side of the cliff, thus giving the appearance to everyone in the valley below that a solid stream of fire was falling from the precipice. My new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, chronicles some of the other pyro rituals surrounding the "firefall" tradition, as well as the ironic fate of the Mountain House. And yes, the 1970s soft-rock band is named after the ritual. Ramble On is now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, December 7, 2018


The Great Smoky Mountains just announced that US Hwy 441/Newfound Gap Road from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC will close tonight at 10 pm due to forecast ice and snow. The Blue Ridge Parkway posted this tweet: In preparation of Winter Storm Diego, Parkway Officials anticipate road and facility closures to begin Saturday afternoon. To check the current road status access the real-time road map.

Here's the updated weather forecast for the Smoky Mountains region as of late Friday afternoon - The following is from the National Weather Service:
Cold high pressure along the East Coast will interact with a moist low pressure system moving out of the Gulf of Mexico Saturday night into Sunday. Moderate to heavy precipitation will fall as a mixture of snow, sleet, and freezing rain across the region. Accumulations are expected to be greatest in western North Carolina. Temperatures will be cold enough across northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia for precipitation to begin as a mixture of rain, snow, and sleet in lower elevations, with mainly snow in the mountains. The best lift and moisture will arrive on Saturday night and continue through Sunday, with significant snow accumulations possible.


* WHERE...The mountains and foothills of western North Carolina, along and west of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. The highest snow and sleet accumulations are expected to be at high elevations along the Escarpment. The mountains of far northwest South Carolina, and far northeast Georgia.

* WHAT...Heavy mixed precipitation expected. Most of the precipitation will be snow. Total snow accumulations of 2 to 17 inches are expected, with accumulations increasing from south to north and as elevation increases. Ice accumulations of around a tenth of an inch are also expected.


* WHERE...Southwest Virginia and the mountains of East Tennessee and southwest North Carolina.

* WHAT...Heavy mixed precipitation expected. Total snow accumulations of up to 14 inches and ice accumulations of around one quarter of an inch expected.


* WHEN...From noon Saturday to noon EST Monday.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS...Travel could become very difficult or even impossible. Road conditions could deteriorate as early as Saturday evening, with highway travel continuing to be impacted through early next week. Widespread, prolonged power outages are possible. Tree damage is likely due to the ice. Travel could be nearly impossible. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning commute.

For the latest updates and forecasts, please click here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Tree Removal Work on Spur and Newfound Gap Road

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced temporary, single-lane closures along the Spur and a four-mile section of Newfound Gap Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the Chimney Tops Trailhead beginning Monday, December 11 through Friday, March 15 for tree removal work through the fire-affected areas.

The roadways will remain open, but motorists should expect single-lane closures during daylight hours from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. No work will be allowed on weekends from 12:00 noon on Fridays through Sunday evenings, federal holidays, or between December 21, 2018 and January 6, 2019.

For more information about temporary road closures on all park roads, please visit the park website at For information about temporary road closures on main park roads, follow SmokiesRoadsNPS on twitter or receive text messages directly by texting ‘FollowSmokiesRoadsNPS’ to 40404.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Smokies Hosts Annual Holiday Homecoming at Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host a Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on Saturday, December 15, 2018. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on traditional crafts and activities from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Children and adults will have the opportunity to learn about and experience some of the traditions surrounding an Appalachian Christmas.

The visitor center will be decorated for the holiday season including an exhibit on Christmas in the mountains. Hot apple cider and cookies will be served on the porch with a fire in the fireplace. In addition, the park will host the monthly acoustic old-time jam session from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

“Musical expression was and still is often a part of daily life in the southern mountains, and mountain music is strongly tied to the Smokies history and culture,” said Supervisory Ranger Lynda Doucette. “We would like to invite musicians to play and our visitors to join us in singing traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs as was done in old days.”

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road, two miles north of Cherokee, NC. For more information call the visitor center at 828-497-1904. All activities are free and open to the public. Generous support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Smokies To Host Annual Festival of Christmas Past Program

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host the annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration on Saturday, December 8, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Sugarlands Visitor Center. The event, sponsored in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, is free to the public.

The festival will include mountain music, traditional shape note singing, mountain craft demonstrations, and a living history walk. Visitors can experience these traditions through hands-on activities including make-and-take craft stations. Hot apple cider will also be served throughout the day.

“Around Christmas time, people gathered in churches, homes, and schools where they celebrated the holiday through music, storytelling, and crafts,” said North District Resource Education Supervisor Stephanie Sutton. “The Festival of Christmas Past allows us to pause and remember some of these traditions.”

The popular Christmas Memories Walk will be held at 11:30 a.m. Costumed interpreters will lead a short walk from the visitor center and talk about life in the mountains during the holidays. Through this living history program, visitors will experience the spirit of the season in the mountains during the early days.

The full schedule of events at Sugarlands Visitor Center includes:

9:30 a.m. Traditional Shape Note Singing
11:15 a.m. Winter in the Natural World Program
12:00 noon Music by the Lost Mill String Band
12:45 p.m. “The Night before Christmas” Reading
1:00 p.m. Cherokee Storytelling with Kathi Littlejohn
2:00 p.m. Music by Boogertown Gap
2:45 p.m. Traditional Reading of the Christmas Story
3:00 p.m. Caroling/Sing Along

10:00-1:00 Wreath-making
10:00-2:00 Craft and Trade Demonstrations
11:30 a.m. Christmas Memories Walk
12:00-2:00 Children’s Crafts

Sugarlands Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road, two miles south of Gatlinburg, TN. For more information, call the visitor center at 865-436-1291.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Why Were Locomotive Bells Placed Atop Mountain Passes in Glacier National Park?

Did you know that locomotive bells were once placed atop four mountain passes in Glacier National Park? Why were they placed there, who pushed the idea, and what became of them? If you would like to learn more about this fascinating time period during the early years of Glacier National Park, as well as many other stories associated with the history of hiking, you can find them in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Kyndley Cooler Backpack

The following is a guest blog from Kyndley Backpacks:

With more than 800 miles of maintained trails, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a Hiker’s Utopia. There are trails for every level of skill, from an afternoon walk to a serious camping experience in the backcountry. Hikers with different skills and abilities will easily find an ideal route to explore. Hiking is certainly not the only activity you can take part in, as the park also offers camping, cycling, fishing and horseback riding as well. And if you don't feel like hiking to the ridge of a mountain or trying to catch a big one, you can simply sit down and take-in the beautiful mountain sunsets that the park has to offer.

Some of the most popular hiking destinations in the Smokies are the beautiful waterfalls, which can be found along many streams and rivers, with a refreshing cool breeze and rewarding photo opportunities. More than 2,000 miles of streams meander throughout the Smoky Mountains, and the waterfalls they adorn range from small sparkling falls to large roaring waterfalls. One of the most photogenic is Abrams Falls. Although it's only 20 meters high, the beauty of the large volume of water and the depth of the pool compensate for its low height. Another waterfall that hikers don't want to miss is Mingo Falls. Mingo Falls is actually just outside the park, in the Cherokee Indian Reservation. At 120 feet, it's one of the highest and most beautiful waterfalls in the Southern Appalachians.

The endless panoramic views are another attraction for adventurous hikers. From the rocky cliffs overlooking valleys of colorful flowers, natural arches, century-old trees and views of the seemingly endless mountains, there are so many things to explore and enjoy when travelling in the Great Smoky Mountains.

After a hectic and active week, I was looking for an environment where I could find some peace and quiet, and since I'm not only a nature lover but also love hiking, no other place came in mind but the incredible experience I had in the Smokies the first time I visited. With its numerous outdoor activities, like biking, camping, wildlife watching, tubing and white water rafting, and most especially its majestic mountains for hiking, I couldn’t resist the temptation of another mind blowing experience. And not only were these factors the main driving force behind my reason for choosing the Great Smoky Mountains over others, but I was also impatient to use my newly purchased cooler backpack. This cooler backpack has a variety of features which makes it the ideal bag for hiking or any outdoor activities.

The Kyndley cooler backpack is designed for hiking and other outdoor activities and has 2 compartments. This allowed me to carry all I needed for my 2 days of hiking. With its 2 compartments, and it's ample space, I conveniently placed my laptop and camera at ease inside the cooler backpack. Keeping in mind I was going for 2 days, I was looking for a bag with enough space so that I could put everything I needed for my hike. With the cooler backpack, 2 compartments, and its numerous durable side pockets, I took along with me enough food and energy drink, a flashlight, and all of my personal needs to last me even longer. The interior of the backpack is covered with high density insulation material. It surprised me that even after about 16 hours the energy drinks that I had put in the cooler backpack were still very fresh. This went a long way in helping me during my two days in the Smoky Mountains; as such I had no worries for fresh drinks and warm food even for a plus day. The lightweight cooler backpack is built with a highly-resistant material, and is well-designed to facilitate hiking and make it more enjoyable. Despite all that I had stuffed in my cooler backpack, I was able to carry it throughout my trip, feeling less tired with the load well balanced. The waist and chest straps allowed me to easily adjust the pack to fit properly.

The cooler backpack is built with a polyester material which can withstand severe weather conditions when you're out in the wilderness. Its thick layer of insulated cotton helped to prevent leakage from my snacks once they started defrosting. The cooler backpack went a long way in helping me to achieve my objectives during my trip. With the load well-balanced, it felt lighter carrying it around. For more information on these amazing cooler backpacks, please visit:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Friends of the Smokies: DOUBLE your dollars on #GivingTuesday

Friends of the Smokies announced this morning that you can DOUBLE YOUR DOLLARS TODAY! When you donate through Facebook on #GivingTuesday, your gift is automatically matched!

How does it work? Facebook and PayPal have teamed up this #GivingTuesday to match up to $7 million in donations to charities through Facebook starting at 8am today. You don't have to do any extra steps, just donate on our Facebook page today, Tuesday, November 27th. But act fast! That $7 million will be snatched up quickly! Start your own fundraiser!

You can start your own #GivingTuesday fundraiser for Friends of the Smokies on Facebook right now -- it's easy! Click Here to Get Started. Share why you love the Smokies, set a goal, and invite your friends! Whatever you raise today is MATCHED automatically! Just click the big DONATE button at the top of our Facebook page! Help us spread the word! Forward this email to your friends or post on social media saying why you support the Smokies! ‌

Even if you can't donate, your friends and family won't want to miss the opportunity! #GivingTuesday No Facebook? No Problem! Click here to donate online through our secure website. You can also give them a call at 800-845-5665, or mail a check to

Friends of the Smokies
PO Box 1660
Kodak, TN 37764

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Profound Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Hiking

Arguably the single most important event to spur the development of hiking and walking for pleasure was the Industrial Revolution. The social changes brought about by industrial development were profound: from the rise of great cities that quickly became islands of filth, dirty air and overcrowding; to the creation of the factory system that resulted in long hours at monotonous jobs in harsh working conditions. From the factory system the labor movement would evolve, which eventually led to higher incomes, shorter work weeks and the introduction of vacation time. Around this same timeframe industrial societies saw significant improvements in transportation, which gave people much greater freedom of movement. The rise of great cities also spurred demand for more wood products, which resulted in large swathes of forests being cut to fulfill those demands. The Industrial Revolution also gave rise to Romanticism and Transcendentalism, as well as club culture. My new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, explains how all of these trends helped to shape the sport of hiking from the late 1700s through the World War II era. The book is now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Saturday, November 24, 2018

John Muir Wasn't Much of a Camper

John Muir wasn't much of a camper. This may come as a surprise to many outdoor enthusiasts. Muir is obviously well-known as a naturalist, preservationist, and as an activist. He's also widely known for his extended hiking adventures and climbing exploits in the California Sierras, and in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Despite the countless hours he spent wandering in the backcountry, Muir apparently spent very little time trying to hone his camping skills. After his death in 1914, C. Hart Merriam published a memorial to his longtime friend in the January 1917 edition of the Sierra Club Bulletin. In the article the renowned ornithologist recalled some of the adventures he had shared with Muir over the years. Though fully acknowledging the wealth of information Muir had collected on the natural world, Merriam thought very little of his camping skills, stating that “in spite of having spent a large part of his life in the wilderness, he knew less about camping than almost any man I have ever camped with.” In fact, Muir’s habit of not packing the proper gear almost cost him his life on several occasions. You can read about one such incident on Mount Shasta, as well as Muir's important contributions to hiking in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, November 23, 2018

Who Was The First Leader in Outdoor Gear and Apparel?

Long before they used scantily-clad teen models in controversial advertising campaigns, Abercrombie and Fitch was the preeminent outdoor goods retailer in America. Founded in 1892 in New York City, the merchant retailer began selling high-end outdoor gear and apparel through expansive catalogs in 1903. During the early twentieth century the retailer outfitted several famous explorers and adventurers, including Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Peary, Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Richard Byrd, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

By 1917 the growing retailer moved into a 12-story building in Midtown Manhattan. Atop the building was a luxurious log cabin which served as a townhouse for Ezra Fitch. This lofty cabin would play an important role in the history of hiking in the Northeast. If you would like to learn more about the gear and apparel Abercrombie and Fitch sold through their first catalogs, as well as the crucial role the log cabin played in the development of the newly proposed Appalachian Trail, check out my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap Will Remain Open This Winter

The Wilderness Road Campground in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park will remain open this winter with loops A and B available for camping. Loop A does not have electricity while Loop B provides 20, 30 and 50 amp hook-ups. Water is centrally located at the dumping station near the campground entrance station.

“Enhancing recreational opportunities for park visitors is a priority and creating the opportunity to enjoy Cumberland Gap National Historical Park through all of its seasons can be a unique and exciting way to explore the park” shares Acting Superintendent Mark Dowdle. “Our management of the campground this winter will employ an ‘adaptive management’ strategy meaning that the campground may close for a short period of time during severe inclement or very cold weather” Dowdle further explains. Should the campground be closed due to severe weather, updates will be posted to the park's website and facebook page.

The campground is located on Hwy 58 in Virginia two miles east of the Hwy 25E and 58 intersection. The camping fee for sites without electricity is $14.00 per night. Sites with electricity are $20.00 per night. For additional information, please call the park visitor center at 606-246-1075.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Becoming a Mazama Wasn't Easy

One of the first hiking clubs in the Pacific Northwest held their inaugural meeting in one of the most extreme locations imaginable. On June 12, 1894 organizers for the newly proposed Mazamas club published an advertisement in the classifieds of the Morning Oregonian announcing that a meeting would take place during the following month atop Mt. Hood - the highest peak in Oregon. The ad proclaimed that the meeting would include a “typical mountain banquet.” It was also made clear that any prospective hiker who wished to become a charter member of this new group was required to attend this organizing meeting. On July 17th more than 300 people responded to the advertisement by arriving at one of two designated spots along the flanks of the 11,249-foot mountain. Two days later a total of 193 climbers reached the summit, of which 105 would become charter members. Before descending from the peak the new organization released three homing pigeons that announced to friends in Portland that the club had been successfully established. The Mazamas, like many of the first hiking clubs, had some bizarre and highly stringent criteria for joining. Many of those same clubs also had some very quirky traditions, many of which are detailed in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, November 19, 2018

National Park Service Announces Entrance Fee-Free Days for 2019

The National Park Service will waive all entrance fees on five days in 2019. The five entrance fee-free days for 2019 will be:

• Monday, January 21 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
• Saturday, April 20 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
• Sunday, August 25 – National Park Service Anniversary
• Saturday, September 28 – National Public Lands Day
• Monday, November 11 – Veterans Day

“The entrance fee-free days hosted by the National Park Service are special opportunities to invite visitors, volunteers and veterans to celebrate some important moments for our parks and opportunities for service in those parks,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith.

The National Park System includes more than 85 million acres and includes national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national seashores. There is at least one national park site in every U.S. state.

Last year, 331 million people visited national parks spending $18.2 billion, which supported 306,000 jobs across the country and had a $35.8 billion impact on the U.S. economy.

Only 115 of the 418 parks managed by the National Park Service charge entrance fees regularly, with fees ranging from $5 to $35. The other 303 national parks do not have entrance fees. The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

The annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. There are also free or discounted passes available for senior citizens, current members of the U.S. military, families of fourth grade students, and disabled citizens.

Other federal land management agencies offering their own fee-free days in 2019 include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Invention of Carrarmato: Almost All Hikers Still Wear Them

A deadly climbing accident in 1935 led to the invention of one of the most important pieces of hiking gear - one that nearly every hiker benefits from to this day. While descending a mountain in the Italian Alps an experienced climbing team was caught in a severe snowstorm. Unable to descend along the icy rock walls, six of the climbers died from exhaustion, exposure and frostbite. Distraught over the loss of his friends, the guide attempted to solve the problem the climbers encountered during that expedition with the invention of "Carrarmato", an Italian word that means “tank tread". The name of the guide and inventor, Vitale Bramani, offers a clue as to the name of the company and the more common name for the product that most hikers wear today. If you would like to learn more about this story, and many others associated with the history of hiking, you can read them in my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, now available on Amazon:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, November 16, 2018

Study: It's not trails that disturb forest birds, but the people on them

A new study has recently been published in Frontiers, an "Open Science platform", that you may also find interesting:

The first study to disentangle the effect of forest trails from the presence of humans shows the number of birds, as well as bird species, is lower when trails are used on a more regular basis. This is also the case when trails have been used for many years, suggesting that forest birds do not get used to this recreational activity. Published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the finding suggests the physical presence of trails has less of an impact on forest birds than how frequently these recreational paths are used by people. To minimize the impact on these forest creatures, people should avoid roaming from designated pathways.

"We show that forest birds are quite distinctly affected by people and that this avoidance behavior did not disappear even after years of use by humans. This suggests not all birds habituate to humans and that a long-lasting effect remains," says Dr Yves Bötsch, lead author of this study, based at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Sempach, Switzerland and affiliated with Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University Zurich, Switzerland. "This is important to show because pressure on natural habitats and nature protection areas is getting stronger and access bans are often ignored."

Many outdoor activities rely on infrastructure, with roads and trails being most common. Previous research has shown that trails cause habitat loss and fragmentation, where larger areas of habitat are dissected into smaller pieces thereby separating wildlife populations. However it has been difficult to say for certain whether it is the presence of trails or humans that have the most impact on forest birds.

Bötsch explains, "Previous studies provide conflicting results about the effects of trails on birds, with some studies showing negative effects while others do not. We thought differences in the intensity of human use may cause this discrepancy, which motivated us to disentangle the effect of trails from the presence of humans."

The researchers visited four forests with a similar habitat, such as the types of trees, but which differed in the levels of recreation. They recorded all birds heard and seen at points near to the trails, as well as within the forest itself, and found that a lower number of birds were recorded in the forests used more frequently by humans. In addition, they noticed certain species were more affected than others.

"Species with a high sensitivity, measured by flight initiation distance (the distance at which a bird exposed to an approaching human flies away), showed stronger trail avoidance, even in rarely frequented forests. These sensitive species were raptors, such as the common buzzard and Eurasian sparrowhawk, as well as pigeons and woodpeckers," says Bötsch.

He continues, "Generally it is assumed that hiking in nature does not harm wildlife. But our study shows even in forests that have been used recreationally for decades, birds have not habituated to people enough to outweigh the negative impact of human disturbance."

Bötsch concludes with some advice, which may help to minimize the adverse effects on forest birds by people who use forests recreationally.

"We believe protected areas with forbidden access are necessary and important, and that new trails into remote forest areas should not be promoted. Visitors to existing forest trails should be encouraged to adhere to a "stay on trail" rule and refrain from roaming from designated pathways."

Te original research article can be found here:

The corresponding author, Dr. Yves Bötsch from the Swiss Ornithological Institute, can be contacted here:

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Smokies Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mountain Astronomical Society, will offer a stargazing program in Cades Cove on Saturday, November 17, 2018 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Experienced astronomers and numerous telescopes will be on hand to provide a discovery of the fall sky’s position of stars, galaxies, and constellations, including the Milky Way. In case of rain or cloud cover where night skies are not visible, the program will be cancelled.

“National Park areas often offer a wonderful opportunity to stargaze,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Parks across the country monitor and manage for natural night sky conditions in much the same way as we do to protect our air and water. Visitors are often amazed at the number of stars that can be seen simply by entering into the natural darkness of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

All participants should park at the orientation shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road. A park ranger will walk with the group one-third of a mile to a nearby field to the viewing location. As the Cades Cove Loop Road is closed at sunset to motor vehicles, participants are not allowed to drive to the viewing site or to park within the Loop Road.

Those planning to attend should wear comfortable walking shoes, dress warmly, and bring a flashlight. Participants are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket for sitting, along with binoculars which can be used for stargazing. To preserve the integrity of the telescope lenses, smoking is not allowed near them. Carpooling is strongly encouraged as parking is limited.

The program is subject to postponement due to rain or cloud cover. If the weather is questionable, call the day of the event to confirm that the program will take place at 865-448-4104 or follow the park’s Facebook page at

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Rainbow Falls Trail Reopens Today

After being partially closed over the last two years, the Rainbow Falls Trail will officially reopen today. A reopening ceremony will take place today at 10:00 am. Afterwards, the trail will be open to the public. Hikers will be able to take the trail to Rainbow Falls, or all the way up to the summit of Mt. LeConte.

The park trail crew rehabilitated targeted segments along the trail to improve visitor safety, stabilize eroding trail sections, and repair trail tread damaged by high winds and fire during the November 2016 wildfires. The crew installed over 350 steps through steep, narrow corridors, created nearly 600 feet of elevated trail surfaces, installed nearly 400 drainage elements, and placed over 1,000 native stones along the trail to create a durable, sustainable trail corridor. The much-needed rehabilitation also eliminated numerous, visitor-created side trails totaling over one mile in length that had resulted in eroded, off-trail paths creating confusion for hikers.

“The craftsmanship exhibited by the park trail crew is extraordinary,” said Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan. “They create durable, functional trail corridors that support the high-volume hiker use of the Smokies in a manner that also reflects and protects the natural landscape.”

Numerous individuals partnered with the park trail crew to aid in rehabilitation efforts. Over the course of the two-year project, 44 American Conservation Experience youth interns contributed over 41,360 hours of service and 162 Volunteers contributed 1,576 hours of service.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Friends of the Smokies. The Friends have donated over $1,500,000 to support the program, in part through the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on high use and high priority trails in the park including the recently restored Rainbow Falls Trail, Alum Cave Trail, Chimney Tops Trail, and Forney Ridge Trail. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations.

In 2019, the Trail Forever crew will begin a 2-year rehabilitation project on the popular Trillium Gap Trail among other critical trail work across the park on trails such as the Deep Creek Trail, Rough Fork Trail, Smokemont Trail, and Noah Bud Ogle Trail. Due to the rehabilitation process on Trillium Gap Trail, a full closure will be necessary for the safety of both the crew and visitors. The Trillium Gap Trail and associated parking areas will be closed May 6, 2019 through November 14, 2019, excluding federal holidays, on Monday mornings at 7:00 a.m. through Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. weekly. The trail will be fully open each week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

For more information about the Trails Forever program, please visit

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Tanbark Tunnel Closure

In the midst of multiple weather related closures at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, National Park Service officials announce that Tanbark Tunnel at Milepost 374.4 is closed to all uses until further notice due to a piece of the tunnel’s natural rock ceiling coming loose.

The National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration are in the process of assessing the issue and will determine what repairs are needed. To effectively route Parkway visitors away from the tunnel, the closure will extend from Milepost 355.3 at N.C. Route 128 to Milepost 375.6 at Ox Creek Road.

The detached rock fragment, discovered during this weekend’s weather related closure, is approximately four feet by three feet and up to 12 inches thick. The rock has not fallen to the road and is currently being held by a steel netting and rock bolt safety system installed on the tunnel ceiling for this very reason, to catch any falling rock. However, due to the significant weight of the rock, and the stress it is currently putting on the safety system, repairs must be made prior to re-opening to visitors.

Weather permitting, Mt. Mitchell State Park will remain open and accessible while tunnel repairs are underway. Specific information regarding daily closures, related to Tanbark Tunnel, weather, or for any other reason, is available on the Parkway’s Real Time Road Map, found at .

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The True Realities of Women’s Hiking Attire During The Victorian Era

The following is a short excerpt from my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking:

For women, hiking attire during the Victorian Era was an extremely complicated affair. The subject was frequently discussed and debated throughout the pages of Appalachia during the first decade of the Appalachian Mountain Club. The December 1887 issue of Appalachia ran a lengthy article by Mrs. L. D. Pychowska on the “walking-costume for ladies.” It provided head to toe advice on how women should dress for a hike. This included wearing a grey flannel trouser beneath two skirts. The under skirt, which reached to just below the knee, was also to be made of grey flannel. The outer skirt, however, was to be made of winsey or Kentucky jean, both of which were considered to be strong enough to withstand tears from walking through briers and undergrowth. The outer skirt was also meant to be worn to ankle length. However, if the hiker were to find herself climbing steep terrain she could simply pull out a strong clasp pin and raise the skirt higher, “washwomen fashion,” until the difficult section was completed. “Basquines,” or corsets, were optional apparel according to the author. At the end of the piece the writer assured her readers that her recommendations on female tramping attire would be “sufficiently presentable to enter a hotel or a railroad car” after a long tramp through the woods, “without attracting uncomfortable attention.”

The true realities of wearing a “costume” such as this were not considered or debated in Mrs. Pychowska’s article. Conversely, a passage in an article from the June 1877 issue of Appalachia put an exclamation point on the true dangers women faced as a result of the clothing they were forced to wear while tramping. The author related the story of a guided hike on Mt. Washington during the prior year. While descending Tuckerman Ravine one of the ladies in the group paused momentarily to stand atop a large rock above a 25-foot outcrop. Unbeknownst to the hiker, her tattered dress had become caught on a sharp protrusion on the rock. When she attempted to jump to another large rock the snag violently jolted her back, and left her dangling upside down above the abyss. Fortunately her mountain guide was nearby and was able to pull her to safety before falling.

In one particular instance the burdensome attire that women were expected to wear may have been at least partially responsible for the death of one hiker. On September 13, 1855, 22-year-old Lizzie Bourne of Kennebunk, Maine became the first woman to die while climbing Mt. Washington, and quite possibly the first woman to die while hiking in America. On that late summer day Lizzie had planned to hike to the Tip Top House atop Mount Washington with her uncle George and her cousin Lucy. As a result of early morning rain, however, the trio was forced to postpone the start of their trip. Just after lunch the weather finally cleared and they set out by trekking up the partially completed carriage road. However, as they continued towards the summit of the peak, the threesome encountered another round of bad weather while proceeding along the Glen House Bridle Path, which continued to worsen as they climbed higher. In a letter to the Boston Journal, which was intended to provide “a correct account of the whole affair,” George Bourne attested that as they ascended towards the summit, “Elizabeth began to show signs of weariness, and needed assistance.” As night fell upon the mountain, darkness and fog completely obscured the view of their destination. Fatigue had also crept in on each of the hikers. Not knowing where they were, or how far they were from their destination, the trio made the decision to lie down on the trail and wait out the night. Despite building a wind break from nearby rocks, George was convinced that each of them would perish due to the extreme cold and the violent wind. Indeed, that night, around ten o'clock, Lizzie quietly passed away while lying on the trail. In his letter to the Boston Journal, Bourne stated that it was “evident that Elizabeth did not die from the cold alone, but from some organic affection of the heart or lungs, induced by fatigue and exposure.”

With the arrival of daylight the next morning George and Lucy tragically discovered that they were within sight of the Tip Top House. Had they known that they were that close they could’ve easily made it to safety, and Lizzie likely would’ve survived. After her death tourists and hikers began piling stones on the spot where Ms. Bourne died. A stone monument now stands on that same spot to mark and commemorate her passing.

Did Lizzie’s attire contribute to her death? Perhaps. She wore a heavy skirt, petticoat, pantaloons and stockings. Nicholas Howe, author of Not Without Peril: 150 Years Of Misadventure On The Presidential Range Of New Hampshire, estimates that Lizzie may have worn as much as 45 yards of fabric! When this outfit became soaked in cold rain there’s no doubt this would’ve weighed her down, resulting in more stress on her heart, and certainly would have accelerated the effects of fatigue, exposure and hypothermia.

While Mrs. Pychowska was espousing the benefits of wearing the proper costume to coincide with the mores of the Victorian Era, there was a long debate, at least among female members in the Appalachian Mountain Club, about what women should wear while hiking. During the May 9th meeting chronicled in the June 1877 edition of Appalachia, a Miss Whitman suggested that skirts be designed in a manner so that they “could be shortened to any necessary extent by rolling it up.” A Mrs. Nowell discussed the “disadvantage of ladies on mountain excursions on account of their long skirts, and recommended the use of gymnasium dresses or something similar, as an outside garment for such occasions.” In that same edition of Appalachia, Mrs. W.G. Nowell, one of the founding members of the club, and presumably the same Mrs. Nowell who spoke out during the May 9th meeting, published an article titled, “A Mountain Suit for Women.” In this piece Harriet Nowell once again took issue with the garb women were expected to wear during this era. She also mentioned the discussions she had with other women about the impracticalities and dangers of women’s hiking attire. Apparently they had carefully deliberated over what their alternatives were, and presented one possible solution: “The only thing we could think of was a good flannel bathing suit.” Mrs. Nowell continued by stating that they “could not see why it should be more improper to wear this” suit while hiking, “than it would be along a crowded and fashionable beach.” She went on to make the point that women would be “relieved of the excessive weight of her ordinary dress,“ thus allowing them to carry their own gear. She concluded her piece by declaring that “Our dress has done all the mischief. For years it has kept us away from the glory of the woods and the grandeur of the mountain heights. It is time we should reform.”

An article published on the Tramp and Trail Club of Utica website notes that by the 1920s women had solved the problem of impractical skirts by stuffing them in knapsacks once they had reached the trailhead, and then putting them back on before returning to town. Bold and daring women eschewed skirts altogether and simply wore knickers with long socks from their home. An online exhibit on the Museum of the White Mountains at Plymouth State University website, titled, Taking the Lead: Women and the White Mountains, notes that skirts had virtually disappeared by the mid-1910s, and by the 1930s women were wearing clothes similar to what female hikers wear today, including shorts and halter tops.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking chronicles the history of the first hikers, trails and hiking clubs, as well as the evolution of hiking gear and apparel, including many other stories about the attire both men and women wore during the early years of the sport. You can find the book on Amazon by clicking here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, November 12, 2018

National Parks Traveler Reviews "Ramble On"

Kurt Repanshek from the National Parks Traveler recently took the time to review my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking, which he published on his website yesterday. In case you're unaware, the National Parks Traveler is the leading, editorially independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to covering national parks and other protected areas. The website is focused on informing the public of environmental, scientific, and other newsworthy developments surrounding, involving, and affecting national parks, other protected areas and their governing bodies.

Up front, Kurt stated it pretty bluntly that: "Hiking might seem rather bland as a topic to build a book around, but just as Terence Young did in 2017 with Heading Out: A History of American Camping, Doran's research brings to light some surprising hiking trivia." He continued later, stating,: "But Ramble On is more than a book of hiking trivia, though it is chock-full of that. Rather, it can be viewed as a vehicle for taking measure of where hiking got its start, why we hike, and what the future of the activity might look like as we crowd the outdoors."

To read the entire review, please click here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Multiple Temporary Closures for Routine Maintenance

National Park Service maintenance personnel are conducting boom axe operations in multiple locations along the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway between now and the end of the year. Visitors should anticipate intermittent and temporary closures in active work zones as indicated. Both lanes of the Parkway will be closed to all activity (cars, bicycles, and hikers) in active work zones to ensure the safety of the maintenance workers as well as Parkway visitors.

Closure areas are as follows:

Milepost (from North to South) / Vicinity of (Dates)

Milepost 66 - 85  /  US 501 - VA Route 43 (Dec. 3 - 7)
Milepost 91 - 106  /  VA Route 43 - VA Route 460 (Nov. 26 - 29)
Milepost 112 - 120  /  VA Route 24 - US Route 220 (Dec. 3 - 21)
Milepost 120 - 136  /  Bent Mountain Area (Nov. 12 - 30)
Milepost 393 - 407  /  French Broad River to Buck Springs Tunnel (Nov. 15 - 28)

Affected sections close at approximately 8:00 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily by 4:30 p.m. EST in work zone areas. The road will be open on the weekend. Those who normally commute on the Parkway during the week may want to find alternate routes.

Annually, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance and resource management staff conduct maintenance activities that help control vegetation growth along the Parkway. To help insure safe sight distances and a clear right-of-way, this work requires using a large tractor with a cutting head on a long arm, or boom. This tractor must remain in the travel lanes during operation to properly perform its work while cutting the banks and road shoulders.

Specific information regarding daily closures, related to this project or for any other reason, is available on the Parkway’s Real Time Road Map.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Anne's Travels Take on "Ramble On: A History of Hiking"

Earlier this week Anne Whiting, the author of Anne's Travels, published a review of my new book, Ramble On: A History of Hiking. Ms. Whiting, the author of three state-wide trail guides, is also the author of Anne's Travels, a blog that covers her hiking adventures across America. In fact, the blog is a very rich database chronicling hundreds of her hikes that are sorted by state. This is a great resource if you're heading to a new hiking destination and you want to find out what the best hikes are in order to make the most of your trip.

Anne concluded her review by stating: "Overall, I was very impressed with the amount of information packed into 206 pages.... It’s the perfect gift for someone who loves to hike or who loves American history. Or purchase it for yourself to immerse yourself in the history of hiking in America."

To read the entire review, please click here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Globalstar Donates Next-Gen SPOT GPS Devices to Assist Appalachian Trail Conservancy with Backcountry Communication and Safety

Taking care of the remote areas of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) became a bit safer today thanks to Globalstar’s donation of 16 SPOT X satellite messengers to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). These devices will allow ATC staff to remain in contact with support teams and report their positions on sections of the Trail lacking reliable mobile phone coverage.

In addition to GPS tracking capabilities pinpointing the location of the user, each SPOT X device has a dedicated mobile number and allows users to send messages directly to cell phone numbers and other SMS devices. As with previous models, the SPOT X also allows users to request emergency assistance with the press of a button.

“Globalstar’s generous donation will help ensure that Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff can be in contact with its maintaining crews while they work on some of the most secluded parts of the Trail,” said Laura Belleville, ATC vice president of conservation and Trail programs. “These SPOT devices will help our team communicate effectively and work safely in the Appalachian Trail’s wild spaces.”

“We at Globalstar are thrilled to be a part of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Trail-protection efforts, helping its crew members better communicate and remain safe as they protect this beautiful national treasure,” said Globalstar CEO Dave Kagan. “Our passion is for hikers worldwide to protect and safely enjoy the great outdoors, and we are proud to give a new generation of adventurers that extra bit of security when they step into the backcountry.”

Globalstar has previously provided SPOT location devices for A.T. ridgerunners, ATC staff who monitor Trail conditions and assist hikers in protecting the fragile environment surrounding the Trail. To learn more about this and other trail management programs, visit

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Monday, November 5, 2018

National Audubon Society Invites You to Join the 119th Annual Christmas Bird Count

For the 119th year, the National Audubon Society is organizing its annual Christmas Bird Count. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere. The data collected by participants continues to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need.

The Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations to Audubon. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day—not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.

Last year, the 118th Christmas Bird Count included a record-setting 2585 count circles, with 1957 counts in the United States, 463 in Canada and 165 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. This was the eighth-straight year of record-breaking counts. In total, 76,987 observers out in the field and watching feeders tallied up 59,242,067 birds representing 2673 different species and 426 identifiable forms—about one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. Approximately 5 percent of the North American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count. Last year included a new species for the entire Christmas Bird Count database: a Mistle Thrush representing the first ever appearance of that species in North America.

Continuing the disturbing finding from last year was the continued decline of the Northern Bobwhite, the only native quail in the eastern United States. This species has essentially disappeared from the Northeast and faces massive declines due to loss of shrubland habitat exacerbated by increased droughts. Other species in decline include American Kestrels, our smallest falcon, and the Loggerhead Shrike, a predatory songbird that impales its prey on thorns. While the reasons for these declines is poorly understood, scientists suspect loss of habitat as well as susceptibility to pesticide use.

Beginning on Christmas Day in 1900, Dr. Frank M. Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore – which evolved into Audubon magazine -- proposed a new holiday tradition that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. So began the Christmas Bird Count. 119 years later, the tradition continues and still manages to bring out the best in people.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a community science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate and the quarterly report, American Birds, is available online. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to learn more. For more information and to find a count near you visit

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Friday, November 2, 2018

Smokies Hosts Walking Opportunity on the New Section of the Foothills Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains National Park invites the public to walk approximately two miles along the new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley on Thursday, November 8 for a Community Day celebration. This is a special opportunity for pedestrians to experience the series of bridges that connect the 1.65-mile section known as the ‘Missing Link’ before it opens to motorists and cyclists on Saturday, November 10.

Participants will be shuttled to the site from Townsend, TN between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, weather permitting. Construction activities may still be occurring along sections of the roadway, necessitating coordinated transportation to the event space. To reach the core area, participants should be prepared to walk at least two miles, round trip, along a 10% grade. At the center of the event space, the park is hosting a variety of interactive educational and artistic activities for the public to enjoy.

“While the parkway is designed as a scenic driving experience, we wanted to provide one special opportunity for people to experience it by foot before it opens to motorists,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We hope the public will join us for this Community Day celebration as we enjoy the beauty of the parkway and the new recreational opportunities it provides for our local residents and visitors.”

Participants will be shuttled from the River Rat parking lot in Townsend, TN (8435 State Highway 73, Townsend, TN 37882) at approximately 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., or 12:00 noon. The shuttle ride will take approximately one hour to reach the event space. Participants will have the opportunity to spend one to three hours on site depending on which departure time they choose. The Friends of the Smokies are sponsoring the free shuttle service to the public utilizing charter buses. Participation is available on a first come, first serve basis with anticipated service for approximately 1,000 people.

Participants should bring snacks and water in a small pack, wear sturdy footwear, and dress in layers to be prepared for the outdoor event. No large bags, chairs or coolers are allowed. Portable toilets will be provided on site. While on site, participants will be reminded of safety hazards while walking along the roadway, which is designed for motor vehicle traffic. The park will implement safety measures to help ensure that participants remain a safe distance from the guard rails along the bridges.

The event is weather dependent. The park will notify the public by 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7 if the event is canceled due to inclement weather through the park website, social media, and a media release.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A View Junkie's Guide: Wyoming Dayhiking

Full disclosure: the author of A View Junkie's Guide: Wyoming Dayhiking contacted me several months ago with regards to using some of my photos for her upcoming book. No compensation was exchanged for use of these photos; however, Anne recently sent me a copy of the book. I voluntarily decided to review it here.

A View Junkie's Guide: Wyoming Dayhiking takes hikers to some of the best scenery Wyoming has to offer, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, as well as the Black Hills, Snowy Range, Wind River, Gros Venture and Absaroka mountains. This is the third installment in a series of hiking guides by author Anne Whiting, who has also published trail guides for Colorado and Washington state. Anne’s newest edition covers 48 individual trails, and over 175 hike options. The book is geared towards novice, moderate and adventurous hikers who enjoy spectacular views. As you might expect from the title of the book, Anne seeks out trails that offer amazing scenery. As she points out in her Introduction, many trail guides tend to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the flora, fauna, geology and local history of the trails they cover. Not in this book. Anne is focused on the views hikers will see along each of the routes she covers in her book.

Readers will appreciate the comprehensive trail directory near the beginning of the book, which is sorted by the regions covered in the state. Within each national park or mountain range are the main trails, with the various options hikers can take depending on mileage or presence of loop options. Each hike in this directory contains key data points, such as trail length, total elevation gain, as well as Anne’s ranking with regards to difficulty level, solitude and of course, the overall view rating. There’s also a page number listed next to each hike which tells the reader where to turn for detailed information on each hike. Each hike description includes directions, a trail map, key GPS coordinates, as well as photos of the scenery hikers will enjoy along the route. Anne also provides key information on trail conditions that could impact hikers. For example, in many areas of Wyoming hikers will be traveling through bear country. Anne lets readers know about certain trails that pass through prime bear habitat. In other places she warns about sections of trail where snow that can linger well into the summer. As a history enthusiast, I really enjoyed the trail trivia section provided near the end of each hike description.

As already mentioned, A View Junkie's Guide: Wyoming Dayhiking includes hikes for all levels of experience: from very short strolls, to strenuous all-day hikes. A handful of hikes covered in the book would actually be more conducive as backpacking trips, though they could be done in one-day for super-fit hikers. A prime example of this is the spectacular 19.6-mile Cascade Canyon – Paintbrush Canyon Loop in Grand Teton National Park. Another example is the 20-mile Cirque of Towers hike in the Wind River Range, a destination that’s been on my bucket list since reading about it in Backpacker Magazine many, many moons ago.

If your only intention is to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, this book will serve you quite well, as it covers most of the best hikes in these parks, as well as several other options in the national forests that border the two parks. These hikes will offer you much more solitude if you’re visiting these popular parks during the peak tourist season. With the exception of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming, the book covers the premier hikes in each of the major mountain ranges in the state. If you’ve only visited Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks in the past, this book will provide the inspiration to get out and explore the rest of this truly beautiful state. I can say with certainty that Anne’s book has expanded my bucket list of hikes to include the Highline Trail in the Wind River Range, as well as the Medicine Bow Peak Loop in the Snowy Range of southeast Wyoming.

For more information and to purchase the book on Amazon, please click here.

Ramble On: A History of Hiking