Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sierra Club trails

Have you checked out Trails yet? If not, just know that there is a treasure trove of information on NC - over 30 trails, second only to California, which has 13 Chapters to our 1.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Long-time GSMNP activist Ted Snyder's on the park:

What is the greatest threat or risk to this park?

The greatest threat to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the construction of a 30+ mile parkway road inside the park near its southwest boundary. An Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2007 estimated the cost (in 2006 dollars) at $729 million. The Department of the Interior is contractually bound to Swain County, N.C. to build this road. Throughout the EIS process Swain county urged that the road obligation be dropped and that Swain be paid $52 million as a substitute. Based on these representations of Swain County, and the urging of the conservation community, the preferred alternative chosen in the Final EIS was a financial settlement with Swain County and no road construction. After the fact, Interior is trying to dicker over the amount, and now nothing will happen until a new agreement is written. Failure to settle with Swain County will revive the road, an environmental disaster of the greatest magnitude. Worse, politics can change, and the election of a new County Board of Commissioners, or a new Congressman, or a new US Senator could renew the jeopardy to the park.

What is the "take action"?

Letters to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, are urgently needed. The letters should ask him to approve a Swain County Settlement of $52 million, and to help secure its payment. Ken Salazar’s address is: Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240. Email reaches him at

Has the Sierra Club played a role in some major battle in the past, either in establishing the park or in protecting additional areas?

From its first presence in the two Carolinas in the late 1960’s the Sierra Club has been the major organization in preventing the building of the North Shore Road in the Smokies. The battle has been continuous. We can say with authority that for forty years the Club has held back the road and prevented the despoiling of the park. The fragile, steep terrain, laced by finger ridges, and home of acidic rocks has been kept intact. The massive cuts and fills, and the sterilization of the streams have not been allowed to gouge the pristine landscape. The only question is whether we can hold out long enough to see a Swain County settlement, and a final rescission of the contract to build this killer boondoggle.

What are a few compelling facts - total number of acres, specific landmarks, major species, what makes it special? This is the kind of info they can get from the national park service websites if the local staff/volunteers can't provide it.

  • The park contains 521,495 acres, lying in North Carolina and Tennessee.
  • The park receives approximately 9 million recreation visits a year, making it the Nation’s most visited park.
  • The park is one of nine National Park units to be designated both as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. The World Heritage Site nomination states, in part:

    “A similar level of floristic diversity is found in no other temperate zone protected area of comparable size in the world. The park exhibits almost as many kinds of natural tree species as does all of Europe.”

    “An internationally significant feature is the remnant stands of undisturbed virgin forest, offering unique primeval vistas of Pleistocene North America.”

    The nomination also sums up that the park is “an outstanding example representing ongoing biological evolution, . . .” And, in detailing that, continues:

    “Great Smoky Mountains National Park harbors the largest remaining remnant of the diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora era in the world. . . . No other existing protected tracts are of comparable size.”

    Since 1977 an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory has been underway in the park, with the purpose of identifying all species within it. As of 2004, 3,350 new records of species occurrence had been documented, and 543 species new to science had been discovered. It is thought that the final inventory could contain as many as 40,000 entries.

3 great trail recommendations for the park?

Trail information: The most comprehensive trail guide is “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” published by the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association. The park contains 70 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, mostly along the high, continuous, state-line ridge. For details see Another long trail on a designated route through the park is a portion of the Benton MacKaye Trail. See

Albright Grove Loop. This is a 0.7 mile loop through massive and ancient silverbells, poplars, maples, Fraser magnolias, hemlocks, and others, a spectacular remnant of the original cove forests. To reach the beginning of the Albright Grove Loop, it is necessary to hike 3.0 miles up the Maddron Bald Trail. Since the loop ends higher up on the Maddron Bald Trail, a total distance of 7.0 miles, in and out, is covered. To reach the trailhead take US 321, 15.4 miles east of the Gatlinburg, TN Chamber of Commerce Building, or 2.9 miles west of the Cosby Post Office. From US 321 turn south on Laurel Springs Road, crossing Indian Camp Creek, and reach a parking area and gate in 0.2 miles. There is room for only 2-3 cars here.

Boogerman Trail. This is a 7.1 mile hike from Cataloochee Valley, where the main park Elk herd can be seen, most often at sundown. The hike begins on the Caldwell Fork Trail (adjacent to the campground), immediately crossing Cataloochee Creek on the park’s longest footlog. After 0.8 miles turn left (south) onto the Boogerman trail (signposted) on an old sled road. Much old growth forest is found on this trail. The Boogerman Trail returns to Caldwell Fork Trail after 3.8 miles. The hiker then turns downstream on Caldwell Fork to return to the starting point, 2.5 miles away.

Gregory Ridge Trail. Gregory Bald, the destination for this hike, is noted for its rainbow display of flame Azaleas, in the first half of June. Due to hybridization, the azaleas take on colors from yellow, to orange, to red, to white, to pink, to purple in a dazzling dance. The shortest route is by the Gregory Ridge Trail. This takes one to Rich Gap after 5.0 miles. A right (west) turn and another 0.7 miles takes one to Gregory Bald. Total distance, in and out, is 11.4 miles, with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. Trailhead is off the Cades Cove Loop Road. Halfway around the one-way Cades Cove Loop, pass by the Cable Mill area, and turn right (south) on to the Forge Creek Road. Parking is at a gate, 2.3 miles up this road. Note: Traffic is heavy and slow on the Cades Cove Loop Road on high visitor days, and road is closed Saturday mornings for use by bicycles. In winter Forge Creek Road may be closed, adding 4.6 miles to the hike.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

London Bald Work Trip | June 19--21, 2009

Five GATC members, two Mountain High Hiking Club members, me and John Ray met at Junaluska Gap Friday morning. Four of the GATC people had been presidents of that 1600 member club. We split into two groups: John with four who started at the London Bald/Junaluska intersection and I had three others at our starting point of Hickory Branch Trail/Junaluska. It was a 1.5 mile, watery trip up Hickory Branch Trail to the intersection with Londo Bald. We turned westbound to meet up with John's group who were coming East on London Bald.

At 3:30, we met them around the mid-point and kept in our direction back to our cars, ending the day. We got a lot of work done and the two trails really needed it. London Bald is a gorgeous trail with and incredible assortment of wildflowers, probably because the northeastern end is mostly shady while the southwestern side is mostly sunny due to it being a burned area some years back. I had done maintenance on that area back ilast Fall in late October and it had already become grown over.

Late Saturday afternoon, John & I went just beyond Appletree Campground where we pitched our tents just off the Bartram Trail near the Nantahala River. We partook of the cool water for an afternoon bath in the river.

Saturday, we hiked north on the Bartram. John wanted to include the Piercy Creek Trail in his updated guide book, so when we got to the trail head, we hiked down the 1.4 miles to where it dead-ends at the Nantahala River. Piercy Creek Trail is a deep cut in the gorge with lots of shade and water, so it stays cool, no matter how hot it is in sunny, open areas. There are a number of cascading waterfalls along the way.

Tim Warren and the Bartram maintainers had built five (?) bridges across streams along the trail, plus done sufficient trimming to make the trail passable.

We back-tracked to Bartram then headed West on Laurel Creek for a mile or so until it intersected with Appletree Trail which in turn, led us back to Appletree Campground where we had left our cars.

Plants that were putting on a show were galax, flame azalea, firepinks, mountain laurel, goats beard, clintonia, foamflower, phlox, bee balm, several daisies, about ten different ferns, many mosses, lichens, grasses, tradescantia, iris, epimedium and some I couldn't identify.

We heard one turkey take off and saw two rattlesnakes at the split rail fence at Appletree Campground, apparently molting their old skins.

This area gets little attention but is well worth the effort to find and hike. When you are at the burn area up on London Bald, besides the big display of wildflowers, there is a great view over to the Rim Trail and Tusquittee Bald with its' double-top. I like it because in addition to the beauty, it is wild, un-spoiled and unlike the nearby AT and all of the Smokies, there are far fewer people using it.

Chris David Capital Group Outings Leader

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


There are two choices for the south trailhead: One is located where the AT crosses a road that turns to the right a hundred yards before the AT bridge; I felt more secure parking at the AT lot that is (second and preferable choice) located on the left between Big Island and Glasgow where the steel AT bridge crosses the James River. There is ample parking here and several vehicles were parked overnight adding to a sense of security. North trailhead is located at a pull-over at MP 51.7 on the BRP. You must advise the BRP Office on the day of your trip, not before, that you will leave a vehicle in the pull-over, plate number, etc.

The trailhead areas are best reached, from Gso, by taking 29 North to Lynchburg; 501 to the BRP crossing; BRP to VA 130. Truck traffic on 501 , particularly after the BRP crossing, is horrendous. This use of the BRP will avoid two mountain crossings at 5 mph.

This is the AT. Well marked with signs and wear.

This is definitely a north to south hike. I can provide specific elevations if you do not have the elevation profiles.

Beginning on the BRP at the north end, climb 500-600 ft in half a mile to the turn-off for Punch Bowl Shelter. .2 miles to the shelter. Shelter sits in a hollow. Large shelter with pit toilet. Typical worn, muddy condition of most AT shelters from over-use. Small pond to the left as you approach the shelter. Across the pond is a nice meadow of a couple of acres with plenty of tent space where we set camp. Water source is below the pond/shelter. Negatives of the shelter: From the BRP it is a hard climb to the shelter. Unfortunately, there is a FS road a third of a mile from the shelter with a gentle incline from the FS road to the shelter. This ease of access means lots of use. We had two young men hike in late Friday and hang hammocks beyond our campsite, no problem. We had a couple arrive in the late afternoon, after several trips to trundle firewood in on a trolley cart in a cooler, carry a guitar and food accompanied by a Boxer - who made himself at home in our kitchen as we were eating dinner. I finally had to yell and throw something at the dog before they called him away. They set up at the shelter across the pond. A second couple arrived a short time later, they brought the bongo drums and two Beagles. None of the dogs, of course, were on a leash. The Beagles, excitable dogs in any event, were all over our cooking space. One of the Beagles came back later and, surprise, ended up in my lap with its nose in my (only) cup of cappuccino. The owner's only apology/excuse is that, "He is young and just learning"! The second couple also went to the shelter. Guitar and bongos could be heard late into the night.

Saturday morning, under full pack since this was a shuttle hike, another 600 to 700 ft to the top of Punch Bowl Mountain. Several ups and downs topping out at Brush Mountain (3,300 ft). Saturday afternoon a brutal descent of more than 2,000 ft on constant steps or switchbacks over very rough trail to John's Hollow.

John's Hollow also suffers from being only 1.5 miles from the trailhead on the James River. Again, a large shelter and pit toilet, water from an adjacent stream -- but worn and muddy. We arrived around 4 pm. Six to ten college kids in the shelter, though they were very well behaved. Another eight to ten men tented on the back side of the shelter for the night prepatory to a week's hike north on the AT. Very pleasant. Turned in early. Negatives of the shelter: Over-crowded. We were pressed for tent space.

In between the two over-used, over-crowded shelters is a beautiful hike of 9.0 miles. At lest 80% on the ridgeline with views to the east, west or both. James River Basin to the west. In addition to being a north to south hike, it is also an after/before leaf season hike. In the summer one would know nothing but of a walk in the woods.

Jerry Weston
Greensboro, NC

Monday, March 9, 2009

Adieu to our Outings Chair

Eno River State Park
Hi folks -

We in the Chapter are wishing our Outings Chair Chris Plummer a fond farewell. He's off to Utah, so he'll still have plenty of trails and mountains and arches to tame.

So, without Chris's steady hand behind the wheel of the Outings Blog, there will be a paucity of postings here until the Chapter elects a replacement. I will, however, post pictures of our fair state from time to time.
Mike in the Chapter Office

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hiking with Kids

Josh Thomas, our one and own Central Piedmont Group Chair, has a new post over at So go over there and check out his seven tips; for now, here's a small preview:
1. Give kids real responsibility

Captain (hiking leader), Cook (snacks holder), Chief Navigator (map holder/user), Lead Photographer, etc. These all work. Just be sure you have a
role for each child.

2. Switch roles frequently

If you have 4 kids or fewer on the trip, switch often enough (roughly every 7-8
minutes for four kids) so that all can be Captain at least once per half hour.

3. Think Journey, Journey, Journey

Every time you announce a role change, remind yourself that this is about the journey, not the destination, and that the kids are dictating the pace (30 photos of tree sap? Of course that’s a good idea!)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Beginner Backpacker Class

We had our first class session this weekend in Raleigh and we covered a lot of territory. We discussed why anyone would want to backpack, both the practical and the metaphysical aspects, and we delved into gear and books and what folks expected from the class.

For a reference book we're using "The Backpacker's Field Manual" by Rick Curtis, who is director of the Princet on University Outdoor Action program. This is a good book because it covers every aspect of backpacking, so it is broad in nature.