Latest Writings

Bucket List Cliffs – 1-2-2021

Happy New Year ! Good riddance to 2020 and high hopes for 2021. I normally try to hike on new years day each year but, this year due to the weather and other obligations, it had to wait a day. This ended up a good thing as there would have been no views on my destination of choice had I not waited. Still working on getting back into shape, I chose another local area to reduce the amount of drive time as well as a short hiking distance but, with enough climbing to get a good workout within the time allotted. For these reason I chose to go to a place I am now calling ‘Bucket List Cliffs’ . The reason for choosing this name has nothing to do with them being super spectacular or of being anything of great importance as most things on ones bucket list would not be so close to home and, would be something really unique or special. These cliffs are not really a bucket list type location yet, they are worthy of experiencing. Well, that and ‘Rats List Cliffs' does not sound that good ! The real reason is that despite the fact that many of my inner circle hiking friends have been there several times over the past 40 years, and driving by them myself for even longer, it seems I had never actually taken the time to go there ! I did attempt to go there back in Sept. of 2014 but, there were some hunters blocking the access point so I chose a different location farther down the mountain instead. It was not until now that I would actually be able to stand upon them.

Zoomed image of the cliffs
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Posted on 13 January '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Farewell 2020 Hike – 12-30-2020

Having been over 3 months since my last outing and, with 2020 nearly over, I thought I should take a hike to give 2020 a proper sendoff in hopes of at least ending it on a positive note. Along for this journey would be my son Tyler Tarpley and stepson, Jeffrey Messer. It was to an undisclosed location not too far from home but, would take us off trail into the backcountry for a short but, moderate hike (since I had no clue how my physical ability would be at this time). Upon arrival to the area we could see the tourist trailheads were already full and it was only Wednesday. I found a parking space and we proceeded to head in the opposite direction of any known trails to quickly disappear into the forest. The creek was too high to cross safely so we had to traverse some steep sidehill terrain and become one with the laurels in order to get around it. Soon we found ourselves on the secret ninja trail I was seeking.

Shrouded by trees and vines, the distant visuals almost elude us
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Posted on 11 January '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Sunrise From Grassy Ridge – 9-16-2020

After 8 months of a global pandemic since my last hike, I was finally able to strap on my hiking boots and head to some of the highest mountains near me. I chose to do a night hike to Grassy Ridge on the mighty Roan Mountain to get there in time to watch the first light of the sun come up behind the Grandfather Mountain Range in the distance. It is always a gamble when it comes to sunrises and sunsets but, after not being able to hike for 8 months, I would be happy no matter what the results were as, just being in Nature would be plenty reward enough to me. That is, IF I could even make it all the way to Grassy Ridge !!! I had no way of knowing how my now overweight and much out of shape body, esp. my knees would handle this ‘right off the recliner’ hike !! After all the staging was done, I left the RAT`s Hole around 3am hoping this would allow plenty of time to make the drive and the climb to the top before first light. It is a 40 minute drive for me so I was there before 4am and was surprised to find the parking area already half full and on a Wed. ! I had been hearing and seeing pictures of the new ‘Covid Crowds’ that are now flocking to all the known trail heads and overflowing the parking areas and parking on the sides of and in the road for up to a mile in either direction but, I was now seeing that for myself. I wasted no time in grabbing my pack and heading up the mountain in the pitch black dark.

Sunrise over Grandfather Mtn. as seen from Grassy Ridge
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Posted on 9 January '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Climbing Rich Mtn. – 1 – 9 -2020

After a 72 day period of not being able to hike since our last trip, I thought it was high time to get back into the woods. I had been wanting to get back up on Rich Mountain to relocate the old Mill Creek Pond to clear up some fuzzy memories from the old days back when we could drive up there however, now that one must climb an insanely steep hill just to get to the top of the mountain, I misjudged my physical ability to do so. Having not been hiking near as much as my usual in the past year due to health issues and other obligations, I was definitely out of shape for this particular hike. Knowing the daylight hours were short and bad weather on the approach, my son Tyler and I got an early start to take advantage of the fair weather and time that we had to work with. It was a nice sunny morning as we made our way up the South Fork of Sill Branch on our way to the Hill from Hell !

rich mountain
Snow seen in the distance on the tops of the Rich Mountain range
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Posted on 4 January '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

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.