Thursday, June 30, 2011

l’Etape du Tour: The Cherohala Challenge

This is the third in a weekly series by guest blogger, Michael Lowe, leading up to his √Čtape Du Tour ride on July 11th:

The l’Etape ride is only 67 miles and arguably one could train at that distance or even a little less and then do the ride. I believe, however, that it helps to train at a further distance, prove I can do it, and then tackle the shorter distance with more speed than I might otherwise have attempted. It’s all about the mental aspect. “It’s only 67 miles. You’ve done much more.”

With that in mind, I tackled my first century (100 mile ride) on May 28. A local ride, it started just north of Louisville at the entrance to the Clark State Forest near Henryville, IN. My goal, since I expected the ride to be mostly flat or rolling, was to average 16 mph or better. The first 50 went just fine. In fact, I ripped off the first 15 at about 20 mph. From there, as the day heated up, and the fact that I had not slept much the previous two nights started to catch up to me. By mile 80 I was toast. But just like a hike on a loop trail, there’s only one way back to your car … you gotta ride. At the finish I clocked out at 6 hours and within my 16 mph goal. Not the best century, but it did remind me of the importance of sleep, good food on the ride, and the need to KEEP TRAINING!

Ergo – three weeks later – the Cherohala Challenge. 113 miles, 7200 feet of climbing, several steep two and three mile climbs and one long climb of 12 miles at an average grade of 5.5% (but with several much steeper ramps. Not quite l’Etape, but as close to it as is available in the Appalachians. In fact, the Challenge starts in Tellico Plains, just below the Smokey Mountains, at the western terminus of the Cherohala Skyway. It heads north towards the Smokey’s, then cuts east on 129. It does the complete “Tail of the Dragon” (motorcycle heaven) and then climbs up the eastern side of the Skyway, topping out at 5,341 feet, before dropping the 32 miles back to Tellico Plains. If you’re visiting the Smokey’s, it’s a nice ride just to the south of the park.

So, how did it go? Well, it was certainly a “challenge”. The day started out bright and beautiful and cool. It stayed that way until about 1 pm, when a thunderstorm appeared over the Skyway, just as I reached mile 65 and started up the climb. Rain, thunder, lightning – and some ramps that were 8 – 10% in grade. As all you hikers can appreciate, it takes a long time to go 8 miles at 5 miles per hour. At the very top (5,390 feet) it was foggy, windy and wet. Standing around made me cold. So I started down with a sheet of cardboard under my jersey to reduce the wind chill. Brrrr. But I made it, notwithstanding two more bursts of rain. 113 miles in 8 hours. Proving I was ready – which was the whole point!

Michael Lowe splits his time between Louisville, KY (his home) and Bristol, VA (his workplace). He's an avid cyclist, and also enjoys writing, photography, gardening, travel and hiking. He's hiked portions of the AT inside GSMNP, but completing a thru hike of the entire AT remains on his bucket list. His notes on l'Etape were written as a friend in support of this site, and we'd like to say thanks by pointing out that if you're a fan of adventure fantasy, we recommend Michael's books Wizardmont and Bryunzet, the first two parts of his Promise of the Stones series. If you're a fan of history, check out Charlotte's Story, the true story of how Michael's mother survived as a young girl in Berlin, Germany between 1943 and 1951.


Guided hike to Spruce Flats Falls

In the latest edition of The Cub Report, the Great Smoky Mountains Association announced that they will be offering an educational hike to Spruce Flats Falls with former Great Smoky Mountains at Tremont teacher/naturalist Mike Matzko on Saturday, July 9th.

This beautiful little known gem of the Smokies is located in the Tremont area of the park, and consists of four cascades making up a 125 foot drop and a 320 foot run. A large plunge pool holds the water prior to it falling down to the Middle Prong of Little River.

This region of the park was also one of the last logged by Little River Lumber Company.

It's a 2-mile roundtrip, moderate hike. Wear good hiking boots, bring rain gear, water, and a light lunch to enjoy at the falls. Meet at 10:00 am in front of the Tremont office.

Participation is limited to 20 with a registration fee of $10 per adult. Children 12 and under are free. To register call 865-436-7318, Ext. 222 or 254.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Some tornado damaged trails in Cades Cove have reopened

The EF-4 tornado that ripped through the western end of Cades Cove on April 27th forced the shut-down of several trails in the area. The Beard Cane Trail saw the most damage, as the tornado essentially followed almost the entire length of the 4.2-mile trail.

Since then the park has taken on the monumental task of removing thousands of trees blocking those trails, and is slowly but surely reopening them once the pathways are cleared. In recent weeks, the Abrams Falls Trail, Ace Gap Trail and the Little Bottoms Trail have reopened.

It sounds like it could be several months before many of the other trails are reopened. Here's the current list of closures:

• Beard Cane Trail

• Cooper Road Trail from the Beard Cane/Hatcher Mountain Trails junction to the Cades Cove Loop Road

• Hannah Mountain Trail is closed from Rabbit Creek Trail junction to Abrams Falls/Little Bottoms Trails junction.

• Hatcher Mountain Trail north of the intersection with Little Bottoms Trail

• Rabbit Creek Trail

• Wet Bottom Trail

• Backcountry Campsites 3, 11, 15

To view a map of the closed trails, please click here.


Interpretive Programs at Big South Fork for 4th of July Weekend

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will host a series of day and evening programs during the July 4th weekend. Park rangers will present a variety of programs in both Tennessee and Kentucky. The programs in Tennessee will be held at the Bandy Creek Visitor Center or nearby Leatherwood Ford. Programs in Kentucky will be at the Blue Heron Campground or the McCreary County Museum in Stearns. In addition to these programs, park rangers will present short talks at the Blue Heron Mining Camp during scheduled trips by the Big South Fork Scenic Railway. All programs are presented on Eastern Time.

Saturday, July 2
10:30 a.m. – My Trail Pack - Junior Ranger Program – Bandy Creek Visitor Center back porch - Learn how you can be a junior ranger and what you should take with you when you are on a hike in the park. Come see what park rangers take in their day packs.

1:00 p.m. – Wet & Wild—Join Ranger Brenda Deaver to discover what creek critters tell us about the quality of water in our streams and rivers. We will take a close look at some of the benthic macro invertebrates found in the Big South Fork River. Meet in the gazebo at Leatherwood Ford off Highway 297. Wear creek shoes and plan on wading in the river if you would like to fully participate in this program. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

2:00 p.m. – Scrip - McCreary County Museum, Stearns, Kentucky - Did the coal miner really “owe his soul to the company store”? Come find out at this afternoon program with Park Ranger Lynn Thornton. Original pieces of scrip will be on display including Stearns Coal Company pieces. This program is being given in cooperation with the Stearns Museum.

4:00 p.m. - It Started with the Gum Tree - McCreary County Museum, Stearns, Kentucky - Join Ranger Lynn Thornton as she tells the story of how the town of Stearns, Kentucky, developed when the Stearns company began. Original photographs will show the history of the town as it grew.

9:30 p.m. – Astronomy - Join Paul Lewis from the University of Tennessee Department of Physics and Astronomy along with National Park Service astronomy volunteers for an opportunity to view the wonders of the night sky. Telescopes will be set up in the parking lot just across from the Bandy Creek Visitor Center for night sky observation.

The press release only listed programs for Saturday. I'm not sure if or when any programs for Sunday or Monday will be announced. To contact the Big South Fork, please click here.


The Backpacker Tough Guy (and Gal) Challenge

Want to win a guided climb up Mt. Rainier (airfare included!) with International Mountain Guides, including an array of Outdoor Research apparel? All you have to do is prove you're the toughest backpacker out there.

All you have to do to show you're the toughest guy or gal is create a video (no more than five minutes long) to prove it.

Backpacker Magazine has provided some intentionally vague guidelines:

* the toughest backpackers should be able to do things like start a fire with one match

* ascend thousands of feet of trail and mountainside in a day

* treat common first aid mishaps

* find your way out of trouble with a map and compass.

Of course, we each bring something unique to the table too.

Create a video demonstrating your backcountry badassery and upload to YouTube. Send Backpacker Magazine the link by July 15th, 2011 (, and the editors will choose one winner, two second place finishers, and five third place finishers.

For details and rules, please click here.

Good Luck!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Multiple incidents on the Blue Ridge Parkway keep rangers busy

Rangers and rescue personnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway have been kept quite busy over the last couple of weeks. A slew of incidents, including climbing accidents, a suicide attempt, and a kidnapping, have been reported recently:

* On June 13th, a suicidal person operating a red Subaru near Craggy Gardens placed a burning rag into the vehicle’s gas tank and set it afire. A Buncombe County deputy on the scene tried to reach him, but the man had locked himself inside. He eventually got out of the vehicle, though, telling rangers and deputies that he just wanted to die. He was taken into custody after a brief struggle and brought to a mental health facility in Asheville. The parkway was closed temporarily while firefighters put out the blaze.

* On June 15th, Jonathan Sullivan, 20, of Tuscaloosa, AL, died after falling from the 120-foot cliff he was climbing at the Raven’s Roost Overlook at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Investigators are hoping to gather more information about what may have caused the fall.

* On the afternoon of June 18th rangers received a report of a single vehicle rollover accident near milepost 295 in the Highlands District. When they reached the accident scene they found a Honda Pilot carrying ten people – eight adults and two children – had left the roadway and gone down an embankment approximately 80 feet, striking several large trees. The impact caused the SUV to turn on its side, trapping many of the occupants inside.

Responders worked quickly to extricate the victims. The Honda’s roof had to be cut, and winches were used to lift it from those trapped inside. A rope system was then put in place to haul the victims up the steep embankment to the road in order to transport them to the hospital. One of them, the 74-year-old father of the operator, was pronounced dead after arriving at Baptist Hospital. Two passengers, a ten-year-old girl and a 43-year-old adult, were treated for minor injuries and released. The other seven were taken to intensive care with significant injuries. According to witnesses, the Honda’s passenger side tires left the pavement when it drifted off the road. The driver attempted to get the vehicle back onto the roadway but steered too sharply, causing it to go into a skid and leave the road. Personnel from the Blowing Rock Police Department and Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue, medics from Watauga County, and other park employees worked together with rangers to successfully handle a complex and difficult scene during heavy rain and high winds.

* On June 21st a 20-year-old UNC Charlotte student suffered a significant head injury after taking a 20-foot fall at Upper Falls near Graveyard Fields. Workers had to immobilize his spine and carried him out on a long spine board.

* A 42-year-old woman was found by visitors lying in a parking lot at the Boone Fork Trailhead near Grandfather Mountain State Park on the evening of Thursday, June 23rd. The visitors called 911. The woman claimed that she had been abducted outside her house earlier that day by a man wearing a ski mask and sunglasses. She told investigators that he had pointed a gun at her and forced her into her van, directing her to drive to the parkway. She said that he had then taken her into the woods, where she fought him, got away, and then walked through the woods to the parking lot where she was found. She was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for minor injuries.

The parkway was closed and a manhunt ensued that lasted into the early morning hours, but no evidence of an assailant was found. The parkway was reopened at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. An NPS special agent, working in cooperation with Charlottesville investigators, took the lead in the investigation, and the FBI opened a case on the abduction. Rangers retraced the woman’s escape route through the woods, but found little evidence. The investigation is ongoing.


Great Smoky Mountains seeking candidates for ranger positions

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is seeking candidates for two permanent, full-time GL-9 protection ranger positions in the Oconaluftee and Cataloochee areas. Both positions are located within the South District in North Carolina.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers participate in the full spectrum of frontcountry and backcountry emergency services operations, including law enforcement, SAR, EMS and wildland fire. Each of these areas offers unique opportunities to develop and maintain a broad set of ranger skills. There may be opportunities for advanced training, including participation in the FTEP program.

Affordable housing is available in Swain, Jackson and Haywood Counties (North Carolina). These communities offer dozens of churches, schools, grocery stores and other amenities. Asheville, North Carolina, is less than an hour’s drive from the park and offers even more services.

Candidates who possess a type I or type II NPS law enforcement commission are eligible to apply. Applications will be accepted until close of business July 6th. For more information, please click here.

Enter to win more than $25,000 in cash and prizes at Sierra Trading Post. Contest ends July 25, 2011.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Is the National Park Service experiencing mission creep?

Kurt Repanshek of the National Park Traveler site posted an article yesterday titled; Is There A New Unit of The National Park System Coming To Your Neighborhood?

I bring this article to your attention because the National Park Service is looking to possibly add as many as 40 new park units to the NPS System. Nearly every single one of these units are historical sites.

I have to ask though, in this time of mounting public debt, and limited resources allocated to existing national parks, should the NPS really be taking on additional properties?

Let me invoke two names: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. No, I'm not making the argument that these proposed sites be excluded from the NPS based on the limited government principles they espoused during the founding of the country. Although I believe those arguments to be valid in this instance, I'm actually citing their names in relation to their homes. Although both of these founding fathers loom far larger in the historical context of this country than many, if not all of the proposed units, neither Montpelier or Monticello are within the national park system. Neither is Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.

I'm sure there's historical value in every one of the proposed sites, thus making their preservation necessary. However, why not put the burden of preservation on the state, county or private investors? If each of these sites are indeed worthy of preservation, shouldn't they be able to stand on their own without national park status? Shouldn't they be able to attract enough visitors and donations from the people that place the highest value on these places to ensure their preservation?

My point is that if Montpelier, Monticello, Mount Vernon and countless other historical sites can stand on their own without the help of national park status, why can't these proposed units do the same?

To me it seems that the National Park Service is deviating much too far from its mission.


Trail Talk

Ever wondered about the best hikes, sites and activities in America’s national parks? Or are you unsure about how you should plan your next visit to a national park or what you should pack? Join the National Park Foundation for Trail Talk and get all of your questions answered!

Presented by the National Park Foundation and Merrell, Trail Talk is an opportunity for you to get an insider’s perspective from the experts themselves. Every two weeks during the summer, NPF will feature a different national park on their Facebook page. Fans of NPF will have the chance to submit any and all questions they have about that park. Trail Talk will then round up the questions, bring them to our friends at the national park and one of the park rangers will respond to the questions.

You can check out the latest Trail Talk with Ranger Tom Vandenberg at Glacier Bay National Park.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

How Pharr will she go?

Jennifer Pharr Davis is now one week into her attempt to break the overall Appalachian Trail speed record. In order to break the current record of 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes, she will have to average roughly 46.5 miles per day. So far she's averaging just above 34.5 miles per day. However, she's traversing through some very tough terrain, including the Mahoosuc Range, which is considered to be the toughest mountains on the trail.

In just seven days, and 242 miles, Davis has already completed the Maine portion of the AT, and appears to be on pace for her record breaking attempt up to this point. Today she'll enter the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

Jennifer has already paid a steep price for pushing through all that tough terrain at the pace she's on. Sometime during day 5 she started experiencing shin splints on her left leg. She described it on her blog as the most painful injury she's ever had. This will be something that will be hard to shake off as she proceeds down the trail.

Here's Jennifer crossing the Kennebec River:

Ms. Davis has already seen a bear and several moose along the way. You can read more details about her adventures and follow her progress on her blog.


Win a trip to Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness

Enter the Backpacker Magazine EXTREMES SWEEPSTAKES for a chance to win an epic hike for you and a guest with Southwest Adventure Guides. You'll cross wildflower-filled meadows and peak-studded basins to reach one of the most remote spots in the Lower 48: Rock Creek Lake in Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness (featured in BACKPACKER's May Issue and Dec 2007).

Big-time bonus: Both the winner and guest will get expedition packs from Osprey loaded with sleeping bags and tents from Pine Needle Mountaineering. To enter, all you have to do is submit your email here!

Don't delay - deadline to enter is June 30th.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Two Men Busted for Meth Lab at New River Gorge National River

Are our parks becoming safe zones for drug runners?

Earlier this month the U.S. Forest Service published a guide titled: What to do if you encounter a marijuana cultivation site in a National Forest. Then earlier this week Mammoth Cave National Park announced that they will be offering rewards to stop crime within park boundaries. The press release included a quote from Ranger David Alexander, one of the park's law enforcement officers: "Drug activity is a major concern. Every year we find marijuana plots in the park."

Now comes this report from NPS Digest that two men were pulled over for speeding while driving on US 19 by a Summersville PD officer. The officer observed a one-bottle meth cook going on inside and called the Central West Virginia Drug Task Force. Officers learned that the men were staying at the Tailwaters Campground in Gauley River NRA and went there to continue the drug investigation. A search of the tents and campsite revealed precursors of meth production. Both men were arrested and arraigned last Friday in state court. A third man supposedly involved has not been identified yet. The investigation continues, as rangers gather case information from drug task force officers. Both suspects had just gotten out of prison and have meth charges in their criminal histories.

This isn't an isolated incidence of meth production in a national park. Just last year rangers in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area arrested four people in possession of a meth lab.

Bears, mountain lions, snakes and poisen ivy aren't the only things you need to keep your eye on while out on the trail anymore....


Friday, June 24, 2011

The narrows of the Virgin River in Zion National Park

Cool video of seven kayakers as they make their way down the narrows of the Virgin River in Zion National Park. Last June the kayakers spent 2-days on a self-supported trip along this 16-mile stretch in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon. The Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge up to 2000 feet deep, and at times only 20-30 feet wide!


DUI Enforcement Operations Planned for Smokies

Rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have announced plans to conduct two sobriety checkpoints and ramp up traffic patrols between June 24 and July 10, in conjunction with a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As part of this wave of DUI reduction activities, Park Rangers will be conducting checkpoints on June 25 on the Tennessee side of the Park and on July 8 on the North Carolina side of the Park. Visitors can expect to see Park Rangers out in force during this period looking for impaired drivers.

The Park received funds in 2010-2011 from NHTSA to implement a High Visibility Law Enforcement program, a nationwide project to reduce or eliminate alcohol-related crashes and fatalities through highly publicized law enforcement activities.

According to Chief Ranger Clay Jordan, “The main objective of this enforcement action is to bring attention to the serious consequences of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Motor vehicle crashes are by far the most common cause of serious injuries and fatalities at the Smokies and alcohol is a contributing factor in too many of these wrecks.”

He continued, “We’re capitalizing on this opportunity and are very hopeful that if people understand there is a strong probability that they will be caught and arrested, motorists will be less inclined to drive impaired. We want to save lives and prevent injuries; not necessarily arrest individuals.”


Thursday, June 23, 2011

l’Etape du Tour: Training for the Mountains of France

This is the second in a weekly series by guest blogger, Michael Lowe, leading up to his √Čtape Du Tour ride on July 11th:

Only eighteen days to go before I tackle l’Etape.

When I closed the introduction, I had deferred a description of Alpe d’Huez to this installment. That’s because it is probably the most celebrated modern finish in the French Alps. A relatively new addition to the Tour, it arrived in 1952, but it arrived with a huge splash. 1952 was the first year with televisions mounted on motorcycles. It was also the first time a stage had ever finished on a mountaintop. And the winner was Fausto Coppi, 5 time winner of the Tour of Italy and 2 time winner of the Tour de France. With 21 hairpin turns on its 13.8 km (8.6 miles) to a ski resort (avg gradient 7.9%), it is a climb made for television and movies. Add as many as one million fans (the number who were there when Lance Armstrong won in 2004), and you can see why it is such a success – and such an icon.

I’m looking forward to riding the same roads as many of my cycling heroes have ridden - Andy Hampsten, Bobby Julich, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, and Joop Zoetemelk. Who? A Dutch rider who won in 1979. Out of the first nine times Alpe d’Huez was included, the winner six of those years was from the Netherlands – which has no mountains. Thinking of Joop gives me confidence that if he could do it, with no mountains upon which to train, I can make it!

Training. When you ready yourself for a hike do you train? Stairstepper at the gym? Up and down the library steps like Rocky? Through the neighborhood park with your pack on your back and everyone staring at you? (“Call 911 dear, it’s a homeless man in our park!)

My training started last fall. Instead of getting off the bike on November 1, I kept riding, trying to maintain as much of my base from the 2010 season as possible. Whenever the weather allowed, I was out on the road. In early February, tired of riding the trainer in my living room while watching old Tour video tapes on the television, I started looking for outdoor rides in North Carolina. My first was in Winston Salem, followed by one in Greensboro, and then Statesboro. One of the benefits of these rides is getting to see terrain and towns and roads I would never otherwise see. With fellow riders on the roads and a set course to follow, these “tours” proved to be great motivators for early season training.

By early April I was ready for some long rides and I signed up for Cycle NC – this year held in Oriental, on the Atlantic coast. 50 miles the first day and 70 miles the second, with the first half of the 70 head on into a 15 mph wind. My ability to finish both days in good shape gave me confidence that my early training was on target.

The rest of April and most of May was spent doing 40’s and 50’s as often as possible, keeping the speed in the 16 – 18 mph range, building endurance. However, most of my rides up to this point were flat or rolling. It was time for some mountains, and there are mountains all around where I work in Bristol, Virginia. On May 21 I set off from Bristol to Elizabethton, TN, and then turned north on US 19, slowly climbing up the 5.5% grade to Shady Valley, then hanging a left and climbing over the top of Holston Mountain. 70 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Not too bad.

Next up – my first century of the season, followed by the big test – the Cherohala Challenge. But I’ll tell you about those next time.

Michael Lowe splits his time between Louisville, KY (his home) and Bristol, VA (his workplace). He's an avid cyclist, and also enjoys writing, photography, gardening, travel and hiking. He's hiked portions of the AT inside GSMNP, but completing a thru hike of the entire AT remains on his bucket list. His notes on l'Etape were written as a friend in support of this site, and we'd like to say thanks by pointing out that if you're a fan of adventure fantasy, we recommend Michael's books Wizardmont and Bryunzet, the first two parts of his Promise of the Stones series. If you're a fan of history, check out Charlotte's Story, the true story of how Michael's mother survived as a young girl in Berlin, Germany between 1943 and 1951.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Friends of the Smokies raises more than $463,000 for new trail improvement fund

Friends of the Smokies announced yesterday the creation of a new trail improvement fund to honor the memory of Tom Cronan, Professor Emeritus at Carson-Newman College. Cash gifts and pledges already total more than $463,000 toward a $500,000 fundraising goal.

Tom Cronan inspired many as he forged his path as a teacher, national pentathlon champion, husband, brother, father, grandfather, courageous survivor of cancer, and tireless advocate for health and wellness. Many people knew him also as a hiker, who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, but who usually found renewal on his home trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte.

“This new fund would mean a lot to Tom, because of his love of both hiking and Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Joan Cronan, Tom’s widow and the interim athletic director at the University of Tennessee. “It means a lot to the Cronan family, too. We’re very touched by all the people who have made this lasting tribute to Tom.”

The new fund has been named the Tom Cronan Pathfinder Fund. It forms a major component of Friends of the Smokies’ $4 million Trails Forever endowment campaign, which will help finance major trail improvements each year on the park’s 800 miles of trails. Contributions to the Trails Forever Endowment, including contributions to the Tom Cronan Pathfinder Fund, are being matched dollar for dollar – up to $2 million – by the Aslan Foundation, which was established by the late Lindsay Young of Knoxville, one of the founders of Friends of the Smokies.

Donors to the Tom Cronan Pathfinder Fund have included more than 90 individuals, companies, and foundations from nine different states, providing gifts and pledges ranging in size from $10 to $100,000.

“We are very grateful to Tom Cronan’s friends and family for being so generous in honoring his memory and helping protect a resource that Tom enjoyed so much,” said Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies. “Tom was known for his positive attitude and a great sense of resolve. We’re taking that same approach as we work to secure the final $37,000 to complete the Tom Cronan Pathfinder Fund. The goal’s in sight, and with just a few more donations, we will get there.”

To donate online or to learn more, go to or, or call Friends of the Smokies at (800) 845-5665.


Mammoth Cave offers reward to stop crime

Do you have information that could help stop a crime in Mammoth Cave National Park? Park rangers have set up a reward program, up to $1,000, for information that will lead to a successful prosecution.

"The park is a quiet sanctuary, but our law enforcement rangers face the same crimes that city and county officers do," said Superintendent Patrick Reed. "We are asking our neighbors' to help us keep Mammoth Cave a safe place by reporting any kind of illegal or suspicious activity."

"Drug activity is a major concern," said Ranger David Alexander, one of the park law enforcement officers. "Every year we find marijuana plots in the park. We need the community's help in tracking down the growers. Drugs produced inside the park or in rural Kentucky are the same ones showing-up in schools and on the streets in our communities. Even the slightest tip could be an asset to help us prosecute a criminal."

To contact Ranger Alexander, call 270-758-2122 or 270-646-7241. Information provided will be kept in strictest confidence and those calling may choose to remain anonymous.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame inducts its first class

The Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame inducted its first class of honorees last Friday night, with trail founder Benton MacKaye and trail builder Myron H. Avery leading the inaugural group of six inductees.

Rounding out the list are Earl Shaffer, the first person to report an end-to-end thru-hike of the trail; Gene Espy, the second person to thru-hike the trail; Arthur Perkins, the first person to begin making MacKaye's dream a reality; and Ed Garvey, a trail maintainer and hiker whose seminal book on his 1970 northbound hike helped popularize thru-hiking in the 1970s.

Of the six, only Espy is still alive and in Boiling Springs, PA to receive the award in person, traveling up from his native Georgia to not only attend the ceremony but also to make his first visit to the Appalachian Trail Museum.

"The hike (in 1951) meant a lot to me but my appreciation goes to all the maintainers over these years and the people of the A.T. museum who made this award possible," a brief and humble Espy said as he received his award.

The induction banquet took place at Allenberry Resort, a few miles from the A.T. Museum in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, where the Hall of Fame will be housed.

Each inductee was presented with a beautifully handcarved walking stick made by John Bodet, aka "Bodacious," that will serve as the Hall of Fame's rendition of an Oscar statuette. Each honoree or his representative received a stick engraved with the person's name. And one additional walking stick was created with all of their names engraved -- that stick will be housed in the Museum.

To read more about the ceremony, as well as short biographies on each of the inductees, please click here.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Water Availability Notice posted for Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains officials have posted a Water Availability Notice for a couple of locations around the park. If you're a backpacker, or a hiker that relies on obtaining water in the backcountry, you should make note of these:

• Springs along the Appalachian Trail may run dry during summer and fall. Please check with the Backcountry Office at (865) 436-1297 for additional information.

• Newfound Gap - the water system and drinking fountain are closed due to the potential for contamination by surface water. Bottled water may be available from the Great Smoky Mountains Association store at Clingmans Dome, which is open daily from 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM.

• Mollies Ridge - no water

• Spence Field - no water

• Backcountry Campsite 26 - very low water


ATC’s Konnarock Trail Crew is Heading into the Woods with Open Positions

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) Konnarock Trail Crew is currently searching for volunteers to help maintain the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) from Rockfish Gap, VA to the Trail's southern terminus at Springer Mountain in GA. The ATC will provide food, tools, equipment and safety gear needed for volunteers to get into the backcountry and complete some much needed work on the Trail.

Konnarock is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's flagship crew program, founded in 1983 and named after its original base camp in southwest Virginia. The crew is hosted by the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area at its Sugar Grove Work Center.

Crew members arrive on Wednesday before their work week in time to get settled in, eat dinner, and attend an orientation session that evening. An early morning on Thursday (7 a.m.) starts with a hearty breakfast followed by any last minute preparations and departure to the project site.

Volunteers work a five-day week in the field, from Thursday morning through Monday night. Volunteers working more than one session are welcome to stay at the base camp between sessions.

A.T. Professional Trail crew leaders will provide any necessary training on Trail construction. This past year the Konnarock Trail Crew has completed such projects as relocating and restoring 1.5 miles of Trail in North Carolina. In the upcoming weeks the crew will tackle such projects as relocating an eroding section of the A.T. on the North Carolina/Tennessee border and continuing to work on a five mile Trail relocation in Virginia.

Summer Trail Crew Schedule:

Week Seven - Thursday 7/7 to Monday 7/11
Crew 1 – Roan Highlands Relocation continues in NC/TN.

Crew 2 – New River Relocation continues in Virginia.

Week Eight - Thursday 7/14 to Monday 7/18
Crew 1 – Jenkins Trail Rehab in Virginia – Define tread, install rock steps and checkdams.

Crew 2 – Flint Gap to Shelton Graves Relocation in North Carolina - Construct sidehill to move Trail to a more sustainable grade.

Week Nine - Thursday 7/21 to Monday 7/25
Crew 1 – Dripping Rock Relocation continues in Virginia.

Crew 2 – Flint Gap to Shelton Graves Relocation continues in North Carolina.

Week Ten - Thursday 7/28 to Monday 8/1
Crew 1 - Roan Highlands Relocation continues in NC/TN.

Crew 2 – Flint Gap to Shelton Grave Relocation continues in North Carolina.

Week Eleven - Thursday 8/4 to Monday 8/8
Crew 1 – Thunder Ridge Relocation in Virginia – Construct sidehill to move Trail to a more sustainable grade.

Crew 2 – War Spur Relocation in Virginia – Construct sidehill to move Trail to a more sustainable grade.

Week Twelve - Thursday 8/11 to Monday 8/15
Crew 1 - Roan Highlands Relocation continues in NC/TN.

Crew 2 – War Spur Relocation continues in Virginia.

The experiences of working together, learning new skills, and backcountry living makes for an unbeatable combination of fun. No experience is necessary, but you must be 18 years or older to participate.

For more information or to register, visit or contact Alice Davis at 540.953.3571 or


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dry Creek Trail System opens in the Chattahoochee National Forest

Earlier in the week, the USDA Forest Service announced the grand opening of the 26-mile Dry Creek Trail System in the Chattahoochee National Forest in northwest Georgia. After several years of planning, new trails were built from the ground up to create a safer, more maintainable, and ecologically sustainable trail system from an unplanned network of older trails that did not meet current trail standards. Over $448,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) funds made a project of the size possible, providing a safer and more satisfying experience for horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers.

According to Chattahoochee-Oconee Forest Supervisor George Bain, “the success of this large trails project would not have been possible were it not for this funding and the involvement of our partners, the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association, the Back Country Horsemen of America, and others. This partnership is a perfect example of the collaboration the forest is striving for in the management its trails program”. Five miles of old trail were closed and rehabilitated and 26 miles of new trail were surveyed, planned, and constructed.

The public is invited to a grand opening celebration on June 25, 2011. Festivities will begin at the Dry Creek Trailhead at 11AM. Refreshments will be served and free guided trail rides will be offered. To find the Dry Creek Trailhead, take Exit 320 on I-75; follow State Highway 136 west about 14 miles to Villanow, Ga. At the intersection with Highway 201, turn left onto East Armuchee Road (County Road 705) and go about 7 miles. Just past the signed Manning Mill Road, turn left onto Forest Road 226 and follow the signs to the Dry Creek Trailhead.

The Dry Creek Trail System and the connecting Pinhoti Trail are easy to moderate trails open to hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The large trailhead parking area accommodates horse trailers as well as passenger cars. The $5 per vehicle fee normally charged at the trailhead is being waived for the day of the grand opening.


Saturday, June 18, 2011 Camping Gear Expert Shells Out Beta on Season’s Best Gear

Whether you’re a burly mile-counting thru hiker, weekend warrior wilderness backpacker or car camper extraordinaire, having the right reliable gear to keep you comfy and smiling in the outdoors is imperative. But, with so much camping gear out there to choose from it’s hard to know what’s best.

No sweat, let’s camping Merchandising Division Manager, Matt Enloe, be your compass and lead you down the trail of primo gear, pointing you to the right stuff for your summer camping adventures. Enloe’s done the homework, so all you have to do is choose what’s best for you and get out there. Here’s a list of the best tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, stoves and a few extras for summer fun.


The North Face Flint 2 Bx Tent 2-Person 3-Season - Like the description says it is not the lightest but it certainly is in the ballpark at 4.5 pounds, but you will be hard pressed to find a tent of this quality at this price. $148.95.

Marmot Limelight 4-Person Tent w/ Footprint and Gear Loft - More space for larger groups backpacking. $298.95.

Car Camping
Big Agnes King Creek 6 Tent: Family Tent - A vestibule you can park your car in and plenty of height to stand up inside the tent. $449.95.

Stoic Templum 2 Tent - 3-Season w/ Footprint and Gear Loft - Great for car campers. Easy to set up and take down. $189.00.

Sierra Designs Wu Hu Annex 6+2 Tent 6-Person 3-Season - Comes with its own integrated screen room for those buggy nights. $569.90.


Therma-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker Sleeping Pad - The next pad in the Neo Air Series, a little more affordable than the original Neo with a little less insulation. $99.95 - $119.95.

Car Camping
Kelty Sleep Eazy Air Bed - The only way to car camp. $99.95 - $119.95.


Marmot Plasma 15 Sleeping Bag: 15 Degree Down - Super light weight high end down bag, quite possible the best 15 degree bag on the market. Vertical baffle construction. $468.95.

Sea to Summit XtII Sleeping Bag: 12 Degree Down - A use of 3D Nano Shell technology makes this bag the most technically advanced sleeping bag on the market. Great for situations where moisture might be an issue. $528.95 - $568.95.

Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 32 Sleeping Bag: 32 Degree Synthetic - Still the best synthetics (UltraLamina series) on the market. $189.95 - $199.95.

Big Agnes Heart Mountain SL Sleeping Bag: 30 Degree Down - Lots of room at near ultra lightweight. $359.95 - $379.95.

Stoic Somnus 30 Sleeping Bag: 30 Degree Down - Lightweight and great for the summer months. $269.00.


Jetboil Sol Titanium Stove - Because titanium is sexy. $149.95.

Primus Profile Duo Campground Stove - Solid construction and quality in a campground stove. $119.95.


Jetboil CrunchIt Fuel Canister Recycling Tool - Don’t forget to recycle. $5.90.

Lafuma Transabed XL Plus Lounge Chair - Great comfort while car camping or even on your deck. $109.90 - $124.90. is an online retailer of high-end outdoor gear. The etailer carries more than 1,000 brands in various categories, including backpacking, camping, cycling, hiking, climbing, trail running, paddling, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and adventure travel.


Friday, June 17, 2011

A hike to the LeConte Lodge

Author Randy Johnson provides a nice overview of the hike up to the LeConte Lodge atop Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains:

Randy Johnson is author of, among several other local hiking guides, Best Easy Day Hikes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For more information on hiking the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte, please click here.


Appalachian Clubhouse Open House

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has set a two-day open house at Elkmont to showcase the newly-restored Appalachian Clubhouse. The first day, Saturday, June 25, is set aside for the original residents of Elkmont and their families, and on Sunday, June 26, the general public is invited to attend. The open houses are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both days at the Appalachian Clubhouse, which is located near the Elkmont Campground, 9 miles from Gatlinburg, Tenn.

On Saturday, June 25, the Park is inviting former summer residents, land owners, and tenants of the Elkmont area. During this period, students from Western Kentucky University, working cooperatively with the national park, will be at the Appalachian Clubhouse to conduct oral interviews of those individuals who wish to do so. The goal is to capture stories of Elkmont’s golden years as a vibrant resort community. Park officials are also asking them to bring personal photos or mementos to show and have scanned for inclusion in the Park archives. This information will be used to help the Park develop interpretative materials as part of the Park’s management plans for interpreting the history of the structures which are being permanently preserved to tell about the Elkmont Historic District.

On Sunday, June 26, the day’s focus is for the general public who will have an opportunity to visit the Appalachian Clubhouse and to attend one of scheduled short interpretative walking tours at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on the history of Elkmont and future plans for the area. The clubhouse has been restored by the Park’s Historic Preservation Crew to its original appearance in the 1930s. Now available for public day use rental, it was formerly used for social gatherings by tenants and guests of the Appalachian Club whose members, mostly from Knoxville, built rustic cabins nearby to serve as weekend or summer retreats in the years before the Park was created.

Parking is limited at the Appalachian Clubhouse with only 19 spaces. There are several parking areas located in the Elkmont area at the Little River Trailhead and the Jakes Creek Trailhead, within a 1/4-1/2 mile walking distance of the clubhouse.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Woman trapped under snow in a creek rescued in Sequoia National Park

This is truly an amazing story of survival. This comes from a Sequoia National Park press release issued yesterday:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks' staff had to initiate a search-and-rescue for a woman who had been pulled from the creek at the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park on Tuesday.

A 52-year-old Squaw Valley, CA woman left the Farewell Gap Trailhead on a solo day hike to train for an ultra-marathon. She hiked up Farewell Canyon and crossed Franklin Creek on a snow bridge. On her way back to the trailhead, the snow bridge collapsed underneath her, and she fell into the creek. The woman was swept downstream under the snow for 30-40 feet, where she found a spot to stop herself. She stood up in the creek under the snow with no access to the surface. Using her hands, she dug through approximately 5 feet of snow and created a small hole at the surface. She then threw her backpack out of the hole where it was seen by another party who went to examine it and found the woman under the snow nearby. The woman was hypothermic and incoherent when the second party pulled her out of the creek, as she had been trapped in the creek under snow for over 3 hours. One member of the party went back to the trailhead for help. The remainder of the party provided assistance in warming the woman.

Upon notification of the incident, the park helicopter (with a medic), and a ranger on foot were dispatched to the scene. When rangers arrived, the woman declined evacuation or medical assistance. She was assisted to the trailhead by a ranger.

This woman is extremely lucky. I'm glad she made it out alright. It's also pretty amazing she didn't need any medical assistance. It wouldn't surprise me if this story becomes an episode on "I Shouldn't Be Alive" someday.


l’Etape du Tour: “An Introduction”

The following begins a series of articles written by a good friend of mine, Michael Lowe. He probably doesn’t remember this, but after moving to Louisville in 1994, Michael was the first person in the local cycling club to chat with me during one of my first rides. In less than four weeks he’ll be riding in L’Etape Du Tour, a cycling event that will take riders from Modane, France to the famous and storied climb of L'Alpe D'Huez. The 68-mile ride replicates this years’ Stage 19 of the Tour de France. Leading up to the event Michael will be providing weekly dispatches about L’Etape Du Tour, some historical background, his training, and of course the event itself. I can’t tell you how jealous I am of Michael to be able to ride this incredibly legendary route!

Climbing mountains – on foot or by bicycle – has always been an enjoyable challenge for me. There’s something about the reward at the top that makes the sweat and the effort worth it. A tough mountain always brings a smile to my face – at the top anyways!

Hello, I’m Michael Lowe, and while I share the interest of most visitors to this site in hiking up and down mountains, particularly the Smokey Mountains, I’d like to share with you my challenge this summer – l’Etape du Tour.

l’Etape is an amateur cycling challenge held each summer in the middle of the Tour de France. On July 11, 2011, while the pros kick back on one of their rest days, I will tackle one of the toughest stages of this year’s Tour along with 4,999 of my newest friends from around the world. We’ll be starting in the French Alps and riding this year’s 19th stage: 109 km – three mountains – 3,500 meters of climbing. Those three mountains are the Col du Telegraphe, the Col du Galibier, and Alpe d’Huez, three of the most storied climbs in the colorful history of the Tour.

This year the Tour de France celebrates the 100th anniversary of the inclusion of the Alps in its course. The Col du Telegraphe was first included in the Tour in 1911. It’s been included 27 times since then, usually as a warm-up for the Col du Galibier, which again is its role this year. The climb is 11.8 km (7.3 miles) long, gaining 856 m. (2808 feet) in height (an average of 7.3%). The maximum gradient is 9.8% at the summit.

The Col du Galibier was also first used in the Tour in 1911. Only three riders were able to ride over the summit that year. Everyone else walked. I don’t intend to walk, but the climb is 18 km (11.2 miles) long, climbing 1245 m. (4085 feet) to a peak at 2556 meter (8200 feet), with an average gradient of 7%, most of the second half at 8% or better, and the last km at 10%. Whew! Good thing that the descent that follows is more or less 46 km long. If I survive the 45 degree temps expected at the top, the expected 85 degrees back at the bottom will feel good!

That leaves Alpe d’Huez, but I think I’ll save its description for next time.

Time for some last minute training!

Michael Lowe splits his time between Louisville, KY (his home) and Bristol, VA (his workplace). He's an avid cyclist, and also enjoys writing, photography, gardening, travel and hiking. He's hiked portions of the AT inside GSMNP, but completing a thru hike of the entire AT remains on his bucket list. His notes on l'Etape were written as a friend in support of this site, and we'd like to say thanks by pointing out that if you're a fan of adventure fantasy, we recommend Michael's books Wizardmont and Bryunzet,the first two parts of his Promise of the Stones series. If you're a fan of history, check out Charlotte's Story, the true story of how Michael's mother survived as a young girl in Berlin, Germany between 1943 and 1951.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bear Encounters Reported in Pisgah Ranger District

The USDA Forest Service in North Carolina issued the following alert today with regards to bears in the Pisgah Ranger District (south of Asheville):

Several reports of encounters with black bears have been reported recently on the Pisgah Ranger District in the vicinity of Graveyard Fields, North Mills River and Wash Creek areas. Campers, hikers and others visiting the national forests should practice safety at all times as bears appear to be especially active this year. The public is encouraged to prevent bear interactions by taking the following steps:

* Clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills or other areas of your campsite.
Keep food in secure containers and do not leave food unattended.

* If you encounter a bear – never run. Back up slowly and make noise so the bear knows you’re there.

These are just a few safety tips. Click here to read a more detailed safety checklist for black bears.


Numerous Search & Rescue Operations in Shenandoah

NPS Digest has a report this morning that over the past several weeks, search and rescue responders at Shenandoah National Park have conducted nine search and rescue operations, five of them becoming major SAR incidents. Here are some details on a couple of those incidents:

* A 24-year-old man was climbing grape vines along the Hazel River Trail and only recognized the folly of this activity when he was about 50 feet above the ground. The grape vines broke before he could get down, causing him to fall about 35 feet. The man fractured both ankles, with one of them being an open fracture. In addition to being in one of the more remote areas of the park, the four-and-a-half mile carryout was conducted in a heavy rainstorm and required four swiftwater crossings as a result of swollen creeks.

* A 57-year-old man was rock climbing with two companions near the summit of Old Rag Mountain. Through a possible miscommunication, the lead climber took the second climber off belay. When the second climber pulled on the unsecured belay line, expecting it to hold, it gave way and he fell 50 feet to a lower ledge and sustained several serious injuries. While the park’s ground team was mobilizing, initial rescuers stabilized the man and assisted the US Park Police air rescue helicopter in a litter hoist evacuation.

* A group of hikers headed out on an off-trail route toward one of the park’s summits. Two women from the group took an alternate route and became disoriented. They reported their predicament by cell phone after it got dark and were asked to remain in place overnight, since the weather was favorable. A search began for them in the morning and the two women were located. Both were in good condition.

* In a separate report, a hiker was attacked by a rabid raccoon in White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park on May 26th. The woman was bit in the leg, and received a series of shots after it was confirmed that the raccoon had rabies.

Most search and rescue operations in Shenandoah become major SAR incidents because of the difficulty of the terrain and rugged nature of the trails. SAR operations are only successfully completed because of the cooperation of all divisions and the enthusiasm shown by the numerous employees who volunteer and train for these difficult operations.


20 Best Hikes in America's National Parks

Veteran parks writer Robert Earle Howells has compiled a list of the 20 best hikes within our national parks for National Geographic Adventure. The list includes some of the greatest day trips and backpacking escapes our national park system has to offer.

Among the 20 hikes in this list, I saw that I've hiked at least a portion of 4 of them.

The portion of the Teton Crest Trail that we hiked will forever be etched in my mind. Not just because of the awesome scenery we saw in the Grand Teton backcountry that day, but rather for the date of that particular hike: September 11, 2001.

Among the other trails on the list that I've hiked is Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park. I've also hiked to the Keyhole on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park on two occasions.

Then, of course, there's the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte. Make sure to check out the photo that accompanies the LeConte listing - it's perhaps the best photo I've ever seen of the mountain.

To see the full list, please click here.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Contest: Share Your “Core” Story, Win a Suunto Watch

The Tactical Gear Blog is offering you a great chance to win a Suunto Core Watch ($299) right now. All you have to do is share your most “Core” story in 75 words or less. You know you have some hardcore stories, so come on and share ‘em.

It’s easy to enter. Just post your story to the Facebook page or in the comments section of their blog. There are already some pretty interesting stories!

The contest ends at noon on July 1st and the winner will be announced on July 6th.

Good luck!


Claim your summit

I just wanted to let everyone know about a new website I found out about last week called "peakery".

Essentially, peakery allows users to claim any peak they've summitted from anywhere around the world. It's a great online tool for keeping track of your summits, or for bragging purposes amongst your friends and family. With photos, trip reports, peak stats, route info, and maps, peakery also serves as a pretty good planning and research tool for your next big hike.

You can easily browse more than 150,000 mountains from around the world in 3 different views: List View, Map View and Photo View. peakery has also compiled summits in a variety of lists, such as US State High Points, Colorado Fourteeners or the South Beyond 6000.

You can also browse mountains by region and state in the Peak Directory.

After you return from your latest summit, peakery is the place to share your summit experience. Add trip details, photos, route info, and who you went with.

To check it out, just click here. It's free and very easy to use.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Temporary closures at Cades Cove and the Alum Cave Trailhead this week

As mentioned in a posting last week, the Great Smoky Mountains will be temporarily closing the Cades Cove Loop Road and the north portion of the Alum Cave Trail parking area later this week in order to install new precast concrete public restrooms (vault toilets). The park has provided a few more details on the two projects in a press release today:

The Cades Cove Loop Road will close on Thursday, June 16, until 12 p.m. to accommodate the transport and installation of a vault toilet at the Abrams Falls Trailhead.

The road closure is necessary so that the tractor trailer carrying the vault toilets can enter Cades Cove via the exit side of the one-way loop road in order to avoid driving over the Abrams Creek bridge. The load capacity of the tractor trailer exceeds the design of the Abrams Creek bridge.

In addition, the north portion of the Alum Cave Trail parking area along Newfound Gap Road also will be closed starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 16 – 8 p.m., Friday, June 17, to install a vault toilet at that popular location. Overnight backpackers who wish to hike the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte on Thursday for an overnight stay must park their vehicles in the adjacent parking area. The north parking lot will be the staging area for the large equipment that will be used to install the vault toilet near the trailhead.

“The placement of these ADA-compliant vault toilet systems will satisfy visitor needs as well as to help to reduce the sanitary issues associated with the heavy use that these areas receive,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.


Ranger led hikes in the Smokies

Rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains will again be leading a series of hikes to various destinations within the park this summer. This is a great opportunity for adults and children to learn a little bit more about the history and the natural surroundings of the area your hiking in. Here's the current list of scheduled hikes:

Cades Cove Night Hike: Mondays and Fridays thru mid-August
Times: 9:00 PM to 11:30 PM
Location: Orientation Shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road
Listen to the spirits of Cades Cove while enjoying a night-time walk in the cove. Distance: 2.5 mile walk rated easy in difficulty.

Sunset Stroll: Every Monday thru 8/8/2011
Times: 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Location: Laurel Falls Trailhead
Summary: Come along with a ranger for a guided walk up to Laurel Falls just before sunset. 2.6 miles roundtrip hike rated moderated in difficulty. Click here for more info.

Return of the Elk: Every Tuesday thru 8/9/2011 (except 6/21)
Times: 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Location: Cataloochee Valley, Rough Fork Trailhead
Summary: Learn about the return of the elk to the Smokies with a guided hike to the elk acclimation pen. Hike distance: less than one mile, rated moderate in difficulty.

Where the Waters Sing: Every Wednesday thru 8/10/2011
Times: 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Location: Kephart Prong Trailhead on Newfound Gap Road between Smokemont and Newfound Gap
Summary: The sound of water is music for the soul. Join a ranger and experience the melody of the mountains. Two-mile round-trip hike rated moderate in difficulty. Click here for more info.

Hike into the Sugarlands Valley: Every Wednesday thru 8/10/2011
Times: 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Location: Sugarlands Visitor Center
Summary: Round up the kids and get your blood pumping on a brisk walk along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River to learn some secrets of the natural world. Hike rated moderate in difficulty.

Hike to Alum Cave Bluffs: Every Thursday thru 8/11/2011
Times: 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Location: Alum Cave Bluff Trailhead on Newfound Gap Road
Summary: Geology, old-growth trees, and panoramic views await you while joining a park ranger on one of the most diverse hikes in the Smokies. Wear sturdy shoes; bring water and a snack. Hike rated moderate to strenuous in difficulty. Click here for more info.

Hike to Grotto Falls: Every Sunday thru 8/07/2011
Times: 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Location: Grotto Falls Trailhead on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Summary: Hike with a ranger through an old growth forest to one of the most popular waterfalls in the park. Hike rated moderate in difficulty. Click here for more info.

All hikes are free. For more information, please visit the GSMNP event page.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kentucky Adventure Giveaway

Blue Ridge Outdoors and Kentucky's tourism partners are offering you a chance to win one of two fantastic paddling and overnight trips in one of the beautiful, secluded State Parks of Kentucky.

The Grand Prize will be an overnight stay for 2 at Carter Caves, and a guided canoe trip down Tygart Creek or Smoky Valley Lake.

The winner of the First Prize will win an overnight stay for 2 at Jenny Wiley State Park, and an all-day canoe trip on Dewey Lake.

For more information, and to enter, please click here.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jennifer Pharr Davis set to begin A.T. odyssey this week

If all goes as planned, sometime this week Jennifer Pharr Davis will begin her much anticipated attempt at breaking the overall Appalachian Trail speed record. Jennifer already owns the Women’s Speed Record for the fastest thru-hike of the A.T., setting the record in 2008 after completing the trail in just over 57 days.

To break the overall record she'll have to hike the entire 2,180-mile trail in less than 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes. That's an average of 47 miles a day!

She plans on making a southbound hike on this occasion. Her start date will depend on trail and weather conditions in northern Maine, and she'll only depart from Mount Katahdin if there's a clear forecast.

As part of her strategy, when possible, she plans hiking up mountains and running down them. To get through her 16-hour days she'll consume at least 6,000 calories per day. This is 3 to 4 times what the average person typically consumes in a day!

As you might expect, Davis has generated quite a bit of publicity after making her formal announcement of the attempt back in April. Women's Adventure Magazine published a nice feature article on her in late May, and earlier in the week, National Geographic Adventure published an excellent Q&A with her.

Also, take a look at author Johnny Molloy's interesting piece in Blue Ridge Outdoors about the recent phenomenon of "speed hiking".

I'm not sure how often her team will be providing updates, but she told me in an email that people will be able to keep up with her progress on her blog.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Vault toilet installations to cause temporary closures in Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains website has posted an update regarding the installation of vault toilets at the Alum Cave Trailhead and on the Cades Cove Loop Road. The installations will result in a couple of temporary closures next week. Here's the statement from the GSMNP website:

• Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed until noon on Thursday, June 16 to install a vault toilet.

• The north parking area at the Alum Cave Trailhead will be closed on Friday, June 17 to install a vault toilet. The trail will be open, but parking will be very limited.

I'll post more information if any other details become available.


The future of camping?

Is this the future of tent camping? Obviously not if you're a backpacker. But if you're into "glamping", that is, luxury camping or glamorous camping, this may be a perfect fit for you.

A firm out of the United Kingdom called Concrete Canvas Ltd has developed a technology, invented at Imperial College London in 2004, to create Concrete Cloth and Concrete Canvas Shelters.

Now if there are any enterprising entrepreneurs out there sitting on several acres of wooded land, this might be a great opportunity to build a campground comprised of these "concrete tents" for those that enjoy camping in the outdoors, but not quite to the extent of actually roughing it.

To get a better understanding of what this product is all about, check out this short video:


Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Validity of Petzoldt's Energy Mile Theory

In 1976, Paul Petzoldt, a mountaineer and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School, proposed a theory to help backpackers plan trips and calculate their energy needs while on the trail in his book, Teton Trails. As defined by Petzoldt's theory, one energy mile is equal to the energy required to walk one mile on flat terrain. He also said that you should add two energy miles for every 1000 feet of elevation gain. In other words, if you hiked 1 mile while climbing 1000 feet, you would've used the equivalent of three energy miles.

Petzoldt's theory, however, had never been tested before - that is until recently, when a study was conducted at Western Carolina University’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory, by Maridy Troy, assistant professor in WCU’s health and physical education program, and Maurice Phipps, professor of parks and recreation management.

The study measured the energy cost and perceived exertion for walking on flat terrain, with and without a backpack, as well as an elevation gain of 1000 feet. Results from the data show an average of a 1.6-mile equivalent for a 1000 foot gain in elevation. Differences between females and males ranged from 1.32 to 2.02. Professor Phipps stated in an article for WCU news that the range revealed by the study was due to the “hikers” personal weight differences. The abstract from the study states that further research using heavier expedition packs at higher altitudes could also reveal changes in energy cost.

“It is remarkable that Petzoldt’s energy mile theory is so close to the actual energy cost measured during our study,” Phipps stated.

Phipps also said the energy required for hiking up steep mountain trails would vary for individuals and groups, and the variables of the trail would also factor in, but he recommends that backpackers stick with Petzoldt’s theory of adding two energy miles for every 1,000 feet in elevation gain.

I found this information to be extremely interesting. Petzoldt’s theory happens to be the same formula that I use to calculate difficulty ratings for trails in the Smokies. I discovered the formula while visiting a website for trails in Colorado several years ago. The website stated that the equation was developed by Dick Holley, and came from Rocky Mountain National Park Dayhiker's Guide by Jerome Malitz. I guess we didn't follow the tree all the way to its roots!

Although the formula may not be exact, what Paul Petzoldt was essentially trying to solve was how many calories a hiker or backpacker burns while hiking. With today's internet technology that is much easier to do. The Hiking Dude has an excellent calorie calculator on his website. It takes into account your weight, plus the weight of you backpack, the distance you’ll be hiking, and how much elevation you’ll gain along the way. This can be useful in determining (roughly) how much food you’ll need to pack for a hike.

For more information on the study you can contact Professor Phipps at


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Flame Azaleas approaching peak bloom on Gregory Bald

Just a reminder for those wishing to see one of the greatest sites in the Smokies: the flame azaleas atop Gregory Bald should be nearing peak bloom within the next week or two.

Tom Harrington, a volunteer for the Great Smoky Mountains who provides regular wildflower updates for the Great Smoky Mountains Association, recently stated:

"I checked my diary back to 1995, and the middle of June has been the peak for the Flame Azalea blooms on Gregory Bald during those years. When I have gone during the third full week of June the blooms have been past peak. With the extreme heat they likely will peak early."

This is one of my all time favorite hiking destinations. If interested in making the hike, the two most common ways of reaching Gregory Bald are via the Gregory Ridge Trail off of Forge Creek Road, and the Gregory Bald Trail off the one-way Parson Branch Road. You can also reach Gregory Bald (via Wolf Ridge Trail or Long Hungry Ridge Trail) from the more remote Twentymile trailhead in North Carolina as well.


Guided Backpacking Trips in the Great Smoky Mountains

Did you know that REI offers guided backpacking trips in the Great Smoky Mountains? If you’re new to the park, or new to backpacking, this is a great way to explore the Smokies with experienced and professional guides.

REIs challenging Appalachian Trail tour follows the crest of the western Smoky Mountains. Along the way participants visit Clingmans Dome, Derrick Knob, Thunderhead Mountain, Rocky Top and Spence Field. Along the way hikers stay in backcountry shelters, and REI provides breakfast and dinners. The trip is considered challenging for experienced backpackers or very fit beginners. REI runs this guided trip about a dozen times this year, but half are already sold out.

For a backpacking excursion that’s a little less challenging, and a little more family friendly, REI introduced a new three day backpacking loop hike this year, designed for families with children ages 9 and up. The trip starts and ends in the Big Creek area, and includes a visit to the Mt. Sterling fire tower. Along the way hikers pass by old growth Hemlock and Spruce trees, streams, pools and cascading waterfalls. There are still two dates available for this year; however, you do have the option of organizing a privately guided trip.

For those seeking the ultimate in adventure, REI offers an introductory course in rock climbing in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest. During this two-day course participants spend time at Looking Glass and Cedar Rock, two areas ideal for beginner climbers. The course is run by professional instructors that are certified by the American Mountain Guides Association, and have many years experience in teaching “Rock Climbing 101”. All meals, camping accommodations and required technical equipment are provided. Several dates are still available.

For more information on these guided trips, as well as a variety of other adventures in national parks and outdoor areas across the country - and around the world - please click here.