Talus Fields of Unaka Mtn. – 12-12-2015

After being fortunate enough to having been on the first expedition to the talus fields  and to be one of the first humans to stand upon the age old rocks there since at least the early 1900`s if not longer, I have been wanting to return. Although there have been a couple of trips made there since that time, I was not included on them so I jumped at the opportunity to go back again. The first virgin trip to this unique place was done from the top down and the subsequent adventures there were done from the bottom up and back. On this foray we had planned to go from the top down and back and would include the original members of the first trek which was Larry Jarret, John Forbes, and myself however, upon our crack of dawn arrival we encountered our entry point blocked by local bear hunters. Apparently they did not get the memo ! We killed some time getting sunrise pics in hopes they would move to a different location but, that was not to be so we made a slight change in our plan which turned out to be for the better as it would lead to the discovery of another large talus field that until now has not had any humans upon it prior to 1920 at the earliest.

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Sunrise looking Southeast from Unaka Mountain

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Sunrise looking East. That is Roan Mountain in the far distance

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Closer view looking East towards roan Mountain from Unaka

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Sunrise looking SouthEast from Unaka. That is Temple Hill and the Nolichucky River Gorge in the far distance at the bottom right of this image

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Watching the sunrise and fog over the valley looking East. That is Roan Mtn in the far distance.

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Looking Southeast over Beauty Spot towards the mountains of North Carolina

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Pastel colors created by the sunrise

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Blue sky starting to show between Unaka and Roan

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The light was changing fast and the pastel colors were amazing. My only regret was not taking the time to get my larger camera out for this view

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Looking across Beauty Spot for an endless view of mountains to the South / Southeast

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Looking due East as the sun was rising

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View looking West over the Unicoi Valley towards Erwin as the sun rises to shine upon them

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Look close and you can see the multiple beams of sunlight shining through the rising fog as the town of Unicoi and the I-26 corridor awakens. This is looking kinda towards the North from Unaka Mtn.

After going back to the other end of the mountain we could see the bear hunters were still there so we ventured farther to kill some more time and formulate a new plan. During this time I got some more sunrise pics.

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I was singing the song “Heaven Let Your Light Shine Down’ when I was taking this picture. That is Stone Mountain in the distance (Northeast)

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More sunbeams shining down over Stone Mountain as seen from Unaka

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Sunbeams coming down over Stone Mountain into the Red Fork Valley of Unaka

Ever since our first research on the area prior to the original quest, we had seen via the satellite view that there was a fairly large talus field that resides well above the main and largest field. After having already explored the surrounding ridges and the main talus field it was obvious there was no visual of it and no easily passable route to reach it. Since we were unable to access the main talus field by our usual route we checked our maps and did our best to pinpoint approximately where the new hidden rock garden would be, and literally jumped off the road down into the thick laurels at the place we thought it would be below us, and began our descent towards it. This would prove to be a difficult errand as the terrain was some of the worst I have encountered. It became instantly steep with intensely thick ‘laurel hells’ with very unstable ground beneath our feet which would end up being talus that was covered by years of growth and thin layers of duff which hid the deep holes that constantly swallowed our legs to the hip with every other step. In many cases we had to crawl through the laurels actually standing on their limbs to get through this jungle like terrain. There were no bear or rabbit trails and not one sign of humans. It was a lifeless setting that was very difficult to get through.

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We dropped into this right off the road.

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This was about the only half way level spot there was on this route and this is not even out of sight of the road yet

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Although John and Larry are only a few feet from me they are nearly invisible in the thick laurels.

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Following John and Larry as we swim through an ocean of laurels

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It was about here that the bottom fell out and it became a very steep descent. It is hard to maintain a good sense of direction while consumed by the laurels with no views

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The farther and lower we went, the thicker it became

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The laurels were so thick that you could not go under them and had to climb across instead

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There are not many individuals who can muster a smile while enduring this grueling energy draining trek through the laurels, but John Forbes is one of them as seen here

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Cameras do not show steepness very well but if you look close in this image you will see John standing on a laurel limb with Larry only five feet away and already nearly that far below him (as his head is about on the level of Johns feet) . And it was much steeper in several places.

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Me becoming one with the laurel hells (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking down into the gnarly drainage gully that we were trying to follow to reach the hidden and undiscovered new talus field

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Gnarly in every direction

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Before they were all killed out, you most likely would have seen a bear in this small cave

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In this satellite view you can see the first three talus fields. The one in the bottom right is actually the top one and the highest one on the mountain since the sat view is kinda upside down. You can see the hidden talus field we found, the largest main field and the third one after it

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This satellite view shows all five talus field. Keep in mind the one on the bottom right is actually the top one (the hidden one we found) as this view is backwards as far as top to bottom is concerned

Despite it appearing close on the map, it was a lot farther than it looked. Add in the extremely slow going due to the desperately rough tundra and it seemed like forever before we finally got close to it. Making it more taxing was the fact that you could not see anything other than the laurels in your face as there was no way to get a view or bearing of anything. We were guiding ourselves purely on instinct and gut feelings and it was not until we broke out of the thick laurels onto the hidden talus field that we realized we were right on point and came out at the highest point of the destination we were seeking. It felt good to be out of the dense, smothering growth and stand upon the talus with an elated feeling of accomplishment.

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Finally a light at the end of the tunnel

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Our first view as we emerge from the laurel hells

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We came out perfectly at the top of the previously undiscovered talus field. Larry sits to take it all in as we look down it and out over the Straight Creek Valley

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John emerges from the laurels at the top of the newly discovered talus field

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Larry pointing something out while sitting at the top of this new talus field

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A proclamation made while at the top of this newly found talus field

We took a long and much needed break there to rest, take in some snacks and fluids, and take in this new discovery that was upon us. At first this new talus field seemed small but, it soon became apparent that was not the case. Once we started exploring, it became obvious that it was quite large and there was equally as much that you could not see as there was a lot of growth that had encroached over the rocks as the mountain has slowly taken over. This of course made us realize the rock garden here was about twice as large (or more) as what we could see which is really big. We took an ample amount of time to cover every square inch of this alluring find since we may not get back here again, at least not anytime soon due to its access from any point being so difficult. We wanted to document it to the fullest. This talus was somewhat different that any of the others as some of the rock layers were much thinner and  looser so great care had to be taken here.

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Looking across the top of this new talus field

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Me at the top of the new hidden talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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The view from the newly found talus field looking out over the Straight Creek Valley. The main and largest talus field is well below us and on the other side of that reddish colored row of trees so it can`t be seen. That is Cherokee Mountain and Johnson City in the far distance

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View from the top of the new talus field. The main field is in this direction, far below and on the other side of those red trees

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Admiring the view across the top of the newly found hidden talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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View from the top of the newly found hidden talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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From the tip top of the newly found talus field, as I look up to the left I see laurels. Actually there is talus under all of this as a large part of this talus field is already overgrown with laurels and other growth which hides the stones

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Looking across the top of this new and awesome talus field

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If you study these rocks and compare them to the ones in the lower talus fields you will see these are thinner in nature. Each talus field is unique in and of itself.

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People ask me why I take pictur4es of these rock piles. I have many answers for them but, in this image you can see the cracks in the rocks which shows how they once were all one huge cliff and for whatever reason cracked and fell. Also, that small black hole there below it, I shined my light into it and stuck some very long sticks down it as well and I could find any sign of a bottom. Just sayin`,,,

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Still at the top middle where we came out at, this is looking to my right where you can see more talus and all that green stuff is growth over top of talus as this field is suffering from encroachment

We spread out in different directions to explore this new and vast expanse of talus as, we learned on our previous trip that it is hard to display the immense size accurately in pictures without having someone in the image at different distances and levels. I think we did as good a job as is possible given the lighting that we had to work with. We all took turns zig-zagging back and forth across it from top to bottom leaving no space unexplored. We all met at the bottom for a break while we looked at the maps again to determine which way to go to reach the top of the main and largest talus field below us. One of the most surprising things to me was that despite how high we were above the main field we still could not see any of it. This was due to more insanely thick growth and a wide row of trees that separates these fields from one another. We would have to rely upon our instincts and built in mountain men sense of direction to come out at the tip top of the main field without going too far left or right which would result in missing it and end up going through way more dense growth which we definitely did not want to do !

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Walking across the talus is not an easy task. As you can see here, Larry`s feet do not know which direction they are coming or going !

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As I make my way across this newly found talus field, my suspicions are confirmed that there is a huge amount of it hidden by the growth

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Our view from the top of the new talus field

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Looking to my right you can see the main ridge above which shows how steep this talus is stacked

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Larry exploring the top left part of this newly found talus field

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Two old mountain men at the top right side of the newly found hidden talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking down the hidden talus field at the Straight Creek and Dick Creek Valleys

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Looking down at John as he surveys the new talus field

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Holding my camera level to show the steep terrain found here

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Larry makes his way to the other side of this newly discovered and highest talus field

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Larry making his way towards the lower end of this talus field

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Larry`s view of me sitting near the top of the hidden talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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Me doing a celebratory gnome pose near the top right part of the newly discovered hidden talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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This brick shaped rock was just sitting, carefully balanced on top of this sharp edged rock where it landed after breaking off the rock above it

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As I make my descent down this newly discovered talus field, I got some shots looking back up from where I had just came

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There are beautiful mosses and ferns growing all along the talus fields. This gives some hint as to how long it has been since they were formed or since the great fire of 1925.

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This part of the talus field is so steep it is like standing beside a wall of rock

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Making my way across the talus field you can see how massive and steep these rocks really are. You have to remain alert and test each step because you would not want any of these to move as that could result in serious consequences

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Looking up towards the top part of one side of the newly found talus field as I make my down. I am barely halfway down at this point

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John gives some scale to the size of this part of the talus field

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A Gnome posing in a known gnome habitat

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Larry taking a break. We were getting close to the bottom part of this newly found talus field and had to make a decision on which way to go to reach the top of the main talus field way down below us. It is below that red tree line and we knew we would have to bear off to the left and down from here.

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Gnarly twisted wood found among the talus

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more gnarly twisted wood

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John stands high above me in the newly discovered talus field on Unaka

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Our view from near the left edge and bottom of this talus field. There is still much talus beneath all the growth you see as this entire side of the mountain is comprised of it but some spots have been grown over for longer periods of time where others are still completely exposed.

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Looking back up at the newly found talus field. It is an awesome find and I hated to leave it

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Looking back up and saying goodbye to the new talus field

We chose our direction and slowly made our way through more ‘laurel hells’ and this time the terrain underfoot was even harder to stand upon as it contained more hidden talus. It seems I found every hole there was to plunge my leg into as the earth seemed to fall out from under me with every other step. The next day my legs would look like someone beat me with a hammer all over them ! After what seemed like forever we once again hit the nail on the head and came out in the perfect spot at the highest point of the main talus field. After feeling blindfolded and smothered with no views for more than a few feet away, to step out onto this massive open expanse of boulders was like a breath of fresh air. Very similar to a free diver coming up for air after a long, deep dive. Again, another break was well earned.

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Following John and Larry through the next stretch of laurel hells

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More thick laurels surround us and more talus hidden underfoot

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There really was no path of least resistance, it was thick in all directions as we tried to stay on course without being able to see anything other than laurels in our faces

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A ninja RAT making his way through the laurel hells (Photo by John Forbes)

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It was an in your face laurel event while some steps would find your leg consumed to the crotch in deep holes in the talus hiding under us. You must be extremely careful not to break a leg here

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Another RAT Ninja move as I contort my body to get through the laurels (Photo by John Forbes)

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This was the easiest way to get under the laurel and over the rock (Photo by John Forbes)

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After what seemed like forever, there was finally another light at the end of this new tunnel as we came out perfect once again at the highest part dead center of the main and largest talus field.

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Coming out in the right spot at the top of the main talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

Having not stood quite this high upon the main and largest talus field before, it seemed even larger and steeper than it did the first time I observed it. Looking down it from tip top to bottom was breathtaking. I had regretted not climbing to this point on our first visit there and it was then that I knew why as the anticipated view did not disappoint. We used the same strategy as we did in the newly found upper hidden field in order to display this capacious accumulation of rocks by spacing ourselves far apart from each other while traversing back and forth across its massive expanse in order to capture its monumental size and steepness in our pictures. Even then it was convoluted as pictures simply do not show depth very well yet, we did our best and I think we were successful.

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Coming out at the tip top of the main and largest talus field still very high above the Straight Creek Valley

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Being this high above the main talus field was awesome

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Looking down the entire length of the main talus field. It is not until you stand here that you can grasp or appreciate the true immensity of that vast field of stones

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The view from the top of the massive talus field is outstanding. You can see down the entire height of the stone field to the Straight Creek valley below, on down to the gnarly trees that guard over the Hillbilly Oasis until it enters the massive Dick Creek Valley at the bottom. You continue on to see the end/beginning of Stone Mtn and Cherokee Mountains beyond where the I-26 corridor lies with Unicoi being at the end of the valley there and Johnson City to the far right. I am always in awe when I see this.

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Looking straight down you can not see the lower third of this field as the view stops in the distance at the top of what I call ‘the wall’. This is where the talus drops off sharply into a much steeper wall of talus which continues all the way to the bottom. This will be displayed better in later pictures.

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There are beautiful mosses that grown among the talus

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Looking down the largest talus field

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Taken with my larger camera

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This is part of where the tip top of the main talus field emerges out of the growth. We explored every square inch of it from side to side top to bottom on all levels.

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Larry standing below me in the main talus field

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Larry makes his way around the island of growth at the tip top of the main talus field as there is much more talus to be found on the other side that reaches even higher up than the level I am on here

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Larry is not that far from me and already is looking much smaller as he makes his way below the island of growth that lies at the top of this main talus field

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John is only a short distance above me as we explore the top of the main talus field but he is 5 times higher than my location. The severe angle upon which these rocks are stacked is what blows my mind the most I think.

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John chilling out at the top of the main talus field (taken with larger camera)

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How a fat RAT gets across talus (Photo by John Forbes)

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Me negotiating the large talus on the main field (Photo by John Forbes)

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Maneuvering across the talus is a tedious and time/energy consuming task (Photo by John Forbes)

Besides having someone in the pictures for scale, I will add that we were always at least 100 yards away from each other at all times and it takes at least 30 minutes to travel that far (safely) across the talus. It is also very physically taxing on the body as you find yourself tensing all over as you make your way across the many different stones which all lay on different angles and vary in size from small to the size of large cars and trucks, any of which could shift and move to trap or kill you at a moments notice. Some have great traction even when wet where others are slick as ice even when dry and some that actually seem to sweat moisture from within them. This being said, it is slow going to make your way over the talus. Also keep in mind that they are on an extremely steep angle, at least 45 degrees in most places even steeper in others and it is the extreme weight and pressure from gravity that holds this massive amount of rocks in place. It baffles my mind as to how they can be on such an angle and not tumble so I am very cautious when I am upon them.

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Look carefully for Larry. He is one of the orange dots on the right side about half way down this image. You will now start to see just how far across this field of rocks is

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Find Larry. Keep in mind that I am standing just to the left of the center of this main field as there is quite a bit more of talus behind me !

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Looking back up at John who is still at the place where we emerged onto the talus field at. This main field has two large fingers like this separated only by a large island of growth in the middle. I was making my way down here to get around the island and climb back up to the top of the other finger as we zig zagged back and forth across the rocks

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Looking down this side of the main talus field I can only see to the top of ‘the wall’ which hides at least a third more of the field due to its being damn near vertical as it continues all the way to the valley floor

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Looking down as I make my way around the lower tip of the growth island as I make my way around it. In this image you can see the only remaining small cliff at the lower end of the talus field

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John Forbes giving some scale to the left side finger at the top of the main talus field

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There is much beauty to be found among the talus. Great care must be taken not to destroy it by walking in the wrong places (Photo by John Forbes)

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Larry making his way back across the main talus field as we leave no stone unexplored

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Looking back at John as I cross beneath the growth island. You can see how steep the talus is

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Taken with my larger camera (Find John)

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Looking over at the head of the Straight Creek hollow you can see more talus showing through which is proof that this entire area is talus only parts of it are covered with different types of growth which hides it

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These gorgeous ferns are growing at the lower tip of the growth island at the top of the main talus field

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John took this shot of me as I go under and around the growth island at the top center of the main talus field. This photo goes a long way in displaying the immense size of the talus field  (Photo by John Forbes)

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After getting past the growth island I could now see the vast amount of talus that reside high in the right finger at the top of the main talus field. I was heading to its highest point

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Looking down this side of the talus field

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Larry way down below me on the main talus field. Despite the distance, we could communicate between each other as sound carries very well here

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Happy Gnomes posing in the main talus field

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As I make my way up the other side of the talus field I look back at Larry and John who are spaced out on only about a third of the upper part of this main field. This starts to display the size.

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panning slightly to the left and down from the last image, you can see another third of the talus below Larry

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Standing near the top of this finger of the talus field I can see Larry on the other side which adds more scale to the size and steepness of the field

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Looking at Larry on the other side of the talus

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Here you can see Larry but, John is still high above him hidden by the growth island in the center

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Taken with my larger camera (Find Larry)

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John making his way below the island of growth and Larry on the far side as we deliberately keep ourselves spaced out to show the correct scale in our pics

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John looks small from my perch near the top right side of the main field but, Larry has now became a mere small dot of orange

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It is a long way across the top of the main talus field as you can see by how small Larry is in this shot that was taken with my larger camera

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Here I am standing on the lower right side of the main talus field as I am about to come down to the cliff (just out of the picture) Although only a smart portion of the main talus field you can see how large and steep it is (Photo by John Forbes)

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Larry is still in the same spot as the last image and here you can see the massive amount of talus still below him

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Taken with my larger camera (Find Larry)

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Spacing ourselves out across the top of the main talus field

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Me making my way around in the main talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking down from my location at the top of the main field. I included Larry for scale

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Larry and John looking tiny on this very large playground (taken with my larger camera)

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John and I at the top of the main talus field just before making our way down to lower levels

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A RAT in the main talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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Me testing each step before I take it as I crawl around at the top right part of the main talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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The main talus field is the size of many many football fields ! It still astonishes me how these rocks can remain on this steep angle and not tumble to the bottom.

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Larry going across the main talus field at the top edge of ‘the wall’. You can see the lowest and flat part of the main field below him but not a third of the lower and steepest part which is out if side due to the steep angle of it just below him (Photo by John Forbes)

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John and I near the upper right hand corner of the main talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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Larry`s view of John and myself from his position seen in the previous picture (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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View from the top of the main talus field (Photo by john Forbes)

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Some of the rocks are much larger than others and it only takes one or two much smaller rocks to hold them in place which prevents them from tumbling out of control downwards. Great care and respect must be taken when negotiating around and across or under these mammoth boulders.

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Looking down this this side of the talus field I am starting to get a small view of the bottom part

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Larry on the other side of the main talus field (taken with my larger camera)

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Larry checking out this huge rock puzzle (taken with larger camera)

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Taken with my larger camera

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Me gnome posing along the far side of the main talus field about a third of the way down (Photo by John Forbes)

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Making my way across the main talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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John and I crisscrossing across the main talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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View of the Dick Creek Valley, with the I-26 corridor and Cherokee Mtn chain beyond as seen from high upon the main talus field of Unaka

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John takes a break while in the talus as it is not wise to get hasty here

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As I get lower in the main field I am closer to what i call the top of ‘the wall’.

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Larry taking a break as he is now back on the other side of the talus only much lower than before. In this shot you can start to see the various layers and varying degrees of vertical as the talus seems to be in ‘waves’ as it makes it way down. The most sheer of which is ‘the wall’

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Larry is still in the same spot as the last picture and in this one you can see just how much talus is above him ! There is no way to get all of it in one frame.

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Me on top of ‘the wall’ (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking back up towards the top right of the main field from my new position which is one more image above the last picture as from here it takes 3 shots to get it all

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Going below some of the more vertical parts of the talus field

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I am about halfway down and in the center of the main talus field. Still above ‘the wall’ and you can see the small remaining cliff at the lower right of the image

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We are all making our way towards the other side of the talus field staying above ‘the wall’ and migrating towards the cliff at the bottom

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Looking back up over one of the layers or waves of talus

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Here I came across a table top rock that covered a rather large hole that resembled what might be a gnome home

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Come to find out it was a home fit for a gnome !

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A zoomed view of the white ghost trees that guard over the Hillbilly Oasis in the Straight Creek Valley as seen from high upon the main talus field (taken with my larger camera)

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Zooming in on the trees at the Hillbilly Oasis from the main talus field (taken with my larger camera)

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Super zoomed shot using my larger camera of the white ghost trees that sit above the Hillbilly Oasis. The water runs beneath all the talus and emerges beneath these trees

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Slowly getting lower in the main talus field you can see John standing at the top of one the higher layers. He is not far from the top edge of ‘the wall’ which is down below him.

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John looking small among the huge boulders of the main talus field as get continues downward towards the top of ‘the wall’ and the bottom of this mountain of stones

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My view across this small part of the main talus field

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Larry is already down near the cliff at the bottom of the main talus field (taken with my larger camera)

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Larry almost down to the top part of the cliff (Photo by John Forbes)

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Larry making his way to the bottom (taken with my larger camera)

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Larry has already made his way to the bottom of the main talus field. I am well below the halfway point and he still looks tiny from my vantage point

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My view of Larry and John from the top of ‘the wall’ as they are already at the bottom of the main field

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Looking down at the lower third of the main talus field. Larry is in the bottom and is a tiny orange speck still. This shows just how large this area really is

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Looking down, taken with the larger camera

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Standing atop ‘the wall’ I look across the side of the main talus field. John is standing at the bottom which helps to displays the size of things here

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Looking down at John from my puckering perch along the top of ‘the wall’ which is where the lower third of the main talus field drops off sharply and is more vertical on down to the bottom than the other portions above it.

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Hanging out on top of ‘the wall’ trying to show how steep it is and how much farther it still is tot he bottom of this massive main field of talus. Larry and John help to show its scale

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My view as I set my sights on getting over to this side and down to the last remaining cliff at the base

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Here you can see Johnson City in the far distance to the right of the Cherokee Mtn chain under some nice clouds as seen from the main talus field. if you look closely at the bottom you can see the orange glow of Larry way below me

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John at the bottom as seen from the top of ‘the wall’.

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Looking down from the top of ‘the wall’ Larry is almost at the bottom of the main talus field (taken with my larger camera)

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Looking at the upper part of the lower third of the talus as seen from the top of ‘the wall’

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Looking down at Larry and John from atop ‘the wall’

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Larry`s view of John as he gnome poses from atop ‘the wall’ . Notice you can not see 2/3`s of the main talus field which is above John, which shows just how vertical ‘the wall’ part of the talus field really is (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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Looking up from the top of ‘the wall’ it is still very steep but only half as vertical as from the wall to the bottom.

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Looking up across the main talus field using my larger camera

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Looking down at John and Larry from the top edge of the wall, this is starting to show just how much steep this part of the main talus field is

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A good view of where the main talus field meets the bottom of the valley with John to show some scale

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Me coming down the right side of the main talus field which is also the least steepest part of ‘the wall’ on my way to the cliff which is just out of the picture (Photo by John Forbes)

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Standing beside the last remaining cliff at the main talus field

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There is a nice rock shelter beneath the cliff

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View looking back up across the main talus field from the cliff

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Looking up at John who is standing on top of the cliff

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One of the many body positioning techniques needed to get down the talus beside the cliff (Photo by John Forbes)

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View of the talus from the cliff

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John and I at the only remaining cliff at the lower right hand side of the main talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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The last remaining cliff that sits near the base of the main talus field. It is my belief that this entire area was once a huge cliff system just like this that collapsed and formed the talus fields.

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Another view of the cliff where you can see another one above it hiding in the growth as it is part of this unique talus system

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Larry takes a break at the lowest part of the main talus field. You can see the next (third) talus field coming up on the left as this is looking down the Straight Creek Valley (Photo by John Forbes)

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Looking across the bottom of the main talus field. ‘The wall’ is seen on the right and the other 2/3`s of the talus above it is out of the picture. (Photo by John Forbes)

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A man and his talus. (Photo by John Forbes)

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Group shot of the Camel Servicer`s at the base of the main and largest talus field of Unaka

It would take us more than two hours to make our way to the base of this indomitable wall of stones where we would once again take a much needed break and get a group shot from the same location where our first one was taken from. After gathering our thoughts and allowing the adrenaline to calm slightly, we continued on to the next talus field which is not far below the base of this main field. It was already becoming late afternoon and we realized at this point that if we were to continue to the other talus fields and the Hillbilly Oasis and attempt to climb back up from there to the road at the top, that we would be crossing the main talus field and climbing the off trail ridge in the dark by headlamps. Of course that was not an option but, neither was not seeing all of the talus fields AND the Hillbilly Oasis ! There was only one way to solve that problem and that would be to continue to all the talus fields and the Oasis and then instead of going back up, to instead proceed down the Straight Creek Valley and take the Limestone Cove Trail over to Rocky Branch where my car had been left. Of course this would mean many more miles added to the journey and the last 3 or so would be in the pitch dark by headlamp and then a long drive back to the top of the mountain to to retrieve Larry`s truck yet, for some crazy reason we opted for this plan and proceeded to make it happen.

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Making our way onto the next talus field which is on the left side of the valley as you leave the main talus field heading down

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First view as we get out onto the next talus field

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Me as I climb out onto the bottom edge of the third talus field. You can see the bottom of the main field behind me (Photo by John Forbes)

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Climbing to the top of the third talus field

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Although not near as large as the main talus field, this third one is not considered small by no means

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View from the lower part of the third talus field

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Following Larry towards the top of the third talus field

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As I climb higher up the talus you can see that this smaller field is not small at all

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Looking down the Straight Creek Valley across the third talus field. The fourth and fifth talus fields are just on the other side above the white looking trees that are at the Hillbilly Oasis yet you cant see it.

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Looking back you can see the lower part of the main talus field where we just came from

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The view changes drastically as you get higher on this talus field

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Looking across the valley towards the next talus fields and the trees at the Hillbilly Oasis you can barely see the other talus. This is due to their being lower in the valley and the angle and where the trees are that are blocking the view

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Following Larry across the top of the third talus field

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Me crossing the talus at the top of the third talus field. (Photo by John Forbes)

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View across the third talus field

Each talus field has its own unique characteristics. On this trip we learned that the new one, the highest on the mountain, was made up of thinner layers of rocks over the larger stones and were slightly darker and much looser than any of the other fields. This third field we were about to re-explore is the steepest of them all yet seems more stable than the others. We would take the time on this trip to climb to the tip top of it and traverse its entire width there before working our way to its base, something we did not do on our previous inquisition here. We were very thorough on all of the talus fields on this crusade.

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Looking back I can still see the lowest and flattest part of the main talus field where the rocks have pushed out into the valley floor. This third field stops precariously just at the V and does not lay on the floor of the valley which I always thought was odd

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Almost to the top of the third talus field

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Traveling safely across the talus fields is slow, methodical, and time consuming

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Looking down from near the top of this third talus field you can see just how steep it really is and also how the rocks don’t make it tot he bottom of the V of the valley floor !

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The incredible steepness of this talus field blows my mind how the rocks can stay put

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After exploring every inch of the highest part of this talus field, we now make our way down to its base so we can follow the valley floor down to the next field on the other side

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Looking back across the third talus field the main talus field is no longer in sight

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Another view looking back across the talus as it does show the extreme steepness

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Looking straight down from the top of the third talus field

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Larry nears the bottom of the third talus field as I am over half way down behind him

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They say when a Gnome strokes his beard he is very happy. I am sure that is true on this third talus field.

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John and I at the top of the third talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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Looking back across the third talus field.

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Another view back across the third talus field, starting to see some of the main talus field again

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Looking back up at the top of the third talus field

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Me looking across the third talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

Once at the bottom of this wall of rock we entered into the gut of the valley which lies between this talus wall and the next. It is a moss covered Shangri-La area where one seems to instantly lose all track of anything else as it actually rises up over a small hill (which is hard to imagine being possible here) before reaching the lower edge of the next talus field on the opposite side of the deep valley. Again we started at the bottom and proceeded to the top and back making our way across it, spreading out over its entirety in order to cover every square inch and still get the best scale of its size, steepness, and height in our pictures. We spent as much time on this mountain of stacked stones as we could before carefully making our way down to the base on the opposite end and down into the dark bowels of the valley where Straight Creek bubbles out of the ground at the Hillbilly Oasis.

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John and Larry deep in the valley floor making their way towards the next and fourth talus field

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Although there is no trail here, the going is not bad and the beauty makes it all the better

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Looking back to show the Shangri La type beauty of the valley floor here. Keep in mind that the Straight Creek water comes out of the ground just above the bottom of the main talus field but, quickly disappears back underground where it still is here, only to come out again for good at the Hillbilly Oasis

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Making my way down through the Shangri La portion of the Straight Creek Valley in between the third and fourth talus fields (Photo by John Forbes)

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Having just emerged from the Shangri La valley out onto the fourth talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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This is the fourth talus field which is on the opposite side of the valley. Here we are just coming onto it as Larry and John seem to be holding that big rock from falling as I pass below them

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Looking up across the fourth talus field. It is almost the smallest of all the talus fields but it is no less impressive as each are different and have their own unique characteristics

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The fourth talus field. At the top center it has a large patch of likens covered rocks. None of the other talus fields have this

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Looking across the fourth talus field from its base. You can see the tops of the trees that guard the Hillbilly Oasis visible in the distance

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View of the valley from the lower part of the fourth talus field

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I waited while Larry and John made their way across the fourth talus field in order to get better shots showing the size of this boulder garden

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Another view of the valley and gnarly trees down at the oasis

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Looking up at the top of the fourth talus field

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Another valley view as I slowly get higher on the fourth talus field

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John and I getting pics of Larry who is standing on a certain known rock at the top of the fourth talus field

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Larry`s view of John from near the top of the fourth talus field (Photo by Larry Jarret)

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John carefully negotiates his way across the fourth talus field

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John makes his way across the center while Larry explores the tip top of the fourth talus field

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Now that John and Larry are getting some distance from me you can start to see the size of the fourth talus field

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A happy Gnome poses high on the fourth talus field of Unaka

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John captures the RATman doing a gnome pose in the fourth talus field. In this shot you can see the top part of the third talus field in the distance (Photo by John Forbes)

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Here I am about halfway across the fourth talus field and looking back the way we had just came. You will notice that you can not see the previous (third) talus field just like we could not see this one from it.

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Me at the top of the fourth talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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Like the other talus fields, some of the rocks are large. Makes John look small.

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You can see Larry looking like a small orange dot on the other end of the talus field from where I am which is half way across. You can also see a small part of the fifth and smallest talus field just beyond him

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John stand on a large level rock near the bottom of the fourth talus field while Larry is still up at the top. The Oasis trees are getting much closer now

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A perfect and beautiful pine tree at the edge of the fourth talus field

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Looking back across the fourth talus field you can almost see the tip top of the previous (third) one along with another nice pine tree

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Looking down diagonally across the fourth talus field

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Looking down diagonally the other way towards John who is at the base of the fourth talus field and is about to drop off the rocks into the deep valley floor below in order to reach the Hillbilly Oasis

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Looking across the fourth talus field. if you look close you can see Larry (orange) as I think he is about to take a short cut down to the Hillbilly Oasis

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Looking back across the fourth talus field, I am now high enough to see the two highest points of the previous (third) talus field

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Zooming in so you can see the two highest points of the previous (third) talus field

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Looking down at John from near the top of the fourth talus field

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These huge rocks live at the top of the fourth talus field. There are also some small cliffs and other larger boulders above these if you climb up through the trees

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Looking down at the base of the fourth talus field you can see the green moss covered rocks there. There is a lot of that in the valley floor area here as you will see as I am about to make my way down there and continue on down to the Oasis

I was the last one to the Oasis and I could see it was running much lower than our first trip there. This still does not hinder its abounding beauty as it is a very special and actually a spiritual place (for us anyway). The light was fading fast and the temperature was dropping. I knew then that we would soon be in the dark long before we would get near the end of the Straight Creek Valley but, staying true to our purpose we took our time to enjoy the Oasis fully and take what pics we could before continuing on.

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I was the last to arrive, sliding down into the Hillbilly Oasis (Photo by John Forbes)

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The Hillbilly Oasis (taken with my larger camera)

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Water coming out from under the talus at the Hillbilly Oasis

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The many beautiful shades of green found at the Hillbilly Oasis

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Oasis (taken with my larger camera)

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Perhaps the greenest place around

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The water comes right out from under the roots of one of the large trees that guard over the Hillbilly Oasis

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The Hillbilly Oasis

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The oasis taken with my larger camera

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Group shot taken at the Hillbilly Oasis (please excuse John`s blurriness as he had to hold that pose for a full 12 second exposure !!! )

After leaving the Hillbilly Oasis we climbed back up to the lower end of the previous talus field where it continues on to another smaller group of talus where we climbed to its tiptop to check out a really cool looking, gnarly tree that grows out of the rocks there. From there we began the long journey down that steep side of the valley which passes by a few other smaller rock gardens and large rock formations until it finally becomes all woods. It was about there that it became completely dark.

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Climbing up out of the Hillbilly Oasis we check out the last and fifth talus field on Unaka. This is the smallest one.

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Me at the lower part of the fifth talus field. I had gotten cold at the Hillbilly Oasis so I donned warmer layer. I would lose this by the time I reached the top of this smallest talus field. (Photo by John Forbes)

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Me near the top of the fifth talus field (Photo by John Forbes)

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This cool looking tree is at the top of the fifth talus field

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John and I gnome posing at the top of the fifth talus field (photo by Larry Jarret)

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Not far from the last talus field (fifth) we came across this young Tuan Tuan that Larry took the time to break. Was an easy 8 seconds !

Firing up our headlamps and slowing our pace significantly we made our way carefully out the long and seemingly never ending ridge towards its end where our next landmark would be the old moonshine still area. This would be hard if not impossible to find at night but, it had to be done as we would need to find that old road in order to connect to the next one that leads over the mountain to the Rocky Branch side. I was very tired at this point and was beginning to feel many aches and pains. After what seemed like a lot farther than it should have been we did find the old still site and the old road not far below it. Once we reached the old gnarly twisted tree there we knew the hardest part was over as the rest of the journey would be on old roads and an actual trail of sorts.

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I had to use a flash to get a shot of the old twisted tree at the end of the old road trail which is not far from the old moonshine still site

Another 3 miles lied ahead and we would end up taking many breaks and the farther we went the slower I got as I ran out of energy and water. Thanks to John Forbes for keeping me hydrated by sharing his extra water which enabled me to complete the long, arduous journey to finally reach the car a couple of hours later. It was good to finally be sitting down and not stumbling over rocks in the dark. We still had to make the drive back to the top to recover Larry’s truck but, that was soon accomplished and the long day was almost completed. It had been a long and very tough one but, we had succeeded in our quest and even discovered the new hidden and highest talus field on the mountain, not to mention taking the time to meticulously explore every square inch of all the talus from top to bottom and side to side. What an awesome, impeccable day it had been. We said our goodbyes on the top of Unaka and proceeded back down the mountain, Larry on his way to some home cooking and John and I to find somewhere for the post hike grub out. Since it was so late and Clarence’s Restaurant was about to close, we ended up at Ole`s Mexican Restaurant in Johnson City where we had some really good grub before dropping John off at his car. I did not envy his long drive home and I was anxious to soak in a tub of hot water to soothe my abrasions and aching bones. And, yes I would and will do it all over again as one simply can not get enough talus. Until next time,,,

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John`s plate at the post hike grub out. We can not locate the photo of my plate but it was an El Gusto Quesadilla with Steak/Chicken/Shrimp !

Posted on 10 February '16 by , under RATtreks.

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