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Fall Colors on Buffalo Mtn – Oct 28, 2019

This was a spur of the moment decision hike that started less than one hour before sunset. Having been off my injured left heel and right ankle for many months now, I needed to do a test run to see if the new stabbing pains in my calf muscles had diminished and see if the heel and ankle had healed any when going up steep climbs and descents. The closest steep hill to me that has a trail on it is the one that climbs up Buffalo Mountain from Dry Creek which is just behind my house. I was there within a few minutes and began the ascent as the sun was going down. It would have been nice to have started earlier to be able to watch the sunset from the top of the mountain but, I knew that no matter how fast I went it was not going to happen.

sunset
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Posted on 17 December '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Work Trip on the Appalachian Trail – June 27, 2019

The only time I dread doing trail work on my section is when it is time for the annual weed whacking in the Summer. Luckily for me I have a secret weapon without which I would not be able to do it anymore. That would be my faithful son Tyler. He helps me carry the heavy weed eater and shares the bulk of the very hard work that is required to use it. My section is very steep and very rugged. It is hard enough to hike it nevertheless weed eat it. I am very thankful that he helps me. He has been doing his entire life when he was barely old enough to even carry a small sling blade. I hope he continues to maintain the section after I am unable to or gone but, that is up to him. We got an early start before sunrise and watched it come up on the way there. It was going to be a hot day to be battling the Weed Orcs on the trail to Mordor.

white blaze
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Posted on 17 December '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Douglas Falls & More ! – May 13, 2019

While going over my list of awesome places that my son Tyler has not yet been to, it dawned on me that I had not yet introduced him to the amazing world of Big Ivy located within the Coleman Boundary. This is a huge backcountry area that is well off the beaten path that butts up against the Blue Ridge Parkway below the Craggy Gardens range. It is rich in streams and waterfalls, a dozen or so located right along the gravel forest road that leads to the trail head of the well known Douglas Falls. There are dozens of more falls found off trail along the numerous waterways that flow through the area if you do not mind creek whacking through steep and rough terrain. I know this thanks to the person that introduced me to this area on a trip we took back in July of 2011 who was my dear friend Dave Aldridge. (RIP Dave) It was a dark, rainy morning as we drove over into North Carolina We were hoping the rain would stop and the clouds hang around. We drove to the end of the road to our first stop which would be to the main event, Douglas Falls.

waterfall
Douglas Falls in the rain and fog
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Posted on 16 December '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Whitehouse Mtn. Cliffs – April 25, 2019

cliffs
Whitehouse Mountain and cliffs

I have been to Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs many times over the years as it is one of my most favorite places located in what I call ‘my backyard’ however, my son Tyler had not yet had the pleasure of this experience. He was with us on a trip down the spine of the Flint Mountain Cliffs that sit just across the valley from the Whitehouse Mountain Cliffs back in April 2016 so, he has seen the best view possible of them but, we have not taken the time to get him on them until now. It was a brisk Spring morning as we began our trek out of the new parking lot in Rocky Fork. As you may already know, I am not a big fan of the whole ‘Rocky Fork State Park’ thing but, I will agree that a parking area was needed and now there is a rather large one to make it easier for the masses to access this pristine wilderness environment. The creek was flowing nicely as we made our way up the old (and newly graveled) road so, we stopped momentarily to enjoy the popular ‘triple waterfalls’ there.

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Posted on 16 December '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Work Trip on the Appalachian Trail – March 28, 2019

Approaching the summit of Little Bald

Another Spring season is upon us ! This means that it is time to do a walk through of my trail section to see how it has fared through the harsh Winter months. My son Tyler would be accompanying me on this work trip as we use the old abandoned gated forest road to access Whistling Gap where my section now begins / ends. This time we would end up doing a lot of work removing downed trees from the road just to be able to get to the trail before any work could be done there ! Luckily they were all small in size but, time consuming nonetheless.

There were not any significant blow downs on the section due to the CMC Monday work crew having already been on my section to take care of that. We would be moving limbs and debris and cutting back some trouble spots and spending our time mostly digging out the many water bars along the entire section as we climbed up to the summit of Little Bald aka Big Hairy. It was a warm, sunny day so we enjoyed the views and our time on the mountain. We made it to the lunch spot on the summit by 1pm where a long and well deserved rest was had.

Gaining elevation quickly on the steep trail
View of Big Bald in the distance. There used to be an unobstructed view of it when I first started working this section some 30+ yrs ago !
Looking back at the summit of Little Bald where my section begins / ends.
I take great pride in painting my white blazes. I do them free handed and have been told they are some of the best on the entire AT.
View from the TN side of Little Bald
View from the TN side of Little Bald
View from the TN side of Little Bald

From there we took the old AT down the ridge line to once again search for the old Clyde Smith memorial sign that we had been unsuccessful at finding on previous trips. Recently my friend Bol’Dar had finally located it and we had directions as to where to look. We ended up going right to it ! I knew instantly why I had not been able to find it on our previous tries as it was not where my memory of it was at all although, in my defense it has been over 20 years since we found it the first time ! Unfortunately the top half is now completely gone.

Lots of old, gnarly trees along the old ridge route
Tyler leans against a large ‘burl’ growth !
And just like that, I saw it !!
Only the bottom half remains.

What remains of the sign reads:

TRAIL ON APRIL 1 , 1976
GAVE HIS LIFE THAT YOU
MIGHT ENJOY YOUR HIKE

The best my memory can recall the top half read something like this:

IN MEMORY OF CLYDE
SMITH SIGNMAKER OF
THE APPALACHIAN

I have plans to replace this sign with a new one (that will be worded better) to honor the legendary trail maintainer and famous signmaker who died on that spot while chopping a large tree off the trail back in 1976. I will provide a complete history of the man and the progress of that project when that time comes.

We finished up digging out the water bars on our way back down the mountain. This is hard, back breaking work that is required to keep the trail from eroding away. It is harder when the Fall leaves are not raked out ahead of time as was the case this time. It took the rest of our time taking care of this and it was late evening before we would get back to the Jeep.

This tree was mashed down by a HUGE widow maker a few years ago. Once the huge tree was removed this one continued to grow in this manner.
Freshly dug out water bar
Another cleaned out water bar
Digging these out is a lot of hard work but has to be done. I have many on my section due to the steepness.
Another freshly dug water bar
In this image there is not only a freshly dug out water bar but also some dead trees I used to block off an old ridge trail (old AT) that was also being used by a local horse rider several years ago. This is a left handed turn and it was too easy to keep going straight on the old trail so it needed t be blocked.
Almost the last water bar !! (as we come down into the gap)
An area that always has blow downs ! We use them to make resting benches !
The last water bar to dig out before reaching our exit at Whistling Gap.

We always keep a cooler with Mountain Dews on ice in the Jeep as our reward for the hard days work which we enjoyed immensely as we drove out the old forest service road to the end where Tyler would perform his usual magic on the ornery old gate lock before making the 45 minute drive home.

There is an old homestead site along the old forest service road we use to access the trail. it has lots of hand stacked rock fences and piles such as this one.
Tyler working with the old lock to get the gate open for us to get out.

The trail is now in great shape and ready for the rest of horde of Northbound thru-hikers that are already coming through and we are already contemplating the dreaded weed whacking work that will have to be done in a few short months to come. It had been another productive and enjoyable day in Nature. Until next time,,,,

Posted on 11 December '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

RAT-cation September 2018

Whenever it is possible, I try to take a few days off every year during my birth month to get away from the weekly struggles of work and life, and go on an adventure. This year I was able to make it happen so my son Tyler and I packed up the car and headed North for a much needed and well deserved vacation. Our first destination would require a two and a half hour drive as we planned to visit our good friend John ‘The Gnome’ Forbes aka Dr. Forbes who was working as a guide at the Breaks Interstate Park which is on the Virginia / Kentucky border. I had been there before yet, like most people, was unaware of all the amazing things the park has to offer. John had been working there long enough to intimately know every square inch of the park and then some so, he could show us most of the major highlights during our 3 day visit. We arrived early in afternoon and found him in his ‘gnomular home’ jamming out to some very loud music ! The first order of business would be to order up some food as Tyler and I had not eaten due to the lack of commercial establishments available in this extremely backwoods part of the country ! The Breaks resort restaurant serves up some very good vittles so as soon as we consumed them our adventure would begin.

Heading North through Virginia
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Posted on 1 February '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Work Trip on the Appalachian Trail – 6 – 29 – 2018

Cutting the annual growth along my section of the AT came a little later in the year than usual due to circumstances beyond my control. Add in an unusually warm and wet season and you get jungle type growth, some of which were taller than I am ! Suspecting this would be the case I decided to use a weedeater rather than the normal ‘sling blade’ method that we usually do. I like to use a weedeater every so many years anyway to give it a ‘good haircut’ and this was a good year to do that. Like anytime I go to the mountains I like to get an early as possible start and this trip would be no exception. My son Tyler and I started before daylight getting everything ready and packed into the Jeep so that as soon as our old friend Tommy ‘Bol’Dar’ Warden arrived we could depart on our quest.

Packing the Jeep at first light under a nice full moon
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Posted on 9 January '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Wolf Creek Falls and Paint Mtn. – 6 – 14-2018

Our next adventure would take us (my son Tyler Tarpley and I) to one of my favorites, the beautiful Wolf Creek Falls. Located in Cocke County near the TN / NC border not far from Hot Springs, NC., there are basically 3 or actually 4 different ways to get to them. The most known route is a long drive past Max Patch Mtn. on a very bumpy, backwoods, gravel road. Fairly high clearance would be a plus for this route. This will get you within less than half mile easy walking of the falls. Another variation (and shorter drive if you are coming from the TN side) is to drive in from Del Rio, TN., on the road that goes to the primitive Round Mtn. Campground as it intersects with the before mentioned route.

Wolf Creek Falls
Wolf Creek Falls (photo by Tyler Tarpley)
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Posted on 5 January '19 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Work Trip on the Appalachian Trail – 3-27-2018

Normally I do the ‘Pre-Spring walk-through’ sometime in February to check the condition of my trail section, mainly to get information to the saw crews as to how many blow-downs there are that will require a chainsaw and their locations, pictures, etc., however, due to the bad weather and snow we had this year it was late March before we (my son Tyler and I) could get in to the section. There was still snow on the ground but, we did not have any issues and was able to complete the task. There had been a lot of storms with high winds recently along with a round of freezing rain which was reported to us to have brought down a lot of limbs and debris. We were expecting the worst but, were pleasantly surprised to find the trail condition was about average for the amount of damage and the heavier work would be needed on the lower half of what used to be part of my section until recently. We got an early start with anticipation of having to saw several trees off the gated forest service road we use to access my section but, were happy to find only one along the road and another smaller one at the parking area. We sawed those out in a quick and efficient manner and were soon packed up and headed up the blue blazed access trail towards the campsite at Whistling Gap.

view

View from the TN side summit of Little Bald

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Posted on 11 April '18 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Tennessee Talus ! – 2-27-2018

Finding any form of ‘talus’  East of the Rocky Mountains is a rare thing however, there are a few instances of it found along the Appalachian Mountain chain. Mostly in the Northern sector as it is very seldom found this far South yet, we are lucky to have some fine examples of it right here in our local mountains. The best and largest examples are found on Unaka Mountain but, we do know of a few other sizeable areas of it on some other local slopes as well. This one in particular is equally as large in area but, the size of the rocks are somewhat smaller than the larger sized ones on Unaka. A small part of these could actually be classified as ‘scree’. We have known about these ‘rock fields’ for many years yet, never gave them much thought until a few years ago when we actually set our boots on the massive stones on Unaka which fueled our desire to check out some of the other ones we knew existed. We finally got around to checking out the next largest (in comparison to Unaka)  patch of talus and although I will not share the exact location or provide any pics that may give away their home, I will share a few close up shots of the talus fields to show the enormous size of them and just how steep these stacked stones are. I have always been curious as to how these massive stone fields were formed and more so as to how they manage to stay in place on such a steep angle. From a lot of hands on research of all the huge talus fields found on Unaka over several trips there, I have concluded that they used to be cliffs that were destroyed by either earthquakes, fire, freeze and thaw, or all the above. I am not so sure about this new investigation as the stones are smaller and much looser and harder to walk upon. It will always remain a curiosity in my mind until someone of authority can shed more light on these wonderful rock collections that flow down some of the steepest and most rugged of the mountains found around here. Getting to them is as hard a hike as I have ever been on so, fortunately they do protect themselves from being exploited by the masses.

talus

Looking up from the bottom of the main talus field. Although this view shows way over a football field long of talus, this actual field is at least 3 times that in length with at least one more continuing into the tree line at the top !

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Posted on 10 April '18 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.