Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Horseback Riding in Yosemite

In this short video from Finley-Holiday Films, Yosemite National Park ranger Shelton Johnson talks about seeing Yosemite on horseback (or mule back) - an experience that hasn't changed much since the earliest visitors ventured into Yosemite. You may recognize Ranger Johnson - he was featured quite extensively in The National Parks: America's Best Idea, the Ken Burns film from a few years ago:

If seeing Yosemite on horseback isn't your thing, or if you've never been to the park, did you know that you can do one hike that encompasses nearly all of Yosemite’s iconic sights? This epic 12.6-mile hike includes a full view of Yosemite Falls from the only place in the park to see both the upper and lower falls in their full glory. Along the way you’ll also see El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Illilouette Fall and Nevada Fall. The one-way hike begins from the Yosemite Valley, climbs up to Glacier Point via the Four Mile Trail, and then travels back down to the valley via the Panorama Trail and the famous Mist Trail.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, December 30, 2013

Contractor to Begin Road Stabilization Project on Newfound Gap Road

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin work on a road stabilization project to repair a slide area in North Carolina beginning Monday, January 5, through Wednesday, May 14, along Newfound Gap Road (NFG) approximately 1 mile south of NFG parking area, just south of the Deep Creek Trailhead.

Park staff and Federal Highway Administration engineers recently documented the slide approximately 50 feet below the road corridor. Crews will reinforce the slope to stabilize the road embankment and to prevent slope failure or erosion along the road shoulder. The restoration work will include retaining wall construction, road reconstruction, stone masonry guardwall construction, guardrail placement, shoulder reconditioning, installation of culverts and inlets, and site restoration.

Traffic lanes will be temporarily shifted onto the road shoulder throughout the duration of the project to maintain two-way traffic; however, single lane closures will be required intermittently primarily during the construction of the temporary lane. The parking area adjacent to this slide area will be closed, but the small pulloff for the Deep Creek trailhead will remain open.

Phillips and Jordan, Inc. was awarded the contract for the project through a competitive bid process. The primary geotechnical subcontractor is Goettle, Inc. Contractors are authorized to conduct operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This new slide is not related to the slide that took place during the heavy rains of last January.

For more information about road conditions, please visit the park’s website or call the park’s Road and Weather Information Line at 865-436-1200.


First Day Hikes to be offered at every North Carolina State Park on January 1st

A North Carolina tradition continues on New Year’s Day with opportunities to exercise and reconnect with nature on First Day Hikes at every state park and recreation area, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

In the past two years, hikers in North Carolina have joined rangers and volunteers to walk more than 6,000 miles on state park trails Jan. 1. There will be more than 40 scheduled hikes ranging from short “leg-stretchers” to four-mile treks, many of them offering interpretive programs along the way. All state park facilities will remain open on the holiday.

“As the holiday season draws to a close, First Day Hikes are an excellent way to relax, lose the stress and connect with the outdoors and the rich natural resources that distinguish North Carolina,” said Brad Ives, assistant secretary for Natural Resources at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We want to remind everyone that the state parks are a year-round resource for exercise, education and enjoyment for more than 14 million visitors.”

This year’s event will be the first of many First Day Hikes at the new Carvers Creek State Park, which opened in September in Cumberland County. Lake James State Park will hold a hike along new sections of its Paddy’s Creek Trail, and families can enjoy self-guided hikes on the new Holly Discovery Trail, which has won a national award for environmental education. A walk alongside the ocean at Hammocks Beach State Park has always been a popular favorite, and at Weymouth Woods Historic Nature Preserve, hikers will visit the world’s oldest known longleaf pine. Also, the Eno River Association will offer long and short hikes as part of a decades-old tradition at Eno River State Park.

Details about all First Day Hikes in North Carolina can be found here.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Winter Sports in the Smokies

Even though Old Man Winter is already tightening his icy grip on the mountains, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Winter is an excellent time to visit the Smokies, especially for those seeking solitude. Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees more visitors year-round than any other park, winter is by far the slowest tourist season.

While it might be rather frosty at Newfound Gap, temperatures in the lower elevations of the park are usually quite balmy during the winter months. Roughly half the days have high temperatures of 50 degrees or more – some even reach into the 70s. On average, you can expect a snowfall of one inch or more just 1 to 5 times a year. This means that on most days you’ll still find plenty of opportunities for some great hiking on trails such as Abrams Falls, Little River, or Porters Creek - just to name a couple.

For the more ambitious who wish to venture into the higher elevations, you should expect snow and ice, especially on trails in the upper reaches of the park. You may even want to consider taking a pair of strap-on crampons (made for hiking boots) along with you. Even packed snow has a tendency to turn to ice overnight, and if you’re on a trail with steep drop-offs, such as Alum Cave, you’ll appreciate the extra traction they’ll give you.

If your preference is for sports that rely on snow you can usually count on plenty of it at the highest elevations. Although Gatlinburg averages only about seven inches of snow throughout the winter, Clingmans Dome, on the other hand, normally receives a whopping 85 inches. Up to two feet can fall during one winter storm!

One of the best places to be in the park when there’s snow on the ground is at Newfound Gap. The seven-mile road to Clingmans Dome, closed to traffic from December through March, provides excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Appalachian Trail - spanning the crest of the Smokies and crossing over Newfound Gap - also provides for some great snowshoeing opportunities when conditions are right.

Sledding is another popular activity on or near Newfound Gap, especially for children and those who are still kids at heart themselves.

Adrenaline junkies looking for the speed and thrills of downhill skiing or snowboarding can get their fix at nearby Ober Gatlinburg or the Cataloochee Ski Area. Cataloochee offers 14 different runs, while Ober Gatlinburg has eight, including one that’s almost a mile in length. Both resorts also offer snow tubing opportunities as well.

Winter in the Great Smoky Mountains is truly magical. After a blanket of fresh snow the landscape turns into a scenic wonderland, especially in the spruce-fir forests of the upper elevations. For those that have only visited during the warmer months, winter is an excellent time to experience the Smokies in a whole new way.

If you're considering a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains this winter, please help support HikingintheSmokys.com this season by supporting the sponsors on our Accommodations page.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 2013 Year in Review

Below is another excellent video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association. This video provides a quick overview of some of the major events that happened in the park this past year. In many respects, 2013 was a chaotic year for the Smokies. The park experienced a record amount of rain in January which caused a portion of Newfound Gap Road to slide off the mountain, an EF1 tornado in June, a much cooler than average summer, and a Government Shutdown in October:

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tennessee State Parks Kick Off 2014 with First Hikes of the New Year

Tennessee State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes on New Year’s Day. Each state park will host its own special hike in the first few days of the New Year as part of the quarterly hikes program.

“Our First Hikes have been very popular and we are excited to continue this series in the New Year,” Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said. “The First Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family.”

From Reelfoot Lake to Fall Creek Falls to Warriors’ Path and every state park in between, the 2014 First Hikes are designed for all ages and abilities. Some hikes will be approximately one mile in length and tailored for novice hikers, while others are lengthier and geared toward more experienced hikers. For a more in-depth look into planned First Hikes in your area, please click here.

Tennessee State Parks’ First Hikes of 2014 are part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states. America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1, 2014, at a state park close to home.

Tennessee’s 54 state parks offer diverse natural, recreational and cultural experiences for individuals, families, or business and professional groups. State park features range from pristine natural areas to 18-hole championship golf courses. The Tennessee State Parks system was established through legislation in 1937. Today, there is a state park within an hour’s drive of just about anywhere in the state, with features such as pristine natural areas and a variety of lodging and dining choices. For more information about Tennessee State Parks, please visit www.tnstateparks.com.


Harney Peak: The Top of South Dakota

Not only does Harney Peak offer outstanding views of the Black Hills, and the chance to stand atop the highest point in South Dakota, but it also allows hikers the opportunity to visit the old stone fire tower that sits atop its summit. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1939, and was used as a fire lookout for several decades. Visitors are now free to explore this castle-like structure.

For more information and photos on this outstanding hike, please click here to visit our new Discover the West website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mt Leconte Snow Storm 2013

Here's a reminder that winter lingers much longer in the mountains, and that weathermen don't always get their predictions right. This video made by a couple of hikers highlights their trek up to Mt. Leconte via the Rainbow Falls Trail last March. The hikers experienced a little more snow than what they were expecting - 18 inches atop of Leconte.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Temporary Road Closures for Routine Maintenance from Milepost 112-136

Beginning Monday morning December 30, 2013, and continuing for a four week period, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance personnel will be conducting cutting operations along the roadside. During this time, both lanes of the Parkway in this section will be closed to all activity (cars, bicycles, and hikers) for the safety of the maintenance workers as well as Parkway visitors.

Annually, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance and resource management staff conducts 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.

Affected sections will close at approximately 7:00 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily about 4:30 p.m. Those who normally commute on the Parkway may want find alternate routes. Closures are currently scheduled to occur on these dates:

· From Milepost 120 to Milepost 136 (Bent Mountain Area): December 30, 2013 – January 10, 2014

· From Milepost 112 to Milepost 121 (Route 24 – Route 220):January 13, 2014 – January 24, 2014

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Seasonal Road Closures Announced for Nantahala Ranger District

The U.S. Forest Service Nantahala Ranger District will seasonally close certain roads from Jan. 2 to April 1, 2014. During this period, the roads are susceptible to freezing and thawing, and they become very soft and easily damaged by traffic.

The following roads will close during this period: Boardtree (#388), Upper Nantahala (#67), Deep Gap (#71), Shingletree Branch (#713), Shope Fork (#751), Ball Creek (#83), and Connelly Creek (# 86 through Alarka-Laurel), Wayah Bald (# 690), Little Yellow Mountain (#367), Big Creek (#4567), Cold Spring Gap (#4663), Moses Creek (#4651), Old Bald Rd (#4652), Sugar Creek (#4665), Gage Creek (#4648), Wolf Mountain( #4663C), Charley Knob (# 4654), Beech Flats ( 4668).

Winespring/Whiteoak (#711) will be left open as long as weather conditions will permit. In addition, the Wayehutta Off Road Vehicle area was closed Dec. 15, 2013.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

National Parks to Offer Free Admission on 9 Days in 2014

Circle the dates on the calendar and plan your trip – America’s 401 national parks will offer free admission on nine days in 2014, including several holidays. The 2014 entrance fee-free days are:

◾January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
◾February 15-17: Presidents Day weekend
◾April 19-20: National Park Week’s opening weekend
◾August 25: National Park Service’s 98th birthday
◾September 27: National Public Lands Day
◾November 11: Veterans Day

“America’s national parks welcome more than 280 million visitors a year. To say thanks for that support and invite every American to visit these treasures that they own, we are declaring nine days of free admission next year,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Whether it’s that once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Yellowstone or taking a daily walk along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., or the moment at Central High School that your child suddenly understands what civil rights are all about, national parks offer places for unforgettable experiences.

With more than 84 million acres of spectacular scenery, 17,000 miles of trails, 5,000 miles of shoreline, 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures, and 100 million museum items and an infinite number of authentic American stories to tell, national parks offer something for every taste.

Those in search of superlatives will find them in national parks including the country’s highest point (in Denali National Park) and lowest point (in Death Valley National Park), deepest lake (Crater Lake National Park), longest cave (Mammoth Cave National Park), tallest trees (Redwood National Park), and highest waterfall (Yosemite National Park).

Normally, 133 national parks charge an entrance fee that ranges from $3 to $25. The entrance fee waiver does not cover amenity or user fees for things like camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Other Federal land management agencies that will offer fee-free days in 2014 are: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. Please contact each for details.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wilderness Wildlife Week 2014

The dates have been set for one of the premier annual events in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 24th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week, an eight-day event that focuses on the Great Smoky Mountains and the outdoors in general, will take place January 25 thru February 1st. Many of this year's programs, all of which are free, will be held at the LeConte Center At Pigeon Forge, the City of Pigeon Forge’s brand new state-of-the-art events center.

Throughout the event’s history people have traveled from as far away as Australia, Canada, China, England and New Zealand to take part in the eight-day extravaganza of honoring and celebrating the great outdoors

On tap this year are several hundred workshops, lectures, panel discussions, mini-concerts, hikes and excursions to America’s most visited national park.

While the vast majority of Wilderness Wildlife Week programs are indoors, there are 46 hikes and excursions on the this year's calendar. They range from a photo trek in Cades Cove, to a three-mile walk through the Elkmont historic district, to a strenuous 14-mile hike to Rocky Top. Round trip transportation to the trailheads will be provided for each hike.

Many of the programs are brand new for 2014, and the lineup is different each day. For example, the hands-on photography series Smokies Through the Lens is now a three-day series of programs with courses for all skill levels. This special series of weekend programming will take place on Saturday, January 25, Sunday, January 26, and Saturday, February 1st.

Wilderness Wildlife Week, named 10 times as a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event, is part of Pigeon Forge Winterfest, which starts in November and continues through February.

Details on Wilderness Wildlife Week, including the program schedule and hike information can be found by clicking here.

For more information on many of the hikes included on this year's schedule, please click here. To find accommodations in the Pigeon Forge area, please click here.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Survival Skills: Eating Snow versus Ice

We posed a similar situation over the weekend, but will ask again: What if you're out several miles from the trailhead during a winter hike and find yourself in an emergency situation in which you've run out of drinking water? In this particular situation you'll have plenty of snow and ice around, but the question is, do you consume any of it to help with your increasing dehydration? Is one source better than the other? And do you know why? The folks over at Vermont-based Peak Survival provide the answers to these questions in this short video:


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Yosemite Valley

Half Dome "presents an aspect of the most imposing grandeur; it strikes even the most casual observer as a new revelation in mountain forms; its existence would be considered an impossibility if it were not there before us in all its reality..."

- Josiah D. Whitney

The Sentinel Meadow & Cook's Meadow Loop hike is the perfect way to experience the Yosemite Valley. The loop hike offers a variety of attractions, including lush meadows filled with wildflowers, wildlife, and outstanding views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Falls and Half Dome.

For more photos, and to learn more about this short easy hike, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, December 16, 2013

First Day Hikes 2014

Start the new year off on the right foot by taking a First Day Hike in a state park near you. All across the country state parks will once again be offering guided First Day Hikes on New Year’s Day 2014.

The idea for First Day Hikes originated over 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation State Park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year round recreation at state parks. Many other states have offered outdoor recreation programs on New Year’s Day, however, all 50 state park systems have now joined together to sponsor a range of First Day Hikes.

This year, for the first time, the American Hiking Society has joined America’s State Parks in support of their First Day Hikes program. So far more than 400 hikes in all 50 states have been scheduled for this years events, with numerous options for a First Day Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains region. You can find a First Day Hike by clicking here.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Video: Hike to the Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower

One of my social media contacts recently forwarded this video to me. It documents his hike to the Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower with his family earlier this fall. The 6-mile hike from Cosby to Mt. Cammerer (click here for addl hike info) provides some outstanding views of the eastern Smokies.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Procuring Water in a Winter Survival Situation

What if you're out several miles from the trailhead during a winter hike, and you find yourself in an emergency situation in which you've run out of drinking water. In the video below, the folks over at Vermont-based Peak Survival offer some interesting and "outside of the box" alternatives for creating and storing drinking water. These are probably some good skills to learn and remember for anyone who ventures out into the wilderness during the winter months:


Essentials for the Smokies Hiker

Below are a couple of stocking stuffers for anyone interested in hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. With more than 800 miles of trails in the park, detailed topographical maps and hiking trail guides are great ways for hikers to discover new trails and new destinations in the Smokies:

Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park, by local hiker and outdoor photographer Kevin Adams, covers more than 80 hikes in the Smokies. The guide features photos, up-to-date trail information, trail maps, elevation profiles, clear directions from major access points, difficulty and traffic ratings for each hike, vacation planning, a hiker's checklist, and quick reference trail highlights.

National Geographic now has two separate Trails Illustrated Maps for the Great Smoky Mountains - in addition to the old map. National Geographic has divided the Park in two sections, thus allowing each map to show much greater detail. The original map, which covered the entire Park, had a scale 1:70,000. The two new maps now have a scale of 1:40,000 (1” = .6 miles) and provide much greater detail such as backcountry campsites, footbridges, fords and stream crossings, nature/interpretive trails, as well as detailed trail mileages.

The map for the western section of the Park includes the Cades Cove, Elkmont and Fontana Lake areas.

The map for the eastern section includes Clingmans Dome, Mt. LeConte, Newfound Gap Road, Big Creek, Oconaluftee and the Cataloochee areas.

Coverage Highlights Areas and places featured in this map series include: the Appalachian Trail, Benton Mackaye Trail, and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The maps also include scenic overlooks and roadside pull-outs.

Of course the original map, which covers the entire Park, is still available as well.


To see our full library of hiking and travel guides for the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail and the surrounding Southern Appalachian region, please visit our Amazon store by clicking here.

As always, thanks for your support!

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, December 13, 2013

Appalachian National Scenic Trail Seeks Input on Foundation Document

The National Park Service is starting the process of preparing a Foundation Document for planning and management for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The trail would like to invite the public to join in this effort.

A Foundation Document involves revisiting a national scenic trail's core purpose and significance, most important resources and values, and the interpretive themes that tell the trail's important stories. Although the Foundation Document is not a decision-making document and does not include actions or management strategies, it describes a shared understanding of what is most important about the trail. In this capacity, the Foundation Document will reestablish the underlying guidance for future management and planning decisions for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Because many of the trail's original planning documents are out of date, preparing the Foundation Document is the first step for considering the trail's future planning and study needs.

The National Park Service invites you to play a role in charting the trail's future by sharing your thoughts on what is most important about the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and to help identify its most pressing threats and its greatest opportunities. Trail staff will take your thoughts and feedback into consideration as they prepare the Foundation Document.

You may submit your feedback from December 9, 2013 to January 9, 2014 by responding to five questions about the trail's significance, threats, and opportunities.

Hiking in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains to host Christmas Events

Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host the 38th annual Festival of Christmas Past celebration tomorrow, December 14th, 10:-0 am to 4:00 pm, at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The event, sponsored in cooperation with Great Smoky Mountains Association, is free to the public.

Festival of Christmas Past is an annual celebration of the culture of the Smoky Mountains, with an emphasis on the Christmas season. "Around Christmas time, people gathered in churches, homes, and schools and many of them celebrated the holiday through music, storytelling, and crafts. Festival of Christmas Past allows us to pause and remember some of these traditions," said Kent Cave, North District Resource Education Supervisor.

On Saturday, December 21, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host a Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center where children and adults will have an opportunity to learn about and experience some of the traditions surrounding an Appalachian Christmas. Park staff and volunteers will provide hands-on traditional crafts and activities from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. the park will host the monthly acoustic old time jam session.

“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 Lynda Doucette, Supervisory Park Ranger. “This month our music jam will focus on traditional holiday tunes. 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 the old days.”

The visitor center will be decorated for the holiday season and will include an exhibit on Christmas in the mountains. Hot apple cider and cookies will be served on the porch and a fire will be in the fireplace. All activities are free and open to the public. Support of this event is provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Highway 441), two miles north of Cherokee, N.C. For more information call the visitor center at (828) 497-1904.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Zion Canyon Overlook: Don’t bypass this one!

Just inside the east entrance of Zion National Park, but far from the hustle and bustle of the main portion of the park, is the hike to Zion Canyon Overlook. Unfortunately many people will pass this one by, instead opting to visit the more popular attractions within the canyon itself. Many visitors, in fact, probably aren’t even aware of its existence. However, this vantage point offers hikers a view of Zion Canyon that’s just as beautiful as those you’ll find along the park’s most popular hikes. Even better, for some, is that it’s much easier to reach. An easy roundtrip hike of only 1 mile will reward you with outstanding views such as this (for more information on this hike, please click here):

Hiking in the Smokies

Pedro Ramos Selected as Acting Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The National Park Service Southeast Region in Atlanta has announced that Pedro Ramos has been selected as the acting superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 90 days, effective January 12, 2014. Ramos has been the superintendent at Big Cypress National Preserve since 2009. In September, the current superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dale Ditmanson, announced his plans to retire on January 3, 2014, after 36 years with the National Park Service (NPS). Ditmanson has served as superintendent there since May 2004.

“We are very pleased that Pedro has agreed to step in as the acting superintendent at the Smokies,” said Stan Austin, Regional Director for the Southeast Region. “He has great experience as a superintendent and is very knowledgeable in protecting resources and taking care of visitors. We know he will do a superb job as we conduct a search for a permanent superintendent.”

Ramos said, "I am excited about this opportunity to serve in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the country. I look forward to working with the park’s employees, volunteers and partners to continue serving the public.”

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ramos attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where he graduated with a bachelor of science in 1990. He began his Federal career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers Home Administration, in Vermont. In 2001 Ramos transferred to the National Park Service as Administrative Officer at Big Cypress National Preserve. In 2005 he was named Deputy Superintendent there and devoted much of his time to establishing strong community relations with the many partners in South Florida. His career has also included acting superintendent assignments at Jimmy Carter and Andersonville National Historic Sites in Georgia, and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kayaker Trapped Underwater Saved by Friends' Quick Reaction

Below is a pretty amazing video from EpicTV showing the rescue of a kayaker who became trapped underwater after paddling down a small waterfall. The incident occurred on November 2nd on the Lyn River in the United Kingdom. In the video description, EpicTV describes the situation like this:
In one of the drops Mark Hardingham is pushed offline and becomes 'vertically pinned' with his body trapped and his head held underwater by the current! This GoPro clip shows the reactions of his friends who pull him out of this sticky situation just in time.


How To Dress For Winter Hiking

Although the winter season is already upon us, we shouldn't use it as an excuse to NOT go hiking. It all comes down to being prepared and knowing how to dress properly. Below is a pretty good video demonstrating how you should dress when venturing out on a winter hike. Although the spokesman doesn't mention it, you should always have an extra pair of socks in your pack, just in case the ones you're wearing get wet. An extra pair of gloves aren't a bad idea either, not to mention an emergency blankets and the ability to start a fire.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Governor Haslam to Dedicate Virgin Falls State Natural Area

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, along with leaders from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation will be officially dedicating the purchase of Virgin Falls State Natural Area tomorrow, December 11th.

Through the support of a number of private/public partnerships, the state acquired the land in November 2012. Prior to that, Virgin Falls had been under private ownership, but managed by the state as a natural area for nearly 40 years. Working closely with the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, the state of Tennessee was able to purchase the 1,551-acre parcel near Sparta through a combination of funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and private donations.

A favorite hiking destination for decades, Virgin Falls features a waterfall that exits a cave at the top of a cliff and then disappears into a second cave at its base. Nature lovers have noted the existence of unique flora and fauna and amateur geologists have explored the composition and structure of its many caves.

The dedication will take place at Welch's Point in the Bridgestone Firestone Wilderness, on Welch Cemetery Road in Sparta.

Directors: From I-40 in Cookeville, take Exit 288. Drive south on TN 111 for 14.1 miles; turn left on US 70E. Drive 10.8 miles east through Sparta to Easland Road. Turn right and drive south for 5.8 miles to Scott's Gulf Road. Turn right; drive 2.1 miles, passing Virgin Falls trailhead parking lot, and turn right on Welch Cemetery Road. Dedication is 2 miles ahead.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Comparing the top hiking books for the Smoky Mountains

Trying to decide which hiking guide to purchase for the Great Smoky Mountains? Below is a quick reference guide that compares the most popular hiking guides for the National Park.

Hiking Great Smoky Mountains
By Kevin Adams
287 pages – 2nd edition (2013)
Covers 82 hikes as well as info concerning the AT
Book also includes:
* Locator map
* Elevation profiles
* Trail maps
* Quick reference trail highlights
* Many photos
* Safe hiking tips and backcountry camping information

Best Easy Day Hikes GSMNP
By Randy Johnson
117 pages - 1st Edition (2010)
Covers 22 hikes
Book also includes:
* Information on the “Quiet Walkways” scattered throughout the park
* Covers several self-guided nature trails
* Includes a few trails that are rated as moderate or even difficult in some cases
* Locator map
* Trail maps
* Brief history of park, safety tips and basic travel information
* Recommendations based on best views, nature lovers, history hikes, waterfalls etc.

Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
By Johnny Molloy
384 pages - 1st edition (2012)
Covers 50 hikes
Book also includes:
* Ratings and rankings for each trail
* Clear and concise directions to the trailhead
* Detailed route map and elevation profile
* Distances and approximate times of each hike
* Easy-to-follow trail notes and permit information
* Overnight backpacking options
* Black and white photos

100 Hikes Great Smoky Mountains
By Russ Manning
282 pages – 2nd edition (1999)
Cover 100 hikes (as you might expect)
Book also includes:
* Locator map
* Provides elevation change data
* Many photos
* Brief natural and park history
* No trail maps

Day and Overnight Hikes: GSMNP
By Johnny Molloy
210 pages - 4th edition (2008)
Covers 41 hikes in total: including 13 day loops and 10 overnight loop hikes
Book also includes:
* Recommendations based on winter, solitude, easiest, wildlife, and most scenic hikes, etc.
* Quick reference trail highlights
* Locator map
* Elevation profiles
* Trail maps
* Weather data, safety and hazard information

Hiking Trails of the Smokies
By the GSMA
a.k.a "The Little Brown Book"
584 pages – 1st Edition (1994)
Covers 162 hikes
Book also includes:
* Elevation profiles
* Trail maps
* Safe hiking tips, weather and suggested loop hikes
* Information on all backcountry campsites, shelters, regulations and permit/reservation information

Other guide books you might find helpful:

* Appalachian Trail Guide to Tennessee-North Carolina

* Great Smoky Mountains National Park Pocket Guide

* Great Smoky Mountains Travel Photo Guides iPhone App


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Discover the Joys of Winter Hiking

Many hikers tend to run from the woods as soon as the first snow flakes begin to fall. However, winter is great time to hit the trail. Not only are the crowds gone, but many parks show off their true beauty after a fresh snowfall. With just a little more attention to detail beforehand, anyone can have a safe and enjoyable hike during the winter.

Although it might feel quite frigid at the trailhead, your body will begin generating plenty of heat after just 10 or 15 minutes of walking. The best thing you can do to keep the cold out is to dress in layers: a base layer that wicks moisture off your body, a fleece jacket for insulating warmth, and a shell to keep you dry and to keep the wind from penetrating your core. Most importantly, dressing in layers allows you to adjust your attire as you heat-up or cool-off. When dressing for a winter hike, always remember the adage: cotton kills! Never wear anything made of cotton while hiking in the backcountry. Once wet, cotton no longer insulates you from the cold. Moreover, it wicks heat away from your body and puts you at risk of becoming hypothermic.

Some people are prone to cold feet in the winter. One of the keys to keeping your feet warm is to make sure they stay dry. Wear a good pair of hiking socks, made of wool blends or synthetic fabrics, that wick moisture away from your skin, retain heat when wet, and dry faster if they become wet. I always keep an extra pair in my pack in case the ones I’m wearing do get wet. (Expert Advice: How to Choose Socks) You should also wear above-the-ankle hiking boots which help to keep snow away from your feet. You may want to consider wearing gaiters, especially if there are several inches of snow on the ground.

To round-out your winter apparel, don’t forget about a good pair of gloves, a ski cap and maybe even a balaclava.

If the snow is too deep in the mountains, consider hiking at lower elevations, or even wearing snowshoes. If you expect a lot of ice, especially in areas where there might be steep drop-offs, consider bringing crampons specifically made for hiking. These are sometimes referred to as traction devices, or in-step crampons, which you can either strap-on or slide onto your boots.

Trekking poles are another excellent choice for helping to maintain your balance on sections of trail with slick ice and snow.

After outfitting yourself with the proper winter gear, hikers will then need to focus on staying hydrated and properly fueled while out on the trail. Hiking in the cold, especially in snow, burns more calories. By some estimates, hikers can burn as much as 50% more calories when compared to similar distances and terrain in the summer. By not consuming enough calories while on the trail you become prone to getting cold faster. Make sure you bring plenty of high-energy snacks with you to munch on periodically throughout your hike. Watch out for foods that can freeze solid, such as some power bars. Or, instead of storing in your backpack, put some snacks inside your fleece jacket. Your body should generate enough heat to prevent them from freezing.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, it can actually be easier to experience dehydration in the winter, versus hiking in the summer. Dehydration can occur faster in cold weather because the air is much drier. Moreover, dehydration can be dangerous because it can accelerate hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure you bring plenty of liquids with you, and drink often while on the trail.

If you’re storing water bottles in your backpack during a very cold day, you may need to insulate them to prevent them from freezing. An old wool sock will work in this case. Also, you may want to turn the bottle upside down to prevent the water from freezing at the neck. If you plan to be out for several hours, consider bringing a thermos containing a hot drink, or even soup.

Other winter hazards hikers need to be aware of include hiking in steep terrain that’s prone to avalanches, or a storm that covers the trail with fresh snow, thus making navigation difficult. You should always carry a topographical map and a compass with you in case you ever need help finding your way back to the trailhead if you were to become lost.

Other gear to bring with you includes a first aid kit, firestarter, waterproof matches, a pocket knife, an emergency blanket and maybe even a bivy sack.

Finally, let someone know where you’re going, when you’ll be back, and who to call if they don’t hear back from you at a specified time.

With a little care and preparation up front, anyone can discover the joys of winter hiking.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, December 6, 2013

New Collection at WCU to Focus on Great Smoky Mountains National Park history

Earlier this fall Western Carolina University announced that it's Hunter Library will be producing a new digital collection of 2,000 items focused on the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park -  with support from a $93,000 grant from the North Carolina State Library.

This digital collection and interpretive website will include documents and photographs that relate to the initial idea and construction of a national park in the eastern United States, said Anna Fariello, associate professor of digital initiatives with Hunter Library. The materials will focus on a group of North Carolinians who promoted the idea of a park as early as 1899, the efforts of private individuals such as Horace Kephart, whose papers contain many never-before-seen materials that promote a park, and people involved in federal programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, who actually built the park.

Highlights will include journals Horace Kephart assembled in preparation for his book, “Camping and Woodcraft,” images of the park’s construction and photographs of life in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Appalachian National Park Association records.

Grant funding will support staff of the library’s digital production team and will enable the purchase of a new scanner that has the capacity to digitize items up to 2 feet by 3 feet and items currently too fragile to scan.

Fariello applied for the grant for the project after learning that a comprehensive history of the park had not been published online and that the park had historical items that are not exhibited.

“The park certainly has an amazing and well-cared-for archive, but it’s locked away,” said Fariello. “We will be digitally preserving and increasing access to material that is important, not only to the development of the park, but also to the region.”

Fariello said the library collaborated with the park on a recent digitization project, “Picturing Appalachia” and gained a better understanding of the park and its history.

For more information, please visit the Hunter Library website.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Three Medical Incidents Require Evacuations in Great Smoky Mountains

The last week of November was a busy one for rangers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During that time period, rangers dealt with three serious medical incidents, two of them requiring carryout evacuations by interdivisional litter teams.

Late on the night of November 22nd, park dispatch received a report from the concession-run lodge on Mt. Le Conte that a visitor had suffered a head injury after falling down a steep embankment and that the woman had become combative during attempts to render aid. Rangers Brad Griest and Mark Eckert hiked through the night, arriving at the lodge around 6 a.m. Air rescue was impossible due to high winds, so a carryout litter team was assembled that consisted of 16 employees from three divisions. The team arrived at the trailhead with the woman just after 4 p.m. She was transferred to an ambulance and transported to an area hospital. Supervisory Park Ranger Bobby Fleming was incident commander.

Rangers Jamie Sanders, Ryan Rohr and Steve Spanyer responded to an accident on the Cades Cove Loop Road on November 26th. They found that a 48-year-old woman had suffered an open humorous fracture with uncontrolled arterial bleeding. The rangers applied a combat application tourniquet (CAT) and provided basic life support until an ambulance arrived 35 minutes later. Weather conditions prevented air evacuation, so she was taken by ambulance to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she’s expected to make a full recovery. Emergency room doctors reported that the timely application of the CAT saved the woman’s life. CAT tourniquets had been issued to all park law enforcement rangers as part of special tactical EMS kits for personal use in event of a severe trauma.

Early on the afternoon of November 30th, dispatch was notified of a hiker with a possible broken leg on the Alum Cave Trail. A rescue team consisting of 15 employees from two divisions responded. The litter evacuation included a short technical lowering. The litter team reached the trailhead just after 9 p.m. The injured man was transported to an area hospital, where x-rays confirmed that he’d suffered fractures of the tibia and fibula. Rescue operations were complicated by temperatures in the single digits as well as ice and snow on the trail. Supervisory Park Ranger Bobby Fleming was incident commander.

Hiking in the Smokies

Burroughs Mountain at Sunrise

The Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier National Park offers big expansive views of the park’s star attraction, 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier. There’s no better way to experience the area than a hike along the Burroughs Mountain loop trail. This hike offers outstanding 360-degree panoramic views as you walk along the alpine tundra plateaus of Burroughs Mountain. From the summit you’ll have up-close views of Mt. Rainier’s impressive east face, as well as the largest glacier in the lower 48, the Emmons Glacier.

For more information and photos on this Rainier classic, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Linville Gorge Wildfire is 100% Contained

U.S. Forest Service fire managers announced this morning that the Table Rock wildfire in the Linville Gorge is now 100 percent contained. Recent precipitation helped suppress the wildfire. The gorge and its trails are now open to the public. Visitors should use caution when in the gorge as there may be hazard trees or other conditions that pose safety risks. Forest Service personnel will soon begin any rehabilitation efforts needed in the area. Law enforcement officials continue to seek a person of interest (see photo on right) who may have information related to the cause of the fire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The wildfire, which started on November 12th, burned 2,579 acres.

The Linville Gorge Wilderness is located in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest.

Hiking in the Smokies

Special Regulation Allowing Bicycle Use on NPS Trails to go into Effect

A new National Park Service regulation goes into effect by the end of January 2014 that will allow visitors to ride bicycles on about 65 miles of existing trail in the New River Gorge National River. This includes the Long Point Trail, the Timber Ridge Trail, the 7-mile Southside Trail, the 8.6-mile Kaymoor Trail, and the 13-mile Arrowhead Trail.

Other park trails will remain open only to pedestrians. More information on trails and biking opportunities in the New River Gorge National River is available at park visitor centers and on the park website.

Bicycle use in units of the National Park Service is generally prohibited unless park managers follow special procedures to open designated trails for bikes. These procedures include analyzing the environmental impacts of bicycle use in the park and offering opportunities for public comment. The New River Gorge National River initiated the procedures in 2009, which have included three opportunities for public input and comment. Notification of this regulation was forwarded to the Federal Register on Monday.

Hiking in the Smokies

Historic Structures of Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place where natural beauty and cultural history blend to create a remarkable setting, and visitors flock to Cades Cove for just that reason. A number of historic structures have been preserved along the 11-mile road through the cove, including homes, churches, barns, and a springhouse, among others. Here's the latest video from the Great Smoky Mountains Association highlighting these links to the past:

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Top 5 Survival Stories of All Time

What’s the definition of a great survival story? Some of the obvious answers to that question include, coming face to face with death, an unbelievable escape, or, because of fate or just plain dumb luck, an individual was able to survive some extreme disaster.

For me, my list of the top five survival stories of all time is based on two criteria: a convincing story of human perseverance and an iron will to survive, and the author’s ability to tell the story in a compelling manner which keeps me on the edge of my seat.

So, in reverse order, here's my all-time best survival stories:

The Long Walk
Stephen Ambrose, the late historian and author of Undaunted Courage and Band of Brothers, said that “The Long Walk is a book that I absolutely could not put down and one that I will never forget”. I couldn’t agree with him more.

My only hope is that Slavomir Rawicz, the protagonist in this story, hasn’t pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone, including Mr. Ambrose.

Ever since The Long Walk was published in 1956, the authenticity of the story has been challenged. Unfortunately Rawicz was never able to provide any documentation to prove his story. However, it does seem that the general consensus among most critics is that the story is mostly true, but, possibly embellished. It’s even possible that the embellishment occurred at the hand of his English speaking ghost-writer. For an interesting perspective on the veracity of the story from someone who retraced the steps of Rawicz in 2004, and who came to believe the story to be true, please click here.

Slavomir Rawicz was a cavalry officer in the Polish army when he was captured by the Red Army during the German-Soviet partition of Poland in 1939. After being tortured and put on trial in Moscow he was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in a Siberian Gulag.

After a year of unbearable and inhumane conditions, Rawicz and six other prisoners escaped from their labor camp in Yakutsk.

In order to make their way to freedom the escapees marched 4000 miles, on foot, across the frozen Siberian tundra, the Gobi Desert, through Tibet, and over the Himalayan Mountains to British India. Along the way they conquered fatigue, thirst, starvation as well as their own inner demons. The story is also famous for the claim that the surviving escapees saw a pair of yetis while traversing the Himalayas.

Whether the story is actually true, partially true, or totally fabricated, this book is still a great read, one that will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

We Die Alone
Stephen Ambrose wrote the introduction for We Die Alone. In it he states that it was “a book that I absolutely could not put down, and one that I will never forget”. That quote might sound a little familiar. I did a double take at first as well, but Ambrose states in the intro that, in addition to We Die Alone, he has only described three other books in his life this way, one of those being The Long Walk.

Like The Long Walk, We Die Alone is a story of survival in extreme circumstances that takes place during World War II. However, there’s never been any controversy surrounding the validity of this story.

In March 1943 a team of four expatriate Norwegian commandoes, including Jan Baalsrud, sailed from England to Nazi-occupied Norway to organize and supply the Norwegian resistance.

Somehow the commandoes were betrayed shortly after landing and the team was ambushed by the Nazis, leaving Baalsrud as the lone survivor.

We Die Alone recounts Baalsrud’s incredible and improbable escape and his iron will to survive. Poorly clothed, with one foot entirely bare, and part of his big toe shot off, Baalsrud was relentlessly pursued by the Nazis.

Surviving an avalanche, and suffering from frostbite and snow blindness, Baalsrud fought his way over the Norwegian mountains and tundra to a small arctic village. He was near death and was a virtual cripple when he stumbled into the village of Mandal. Fortunately, the locals were willing to help save him, and at mortal risk to themselves, help him escape to Sweden.

Into Thin Air
I remember reading Jon Krakauer’s original article on the infamous Mt. Everest disaster in Outside Magazine and being completely astounded by what occurred on that mountain that day. And then, a year later, he published his bestseller, Into Thin Air, which fleshed out many more details of the ill-fated expeditions that left eight people dead that day. Although several books and articles have been written, Into Thin Air would become the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Mt. Everest.

Originally, Krakauer went on assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of guided trips up Mount Everest and the inherent danger to unsuspecting clients. Instead, he wound up writing a first-hand account of the disaster that unfolded after a ferocious storm blasted Everest with gale force winds that killed eight climbers.

The most amazing aspect of the story centered around Beck Weathers. Twice abandoned and presumed to be dead on the South Col, Weathers spent some 18 hours in subzero temperatures - in the death zone - before miraculously regaining his senses and staggering into camp. He was suffering from severe frostbite, corneal lacerations, hypothermia, and had a face so badly frostbitten it barely seemed human.

Over the course of the next year Weathers underwent ten surgeries, the longest lasting 16 hours. His entire right hand and most of his left was amputated; surgeons were able to fashion a thumb out of muscle from his side and back.

The updated paperback edition of Into Thin Air includes an extensive new postscript that sheds fascinating light on the acrimonious debate that flared between Krakauer and Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev in the wake of the tragedy.

Miracle in the Andes
I must admit I was pretty apprehensive about reading this story in detail. I was quite familiar with the basic facts of the story: a plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team crashes in the Andes Mountains; many on board are killed, and after several weeks without rescue and a few failed attempts to walk off the mountain, the survivors are forced to resort to cannibalism. My apprehension, as you might suspect, had to do with the cannibalism aspect of the story. It just seemed too disturbing to me.

My fears, as I discovered, were unfounded. Nando Parrado, the hero and author of the book, spent relatively little time discussing the details surrounding this aspect of the story.

Miracle in the Andes is actually a fresh re-telling of the high altitude plane crash through the lens of the person most responsible for the rescue of the survivors. The original story was recounted in the 1974 bestseller, Alive.

Although he suffered a fractured skull, was unconscious for three days after the crash, and was presumed to eventually succumb to his injuries, Parrado was able to revive. After several weeks of recovery he eventually devised a plan and led a team over the 17,000-foot peak that trapped the survivors on a glacier, and marched ten days to rescue and freedom.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

The best survival story of all time, and overall, one of the best books I’ve ever read is The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition.

The story is about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross Antarctica on foot just prior to the start of World War I.

Before the expedition was able to reach the continent, their ship, the Endurance, became stuck in an early ice floe in the Weddell Sea. The crew of 27 had no means of communication or hope of outside help, thus condemning themselves to isolation for the next 22 months.

The men lived within the bowels of the Endurance for almost a year before the ice destroyed it, forcing the expedition to move out onto the frozen sea. Several months later, the expedition built sledges and moved to Elephant Island, a rocky deserted spot of land just beyond the Antarctic Peninsula. At this point no one knew what happened to the expedition or where they were. Most people assumed they had been killed.

Knowing that a rescue wasn’t going to happen, Shackleton made the decision to take one of the open lifeboats and cross the 800 miles of frigid sea to South Georgia Island where a small whaling station was located. Incredibly, he landed on the wrong side of the island and was forced to trek over the frozen mountains to reach the station.

This incredible book is also accompanied with the previously unpublished photographs of Frank Hurley, one of the members of the expedition.

Hiking in the Smokies

The 114th Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Since 1900, the National Audubon Society has led the charge in counting birds during the annual "Christmas Bird Census" across the U.S., Canada and many other countries in the Western Hemisphere. It's longest-running citizen science survey in the world!

From December 14th through January 5th, tens of thousands of volunteers will take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.

If you would like to participate this year, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oregon’s Rugged Coast

For many years the Oregon Coast has been near the top of my bucket list of places to see. Based on the hundreds of photos I’ve seen over the years I knew there were numerous spectacular places to visit. Whenever I looked at a map of Oregon I was always amazed by the number of state parks that line the coast from top to bottom.

When we finally arrived at Cannon Beach back in early September of this year, it was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps my reaction was similar to that of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When they arrived on the coast in November of 1805, William Clark noted in his journal: "Ocian in view O! The Joy!"

I posted two blogs on our new Discover the West website that describes and shows some of the amazing sights we saw along the north coast and the southern coast.

Hiking in the Smokies

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Never Stop Exploring

"Humans have always been driven by curiosity and fed by an innate need to explore. There is an allure in the pursuit of the unknown." Here's a pretty inspiring video from the North Face that I think you'll probably enjoy:

I don't know about you, but I think it's time to get out and explore:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Glacier National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking in the Smokies