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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

I missed out on the Mt. Collins/Clingmans Dome hike, which is OK because I did the hike from Newfound Gap to Clingmans in the winter of ’82 with a foot and a half of snow. I spent the night at Mt. Collins Shelter. I spent the next night under a rock overhang because the drifts prevented me from making it to Spence Field Shelter. But I digress. This hike with my daughter and son-in-law last Saturday was for the purpose of going to Mt. Kephart, a 6217′ knob just off of the main ridge toward Mt. LeConte. We added in a few other notable views, The Jumpoff, the highest single drop in the Smokey Mountains N.P., and Charley’s Bunion, a bare rock with an expansive view, for a total of 9 1/4 miles of hiking. For the pictures of this seventh six thousand foot peak that my daughter has hiked to, click on Mt. Kephart.

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Morning Quick Out

If the park had opened before 8:30, we would have been there earlier. Even so, we waited at the gate for 10 minutes and watched a rafter (flock) of turkeys, and then on up the road a Coyote scampered across the road. A half-dozen other cars came in at gate opening. They all gathered to talk in the parking lot. They seemed to be regulars who knew each other. For the other things we did and saw click on Bays Mountain Morning Hike.

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Hiking the sixers continued this past weekend with a proposed assault on the backside of the Black Mountain ridge that runs from south to north beginning at the Clingmans Peak above the Blue Ridge Parkway, and proceeds to Celo Mountain. The “back” or west side of the ridge is less populated and less accessible. The idea was to go as far up gravel and logging roads in our compact cars as gates and undercarriage clearance would allow, and then hike to the ridge and take in Celo, Gibbs, and Winter Star Mountains, before descending back to Deep Gap and gravel roads and our cars.

Several locals described that last gravel road, which is about 600 feet below the top of the ridge, as the top or high grade. One person explained that this was where the logging and mining railway had been cut many years ago and is relatively flat. There were no gates closed but the road got progressively rough. We should have parked our cars sooner, but we had to push on until the next switchback in order to have a wide place to park and turn around. The extra distance of hiking this resulted in caused us to decide not to include Winter Star on this trip. It definitely could have been done, but there were people already waiting below for longer than anticipated. So, we opted for 2 out of 3.

I continue the story with pictures at Celo and Gibbs.

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Moving, unpacking, settling in, finding your way around, starting a new job are time consuming. One must make time for the more relaxing moments. My preferred way to relax is walking. Having a job that involves standing is not good for flow of body fluids, so I walk, observe, think, and pray during my lunch break or converse with my wife during evening walks. The pictures at Fall Begun come from three different walks, two at lunch and one in the evening. I feel so blessed to live in a part of the world where seasons change, and I work and live in neighborhoods where I may daily range. God gifts many larger blessings, but the smaller daily ones help to fortify the soul for daily stresses. Be active or quiet and at any rate contemplative so that you may absorb the goodness of God in His creation and through His other manifold blessings. Being contemplative means quiet and open to observation both internal and external.

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As I walked the other day, I observed a Mockingbird pestering a Redtail Hawk. Plucky birds that they are, he cut in and out, notifying the hawk that he was in his territory. The hawk made his ponderous circle upward to free himself from the pest. You know that if he got ahold of Mr. M he would shred him between his talons and beak, but it is not to be because Mockingbirds can make much quicker cuts that hawks can’t follow.

A few days later I heard a Mockingbird as it sat singing in a Maple tree as I walked past. He jumped up to the powerline as I passed under the tree and continued to sing. I have lost count at around 25 to 30 different songs of an educated Mockingbird that used to sit on the light pole where I once taught school, entering under his joyous morning songs. And that reminds me how that I don’t like the name Mockingbird, because they don’t sneer or make fun. Neither do they plagiarize their songs since they give credit to their composers by the songs they sing and to the Creator of them all. Perhaps they should be called Song Learning Birds or Repeater Birds or Remix Songbirds. Anyway, I love to hear them sing.

Yet another day walking I observed Mr. M making a perfect two point landing on a lawn. Approaching at full speed, he flared his flight feathers at the last possible split second and seemed to simply step off of the air onto the lawn. My eye could hardly follow the transition for the speed, but Mr. M executed the move into a bush not long after and I caught more of the action. Then he flew almost vertically from bush to an altitude of 30 feet to peck at an intruding competitor. The two M’s made their quick cuts to claw at and peck toward one another in quick succession. I thought how much more dangerous they were to one another than the hawk was to Mr. M or visa-versa.

I could not have seen any of the flight action had it not been for the color and flashing of feathers. Their lateral tailfeathers are white against the gray background of the rest. They have white mid-wing feathers that barely show until they spread their wings wide. When Mr. M turned his wings downward for the perfect landing, the white on dark gray feathers showed straight in my direction. M’s are not so colorful as other birds but they always seem to be dressed up for any occasion, looking rather sharp.

All of the brief encounters with Mr. M over the past week have caused me to reflect on this pleasure at observing him in various ways and at various times. I have always favored the species, but I think that I could now say that Mr. M at least ranks if not holds the highest regards in my mind among birds. His Creator is certainly of the most intelligent, beauty-loving, design worthy sort, unmatched by any other.

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My daughter decided to start hiking to build up her stamina. She said that she needs intermediate goals in order to make progress and keep interested. So, she decided to start hiking to the top of the 25 tallest peaks in the Eastern U.S. That had to morph into a different goal because it is either hard or silly to do, depending on which list of highest peaks you look at. The hard has to do with deciding which peaks are the 25 highest. Different lists credit different peaks with that status. You may think that is silly in the days of Global Positioning. In one sense it is silly. One site included any peak that rose from around the surroundings for 160 feet. That means that you could “bag” five or six peaks on two hikes along two different ridges. The site she settled upon was a Wikipedia page called “Southern Sixers“. It includes all of the mountains east of the Mississippi that are taller than 6000′ above sea level, except Mt. Washington (6288′), which is in New Hampshire and would rank 22 on the list. The list has 53 entries, so 54 with Mt. W. I don’t what my daughter is going to do, but she suggested some number like 32 on the list. She will bag some peaks lower on the list with the two ridge walks that I mentioned above. I hope that I might be included in a fair number of these excursions.

Click on A Good Beginning to see how the first two “sixers” went.

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My oldest brother turns 74 today. Always looking for an excuse to go on a hike and get together with family, he emailed the family via group email about hiking not too far a drive from any of us. Schedules being what they are, three out of the four brothers and their wives and one son out of eight children and his family made it for the hike, 14 souls in all. We had done this hike as one of our Thanksgiving hikes several years ago. For some reason, all of us remembered the falls but forgot the hike. It is not steep but it is continuously up. It is not long at 1.5 miles out, but it is rough with randomly pitched small boulders in sections. Small children needed assistance and less stable older participants gave out. The purpose of the hike was time together and time in the woods. Both objectives were completed. For half of us there was a little extra adventure as well. Check out the pictures at Margarette and Bailey Falls to see why.

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I have not divulged the recent goings on of my wife and me for two reasons. Firstly, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. Then when it did work out faster than I anticipated, life got very busy. There was so much to finish up where we were and so much to do in transition and so much to do at our new location. As one friend used to say, “I’ve been going hard in the paint” for several months now. In fact, I just recently realized that I was truly exhausted, the kind where one or two good nights of sleep are not sufficient. But God is good, sustaining us through all of this transition, and though we are living in a forest boxes, we have moved in and slowing down somewhat. In fact, today we went to a local park and took a leisurely walk, the first time in months. Check out a few pictures of our new house and the walk we took today at ETN Move. We moved away from East Tennessee 29 years. My wife commented just today that she thought we would never return. I agreed. At my new job several weeks ago, I came into the room to meet a new client. She stared at me for a long moment. “May I help you?” I queried somewhat uncomfortably. “Did you ever teach Biology?” she questioned. “Oh yes,” I replied, “many times to high school students.” “No, I mean, did you ever teach Biology at Northeast State Community College?” “I can’t believe this is happening! I taught there for one semester, 29 years ago.” “Yes, I was one of your students. I liked you as a teacher, but what impressed me most was one night after class I came up to you and said, ‘I can’t come to the next class because I don’t have a babysitter for my 2-year old. You said it was no problem, just to bring him with me and I did. He is 31 now.” That was another significant transition in our lives. I am thankful that I could influence someone in a good way in the midst of that stressful time. Oh, that I may do so this time around as well, giving God the glory.

I hope to cycle back around and share some thoughts on several things that happened before the move and caused the move. Now we are in a new phase of our life, still moving forward, still finding purpose in what God is calling us to.

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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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