Latest Writings

Tribute To A Legend – 3-23-2021

View looking South along the AT at Big Stamp with Big Bald just beyond. (Photo by Randy Tarpley on 3/11/2021)

The Clyde Smith Memorial Sign

I (Randy ‘RAT’ Tarpley) have been a member / trail maintainer of the Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) since Spring of 1991. This year (2021) marks my 30th year on the same section (Spivey Gap to Little Bald). It was recently divided into two sections, I now maintain only from Whistling Gap to Little Bald. When I was first considered for the section trail maintainer position, I met at Spivey Gap with veteran trail maintainers Jack Springston and Dwayne Stutzman, where we hiked up to High Rocks and back. Along the way up, we built two large ‘rock water bars’ for which Jack was so famous for. They taught me that process and how regular water bars were made using both wood, rock, and various digging techniques. By days end they were convinced that I was suitable to be the maintainer for this section. It was on that day they told me about an old sign somewhere high on Little Bald, on the old AT that had since been relocated off the main ridge. It was honoring a trail legend and master sign maker, Clyde Smith. The name did ring a bell as I had been to the AT shelter named for him in the Roan area before. I had no knowledge at that time of who he was or what his accomplishments were. I would eventually learn all that later.


Posted on 28 March '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Work Trip On AT section – 3-11-2021

White blaze high on Little Bald Mtn.

A new year means a new season of trail work. After waiting on the 2+ feet of snow to melt off the TN/NC mountains, we were finally able to access my trail section for a Pre Spring walk through to see what shape the trail was in and how many blow downs would require the saw crews. It was a cool and cloudy morning as my son Tyler unlocked the forest service gate so that we could get my Jeep up the old, overgrown forest road to make the 2.5 mile trip to reach access to our trail section. There was something different about the road but, being half asleep and not feeling very good from working too hard in the days prior, we just could not put our finger on it. We were pleasantly surprised that the road was clear of all but one or two small blow downs that we had to chainsaw out of the way and also noticed that someone had removed several trees since we were last there. I knew it was not the Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) so it had to be the USFS which was odd as they stopped maintaining the road many years ago. We made good time without any issues and soon found ourselves hiking up the short side trail to the AT. We did stop and drop a 12 pack of Mountain Dew in the Spring for any hikers that may be coming through on this day.


Posted on 27 March '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

Martin Creek Falls and more ! – 2-21-2021

Tyler and I at Martin Creek Falls

Having been nearly two months since my last outdoor adventure (mainly due to inclement weather), the forecast for a warm and sunny day would make it possible for a last minute trip to be taken on this late February day. It was already noon by the time I called my son Tyler to ask if he wanted to ‘go on a short hike’ ! He was all in so, I figured I would take him to somewhere close by with not a lot of hiking needed to get there and out by dark (which was still around 6pm). Knowing he had not ever been to Martin Creek Falls, I decided to go there as it is a short drive and a short hike and there was some side trails I wanted to explore further that we could use the rest of the time doing. Luckily the ‘Covid Crowds’ were not there as we found only 2 other vehicles parked and we would pass their owners on the trail, both coming out as we went in. It is only about a mile to the falls so it did not take us long to get there. The sun was bright and I did not bother bringing my larger camera that has filters (as I already have decent pics of these falls anyway) so, using my pocket cam made for low quality images.


Posted on 27 March '21 by , under RATtreks. No Comments.

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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.

Douglas Falls in the rain and fog

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