Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The World of MountainVision: Next up... "New Horse"

A Word From Nicotye: Never
Underestimate the opponent!
Anyone who knows me knows I don't watch TV (except for Nashville Predators hockey!).  So when I pipe up about watching a TV show, it's kind of a big deal.  Not much keeps me inside and glued to a  TV, but Expedition Impossible is an exception...

Want some insider, behind the scenes info from Expedition Impossible?  No worries! My bud, Jeff Evans (team No Limits) has a blog and gives you more info than the editors can let through in an hour (not to mention personal touches).

Never give up on team No Limits... Erik ("the blind guy") has done more amazing things than most of us could ever hope to do.  How anyone could count him out is beyond me.

The World of MountainVision: Next up... "New Horse": "crawl"

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Bucket List Desinations... it's about the JOURNEY

Everyone has a bucket list... some are experiences, some are destinations, some are skills or accomplishments.  My bucket list (aside from seeing my Preds play in every other team's barn) is made up of journeys in different places.  Most of my places are on the North American continent... which probably makes me a lucky girl.  Here, in no particular order, are my Bucket List Journeys:

Sierra National Forest
Photo belongs to Mike Jones
Who wouldn't want to visit Bull Buck, the second-largest tree on the planet? The Sierra National Forest has enough sequoias to make even giants feel small. Bull Buck, a 2,700-year-old tree, towers over 247 feet and I'm certain it will make me feel like I've tumbled through a rabbit hole into some magickal realm.  Located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, this California woodland’s hiking highlights includes John Muir WildernessAnsel Adams Wilderness and several others.

Grand Canyon National Park
Photo from
I grew up near the Grand Canyon and can't remember ever actually seeing it.  In my late 20's or early 30's, I remember flying west and the pilot pointed it out in the distance.  The setting sun glowed red and magickal over the earthen rock.  I'm dying to climb down a world famous gorge with a depth of about 6,000 feet (or 1 mile)... and equally dying to climb back UP.  I'm one of those weirdo's who prefers up or level to down. For those with the endurance and will, this hike is bound to be one of the greatest adventures of a lifetime. The government site about Grand Canyon National Park gives lifesaving pointers such as avoid huffing and puffing to ensure your body is getting enough oxygen during that arduous journey.

Yellowstone.  If ever there was a place on earth that was amazing due to geology, this would be it.  Home to one of the world’s super volcanoes (the one they made the TV show about that’s been dormant for about 640,000 years and due to blow it's top), this wilderness safe haven holds so many wonders!  Old Faithful Geyser. Even another active volcano. While the park’s geological attributes really provide no eminent threat, perhaps it does add a hint of danger to the trek while weaving through trails overflowing with the highest concentration of mammals in the lower 48.

Glacier National Park
I've been to Glacier but didn't get to hike.  It was October (and I had one, rainy day to get a view of the park).  I remember Logan's Pass (I think?) was closed already.   Glacier National Park looks like the Swiss Alps without having to travel so far. Breath taking views along the Going-to-the-sun-road. Watching the sunrise over the gorgeous mountains. Hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the United States. The best part is the park is hardly ever crowded because it's way up in northern Montana about 45 miles from the Canadian border.  I can't wait to go again, and staying in White Fish, MT was a blast all by itself!  Did I mention I met my first real cowboy in here?  I love this place.

Grand Tetons

Photo from - Visit them!
I think the Grand Tetons are the most photographed mountains in the US.  There are a magnitude of trails and so many rumored, hidden qualities of the peaks and canyons. One look at Painbrush Canyon and I'm always willing to pack my bags.

Denali National Park

Denali, Care of
And then, there's Denali.  Never has a single mountain called to me like Mount McKinley and the Denali Range.  I've loved that mountain since I was a kid and, while I have no plans to summit that beast, I'm sure that one day I will hike it's base and trails.  Snow capped peaks are my very favorite and the amazing spring/summer in Denali is guaranteed to please.  The park is massive, the wildlife is amazing, the rangers are helpful (they provide bear canisters and teach you want to do during bear encounters) and the views are nothing short of enchanting.  

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Trips Don't Get Much Better

Snow Falls, Laurel Snow Pocket, Dayton, TN

We started our day on time, leaving the house at 8 a.m.  I had told my dog, LeiLui, for two days that she was grounded and not going.  As we were walking out the door, she gave me a pitiful look and I patted her head gently and explained that this was a longer hike and she wasn't fit enough to handle it.  I closed the door, walked to the car, and backed out of the driveway.  As I passed the front of my house, there Lui was; framed in the door with the most deseperate 'don't leave me!' look on her face.  I turned around in the next driveway and explained to Jess that I was taking Lui, even if it meant carrying her again.  Lui was so spastic when I came to the door (she knew she had won!) and she bolted to the car.  THEN, again, we were off.

Let me tell you a smidgen of history about where we went today.  When you pull into the trailhead at Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness, you are immediately immersed in history.  When you park the car, a quick scan around the parking lot and you'll notice the chunks of coal and pig iron.  Along the first mile of the trail you'll pass one of the abandoned coal mine shafts, dinky lines (smaller rail lines that hauled the coal carts), the old water main that ran from the Old Dayton Reservoir to downtown Dayton, and of course tons and tons of crafted rock with a lot of it still standing.  I've always said, one day I intend to just explore these areas and... if I'm feeling especially stupid, maybe take a look in that mine shaft.  (Author's note: only stupidity would pressure me into the mine shaft... it's no secret that old mines are notorious for cave-ins and toxic [not to mention, explosive!] methane gases).

So, where was I?  Oh yes, HIKING.  Shortly after passing the mine (and, as there was only 2 other cars at the trailhead, unleashing Lui), I saw a person in the distance.  As she turned, I saw a green patch on the arm of her earth-toned shirt.  It was a forest ranger and here I was, breaking the rules, by not having my Lui on a leash (I know, I'm a rebel).  I quickly leashed Lui and then we made our way to where the ranger was standing.  We had a brief discussion where she complimented Lui's looks and discussed our hike for the day.  Then, again, we were off.  (Yes, I waited till we were off the beaten path before un-tethering Lui).

After the trail splits (right for Laurel, left for Snow), we found that we had to cross the Richland Creek on three 50-foot long metal bridges that were anchored into massive boulders.   I can only imagine how hard those bridges were to get on location and then anchored in place!  Lui, who normally shy's away from these see-through bridges, trekked right on across like it was normal.  From there we followed the creek-line back awhile before an ascent up the mountain.  Nearing the apex of our climb, we passed huge rocks that had fallen as well as the amazing 'shelves' left behind.  Seeing the sheer rock faces that were left and the size of the rocks that had broken off, I couldn't help but marvel at how magnificent this mountain chain (all of the eastern mountain chains, really) must have been in eons past.  Maybe that's one of my draws to this region? For anyone who isn't versed in the geological history of this region (TN/KY/VA) of our continent, it's a very interesting tale full of turbulent destruction, impacts from outer space, and upheaval of young rocks.  I've heard it said that the Appalachian Mountains were once rivals to the Himalayas! That's like 30,000 feet high  -  but 300 million years knocked FOUR MILES off the top of the mountains.  (Author's note: you realize if these estimations are correct that Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is the tallest mountain it the HISTORY OF THE EARTH??)  I'm digressing again, aren't I?  Sorry.  HIKING:

As we reached the summit and traveled along it for awhile, I noticed a rock outcropping that afforded a great view of the adjacent mountain as well as a glimpse of the Tennessee River.  I had asked Jess to keep Lui on the trail while I ventured over in an effort to get a photo with the little "junky" camera we bought for hiking.  Of note, that camera hates me so no pictures that *I* took will be posted from it (my phone's are fine).  After attempting to get a photo of the view, my attention was drawn to the ground to my left where a relatively fresh snake skin (from a relatively large snake) was laying.  I hollered at Jess that I would bring it over and was certain it was a timber rattlesnake's skin.  We "ooh ahh'd" at the skin and then I placed it back on the ground (Leave No Trace!) and we ventured on.

LeiLui enjoying a rest overlooking
Snow Falls on Morgan's Creek.
Around 2 miles later we reached Morgan's Creek and Snow Falls.  The view of Snow Falls, while it can be seen during the hike it, is most easily enjoyed after crossing Morgan's creek and sitting atop the falls.  If the rainfall hasn't been too tough the creek crossing sounds harder than it is.  The outcrop is very rocky but the far side of the creek offers a view of the top of the falls as well as shade and very comfortable seating - hard to find in the wild!  Jess, Lui, and I sat here for a good 45 minutes and enjoyed a delicious lunch while contemplating where we would pitch our tents when we came back for an overnighter.  After our leisurely lunch, we packed up everything and were back on the trail headed home.

On the way back, I started thinking...

"What is the daily range of a timber rattlesnake?"

"It was overcast on the trip up, but now it's sunny... and that bluff sure did provide a good basking spot... something she'd like if she was pregnant."

"How old was that skin?  It was damp (coulda been rain?), pliant and still had great color... I'd bet it wasn't more than a few hours old at most unless it was damp from rain."


So, I kept my eyes peeled for the shed skin during our trek out.  We came upon it and I ran my above questions by Jess.  She said she didn't know about the daily range and that we should read up on it.  I asked her to get my camera and keep my dog on the trail while I 'took a quick look'.

I walked through the forest to the bluff.

I stepped up onto the outcropping and walked to the edge.

I looked in the sun-riddled spots... no snake.

I was just about to give up and turn around when I had a thought that I'd look where the skin had been shed.


There she was!  

Timber Rattlesnake photo'd by Nicotye
A gorgeous, fresh-scaled, 3-foot long and THICK timber rattlesnake coiled up and resting not 6 inches from where I had reached to grab an end of her skin.  Realizing that I was only about 12 inches above and behind her (and more than 2-3 hours from being off the trail and near medical facilities), I slowly stretched out my arm (after yelling a few cuss words in my excitement at finding her) and snapped a photo.  Finding the gorgeous timber rattler was enough to keep Jess and I engaged in excited babble almost the entire trip back (admittedly, we picked on Lui that bigfoot offspring [i.e. littlefeets] had a taste for canine and she needed to keep up).

Of note, we also saw a long, slender black rat snake basking in the sun about 3 miles later.

When we got back to the trailhead, the ranger we had encountered (Diane) on our trip in was still there.  We spoke to her about a spade-toed toad that she had to show us as well as a HUGE orange moth that was laying eggs in a jar she had for display.  Somehow her career was brought up and she told me she was a herpatologist by education and I went into my tale of the rattlesnake.  She commended me on leaving the shed skin behind,  complimented my phone's photo, and asked me if I was a biologist. I wish!  We spoke about a few other things and I really, REALLY enjoyed talking to her.  We said our goodbyes after I nabbed her email address (promising the photo of the timber rattler) then Jess and I had to hit the road.

After coming home, I admit, I told Funkdubie that I was leaving him for Diane the Forest Ranger.  (hahaha)

Wildlife seen: Timber rattlesnake, black rat snake, corn snake, a few dozen young frogs/toads.

Trail length: 10.36 miles round trip

Trail difficulty: 7.5 of 10

Great hike - now go outside and enjoy some nature!

Vertical profile shows the elevation gain at 1,284 feet.
At 4.7 miles, you have made it to Morgan's Creek.
At 5.18 miles, you have made it around the trail and over the creek
to Snow Falls.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Today's Fun: Return of the Dead (Zombie Photo shoot)

Nicotye, the living dead girl!
(sorry, shameless Rob Zombie plug!)
Today was likely the most fun I've had in a photo shoot in a long time.  I didn't have to get dolled up, I didn't have to provide a full wardrobe... heck, I didn't even have to get a good night's sleep or brush my hair.  Today, I worked with a relatively local photographer named Chris Ozment.  Chris is fairly well known for his work with Heather Williams (she does a lot of motocross and 'rock' themed shoots, was on VH-1, etc) and often works with models from Atlanta.  Chris's new thing he's trying is 'goul/zombie'.  He's just starting to learn his make-up/liquid latex techniques and I willingly volunteered to get all gunked up.  This, after all, is my favorite style (i.e. jacked up, abnormal).

I drove for almost 2 hours this a.m. just to get to Chris.  It took about an hour to get my three 'gunshot wounds' in place as well as a 'broken arm'.  After that, there was some airbrushing and squirting o' blood to give it that glistening, freshly oozed feel.  We hopped in the Gator (offroad all purpose thing) and headed out in the woods to an old, abandoned cattle hold.  Chris set up lights with his portable genny and we were off and running... or perhaps I should say off letting me crawl into spider webs and weeds and crawling on the ground.

We only shot for about an hour or two.  The fake blood is primarily made of corn syrup which bees are highly attracted to.  In the end, Chris said I was the best zombie he's shot with yet and offered to do more of any style shoot in the future.  I also willingly agreed to be a guinea pig for future make-up trials.  In the end, this was the most fun I've had on a shoot in ages.  The photos here are mildly photoshopped versions I did (please don't hold Chris responsible for my lack of photoshop skilz...).

Hopefully I'll get some professionally edited photos in the near future that I can add to my port.

TONS of fun, this!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

“You don’t know the true sense of freedom until your smiling, wonder-filled eyes watch the sun play across the tops of mountains.” ~Nicotye

My (Nicotye) favorite sign... so many options and
all hold the promise of an amazing day.
There is an inherent fear to sharing anything you passionately love... but the love for the thing itself often pushes you to share it. ~Nicotye

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.  ~Author Unknown

So many people in my home state live so close to some amazing geography yet they never take the time (or maybe they can’t physically manage?) to see what our amazing state has to offer.  Have you ever  been to the Smoky’s?  Cumberlands?  Nantahala?  If you’re physically fit, take a walk through them.  Don’t spend all of your time chatting up your family and friends, don’t listen to your ipod, and don’t go so fast that you only have time to look where you plan to plant your next footfall.  This region of the world has gorgeous scenery, even if we lack the rugged, jagged snow-covered peaks of the Rockies or Tetons. 

“Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.” ~Standing Bear

Nicotye's pic of one of her favorite signs.
You know what stresses me out and scares me to death?  People in “my” nature.  I get irritated that so many people don’t take the time or effort to visit and appreciate the amazing joys of nature.  The sounds of birds and babbling brooks replacing the constant drone of cars or television or people.  The amazing feeling of raindrops on a warm summer afternoon.  The solidarity with nature as your feet lead you on a path you’ve never taken.  The exhilaration of cresting a hill and feeling like the only person in the world graced with the beauty of your new discovery.  The lazy afternoon clouds playing on summits.  A shaft of sunlight streaming through the treetops and illuminating a mountain laurel.  Letting the wind play with your hair.  Hearing the distant thunder and feeling the music from your heritage haunt the air.  All of these things are amazing and irreplaceable moments in life.  These moments calm you.  They quiet your worries.  They ease your tension.  They let you forget about work and stress.  

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.  ~John Burroughs

But then, what scares me to death is fear that others will discover my nature… my peace.  If history has proven anything at all, it is that humankind has generally not protected nature or its inhabitants.  We trash it up, poach it to extinction, ‘develop’ it…  Who are we kidding?  We ruin it for the sake of ‘advancement’.  So yes, nature may not be suited to cater to the masses as they seem to not heed the ‘pack in, pack out’ or “leave no trace” mentality. 

Nature is my medicine.  ~Sara Moss-Wolfe

Nifty things you didn’t know you wanted to know:

Horticulture of the Smoky’s:  When you get to the peak of a summit, you’ll notice that the hardwood trees are replaced by spruce or fir trees.  Know why?  These trees are relics of the last ice age which made the average climate of the higher elevations too cold to sustain other species of trees.  The most common are the red spruce and fraser fir.  Granted, most of the fraser fir’s were killed off by invading insects that were brought from Europe to the US in the early 1900’s.  When you’re nearing a summit, like Clingman’s Dome, you’ll notice a lot of dead fir’s that were killed in the 1960’s by this insect.  Because of that, the red spruce became the dominant tree on the summit landscapes.    

Herpitology 101, anyone?  There’s only 2 poisonous snakes that you may encounter in your trip to the Smoky’s, Cumberlands, or Cherohala/Nantahala/Cherokee.  In the lower elevations you may have an opportunity to glimpse a beautiful Copperhead (aka cottonmouth) and, higher, the timber rattlesnake.  Three things to remember:  1.  The non-venomous corn snake is usually mistaken for a copperhead, 2. Eastern Diamondbacks don’t live this far north (I think their northernmost region is southern North Carolina), and 3. Snakes are more scared of you than you of them… promise.  Imagine how big you look to one of them!  You respect their turf and I’m sure they’ll respect yours.  ((Never EVER forget with ANY wildlife - including snakes - that you are in THEIR habitat and you should leave them alone and not disturb or EVER hurt them!))

Fauna of the Smoky’s: I’ve wanted to see a black bear in the wild for quite some time, and I’ve actually had the joy to have already seen 3.  One of the three was in the Smoky’s and the other two were the BIG guys in Glacier National Park.  Other cool animals to note are the endangered northern flying squirrel, elk (which were reintroduced awhile back), and the most diverse families of salamanders you’ve ever seen (and they are in almost every creek you cross!). 

Heritage of the Smoky’s:  This region is rich in both Native American and Appalachia. 

So sure, stroll through Gatlinburg and maybe hitch a ride to Ober.  Drive to Cherokee and enjoy the casino.   Drive the Cherohala Skyway and marvel at the views… but don’t forget to hike Mount Lecont in Gatlinburg.  Hike Mount Guyot in Cherokee and walk Ocanluftee. And at the end of the amazingly scenic Cherohala Skyway, stop and hike through Joyce Kilmer. 

Nicotye's photo of a hiking bridge in the Smoky's
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.  ~Rachel Carson

So tell me, why haven’t you gone?  What auspices have bolstered your  excuses?  Too little time?  Too far away?  Too expensive?  Look around.  Hiking (especially day trekking) is very little monetary investment and I promise you that enjoying a day out beats a day in front of your computer or TV.  Have kids? Take them.  Let them see the beauty of nature and help them learn to respect that you take OUT more than you take IN (meaning you pack everything you brought back out, pack out any other trash you come across, and have not only the memories but the feeling of doing a small favor back to nature).   

Human nature is just about the only nature some people experience.  ~Abigail Charleson

Nature isn’t something that we own or something that is just ‘out there’… it's something we marvel over, spend quality time in, nurture, and care for....... 

“You don’t know the true sense of freedom until your smiling, wonder-filled eyes watch the sun play across  the tops of mountains.”  ~Nicotye

Want to see more of my hiking photos? I'm working on building a 'personal portfolio' on trips where I can handle the added weight of my good camera.  Feel free to take a look!  Nicotye's Hiking Photos

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hiking Mount LeConte – A Summit Run

I had planned on hiking the ‘moderate’ Snow Falls in a county bordering middle and eastern Tennessee that weekend.  It was supposed to be a moderate terrain, moderate distance hike… you know… about 7 miles round trip.  An easy day, for the most part.  I’m not exactly sure what prompted it, but I ended up changing my mind on a Thursday night and opting to, instead, hike to the summit of Mount LeConte via the Rainbow Falls trail. 

Rainbow Falls, Mount Leconte, Smoky's
Let me give you a little of “what I knew” going into this hike.  I knew that LeConte was the tallest (from immediate base to summit) in the Eastern United States and (therefore) Tennessee (yes, I know Clingman’s is ‘higher’ but it’s not as much distance because the base is situated at a higher elevation).  Technically, LeConte (elev 6,593’) is the 3rd highest peak in the Smoky’s (behind Clingmans [6,643’] and Guyot [6,621’]).  Again, what made me think “Oh yah, that’s a good day hike” is kind of beyond me.   Well, that’s actually not true – it was a good idea for a 2-day hike, which was the original plan.  I made reservations for the LeConte shelter – which is free but does require some advance planning.  Funkdubie, however, was really not fond of my grand plan, though.  So, fully aware that Funkdubie didn’t want us staying overnight unless there was no other option, I made the choice to go ahead and pack for 2 full days of hiking and an overnight stay, erring on the side of caution, with the intent of making this a 1-day hike. 

Packs:  Jess doesn’t have a ‘real’ backpack, so I ended up with 2 sleeping bags, all the usual supplies, and enough food for 2 in my pack while Jess carried 3 extra liters of water and clothes that we discarded as we got warmer.  The good news for Jess was, as refilled my 3 liter water bladder, her bag got lighter!  The bad news for me is that the food we consumed at the summit and along the way wasn’t enough to make my bag any different (plus, the water from hers went to mine – so there was never a decrease in water weight). 

My Hike Experience:  I’ve got great legs; and no, I’m not being conceited.  What I simply mean is that I can handle 30-40 pounds of pack and the distance AND the uphill/incline pretty easily.  The terrain summary for the hike is moderate at best and very strenuous at it’s worst.  Parts of the trail are very loose rock, often accompanied by constant trickles of stream (that aren’t very forgiving after a rain – even if the rain isn’t directly over top of you).  The trail up to Rainbow Falls (the actual falls) and for a mile or so past that has some very gorgeous scenery as you actually follow a river/brook for quite some time.  While Bullhead Trail may offer more views, it’s also more exposed to sunlight for that same reason, so that helped in our decision to hike Rainbow. 

A view from the summit of LeConte's High Top
On the trek up, I had a distinct advantage over Jess (even though I had the pack) simply because I’ve trained for this kind of endurance.  My muscles barely ached.  I could still hold a conversation (and even whistled for a bit) and I never got winded.  Jess, who had this experience to mark her SECOND hike, wasn’t as conditioned and to say that she loathed the trek up is probably being mild.  On the way up I would gain quite a bit of ground on her and it felt quite leisurely to me as I would stop every few minutes and wait for her to catch up.  The trees – from pre-falls through the first 3 miles – were amazing to me.  A little further on, the trees weren’t quite as impressive but I loved looking through the treetops and seeing the mountains next to us, realizing how high I had travelled.  The last mile or two to the top was, on the way up, difficult because the incline was accompanied by precarious loose rocks, slick and narrow mud footings, or rock ridging.  After 6.5 hours we finally reached the shelter and opted to have a good, late lunch before going the last quarter mile to the summit.  We snacked on canned pastas, snack crackers, a bit of jerky, and some dried fruit – YUM!  We then trekked to the summit and did the “ooh, ahh” just as planned.  It felt like we were on top of the world.  The view is nothing short of inspiring and enchanting. 

Another view from the summit of LeConte's High Top
We hoofed it back to the shelter where, glancing at my watch, I noted that it was nearing 4 p.m.  I assumed that 6.5 hours up meant 5 hours on the way back. In the thick of the forest, darkness falls much more quickly than open fields or cities, so we knew we would have to really push it to make it out before nightfall, so 5 hours down wasn’t an option.  I hadn’t completely made up my mind if we were trekking back on the same day, but for a short stint about 6 miles up the mountain, you can get cell service and Funkdubie made it very clear that he wanted me safe at home that night.  Against my better judgment (and with some encouragement from Jess that down would be ‘way easier’ than up), I agreed that we should pack up and get moving.  We extended our trekking poles for a descent and pulled out of the shelter at 4 pm. 

Within an hour, while making good distance, my knees started to hurt and I ‘tweaked’ my ankles no less than three times each.  The loose rock coming up turned a precarious climb up into a treacherous climb down.  Within 2 hours, my knees were aching so badly that my pace was being affected.  Within 3 hours I was putting as much weight as I could on my poles and Jess was waiting on me like I had been waiting on her on the way up.  My knees were aching so badly that my ‘stride’ wasn’t even enough to put one foot in front of the other.  I was, quite literally, shuffling.  I tried to explain to Jess that jarring on joints with the added weight of my pack and at the rate we were (or had been) travelling was nothing short of physical ‘knee’ suicide.  We had made it past the falls again at this point and had, literally, about 1 mile left.  We sat on a log for a few minutes so I could take my pack off and rest my knees.  My legs were shaking so badly that Jess asked if I was going to make it.  I wanted nothing more at this point than to simply become a bear snack. I asked of her what I never thought I would ask: if she could trade packs for awhile.  She looked at my legs, shaking uncontrollably, and agreed.  She then shouldered the 35-ish pound pack and I told her to trek ahead and I would eventually catch up.  It took us just over 30 minutes to make the last mile because my knees and one ankle were shot.  We made it off the mountain in 3.5 hours. 

When we got to the car, I admit that I wanted to cry… but my motto (as it is with hockey) is that there’s no cryin’ in hikin’.  I took off my pants (yes, I had shorts on under; and my pants were drenched from trekking through creeks that were full of storm run off) and sat in my car wondering if I was going to be able to control my legs enough to drive home or make my daughter do that for me as well.  After about 5 minutes the shaking ebbed enough to help me decide I could drive it.  We started rolling at 7:45 and were home at 10:30. 

As stupid as it may sound to some, I’m anxious to try Alum Cave and Bullhead trails next!  Granted, I’ll take my pops along so that Funkdubie is cool with me spending the night. 

Facts and Figures

The hike up the mountain is ‘advertised’ as 6.6 miles each way via Rainbow Falls, but it’s worthy to note that that is NOT to the actual SUMMIT.  That’s to the lodge/shelter/Trillum Gap area.  The actual summit of High Top (the highest of the mountains 3 peaks) is 6.9 miles one way.  The trail retains a relatively steep incline throughout, averaging about 580 vertical feet per mile.  The entire hike up (via either  Rainbow or Bullhead) takes you through just shy of 4,000 feet. uses a ‘mathematical formula’ difficulty scale because they feel a ‘1 of 5’ or ‘1 of 10’ gives too much subjectivity.  I agree to some degree; experience, fitness level, and conditions of the terrain can change a rating quiet easily from person to person.  That being said, it’s worthy to note that their scale says “a difficulty rating of less than 5 is generally considered to be an easy hike. Between 5 and 10 is moderate and anything over 10 is considered to be strenuous.”  So, here’s how they rate the trails up LeConte:
Alum Cave: 16.53 (to the cave only is rated 6.65)
Trillium Gap: 20.70
Boulevard Trail: 21.60
Rainbow Falls: 21.79 (to the falls only is rated 8.77)
Bullhead: 22.39 (to the geological features is rated 9.11)

Nic’s Rating

If you’re an experienced hiker and carrying a light pack, this trip would be fine (albeit strenuous) as a 1-day hike.  If you are carrying a pack or aren’t an experienced hiker, I would really recommend this as a 2-day hike.  I would give this (out of 10):
To Rainbow Falls: 6-6.5
To and from the Summit: 9

Last thoughts:  I know hiking isn't for everyone... but if you love the outdoors, it's a great escape and a good time to just BE with yourself.  For this trip, my sense of accomplishment is epic.  I am so very, very satisfied with having the ability to say "I did that in a day".  (Granted, I have daft idiot tendencies from time to time!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness: Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls: N35 32.837 W85 01.462
Trail Head:  N35 11.853 W85 03.030
Approximate temperature today: 96-degrees F

This trip had everything - talk about a fun hike!  I'll admit, there was some drama built in, but I don't want to spoil the fun by telling everything up front.  Today's hikers: Jess, LeiLui (the trusty K9), and yours truly.  To give a little bit of the layout of the area, there is a main trail that splits twice: once to go to Old Dayton Reservoir and once to go either to Laurel Falls or Snow Falls.  From the trail head to the Reservoir split is about 1.2 miles (one way) and is a very well groomed trail that follows Richland Creek.  It's worthy to note that for the first 3/4-1 mile you will generally see lots of people taking advantage of the creeks numerous "swimming holes".  

Nicotye standing on a rock ledge by the creek
In addition to the splendid views proffered by the very boulder-infested creek, one also has views offered by the sheer bluffs on the side of the trail, old mining ‘establishment’ foundations, and one brick-arched mine shaft.  Of note, the last time that I was at this location – about 13 years ago – the mine shaft was purposefully caved in.  Over a decade plus, the mine is now open (though I’m not sure how far).  My emergency flashlight didn’t have the robust beam to penetrate the darkness that fell at the end of a very precarious, slippery hill that enters the mine shaft itself.  However, the mine entrance is about 10-degrees (or more) cooler than the outside temperature, so it offers a welcome rest on the way out.

A nifty hole you have to climb through...
At 1.2 miles down the nice little nature walk you come to the first split: Old Dayton Reservoir/Main Trail.  This is almost exactly the point where the ‘nature walk’ turns into a legitimate hike.  The main trail forks to the right and begins and immediate uphill on a very narrow path.  This path leads you to the “T” fork where you can then opt for either Laurel Falls or Snow Falls.  The “actual distance” between the reservoir split to the "T" split is about 0.4 miles but, in that time, you climb around 200 vertical feet.  In addition to the relatively steep and narrow trails, the overall terrain went from usual forest trail to very large rocks and boulders.  At one point, the trail literally takes you through a hole between two large rocks where the off-strewn rocks offer footing.  The hole, pictured here, is large enough (3' tall by 5' wide)  for a person to easily go through, but expect your pack to skim on the way up.  Then, more uphill and across a metal bridge that is the sign of the relatively close “T” split.  Of course, our trip was to Laurel Falls, so we took a right.
The next mile – and that’s literally about how far it is from the bridge to the falls – has some moderate terrain, a lot more uphill, and when you approach the falls, the rocks are precarious at best.  Jess had a couple minor tumbles and I witnessed a woman with a different party that was leaving the falls take a pretty decent fall.  More than once I would have to lift LeiLui up onto a large boulder and then hoist myself onto it.  At one point, when I jumped down (maybe 3 feet) and was preparing to get LeiLui to put her from one boulder top to the next, Lui decided she didn’t need my help.  She tried to jump from one boulder top to another and, not realizing how sloped her landing was going to be, she fell and tumbled from the rock onto her side.  (We have begun referring to this incent as either “she blew a tire” or “her 4-wheel drive went out"… in case I slip up and 
call it that later!) 

Luckily, we were almost to the falls, which was our planned lunch stop.  After another 10 minutes of boulder traversing, we were nestled in the shadow of the precipice that creates Laurel Falls.
Laurel Falls, a view from behind the falls
The falls aren’t impressive in flow but are in height and, I’d assume that if we weren’t in the middle of a dry spell, it would be more impressive.  We settled in for some canned beef-a-roni, smoked salmon, snack crackers, and jerky.  We rested in the shade of the overhang for about 30 minutes and then began the trek back.  Somewhere after the metal bridge/”T” split LeiLui was showing a very marked slowing of pace.  Over the next half mile we had to stop at least 5 times for her to catch up.  Thinking she needed a rest, I promised Jess we’d stop at an awesome swimming hole I had spotted on the way in.
We made it to the swimming hole, though I’ll admit that the pace was achingly slow.  Here, Jess and I took a cool dip and I even managed to persuade LeiLui to come in (ok, fine… I pulled her).  We then sun-dried on a boulder, loaded up, and started the 1.2 back.  We weren’t far… maybe 200 feet?... when it was clear that LeiLui wasn’t going to be walking back.  It wasn’t like she was walking slow… she wouldn’t walk at all.  I prompted her to take a few more steps and it was clear that she was favoring her left shoulder. 

We still had a decent trek back to the car and it was clear she wasn’t going to make it.  I picked her up in my arms and carried her but after not even ¼ of a mile my arms were giving out.  So, I handed Jess my trekking poles, squatted down as far as I could, pulled Lui over the my head and, with some assistance from Jess, stood up with the dog hoisted around my neck and shoulders.  We walked at a steady pace and made the last mile finally, slowly, and painfully disappear.  When we were nearing the parking area, I had Jess take my keys and go ahead to start the car and open Lui’s door.  We settled her into the car and drove the 45 minutes to home.  I was secretly amazed that I managed to carry my pack and a dog that weighs 1/3 my body weight for that distance.  (Woot, me!)

Nicotye snagging water to rinse out a salmon package
I dropped Lui and Jess off at home (I still had a 4.5 mile hike to do at the Bay to finish my 10 miles planned for the day) and Jess had to carry Lui into the house.  Luckily, by the time I got home 1.5 hours later from the Bay nature walk, Lui is again walking around (not much, but not with a pronounced limp anymore).  Yes, I’ll keep a close eye on her and take her to vet if she doesn’t show marked improvement in the next couple of days.
All-in-all, I rate the Laurel Falls trek as follows:

  • Terrain: 60% easy, 40% rugged.  If you aren’t a good hiker, the serious uphills and boulders may prove to be more challenge than you bargained for, but with a good pace, lots of water (the three of us used 4.5 liters), and perseverance I would highly recommend this trip. 
  • Wildlife: lizards, a humongous wolf spider that I was in awe over, and the usual chipmunks and squirrels.  Oh, I also saw the biggest effing bullfrog I've seen in awhile and lots of fish in the crystal-clear swimming hole.
  • Time-to-Distance: the entire hike was 4.5 miles (note: the snow pocket is about 2 miles further if you opt for that route) and took 4.5 hours – this includes the lunch, the short swim, and the exceptionally slow pace on the last 1.2 miles.  If I had done the trek alone and stopped only to eat, I would estimate it would take about 3 hours.  

Personal note: I’m very, very proud of my daughter, Jess.  She’s not done any serious hikes with me (this was her first) and she did a stellar job that I highly commend her for!  She’s proven to me that she can handle some rugged terrain and, if she ever wants to test it further, we can do the Snow Falls leg.  

DAY LATER FOLLOW-UP LEILUI REPORT:  She's getting around better and even taking the stairs again today (albeit slowly!).  My guess is she bruised her shoulder and ribs, but I think she'll be OK.  (added 06.05.2011)