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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

One sunny day not long ago I was resting and reading for a short period of time. After I completed the passage, a deep essay on theology, I looked up and called my wife’s name. The house sounded empty. I cruised through the rooms and she was not to be found. Then I looked out the window and there she was wandering around in the yard with her head down. I went out and made a comment about the beautiful day and asked her what she was doing. She raised up a hand grasping small flowers, most people would call weeds, and said, “They cover the yard, and they are so beautiful.” She had three different flowers. I began the search, and we found seven different types of flowers, some hardly as big as the head of a pin, but covering the yard with blues, yellows, violets, and wee little whites. All the detail for male and female flower parts and nectar production and beautiful little petals. How much of God’s beauty goes unnoticed because we are looking but not perceiving, looking inward and not around us, looking to find fault rather than encouragement, or looking to show off rather than being shown to? So small, frequently unnoticed, but declaring God’s glory anyway, quietly turning heavenward.

Many years ago I watched a program about the exploration and mapping of the cave Lechuguilla that is in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At the very back of the cave is a room with intricate gypsum stalactites, one 20 feet long. The majority of the cave was not discovered until 1986 when cavers broke through an extensive breakdown blocking the main passage. The Cave of the Crystals in northern Mexico features selenite crystals up to 37 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. The conditions are harsh in terms of temperature, humidity, and vaporous sulfuric acid. The cave was discovered in 2000 by two miners after extensive pumping cleared the room of water.

Many other examples of once hidden beauties and wonders could be paraded before you, but these several examples demonstrate to me that God has many hidden beauties in His Creation, quietly giving glory to Him, and how many may never be discovered? Secondly, I believe it gives new meaning to why we explore at all. We don’t just climb a mountain because it is there, we seek something, something wonderful or beautiful or hidden. Our desire to discover and explore reveals God’s glory. Many explorers and exploration societies give glory to the explorers or the less than scientific explanations of what is found, but pieces of God’s character in power and design and goodness and wisdom are revealed in what we find. That is a worthy reason to explore and discover, reveal and describe.

The seventh type of flower is hidden around back and several are facing away, but they decorated our window sill for few days.

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Spring has sprung, and along the Catawba River Greenway, it is in full bloom. The years pass and I have seen every season multiple times on this 6 miles of trail by the river. To long time watchers of this blog (1), this entry might be a bit boring, but there are a few new twists and turns and the beauty of God’s Creation never grows old. I am especially drawn to its ability to regenerate and renew. I didn’t take a picture, but I observed several large Mayapple patches blooming in the middle of a died out Kudzu patch. Of course, as the weather gets warmer, the Kudzu will take over and completely shade and choke out the Mayapple for the remainder of the season. But the plants persist because they sprout, leaf, bloom, and fruit by mid-May before the Kudzu has done much more than sprout.

I found a wildflower new to me. I took two pictures and immediately sent them to sister-in-law, the family resident wildflower expert (2). Within two minutes she replied with the name and inquiries as to the presence of crossbred varieties with different color centers to their flowers. A short distance down the trail I spied a curiously marked songbird, and the two of us stared each other down for a few minutes. I made a cautious one step for a better view, and the bird flipped around on the branch preparing to fly, allowing me to see the backside coloring. After another good look I cautiously moved away, leaving the bird on his branch. I feel quite confident, after looking it up, that I was viewing an Ovenbird, a larger songbird but smaller Warbler. I haven’t the camera to even have bothered to try to take a picture, but the breast markings, eye ring, back and tail feathers were distinctive enough.

To think that this walk had come about because every effort to secure work for the day had fallen through. So, what do you do when you can’t make your best laid plans A, B, and C happen? Take a walk, pray, and look intently around at the beauty of God’s world. For a few of the pictures I did manage to take, click on “Greenway Flowers“.

  1. Some of my former blog entries on Spring on the Greenway follow: “Out and About“, “Small Delights“, “Colorful Treasure“.
  2. In fact, she is a remarkable woman. If you don’t believe me, check out this link: https://www.wate.com/news/local-news/remarkable-women/2022-remarkable-women-linda-francis/

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My wife and I had a long weekend with family, the first since Thanksgiving because of sickness, finances, and business. We interacted with 8 our of our 10 grandchildren, two of our children, three of my brothers, one of her sisters, nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, and in-laws at meals, on hikes, sitting around, and in church. Click here are some pictures of a few of the activities.

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The atmosphere has always fascinated me. As I sat in the sunshine eating lunch the other day, I noticed the contrast of deep blue to the pine needles of the surrounding pencil straight conifers surrounding the house. A few moments later as I relished my lunch and the opportunity to sit down in the midst of a day of labor, I saw a soaring bird up very high. It appeared black but with no gray wing feathers, which would have identified it has a Turkey Vulture. It could have been a Black Vulture, Golden Eagle, or Raven, though the latter is unlikely that far from the mountains. It wasn’t an Osprey because the wings were too broad. Next I spied a commercial jet very high en route to some far away city. I started. I knew that the deep blue meant low humidity, but here was an airliner with no contrail whatsoever. I made comment to my work partner, and he replied by reminding me we were under a severe fire hazard warning and that Pilot Mountain was even now burning.

For all our efforts to insulate ourselves from the changes and extremes of the atmosphere, we still are waylaid by its sudden and violent outbursts and subtle intensities. Low humidity is certainly the latter of the two, quite enjoyable for the blue skies and warm afternoons but endangering our forests and sometimes homes with the potentialities of dryness.

California is an example where this subtlety all too often becomes an intense extreme. The Chaparral Climate* there is generally dry with rainfall ranging from 10 to 17 inches of rain annually. Most of the moisture falls in the winter, causing the summers to be extremely dry. If that were reversed and the rainfall was in the summer, fires would probably not be a serious problem there. But the shifting ocean current, which is determined by the tilt of the Earth and therefore the Sun exposure, controls when it is wet and dry and there isn’t really a climate with limited rainfall and wet summers. A little less winter moisture than usual and wildfires abound.

I am so thankful for the temperate climate in which I reside. The weather and the woods are most usually friendly with just enough change to draw one’s attention to changing seasons and weather patterns.

Though I bring up these details in retrospect, as I concluded my lunch on that day, I decided to forego the cost/benefit analysis of dry weather and enjoy the day while I labored on. Solomon agreed: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” Ecclesiastes 5:18

*https://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/chaparral_climate.php

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For various reasons it was decided that we could get together as a family for Thanksgiving again this year. We enjoy the time together and I hope you will enjoy my pictures at “2021 Thanksgiving and Hike.”

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There are few trails in my neck of the woods that I haven’t been on. And when I’m next to a creek, I’m always looking for a cascade or waterfall. A little while back my daughter and I went for a hike on a trail that I determined that I had not been on for perhaps 20 years. We were only gone from the house for 4 hours, but it was such a blessed time. To see the pictures and find out why, click on Hidden Cascade.

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Ginger Snap Cascade

Some people cherish the opportunity to hang out, lay around, not do much. I do when I am incredibly tired, but otherwise I prefer to be active. Lately that has been difficult because of my lower back. However, firstly, it is getting better, and secondly, though any lifting, twisting, fast movements, or long strides are out, walking actually makes it better. Today my youngest son ask me to go canoeing. Nope! that involves lifting a canoe and twisting to paddle. How about a hike? Yes, I can do that. So while he was on his way to pick me up, I went to pick up two ladders I had loaned out and pick up a few things at the grocery store next door. I had loaned the ladders out to the local climbing gym (Bigfoot Climbing Gym) for a route setting clinic While there I saw a very interesting climbing hold (Click on link below for pictures.).

My son likes to hike for solitude. Today it was not to be. We hiked down a section of the Mountain to Sea Trail on a gravel road and then down into the woods. We passed 15 mountain bikers and then a refreshment station for a 50k race. Soon afterwards we began passing runners/walkers both coming up to the station turn around and back away from it. When we cut down the trail, it was part of the race course, too. Oh well, everyone was polite and busy.

At one point I spied a possible cascade through the underbrush. I asked my son if he’d like to check it out. Being on Ginger Cake Creek, I suggested the name Ginger Snap Cascade. My son said he might come and camp there sometime where there was a campsite across the creek. There was a decent little swimming hole at the base of the rock and a nice place to lie down in the water at the top. The woods and underbrush were thick and there was only a little sky visible overhead. And that began to get dark and a breeze kicked up. So, we decided to turn back before the afternoon thunderstorm arrived. We probably hiked less than 5 miles, but it was a good leg stretcher with a nice little reward at the turn around point and good conversation throughout. The temperature and humidity hearkened to more Autumnly feel. It was good to get out again. I am once again thankful to be able to come back from health difficulties. Sometimes it is hard to do so, but the rewards in health, being able to stay active, and well-being make the effort worth it. God has been good to me in my health even through the downturns.

Click here to see the pictures.

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Adventure Climbing was until recently an odd term to me. What climbing is not adventuresome?

My last day out changed my mind about that a bit. If you go to a crag where the climbs have a well worn and relatively short approaches, are bolted, well chalked, cataloged, described, and frequented, that is not adventure climbing. Conversely, if you lose the approach trail multiple times because it is fully grown over, the way is steep and sketchy, the climb you intended to do is flowing with water and you select another climb with little description and no familiarity, one pitch’s crux is wet and another requires going around extensive wet rock, the heat is challenging, and you are not sure if you will find placements for protection or your stashed packs at the top, that seems more like adventure climbing.

Well, I am generally up for a challenge and an adventure, so we had a good day. I am thankful to God for affording us good weather, safety, and good challenge.

If you want to see some pictures of the adventure, click on Dirty Corner.

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Beauty in Science.
The American Physicist Richard Feynman wrote, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” But what is a serious scientist doing writing about cold, objective facts and emotionally compelling beauty in the same sentence? Is there beauty beyond sight, sound and smell? Is there beauty in a simple mathematical equation or a profound idea? And if so, does that beauty communicate anything deeper? At the end of his video essay, “Change”, MIT Physicist Phillip Morrison is discussing the significance of Einstein’s equation E = mc2. He asks what it means and then becomes animated and declares, “What it means is wonderful.” He goes on to explain what it means and because the equation is so simple and profound he marvels at its beauty. So wonder at beauty comes in many ways and at many levels.

More Questions That Beauty Raises.
But what is beauty? Is it “in the eye of the beholder”, that is, subjective, or is it an objective fact about an object or process? Does it have any purpose or is it only random? What is the source of beauty?

Beauty Defined.
In his book “The Evidential Power of Beauty”, Thomas Dubay writes, “The objective evidence for the truth of the tulip flows from its form and not simply from the fact it satisfies a person’s needs or desires.” The tulip is beautiful whether anyone is there to see it or not and even if anyone who sees it is incapable of recognizing its beauty. The eye of the beholder neither makes the tulip beautiful nor denies it of its beauty. Beauty is objective.

Beauty Elicits Response.
But I do not want to rob the beholder of beauty or of his or her pleasure in beholding it. Beauty is compelling; it “elicits a response.” It affects us. Why? John Piper responds to the question this way, “Why do we get near bigness and beauty and magnificence and excellence? It’s because that is what we were made for. We were not made for mirrors. We were made for standing in front of what is infinitely beautiful and having it so satisfy us…” Hans Urs von Balthasar says, that in fact, “every experience of beauty points to infinity.” King David knew this, for he said, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” Psalm 27:4.

Answer to the skeptic.
As a student of science have I not jumped to conclusions by attributing beauty to God as implied by these quotes? Could not beauty be merely the product of a happy convergence of random processes as demanded by the Naturalist’s evolution? Dubay points out that we know better. “People know that chance can explain neither beauty nor intricate complexity.” Chance and time result in chaos. Therefore, “beauty is a powerful pointer to truth because common sense immediately perceives design and intellect.” So then, God has made His creation so that “The heavens are telling of the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and in every detail there was beauty for “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

Beautiful Conclusion.
So the purpose of beauty is to point us to God and His work. For that reason I will not be embarrassed to tell you that one of my favorite moments of relaxation is to lie under a tree and observe all of the various ways that it exhibits beautiful form. My knowledge of xylem and phloem, photosynthesis, forces and equilibrium, symmetry, wood grain and heat content of firewood only increase my enjoyment of tree beauty. On the part of the tree, its beauty points to heaven in a greater way than by the simple fact of standing upright with upturned branches. And Creation is only a dim reflection compared to the sight every believer will see one day. They “will see the King in His beauty” (Isaiah 33:17), and “splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary” (Psalm 96:6), because He is there.

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Some of you will probably say so, but we are proceeding with adequate care, and more so as we learn the plausible situations.

Last weekend my youngest son, climbing partner, and I started at the Sitting Bear parking area, hiked to Hawksbill, climbed the two easier pitches of Lost in Space and Star Trekin, hiked to Devil’s Cellar at Table Rock, climbed again on Helmet Buttress, and walked down to the Table Rock parking area. See the pictures at HB and TR.

That was the overview. We are continuing our training for the Linville Crusher. We are most slowed down by transitions: butterfly wrapping rope, organizing protection gear, changing shoes, putting harness on and off. These preparation outings are good to see where the slowdowns are. At Hawksbill we talked to a man who had done the Crusher. I asked him how long it took them. He was reluctant to say but I insisted since I wanted to have an idea what I am getting into. He admitted that it took them over 16 hours. I was shocked. The descriptions on Mountain Project say you should aim for 10 hours and expect 12. Something isn’t adding up here. So, hiking will take the longest time and be the second least efficient part I figure, while transitions have the potential to zap our time. My partner says we have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. If it gets light at 6 AM in late August and dark at 8 PM, that means we will need to start hiking to Sitting Bear before light to prevent climbing in the dark at Shortoff. It would be way cooler if we were driving home at supper time, but “plan for the worst.”

August would not be my chosen time to do this adventure given the heat, but we are balancing two limitations: 1) climbing closures for Falcon nesting until August 15, and 2) length of daylight hours. We even have to wait to do several preparation climbs until after August 15.

The hike from Sitting Bear to Hawksbill is the second shortest and definitely the easiest. We may even jog part of that. The Hawksbill climb is the hardest technically, but we both did it clean, and that was my first try on it. The hike from Hawksbill to Table Rock is not the longest, but it is definitely hardest. Getting around Hawksbill, we missed a turn because the trail is vague at places. Hopefully, we know the route now. There is a steep uphill section going up to the base of cliffs at Table Rock. I will be glad for a rest at the belay station. We will be doing the easiest climb of the trip at TR, North Ridge.

This day we decided to do something else rather than North Ridge. My wife had mentioned that FB friends were reporting encounters with bees in the mountains. I alerted my son who is allergic but I forgot to stock my first-aid kit with Benadryl. I was so thankful that my son went up through Devil’s Cellar to hang out on top while we climbed. Soon after passing North Ridge, on a steep downhill, I walked over a Yellowjacket’s nest. At first I thought it was the buzzing of flies and was about to tell my partner that there must be something dead about because of the flies. Before the words left my mouth, I received the first of five stings. I yelled and started running. My partner ran back to see what my cry of pain meant and received a sting. He turned and ran, too, but was there just long enough to break my fall on the steep terrain. I made a mad rush downhill, swatting and grabbing for tree trunks. We recovered at the base of our chosen climb. After starting it we backed off and decided on an easier climb for carrying packs, Helmet Buttress, which with My Route above, is 5 pitches. We reduced it to 3. Still my son waited two and a half hours for us rather than an hour or less. Oops on several levels. Thankfully we can do North Ridge in one pitch with a 70 m rope.

All of this causes me to reflect on the planning and moxie needed to pull off a major expedition. We are just planning a day trip. I am thankful to God for the safety and health we have experienced during this preparation time. Even the bee sting swelling diminished when I sweated and climbed some more. It seems like a worthy challenge and adventure for this old guy, but I want to continue to increase the safety factor. Also, I decided that if I want to see a bear, I should hike with my son. We saw two this day when I hadn’t seen one on the trail in over a year. Several weeks ago he was in the Gorge with a friend and saw a Bobcat and a mother bear with two cubs in a standoff- a once in a lifetime view, I’d guess.

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Many a parent will recognize the title of this blog as a title of a children’s book. I think that I should write one titled “Real, Pretend, Alive, and Inanimate”. Yeah, I know, I would have to say “Not Alive” for a children’s book title, but the idea is that young, concrete-thinking children have difficulty differentiating these concepts, and I’m not really sure I could help them, so it’s just an idea. That is not t he purpose of my entry, so I regress.

While my daughter and family were in town one weekend recently, all of us were in the kitchen at one moment. This little family gathering got turned upside down when a critter that belongs outside came inside. I was talking to my wife while we stood at the counter when she shrieked and said that a critter, possibly a possum had just run past her and under the hutch. Now she reminded me that a few moments later that I should not doubt my wife, but I was as surprised by the idea as she was by the critter. I bent down and peered under the hutch to see a baby o’possum frightened and then running over under the dining table. I ran downstairs for a container, and thankfully for the purposes of observation, grabbed a clear bowl. The next time that I saw it moving I clamped the bowl over it. Everyone was fascinated for a look and curious how in the world it got into the house. A few days later while in the basement, I observed that the dryer vent line was knocked off of the exit point through the external wall. I went outside to find the plastic grating over the end of the vent pipe fallen off. Evidently, the little varmit had run into the pipe and somehow dislodged the pipe from the wall, probably when he fell the down the ~7 vertical feet of the pipe. He was happy to be outside, inside his own habitat, right-side up.

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Still in training for a late summer climbing bonanza, my partner and I headed out on Friday to do a few of the routes on Shortoff in Linville Gorge. The hike up from the parking area is about a mile and a half through recovering forest after forest fires about a dozen or so years ago. There is some shade beginning to form, but most of it today was the partly cloudy haze out of a super-humid July day. When you reach the top there are breathtaking views of Gorge and Foothills region. The difficulty of access to these climbs is the topography, the whole reason we are here of course. You have to drop down a very steep gully about 150′ vertical and then rappel another 100′ to the bottom. Getting to the rappel station was the scariest part of the whole day.

When I lead The Nose at Looking Glass Rock, it was the first 4 pitch, trad route I had ever done. But it felt pretty chill because the belay stations were bolted and the overall climb is in the neighborhood of 75 degrees positive (15 degrees off of vertical if you prefer), so there was no exposure and you couldn’t see the base after 50′ or so. The first climb at Shortoff, Dopey Duck, was different. On the second pitch it has sustained 5.9 climbing with little rest. I thought I was going to flame out until a reached a rest just below a small roof. I told my partner that I was glad he lead because I would not have had enough endurance to place protection and climb. It is, in fact, a little past vertical. I read a quote online afterwards by longtime climber in the area who said, “If it was any more 5.9, it would be 5.11.” That is an intended exaggeration, I’m sure, but the point is that it gets tiring. My partner, having a 70 meter rope, decided we should do the 3 pitches in one. In order to do that we would have to simul-climb for a short distance. Both tied in with numerous pieces of pro between you, you both climb together. He reminded me, “don’t climb into the slack”, just before he left the ground, so a fall would not drop us far. It turned out that we only did this for about 20′ before he reached the top and set up a belay- a day of firsts for me.

Next, I lead an easier route, Maginot Line, 5.7. I am sometimes amazed at the knowledge base of climbers naming some of these climbs. They weren’t just laying out of class to go climbing. You trot up a juggy corner almost the whole way. At one point there were some chock blocks you have to navigate around which got me out on the face and a hanging belay for one pitch. Over all it was 250′ of pretty mellow climbing. If you would like to see a few pictures of the process, click on “Dopey and Maginot“.* Even humid, sticky July days can be glorious with a little breeze and occasional shade and a good challenge. I try to get out climbing 2 or 3 times a month, though it doesn’t always happen. I am so thankful to God for the health and opportunity to try new things and enjoy nature.

*Until I figure out a good alternative, most of my pictures will be loaded onto another site.

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“I am sitting at the Yellow Mountain Gap Shelter [a barn long ago converted for this purpose], having come up the Overmountain Victory Trail along Hampton Creek [on the Tennessee side]. It is my [son’s] 31st birthday… Two deer, probably just having lost their spots recently, hopped around in the meadow above me. Five or six varieties of birds sing and insects buzz beneath a low overcast with a slight breeze carrying occasional sprinkles of rain. Despite the clouds, it is fairly bright, and a profusion of summer wildflowers surround the mowed clearing and adorn the seeps of the forest. The grass is indeed a yellowish green on Yellow Mountain before me and every direction speaks of summer lushness and humidity. I want to praise His holy name and forget none of His benefits, as Psalm 103 says, but I am in need just now of His joy and His guidance. I desire to want Him more than His benefits,” I wrote at the picnic table after a strenuous hike up the ridge for about 3 1/2 miles. I had need of going over the mountain by road to get some things and decided to make use of the outing to get out into the mountains.

This way of getting to Yellow Mountain Gap did not exist 25 years ago when I was asking permission to cross private property, which I was allowed to do on two occasions back then.

If you don’t know the history of this game changer of the American Revolution, then you should check it out. Backwoodsmen streamed across the mountains in search of Major Patrick Ferguson who had threatened them. They caught up with him at King’s Mountain, SC. Reenactors make the trek yearly, stopping at key points to explain the significance of the battle to school children and anyone who will listen. I used to live near Sycamore Shoals and now live near Quaker Meadows, two significant staging and meeting points for the pioneer combatants.

A little more recent cultural icon of the mountain draw, the decaying clapboard house.

The fields get narrower and steeper as you climb up the draw and the gates keep in the wondering cattle on the hillsides.

Multiple tractor tracks, cattle ruts, and trails made the little symbols a guidance comfort for this first time hiker on this particular trail.

It is the season for sweet treats along the trail of which I availed myself.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.) is said to be an invasive, but it is definitely useful to dry up runny sinuses, using the leaf or the flower. I just learned that the reason it is usually found along highways, which are frequently sprayed with herbicides preventing me from collecting it there, is because it needs bare ground for the seeds to germinate.

Though I paralleled Hampton Creek and Left Prong of Hampton Creek, I saw the creek very few times. I was in the fields but it was in the woods in a narrow draw most of the time. I knew it was there because I heard it for all but the last 1/2 mile before the gap.

Further up and further in:

Woods and shade at last:

Literally at field’s edge and overlooking the barbed wire, I saw this beautiful stretch of creek.

There were many beautiful wildflowers, some of which you can see at Hampton Creek Reserve Wildflowers. I did not see one other person in the five hours of hiking. I enjoy conversing with people, even strangers, but I also enjoy time for reflection, prayer, observation, and praise. Frequently I find that strenuous exercise keeps my body occupied so that when I take a few moments of rest my mind and spirit can converse with God better. The surroundings were certainly beautiful in the big and the small. And I was enabled to visit a spot I had not been to for more than 15 years.

You can see Yellow Mountain behind me.

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Sound like a title straight out of a Prohibition movie? Actually today it was a pair of climbs my partner and I did on Table Rock. I trad lead (1) White Lightning. My partner has a 70 meter rope so I did the first two pitches as one. First you go straight up a crack to an overhang and then traverse right to the anchors of another climb. We rappelled down from there and then did North Ridge to the top in one pitch. On this second climb, we climbed with our packs on so that we could walk off the top.

My partner realized just after we left the parking lot that he had forgotten his climbing shoes. So while he went back, I had a few moments to reflect on the surroundings. Sourwood bark has character and so much “scope for imagination”, as Anne of Green Gables would say. The furrows and ridges could be dragon skin or climbing holds or tire tread. What does it remind you of?

And the surrounding woods were lush but open, and even pleasant on this otherwise sultry, July morning.

The first climb that I led was a challenge for me, but the belay station was a big enough ledge for a comfortable look about. It was indeed hazy this day, calling for afternoon thundershowers. The clouds obscured the sun just sufficiently to preclude sunburn or copious sweating.

The view north was the best, straight upstream on Linville Gorge. You can see the river down below and Hawksbill on the right.

Just beyond the anchors this block sits precariously on the ledge. How did it get there? Why hadn’t it tumbled to the ridge below? Why does it continue perched on this slopped ledge? The shadowed left surface seen in the picture seems to be a mirror image of the small roof above. Is it possible that it could have detached from there, fallen about 3 feet and just sat?

It appears as though there is an arch at the left. I leaned out (2) to see, discovering that it is detached from the wall, and therefore, a spire. I may have to climb that one day. You can see here that the cliff line of the opposite side of the Gorge. The next valley behind that is Paddie’s Creek, its far ridge being another place that I like to climb.

My wildman partner smiles for the camera as he belays me to look around. The end of this climb ends at the anchors for the second climb we did, North Ridge. It is definitely on the turning edge of Table Rock’s north end. From where he stands to where I stand allowed me to see around the corner to the southeast pictured in the last scene.

I’m just a tourist taking in the beauty of God’s green earth.

There are two weird effects in the next photo. The blue band is just that, a blue band, that holds my camera around my neck and gets in the way sometimes. The other is the appearance of my partner trotting up the wall as if hardly touching it. I guess the moves were so easy that he did not have to keep three points on.

On the drive out I saw two picture worthy organisms. The first was butterfly weed.

The second was a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus). The other common rattlesnake in these parts is the Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus). Both suggest a wide berth.

All in all, it was a good day enjoying God’s creation, challenging ourselves in the process, and having good conversation about everything from an upcoming wedding to unsolved math problems and analema- so much scope for imagination.

  1. Trad (traditional) climbing is using gears like nuts and cams to climb from the ground up. Lead climbing is the first person up the pitch (length of a rope) who places gear and climbs above the protection to set the next piece.
  2. tied in, of course

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Last weekend my wife and I went to Knoxville for a one our daughter-in-law’s surprise birthday party, my wife’s family reunion, and other visits. What makes this so amazing is that my wife had had health problems that prevented her from significant travel or visiting- she was in much pain and it simply wore her out. About 3 weeks ago the symptoms suddenly began to go away after almost two years of intensifying. She has been to many doctors, but mostly they could not pinpoint the problems, which are not all solved but she feels like she has a life again. She decided that the birthday party with many people would be too much for her, so I dropped her off at her sister’s house to have a quiet visit while I was at the party.

Her husband is very patient to talk to my wife at the slower pace of someone with aphasia.

I missed the surprise moment of the daughter-in-law’s arrival, but there was plenty of visiting all around.

Visiting with my six grandchildren by my oldest son and his wife was enjoyable.

My oldest son is listening to a story by his pastor. We went to church with them the next morning. You can see my sister-in-law in the pink pants getting to know one of my grandchildren.

The pastor is also a near neighbor, so the grandchildren feel comfortable with him and his wife.

I said that there were six grandchildren. The one in the green cap holding his mother’s hand in an earlier picture didn’t stand still long enough for me to get a picture. My oldest brother is a retired pastor and quite the UT fan.

My sister-in-law is quite the story teller. You can about see her spinning a yarn here to my youngest son: “Ye…eeep! It was a real humdinger.” The daughter-in-law’s brother is listening to another story with pleasure.

My third son has that “are you taking my picture” look, but his wife just smiles.

The family gathered for the reunion at Cumberland Mountain State Park on Sunday afternoon after church. Eating and talking is what you do at a reunion. Most of the participants are past playing games.

Mother and son.

Who looks more mischievous, uncle or nephew?

Brothers.

Their spouses.

The eight siblings of my wife’s family and all but one of their spouses are still alive even though the siblings range from 63 to 86 years old. They didn’t get to have a reunion last year and everyone feels like this can’t keep happening from now on, but they are blessed to still be alive and still enjoy getting together to catch up on what has happened in the last year or two. Could you point them out in order by age?

My two oldest grandsons and their father rode with us to the reunion. The others stayed back for a much needed nap. We had gone on a hike together previously, so they wanted to go again. We went down the road a short distance to the dam where we found a trail down by the creek.

The bridge over the dam is the most picturesque feature in the park.

Besides painted dots to mark trails, the park has these special trail markers, this one on Black Oak bark.

I am trying to keep up on the march in the woods.

This is fun, grandpa, but the creek water is only cool and not cold as we expected.

It floats but will it support any weight?

I had the boys in their cowboy hats and boots stand by a healthy Eastern White Pine.

After returning to my son’s home we visited for awhile before departing to my oldest brother’s house for the evening. I was focusing in on my grand-daughter, who is the first second daughter in four generations among the male progenitors. Speaking of whom, the party, reunion, hike, and visit after a week of laboring has rendered him tired. We were all ready for some rest, but content with time we had to visit.

Indeed the years are passing, and we become more desirous of renewing family ties as time goes along. God has been good to our families according to His mercy. We should love those around us and build relationships while we can, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, though we can guess what many tomorrows will. Life is short so we best be about knowing God and knowing people while we have the opportunity, because eternity is coming. I am so thankful for the young ones coming along, and I pray regularly for their salvation, health, relationships, and knowledge base. May they know Him and give Him glory. Life is good, because God is good.

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The title is actually the name of a climb at another crag, but it applies better to the climbs at Sitting Bear, a rock formation that truly looks like an animal sitting up on its haunches. It seems amazing that this spire stands since it is at least twice as big at the top as at the base. The approach hike is not over 1 1/2 miles, if that, but it is steep for the last 1/4 mile.

Here my climbing partner leads the Original Route (5.9+). I lead it the last time I was here (see “Bear of a Climb“). It is what is called a mixed climb where you need some trad (traditional) protection pieces and have bolts for quickdraws (1), though the other post shows the ridiculously poor nature of some of the bolts and hangers at this crag.

Looking past the “Bear” on the Gorge (West) side, the other rim of the Gorge is not that far away.

At the bolts and rings and the top of the climb from where my partner belayed me as I came up, he is securing my rope in order to take me off of belay. That way I have a little leeway to move around with while still being secure in case I fall. This stance is about eight feet below the true top and the ~300 degree view. Behind him is a view toward Charlotte. I have been up here when you could actually see the buildings in the “Queen City”.

Given the humidity and scattered showers, you really couldn’t see all that far, but the Gorge is impressive anyway. The mountain top cliff on the left is Hawksbill with Table Rock hidden behind it. Beyond that is a darkly shadowed mountain where resides the North Carolina Wall. The mesa shaped, flat top mountain is Shortoff. The right side or West side of the Gorge is Jonas Ridge upon which the gravel Hwy 105 runs. An indication of how dry it has been is the brown moss on bare rock. It must be a harsh environment for moss to survive in.

Though a simple and easy example, my partner is exhibiting the climbing move called mantling. He is tied in. You can’t see his rope.

That must be quite the sturdy Eastern White Pine on the left, able to grow above the rest on this wind swept ridge. I think it might be drizzling at the south end of the Gorge.

My partner commented that he liked the fact that climbing is the only way to see this view. I am glad that I still can.

I attempted to get pictures of the Solomon’s Seal blooming at the base of the spire.

And here is False Solomon’s Seal for comparison. Notice the difference in position and form of the bloom. If they aren’t blooming, notice the the stems are different colors.

Another beautiful day comes to a close.

We attempted 4 climbs on this spire, a 5.9, 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12, respectively. I did the first one clean, that is, without falling. The 5.10 and 5.11 I did all of the moves but fell once each. On the 5.12 I fell several times and had to yard up one section. I think with much practice that I could do it, but I don’t come here often and won’t get to project it. I sure would like to, but I am thankful for being able to at all. I had to come on a quick trip after work as is was. A few hours of enjoyable exertion out in God’s Creation provide me with days of benefit.

  1. Glossary of climbing terms – Wikipedia and so for all of the terms you don’t quite understand

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I can frequently do spontaneous. I guess my children know that. My youngest son called me last Friday morning and said, “Do you want to go camping in the Gorge tonight.” Well, that took some rethinking the day, but I was in. By the time he got off from work, drove home to get equipment, drove back to my house, and we drove to the trailhead, it was nearly 7 PM. No worries, it was only 1 1/2 mile downhill romp to the river on the Pine Gap Trail. I really like the late evening light and shadow in the this picture with the diffraction blurring around the shadow.

I feel like they should have replaced the post when they replaced the sign. That post is on the way out.

This is a frequent scene with my sons. I can’t keep up anymore. Additionally, I don’t even want to since I am looking around and taking pictures. At one point he said, “I thought we had lost the naturalist there for a minute.” The trail, as do all of the Linville Gorge trails, starts off flat for a short distance and then plunges down between the cliffs in switchbacks or rock scrambles.

This Pine Tree had some fungal “foam” inflating on its side.

Catawba Rhododendron are not as large as Grandifolia, but the blooms are very beautiful.

We passed many looming giant hulks of dead Hemlock trees. It is sad that another grand tree has been essentially eliminated from the forest.

This may be the best picture of a trillium that I have ever taken. It is Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum).

Here is the first sighting of the river. Notice the blooming Doghobble in the next two pictures.

Just before dropping down to the camping site next to the river, the trail wound through the rhododendron, pine, oak, and Galax thicket at the top of an eighty foot cliff that was immediately over the river. I was almost made for a movie scene, but better.

The river was not as loud as it frequently is, since the water was low, but it still is exciting to hear it as you get nearer.

Following was our view from the campsite at the river when we first arrived.

Linville River

Since it is a frequented campsite, I had to range out 1/4 mile to collect down and dead branches for a fire. I saw that the sun was getting low and I must return to camp.

We sat around and enjoyed the glow of our carbon footprint accelerator. I thought about it and remembered that if you leave the wood on the ground to rot it released the carbon dioxide all the same, only slower. It warmed us, occupied us, and warmed us up to good conversation about history, new horizons, family, and even a touch of science.

Just above waterline was a mound of moss crowned with clump of bluets.

Violets are such a simple flower, but they always remind me of my wife since it one of her favorite flowers. The composition of the picture is so warm with rock, wood, lichen, Galax, violet, and even a touch of fern.

Electronic zoom on a phone camera is almost useless, but it did allow me to capture a hawk on a branch the next morning as we hiked out. Though blurry, can you see it?

After we exited the Gorge I directed my son to drive to the Linville Falls Access in order to show him the little jewel that I had discovered recently. (see “Underappreciated Little Jewel“)

We even had the privilege of seeing two young deer on the drive out. Wildlife is so hard to capture. I am amazed at the talent, persistence, and equipment that professionals use to bring such amazing images of wildlife to us. Even so, I like to see it for real in nature.

From start to finish, this little overnight outing only occupied sixteen hours. Don’t say you don’t have time to get out. Make the time to exercise the body, rest the mind, and inspire the spirit. God has made us a whole person in need of Him and desirous of the beauty of His Creation.

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The sun was out, the breeze was cool, the sky was clear, then variably and partly cloudy, and the climbing was good. Showing someone climbs on a crag is fun, and I even climbed one I had not climbed. We got in ten pitches in seven hours. It wasn’t a record pace, but we weren’t in a hurry. I never get tired of this view from the top of Black Fork Cliffs. It is in my county and yet it seems worlds apart, so secluded and isolated.

Two fires in the last dozen or so years have robbed the cliff base of its shade, but that in turn is generating a fast renewal. It seems early for Frazier Magnolia to be blooming, but there it was.

Psyched again and doing new pitches he’d never been on. Notice that the rope is already on the wall. How did that happen? It’s called stick clipping. In my case, I used an extendable painter’s pole with a device on the end that holds the quickdraw (shown on the bolt in the picture). This makes the climbing safe from ground up.

We refer to such climbs as next pictured as “one move wonders” because most of the climb is very easy except for the one move he is trying to make over what looks like a “warped wall” from Ninja Warriors.

The stainless steel rings at the top of a sport climb are secure, giving a comfortable stance for looking around. The black lichen looks like pits in the rock, but aren’t. I cannot figure out the dead pine tree. Am I seeing another tree behind it cause the bizarre shape appearance of the trunk, or is it really that odd looking?

Contemplating.

Lunch snack and belayer rest. Maybe that’s what he was contemplating. When is he going to get up? The Komodo’s (a defunct brand similar to Crocks) keep my climbing shoes clean between climbs.

This rock formation looks like a spire or tower, but on the back side it really only sticks up about 10 feet above its attachment to the wall.

It looks cool even if it is an easy climb.

Notice in the next two shots my right hand, brake hand, position, as I rappel. Brake.

Feed rappel.

Broadhead Skink (Eumeces [Plestiodon] laticeps) (1): Such creatures make our attempts and pride about climbing seem rather pointless.

This is the second, and I might say, successful attempt. I couldn’t touch the move over the vertical section just after the second bolt. I saw him do it and still didn’t know what to do.

Another day out in the woods and fresh air, on the rock, thankful for the “One Who made, saved, and sustains” this world, and more specifically, me. May you see His care for you and choose to follow Him, too.

  1. Species Profile: Broadhead Skink (Eumeces [Plestiodon] laticeps) | SREL Herpetology (uga.edu)

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On my bucket list of climbs I’ve wanted to do was The Nose at Looking Glass Rock. Today I led all four pitches. This brave fellow was psyched to do it with me.

The gravel road approach was gated and we didn’t know that there was another way closer, so we walked in three miles from the Education Center.

Along the way was a nice waterfall, but checking it out would have to wait until later.

The parking at the approach trail is about 0.3 mile from the base of the rock, though quite steeply up, especially with a pack of climbing gear.

To my eye this rock face is odd both in overall shape and features called “eyebrows” throughout the rock.

I wanted to lead the climb, which is a 5.8 and well within my wheelhouse. It is a different style of climbing, however, because one must use the ‘eyebrows’ as underclings (1). The weather was pleasant for hiking and climbing, but unexpectedly cloudy, cool, and breezy at times.

It is always good to see that your belayer is alert and paying attention. You can clearly see that this climb is the most popular by the impact of foot traffic at its base. Certain climbs are called “classic”, which I have never quite understood. Does that mean people like it, it has been around a long time, that it is interesting or otherwise aesthetically pleasing, or some vague combination of all of these? After some difficult climbs we could not complete later, mostly because of lack of good protection (2), I commented that perhaps the reason you only ever hear about half a dozen climbs out of several hundred is that most are crazy hard or too run-out (3) for most people to want to climb them.

When you trad (4) climb you place protection devices like stoppers, hexs, tri-cams, slings, or cams like the one pictured here. Then you clip your rope into a carabiner attached to the end that catches your fall. This was a solid or ‘bomber’ placement. There are sections on this wall and this climb where there are handholds but no placement for protection. This results in a run-out situation. By the way, do you see how I mark my equipment?

Following is the view at the first set of belay anchors about 90′ up. Spring has just begun at this level but not much higher. My partner commented on how he likes the contrast of fresh green and gray limbs, because the gray accentuates the bright green of new leaves.

I was the lead climber on this climb. My partner was the follower. He is seen here cleaning the route, that is, collecting the protection that I had set. Notice in some of these pictures the visual illusion that the surface is not very steep, as in the foreground here. None of this climb is truly vertical, but except for a few ledges, it is a 60 to 85 degree wall.

And here we are on one of the ledges transitioning for me to begin leading the next pitch (4).

Being such a popular and old climb, I saw several old and broken pieces of pro along the route. The piton pictured is really old school.

The views were great. Note the occasional evergreen amongst the bare deciduous expanse.

It is always nice to have a comfortable place to sit when you are belaying, though it is not frequent. Notice the parked cars at the Looking Glass Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had stopped there many times in the past, had a picnic with the family there once, and several times thought that I’d like to climb this rock. I wonder if any tourists with binoculars were spying our progress this day? I think that the peak behind the peak behind the overlook is Richland Balsam.

I gave my partner a hard time, saying this picture looked like he was a model for outdoor clothing. You can see some older, though quite sturdy, bolts he is tied into. This location is the lunch ledge which is still not level but reasonable to walk around on untethered away from the edge.

The following four images from the top combine to make a 180 degree panorama from south through west to north. We didn’t stay here long because it started sleeting. Yes, it was sleeting in late April. Well, it does happen rarely on the high peaks in mid-summer.

Time to rappel back down. Once again it looks nearly flat in the foreground but isn’t. The blue device through which there are two bites of rope in his left hand is called an ATC (5).

In the following selfie you can see the reflection of not only the phone with which I am taking the picture but also one of the bolts to which I am attach and my partner is rappelling and the tree line at the top of the peak.

On the hike out we saw some wildflowers like this blue flag and May Apple.

I got closer to the waterfall, which had a 20′ overhang to its right.

This day was the first time I have climbed at Looking Glass Rock and the first 4 pitch climb I have completed. It was a pleasant day with lively conversation. I see endless views of God’s beauty in the rocks and trees and sky and flowing water. It gives rest to my mind and challenge to my body to be out in His Creation and sharing it with someone. Perhaps that is part of the reason that I share it with you. I want to you to enjoy it with me, acknowledge the beauty of God’s work with me, and resolve to get out more and enjoy it yourself. Come along with me if you like.

  1. undercling- fingers and palms facing up and pushing up to counteract downward foot pressure for stepping up.
  2. good protection- strong enough to catch you and frequent enough to prevent long falls
  3. run-out- excessive distance between climbing protection that may result in a long and dangerous fall.
  4. pitch- the distance of climb between two belay stations equal to less than the length of the rope
  5. ATC- Air Traffic Controller was named by Black Diamond and now colloquially referred to for all similar devices, sorta like Kleenex is for all facial tissue.

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I was in need of going over the mountain a couple of days ago. I have done the trip so, so many times. I decided that I needed to stop on the way back to take a little hike and break up the trip. I appreciate scenes I have already seen and return to many frequently. I especially enjoy showing others little wonders of nature that I have seen. But I was alone and I longed to see something new, and it did not have to be big or impressive. I found what I suspect to be an underappreciated little jewel off the far end of the Linville Falls Access Parking Lot. Old growth forests are few in the Eastern United States. I content myself with enjoying the occasional lone larger tree. This Eastern White Pine is a healthy example.

The trail is very short. By the time you walk to the far end of the parking lot, you are half way there. The trail goes up over a little hump past several large trees and then down into a narrow notch where the park service has a bridge just right for viewing and walking up between the boulders.

In the middle of the bridge, voila’, Dugger’s Creek Falls.

On the far side of the bridge the steps go up between the boulders in such an inviting way.

Always desirous of a little adventure and a better picture, I got off trail just at the base of these stairs. Inviting though they be, they were a bit too civilized for my present frame of mind. Instead, I battled a bit of rhododendron and some small drop offs. The falls, in the 12 to 15 feet wide notch and cloaked in rhodo’s was not having it.

So, I went to the top of the falls in order to check out how and where the water squirms between the cracks and voids of the notch. If you look closely, you can see the bridge. If it were summer, I would probably wade up the stream to the base of the falls, but I don’t have a waterproof camera, so that would not be recorded.

Above the falls the creek comes rushing down into the notch, still a steep pitch with more broken boulders along the sides.

The scene is green with Galax and fern and moss.

The rock form is definitely foliated metamorphic, the layers curiously formed in waves.

The trail exits the woods onto the road just out of sight of the bridge or falls, but just before it does you get one more good view.

Not quite satisfied until I have explored every little turn and divot, I crossed the creek and worked my way under the bridge and edged up along the small cliffs. It was no use. The likelihood of wet feet or more (e.g. wet cellphone) stopped me short of completing every inch. I was satisfied with one more picture and a rock scramble back up to the trail.

On the beyond the bridge side of the trail are several plagues with quotes. The following was apt to my present situation.

The author does not say why we are in need of these things, and it is certainly true that many never consider that they are. But when I muse upon why this quote is true, it seems to me to point to the beauty of God as the why we seek the beauty in nature. We cannot now see Him, though Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We want to see His beauty and seek it in nature. But “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9) But no one is able apart from the righteousness that Christ imparts, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:230 As He told those questioning Him about the work of God, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Therefore, I look forward, not based on my merit, but His in which I trust, to seeing His beautiful, awesome visage one day, just as I seeks its tarnished and veiled reflection in His Creation I so enjoy experiencing.

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