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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ 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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It was a bit cooler than we anticipated last Saturday for climbing. My climbing partner arrived at the house just after 8 AM and it was still about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. We decided to go to a south facing, low elevation crag. From what we observed and others said later on, it was a good thing. One friend at church said, “I could swear that when I looked up at the mountains it was snowing.” I replied, “I can swear it was snowing.” We had snow showers with sunshine and wind alternating with just sunshine or then dark clouds and wind. Just as we were hiking out a fierce sleet flurry rushed down the draw. It was laying before we could get out of the woods. On our first climb the rock was quite cold resulting in cold fingers, but after that the sun warmed the rock just often enough to make it good climbing. We had lively talk, good climbing, brisk hiking in and out, bracing weather, Spring just breaking in blooms, and Winter trying to hold on for one more hurrah. It was a good day. Check out the pictures at Crag Day.

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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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Wow, time flies whether you are having fun or not. So many challenges and unknowns have come our way in the last 3 months, but God is faithful and His providential care and guidance is unerring even when we can’t see it. We are thankful that our house sold, but we don’t know where we are going next. Houses are hard to get in this rarefied real estate market, and direction for where we should be is even harder at the moment. I am by no means a control freak, but I like a little predictability and consistency in my life, and that is all out the window at the moment. My climbing partner said just today that I seem to handle uncertainty (“the unknowns” as we called it) pretty well. I testified to God’s work in my life to make that so. If I say that I trust God, then I need to prove it by not fretting and by waiting for His guidance.

Having said all of that, I am also thankful for decompression times like hiking hard on an approach to a cliff and climbing hard on climbs that are very challenging for me. That was today. Last week was more chill (or was it?) on a bright sunny day and friends trying hard at the boulder field. Check out a few pictures of that trip at Bouldering with Friends.

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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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I have talked about heating with wood several times over the years of writing this blog. Particularly at this time of year, it is entails a significant input of time, energy, and mental focus. You might wonder why anyone would expend so much energy over the course of 38 years heating their house. In generations past is was, no doubt, a simple necessity of life. It certainly has saved me thousands of dollars in heating bills which I would have struggled to come up with in certain years of the past and always preferred not to spend.

But even more than that, it is a lifestyle. David Thoreau was generous when he said that heating with wood warmed you twice. Cutting, loading, unloading, splitting, stacking, carrying in, starting and maintaining fires, enjoying the heat, carrying out ashes, and cleaning the chimney are a few ways it warms me. I think it probably warms me nearly ten times. Central heat is good, but I don’t know where to go to warm my hands or dry out my wet clothing. And when the blizzard of ’93 hit, we were warm for the 8 days that the power was out and cooked beans and soup while we heated the house. My boys split wood while they were home, but I even participated then. I have been loaned a hydraulic wood splitter thrice that I recall, but never split all of the wood that way for a season. At my latitude the winter is not long or bitterly cold. 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cords of wood is sufficient for the warmest and coldest winters we have. I prefer taking dead wood over cutting live trees and the majority of trees here are oak.

I have gotten to where I can smell what kind of wood is being burned and whether it is wet or green or dried. When the first fire of the season is lit, the smell of dust burning off of the stove brings warm reminiscence of past years. For all of this, the 39th year of heating with wood may be the last. I am not tired of the work and fire making effort. If you had asked me 5 years ago what would cause me to stop heating with wood, I would have said ability and energy to gather it. The real reason now seems to be that all of that smelling of fires, and more specifically chainsaws has had a bad repercussion. Between mowing, weed eating, leaf blowing, and chainsaws I have become “allergic” to combustion products, particularly 2 cycle oil. An hour or so exposure brings on aches and sometimes debilitating joint pains. So, since I haven’t converted over my heat source, still mow and weed eat and blow leaves, I have to wear a organics fume mask. Try working in that on a hot day. And since I don’t sport a Hitler mustache (regulation for gas masks), The seal on the mask is not ideal and I still get some mild ill effects from the fumes. So, check out my latest foray into the woods to cut and split wood here.

I thought as I pulled my truck out of the woods and passed a super duty four door diesel truck that I am thankful to have an old truck that is still functional and being used for what it was designed for. I guess that I like working, even though I want to do it at a slower rate these days. What’s the rush? Of course, there is the need to get wood in the dry before the wet and cold days when very little dries out. I believe I am ahead of that curve this year.

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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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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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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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Our daughter and her family visited this weekend. I thought that we should plan at least one activity of interest. I remember meeting the CEO of the Hart Square Museum at my local climbing wall. She invited me to come see the Museum that her grandfather and grandmother put together over many decades. Since it was between my family members and myself, it would break up their trip a little and get us outside. I was concerned about our tour schedule time being at noon, because of the heat of June, but I was pleasantly surprised that 90% of the tour was in the woods under shade. The CEO met us in their brand new event facility that has been in the works for 5 years from fund raising to near completion. Already events are being scheduled there. I think that this new facility will be a big drawing card and help to fund the museum for many years into the future.

It pretty well dazzles the moment you enter the hall, and there is a kitchen, bathrooms, and dressing rooms in one wing and offices and conference rooms in the other wing. Here you see a birthday party being set up.

The young and energetic CEO passed us off to the young, talkative, and knowledgeable tour guide. He has lived on the premises as son to the caretaker for ten years and has been involved in deconstructing, moving, and reassembling several of the historic structures as well as repairing and upgrading others constantly. Here he is (on the right) in an upstairs bedroom of one of the larger log cabins describing the set-up to my son-in-law. Very few of the pieces of furniture were original with the cabins they are in, but they are all very much period pieces.

Our tour guide (from here on XS) said that there are now 103 and historic log structures on site, approximately 80 of which were log cabin homes. The structures range in construction date from 1792 to the 1870’s (the latter number being an observation of mine and not definite). Most were bought by the late Dr. Hart. XS said the property was originally intended to be a personal preserve for the good doctor but shifted purpose when a friend suggested a log cabin be purchased and moved to the edge of the pond and then a barn. Two of the most fascinating and used structures are the log churches. You might well imagine that some couples would want to be married in these rustic and romantic houses of worship.

The old 19 century pump organ is functional and used in weddings and gatherings.

With a tour guide along and care taken, this is largely a hands on museum. My son-in-law and two grandchildren confirmed that the organ worked. I ran up the scale, impressed with good sound. I only found one white note that had a reduced, though in tune, sound, I suspect because of a dirty or jammed stop.

The people that I met at the museum are not shy about their faith, so it made the whole presentation seem all the more real. Amazingly this structure was an apartment with siding on it when Dr. Hart found it. It cleaned up quite nicely, as we say.

The other church is smaller and has a circuit rider’s portable pump organ that could be folded and strapped behind the saddle of the traveling preacher. My grand-daughter pretends to be the organist on this day. I found an old hymnbook on the podium and began leafing though it. I think myself somewhat knowledgeable in Christian hymnody, but I had gone 50 hymns before I found one I knew. I sang the first verse. It seems an apt response to being in a structure constructed and dedicated to the worship of God.

XS says this is perhaps the best view on the site and a drawing point for small weddings.

I didn’t think to ask at the time, but I wonder if this glass above the window was original. It doesn’t seem likely to me since a “St. Mark” glass should be grouped with the other three Gospel glasses.

The cabins, many and varied, are furnished in even more varied ways. Some, to be sure, are furnished as the homes they originally were and similarly to their actual use according to interviews with former occupants. But others were furnished as workshops and businesses which they were not. This increases the interest in their contents and plays into the one day reenacting festival every Fall.

Most, the following one not included, had original rock chimneys along with the mostly original logs and timber.

This one was decorated as if Christmas was soon to arrive.

The cookstove was impressive.

Except for the cobwebs, which XS says they are constantly clearing, the cabins are furnished to appear occupied in the present.

Given the number of bedrooms, however, I can assure you that this pantry should be better stocked. Check out the blue Mason jars with the zinc lids.

If you included the four poster at right, this bedroom alone could have housed seven youngin’s. It was adjacent to another room with two double beds.

There are also several modern, old design structures on site like this covered bridge…

…and cotton press for making bales. The cotton gin in the barn like structure is one of only two period gins in the country that is still functioning.

There is also a functioning grist mill fed by one of the ponds.

My family members loved combing every inch of what we had time for and asking many questions. Sometimes I think XS was talking as much to himself as to us. He had plenty to say and good, interesting information, too.

I observed that a modern leather belt replacement might be quite expensive and XS added, less durable.

My grandson is positioned just right to be grabbed up by the millstone hoist.

The passage between living quarters and the kitchen is called a dogtrot. The design helped with heat management by avoiding the heat of the kitchen in summer and providing a shady, breezy passage. I think a quick way to get out of the rain without tracking mud into the house would be nice, too.

There are clay and brick ovens and kilns here and there for the festival reenactors to make anything from bread to pottery, pewter, and more.

Can you guess what we saw inside of this cabin?

Bear on the wall, buffalo on the bed, and deer on the foot board, I’m told.

The large, iron rich, mica schist blocks on this chimney were fascinating.

The Holstein hide bed coverlet drew my attention as well.

There were museum pieces at every turn. You should see what was inside the shed.

There is a centrally located picnic pavilion where my grandchildren were attempting to call up anyone with ears to hear.

My son-in-law caught a little wildlife for his daughter to play with.

There is not enough time to go into all 103 structures on a given tour, but you may request that anyone be opened to inspect. I was interested in the pottery cabin. It was full of labeled historic pots. Some were from a well known local potter and his business from the 19th century. This was definitely a no touch zone.

My daughter observed that the Indian glazes had a more smooth appearance and I would add a more matte finish as well.

The last cabin that we went into was furnished as a doctor’s abode. It had matching horn “silverware” and a grand Lazy Susan at table.

I had a few more pictures, but I seem to have arrived at the limit of the blog entry. That is fine, because you need to go see for yourself. Even with every picture I took, you would not have seen the half of it. Go check it out. They seem quite flexible in scheduling tours and there is some real history hear. Or plan an event there. Yes, I’m advertising, but not because I get anything out of it other than the satisfaction of knowing that I pointed some people to a profitable tour for mind and body and helped out a worthy museum. Check out their tours at Hart Square | A Common Past, Uncommonly Preserved. It is located just south of Hickory, NC, near Vale, NC. I was going to add a map, but I have maxed out the storage, evidently. You’re smart, so check it out and go see it this summer.

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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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Interacting with a friend on FB with whom I had previously climbed several years ago, we decided to get together and go climbing again. He lives near Crowder Mountain State Park and has been climbing more frequently there of late with a friend. When we arrived the expanded parking lot was already one third full at just after 8 AM: climbers, hikers, and trail runners preparing equipment and signing release forms. The friend knew the various walls and suggested that we head for the back side of David’s Castle to avoid the anticipated muggy radiation on the sunward side. When we arrived and looked over the front side of the wall, I was enamored by the prominent crack front and center. He said it was a 5.7, so I thought it would be a good climb to warm up on and lead before the sun got too hot. My friend had bought a new 60 meter rope that had only been used once. It came with the most convenient rope tarp/carrying sack. You can tell by the rocky ground that this is a heavily visited climbing site.

The crack was both wide enough and deep enough to do some serious chimneying. The sides were fairly slick from climbing use. Even more problematic were the occasional roofs that had to be negotiated. Mountain Project calls this a 5.7+. Frequently that means that some number of people would agree that most, if not all of the moves, taken individually are no more than 5.7, but taken together with fatigue and so forth, perhaps a higher grade is needed.

Here I am about 40 feet up reaching for a quickdraw to attach to the pro I have just placed. It was, as seen here, a bit awkward at times reaching equipment on my harness in the chimney and difficult to chimney my way up with equipment on.

Now about 60 feet up, you can see the several placements of gear as the rope winds up the route. My belay partner who seconded the route said I had good, solid placements on this trad route.

At 80 feet the climb goes into a cave, open at both ends. The belay station was cooled by shade and cool air drawn through the opening with a comfortable stance and a nice view. The view is toward the East and Jackson Knob just south of Gastonia.

I belayed my partner from the top. Here he comes. I holding firmly on the brake hand while I take the picture with my other hand, resulting in only a momentary lapse in rope management, though not compromising safety in any way.

Here I stand comfortably at my belay station, though you can see that even after 15 minutes I am still soaked in now cooled sweat. Just above my left shoulder you can see one side of the 7 mm doubled cordelette that extends around a chock in the crack for an anchor.

My belay partner then belayed our friend as I explored the top of the Castle. There is another way to scramble up to the top, explaining the graffiti in the upper right hand corner. Also, you can see a runner and carabiner attached to a cam as a back-up anchor to his left.

Off to the northeast is what I believe to be Marshall Coal Powered Steam Plant on the western shore of Lake Norman. It is a testament to how still and unstable the air was on this muggy day for the smoke plume to rise so vertically and high. There is a typical amount of haziness for a late Spring day in the Carolinas but not especially polluted since the power plant is over 30 miles away.

The next wall to the north of David’s Castle is Red Wall. It is said to be named after a streak in the rock by that color, but I immediately think of the children’s series that we read to our children about Martin the Warrior defending Redwall Abbey.

The next wall to the south is called Practice Wall. There were quite a few people on top of it since that is where the trail peaks. I can see a slight flash of red of a shirt, can you?

Particularly around major metropolitan areas like Charlotte, every high hill is a placement for towers, radio and cellphone, and microwave drums which are frequently beaming TV, radio and cellphone signals from other towers or stations down below.

You may have noticed that I did not have any pictures of my friend completing the climb. About 20 feet off of the ground you run into the first roof. While trying to finagle around this feature, one foot slipped off and he took a swinging fall. The frequent counterintuitive problem with falling on an easier climb is the larger holds make for more of a cheese grater surface. Nothing was broken and he walked out, but the gouge in his upper left leg was painful and contused so that it swelled quite a bit. Even before this happened he was commenting on how this seemed harder than a 5.7. Since 5.7, 5.8 is about at his limit at the moment, that gives credibility to my saying 5.7+ is a bit sandbagged.* Another interpretation is one that climbers give to crack routes. They are just different and if you aren’t used to crack climbing they seem inordinately hard. There are not many crack climbs in Western North Carolina, so I confess to this being only the third crack climb I’ve done, the others being finger cracks rather than full body chimneys.

Despite the injury, the muggy day, and steep approach, we were happy and whole at the end of the climbing.

*Sandbagged. (adjective) A sandbagged route is one whose grade belies its difficulty; an undergraded route. Derived from the idea that climbing the route would feel as if you were climbing with a bag of sand attached to your harness — i.e., the climb is much harder than it seems. Why Does Sandbagging Occur — Toprock Climbing

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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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