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Posts Tagged ‘Outdoors’

You wonder how some terms came to be. Then there are others so descriptive of their meaning and utility as to need no further explanation. An example is a Lean-To. Enough said.

I had bought a used riding mower in exchange for labor earlier in the summer. At 60 years of age, mowing a 3/4 acre lot with a push mower was becoming daunting rather than jaunty. When I first got the mower I parked it under my firewood shed to keep the seat dry and deck from further rust. But as Autumn approached I began considering where to put firewood in the dry if I should ever find any. So, I decided to build a lean to onto the side of my shed. The double doors of the shed were not wide enough for the deck of the mower and would require a tedious rework for the purpose of parking the behemoth in the already crowded storage/workspace. I did not want to buy the lumber since it has gone up considerably of late and this was just used mower. When a job required taking down an old deck, I put the better, slightly deteriorated boards aside into my truck for homegoing. One of my sons thought it impressive that I did the lean to in one day. I really took 3 hours of previous day to clear the space of shrubbery and set up the posts, but my wife did not tell him that. I did not think to catch quite the whole process, but following is my lean to build:

Some of the lumber was quite nice to be used. I had built the shed years before. I had hand built roof trusses that allowed a vaulted ceiling over the middle half of the 20′ long shed. I had plywood gussets at the top and ends of the trusses. It had a large Virginia Pine behind it at one point. On the a Friday after Thanksgiving several years ago while we were away at an extended family gathering, my third son was awakened by a loud crash. He looked outside to see everything covered in copious amounts of ice and the Virginia Pine snapped about three feet up its trunk and lying on the shed. The two foot diameter tree and ice broke one truss which slowed it down enough to only crack others. It was a tedious repair job. The new sheets of roofing did not hold onto the forest green Rustoleum paint very well. I need to sand it and try again.

Tools are not toys as some proclaim.

The shed sits in a very wet spot, a fact I did not know when I built it there. For that reason I had to plant the lean to posts on concrete bases, “feet” if you will. The last two years have been very wet, even record wet last year.

The perspective in this picture makes the posts appear kicked out at the bottom. They were definitely plumb.
Diagonals prevent racking.
I decided mid-stream to make the roof one sheet wider, so I will have to go buy another sheet of metal roofing.
I still have a bit of clean up but the mower and lumber are in the dry.

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Geometrically, a cascade is a type of waterfall that drops along the contour of a slope rather than freefalls over a precipice. Catawba Falls is a massive cascade at the base of Black Mountain near Old Fort, NC. A group of 22 from my church made the relaxed walk to the base today. in the group were people from about 4 years old to nearly 70. Some children waded and swam, others held hands. There was much enjoyable talk and enjoyment of God’s creation. It has been very wet lately, so the cascade was flowing well. Muddy spots and rivulets cross the trail frequently. There are a few places to rock hop or wade tributaries. There are two large bridges to cross rougher stream crossings. Even in mid-September the leaves are all still green and mushrooms abound. The day was cloudy and cool, but this nor the cold water prevented most of us getting some part of our bodies wet from feet to head.

A Start
A 1920’s hydroelectric generation structure near the first bridge
Tributary cascade above the trail
Well graded trail on steep ground
A small tributary falls below the trail
At the old hydroelectric dam upstream of the powerhouse
Second Bridge
A little friend I helped near the cascade
Catawba Falls
From a rock about 1/3 up the cascade
Food is anything you can digest
Yes, it is cold!

While the group was proceeding back down at a leisurely pace, I decided to bushwhack a little. See what I found.

Where do all of the helium balloons come down?
Mosses and Club Mosses
In September this valued plant gives its location away by exhibiting its red berries. But I won’t give away its location.

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My oldest brother turned 72 years old this past Friday. He asked for a hike for his birthday. His wife, two brothers, his daughter, and two grandsons came along. It was an exceptionally humid September day, but not unreasonably hot, particularly because the hike was in the shade of a forest. The particular forest was Lone Mountain State Forest in Morgan County, Tennessee. I drove with my older brother. He pointed out a waterfall along the Hwy TN62 as you go up onto the plateau.

Roadside Waterfall

The signage at the parking area shows all of the trail names, distances, and marker colors. I wish that I had a map to indicate how these interconnect. We had planned a 7.0 mile out and back hike to Coyote Point Overlook.

Below is the crew minus my brother’s wife who is taking the picture. We all look fresh and ready to go.

Some things, fungi in particular, have the ability to look both beautiful and ugly at the same time it seems to me.

The next button of a mushroom seems to reveal the face of a proper English gentleman with Mutton Chop sideburns and lace collar.

The Cumberland Plateau has shallow, sandy soil that dries out quickly. In a normal year, August and September would see soaring temperatures and many days without rain. That has not been the case this year, resulting in the mushrooms popping up through the leaf litter in profusion.

The next two pictures show an interesting variety with gill-like structures on the stalk. Do these shed spores like the cap? The second one looks to me like a bright version of a WWI army helmet set on top of the frilly stalk.

The ray of sunshine pointed out this next beauty to me. It looks like an overextended parasol. The green ribs were barely observable in the bright light and it was somewhat translucent.

Spreading Yellow False Foxglove Aureolaria patula
A mint variety?
Doll’s Eyes Actaea pachypoda

The following Earth tones of decaying root and leaf and cap contrast nicely with the green of renewal.

At a trail intersection about three miles out from the parking lot, we stopped to reconsider the length and difficulty of the hike. GPS and seasoned legs told us this was farther than the signs said. We milled around and considered and ended up eating lunch here before continuing.

I am confused by this spring cover. It seems that it was built (or rebuilt?) crooked on purpose. The spring needed cleaned out, having an orange rust appearance in the water (Click here for an explanation.).

The distance to the overlook was over 4 miles, so that the GPS of several relatives indicated around eight and a half miles of hiking by the time we finished. There are several very steep sections of trail, though not terribly long. The view looked out over the ridges of the Cumberland Plateau. If you look closely, you can see two smoke stacks which we believe are Kingston Steam Plant at perhaps 15 miles away. Ridges far distant behind that were discernible to the eye.

View from Coyote Point

So common to this area is the sandstone cap rock over limestone. This point is a flat area ending in a sandstone outcropping of perhaps 20 feet in height at the top of a ridge, sufficient for a decent view.

Coyote Point
With my older brother at the overlook (photo credit: my niece)
At the local mud puddle

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For various reasons the hike schedule I had intended to keep with my great-nephew has been delayed. But this Monday we got out on our 3rd day hike, this time to Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many years ago I had attempted a winter assault via the Bulls Head Trail with a college friend, only to be shut down by icy trail across slides. The thought of slipping down the thousand foot plus slope of cleared forest covered in ice on rock, runs shivers up my spine even now. We crossed one slide ever so tenuously only to be confronted by a second one a short distance later. We turned back, knowing we still had to recross the first one to be delivered to safety. For all of those many years I had wanted to complete this trail. Now my young relative was getting to go up Mt. LeConte for his first time while I completed the only way I hadn’t been to the top. The trail starts in Cherokee Orchard above Gatlinburg. Both of us having stayed at my oldest brother’s house in Knoxville and getting up early, we were on the trail at 7:15. There were actually two cars in the parking lot and one man and son starting up the Grotto Falls Trail as we left. From there you take a 0.4 mile jog on the Old Sugarlands Trail to Bulls Head Trail. It is obvious from the pictures that this has been a high precipitation season.

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Short way over to the turn up the mountain

Log bridges are a staple in the park. The one pictured is longer than usual and the nearness to the road means that gravel is put down to reduce rutting and erosion.

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first bridge

I remember well the pictures of Gatlinburg burning in the fires of 2016. I also knew that the national park had sustained damage. Of the 16,000 acres that burned, 10,000 were in the park. We were about to see the remnants of those fires.

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Contrast

There were great swathes of mountain slope that no tree was left alive by the fire along side other areas where no damage seemed to exist. Very few areas had brush fires that didn’t get up in the treetops. There was a goodly amount of natural charcoal. Secondary Succession is in full swing these four years after the fires. Root sprouts of trees, seedlings of Table Mountain Pine whose cones need fire to open, and abundant annuals covered the ground. 

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Death and renewal

All of this clearing results in non-stop views around every corner. You can see in the next picture the large cylindrical hotel that is built just outside of the park at the entrance to Cherokee Orchard. Two ridges beyond that hotel you can see the strip that is Pigeon Forge. This line of sight convinces me that the far ridges on the horizon are toward a stretch of mountains on the far side of the Tennessee Valley from LaFollete northward to at least Cumberland Gap.

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Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and beyond

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Wooly Tops Mountain?

The exclusively mineral soil speaks strongly of the degree of erosion that took place on these slopes that receive over 100 inches of rain a year. It saddened me to consider what had been lost. As I discussed this with my sister-in-law in the evening, she reminded me that when my father was young, the area had been logged extensively*, rendering it much the same as these smaller areas now. Some 80 to 100 years later it was the lush forest I so loved. It can repair again. 

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bare, mineral soil

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Secondary Succession well under way

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continuous views

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some type of wild grapes

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Lampshade Spiders

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glimpse of the top

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gap between Bulls Head and Balsam Point

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Oswego Tea

I asked myself why some places were completely burned and others seemingly untouched. When we entered the woods from a burned over area, there were almost always coneflower and Oswego Tea which grow in wet seeps. Even in significant drought like was occurring when the wildfires hit, these areas have abundant water under the surface. The fire was doused by the seeps, preventing wholesale destruction.

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Where there were seeps, no fire

There is a constant battle for resources in the forest. When life is good- abundant sunlight, rainfall, nutrients, temperate climate- the battle is intense. Parasites are opportunistic. When life is good or when it is stressed, parasites find resources that are being squandered or difficult to use, and they rob them from other organisms. A common example of plant parasite in the mountains is Dodder.

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Dodder (Cuscate sp.) on Stinging Nettles

Lichen comes in deliciously diverse forms. The texture and variety in this next picture could keep my eyes busy for hours.

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Love the texture

If you can’t find anything else interesting to look at, check out the mushrooms. They come in so many shades and sizes.

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Caught in the forest on the run

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Classic Toadstool look

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Ancient looking Yellow Birch all fern and moss decorated

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Spruce, fern, and moss! We must be above 5000 feet.

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The lush, highland forest

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The fir trees persist

Balsam Firs! Now we are above 6000 feet. A bit of the Canadian Boreal Forest in the Southern Appalachians (There are no long a’s in that word.) Clifftop is not quite the highest point on Mt. LeConte, but it is the most visited for the views of steep, cloud cloaked ridges beyond.

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near the edge

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Over the Alum Cave Bluff Trail ridge

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over the edge

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My phone camera is not the latest generation and digital zoom is pitiful, but sometimes you have to emphasize what you are taking a picture of.

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Newfound Gap

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windblown Heather and Spruce

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Clingsman’s Dome almost revealed

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LeConte Lodge

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Mountain Boomer

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Shelf Fungus

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Rainbow Falls

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There are few healthy Hemlocks after the wooly adelgid, but the park service treats some of the tree to preserve them.

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A healthy Hemlock

The lower part of the Rainbow Falls Trail may be one of the most heavily traveled stretches of trail in the park due to the large waterfall and distance from Gatlinburg. To prevent the erosion from destroying this segment of the forest the park service has put in segments of permanent rock steps. I’m thinking these had to be placed by small skid-stears (like a Bobcat, etc.). I don’t know if even four stout men could lift many of these stones.

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The hike was 14 miles on a high overcast day with thunder on either side of us as we neared the end. It was a good outing, a goal accomplished, an enjoyment of God’s green earth that can so well repair itself and be beautiful in the process and at the conclusion.

I end this entry with a little camera envy. I have an older version cellphone. My great-nephew has one with a far superior camera. I guess when my first blog entry goes viral and get requests to have sponsors, I’ll get some good camera equipment. Anyway here are the pictures I asked him to take mostly of smaller things I knew my camera wasn’t up to:

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Caught in the Crossing

J2

“Bull’s Head Gap” overlook cairn

J3

Panarama of 180+ degrees

J4J6J7J10J11J12J13J14J15J16J18J19J21

*History of logging n the Smokies: https://www.smokiesadventure.com/smokymountains/history/logging_in_the_smokies.htm#:~:text=Before%20the%20boom%20of%20logging%20in%20the%20Smokies%2C,attention%20of%20logging%20companies%20in%20the%20late%201800s.

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I had small amount of business out town early this week, hardly seeming worth the 3 1/2 hours of driving I would have to do to accomplish it. I decided to make more of a trip out of it.

Firstly, I connected up with my present climbing partner for a quick outing to a hidden crag. You have to hike downhill a full mile to get to the creek side cliff. It is always cool and lush at ground level, but the wall dries fairly quickly. My partner led the 5.8 and an overhung 5.9. I followed by leading a 5.10 and we set up a 5.11 on toprope that I climbed clean on first try. As you may have discerned, the real workout is the 1 mile uphill hike after climbing. It is both cardio- and leg power intense. Our conversation reflected our different stages of life and our mutual love of God, truth, and the outdoors.

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Setting up for the warm-up, Jigsaw (5.8)

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“Belaying Blues”?

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Lowering after cleaning the climb

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Beautiful, cool setting for climbing

Secondly, I went to visit my middle son. I ordered Mexican to go and we went up to Wilbur Lake to eat at a picnic table at the boat ramp. People were pulling their canoes and Jon boats in and out and families were wading. The water comes off of the bottom of Watauga Lake above at about 40 degrees, bone aching cold. We waded and ate and talked and reminisced. We had left this area when he was just over 3 years old. I asked him if he remembered being here. He described it in an insightful way: “It was more like a snapshot than a video.” That pretty much pictured it. The area is called the Horseshoe because the Watauga River, now Wilbur Lake, has an extreme horseshoe shaped bend. The next picture shoes the late afternoon Sun shining over the central spine of the Horseshoe. If you walk up this spine, at one point you can look back and see both legs of the horseshoe below you. After supper he drove me up the short hill to the house we had lived in for those 7 years, 1986-1993. It was some of the best and worst times for our family. Best because of the closeness and nature and gardens and church and tangible provision of God. Worst because of the hard work and lack of money and difficulty in finding direction. In retrospect, I think the two correlate. Difficulty precipitates more trust in God and more awareness of His blessings. We went back to his house, watched a few Youtube videos, talked about his new job and went to bed early. He was up early and left earlier than he had said to get to another day of his job training. It was good to see his diligence and drive, not that I have ever seen it lacking.

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Bone Chilling Wilbur Lake

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Horseshoe Homeplace

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Son’s new leased house

Thirdly, I met up with my brother and sister-in-law for two hikes, one to see wildflowers and trees at Warrior’s Path State Park and the other to see the same plus several small waterfalls in a little gorge at Laurel Run Park on the north flank of Bays Mountain in Hawkins County. The first hike was short in distance but long in time because on this limestone slope below the campground down to the lake I saw many varieties of trees that I just don’t see in NC. I was pointing them out and how to identify them to my sister-in-law and my brother as he took interest.

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Three disparate barks

Though I use leaves as well, I was trained to recognize deciduous trees by their bark, learning them in the Fall mostly after the leaves had fallen off. The above three trees are from left to right, Black (or Wild) Cherry, Chincapin Oak (not common and the bark very nearly resembles White Oak), and Hickory (Mockernut or Shagbark most likely though it is hard to tell at this early stage). Before we left the park we had identified 36 trees species, only one not native. 

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Butterflies and Mildweeds

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One of those, “Which do you see first” pictures: 1) reflection of the tree 2) fish 3) foreground leaves and twigs.

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Holston River

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Some uncommon orchid late blooming.

The Laurel Run hike was a bit longer and steeper, but the shade and conversation were good. People had eked out living in these draws where they were left alone and used whatever resources were available. It is a pity that the American Chestnut was not one of the trees we saw. They exist here but are minuscule in size compared to the great trees of the past that supplied so much livestock with food. With the trip between parks and this second hike, my sister-in-law and I identified 52 species of trees with only 3 exotics. We are blessed with a bio-diverse area. 

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Cultural Residual

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Sis and Bro

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typical limestone layering and color; I wondered where the cave entrances are.

It seems most every wildflower is 10 days to two weeks late this year. We speculated that the warm March and very cool April may have been the cause.

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Rattlesnake Plantain not quite ready to bloom. 

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First waterfall- about 15 feet

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“Waterfall” 2 was about 4 feet but with an inviting pool

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Waterfall 3 was about 10 feet. These would be amazing looking after a good rain.

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Sandstone overlaying Limestone?

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Cultural Art: Tractor oil pan perhaps

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Wild Flocks and Stinging Nettle and a Butterfly that moved too fast for my camera.

I find it amazing how you can fill up a 24 hour period with so much that feeds the mind, emotions, and body. These in turn bring a measure of rest to the spirit, best experienced as you thank and praise the Creator for the beauties before you, the health to enjoy them, and the relationships which are more permanent than either.

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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I received an email today that left me chagrined. I am a 60 year old participant in outdoor activities, particularly climbing at the moment. Access to local national forest climbing areas may be threatened. I wrote a letter whose introductory paragraph read as follows:

“I am a native of East Tennessee and longtime resident of Western North Carolina who has spent many 1000’s of hours in the national forests of the Appalachians and Blue Ridge hiking and climbing and camping. The public lands and my use of them is my single most loved freedom and pursuit that retains me as a resident of these beloved mountains. For 50 years I have roamed these mountains for my mental and physical health, leaving as little trace as I could and taking many pictures and memories. As a family man, I have taught my family to appreciate and care for the mountains and as a teacher I have done the same both in the classroom and outdoors. I plead with you to not shut down the opportunities of young and old alike to enjoy the challenges of climbing by overly restrictive and one-size fits all statutes and procedures concerning climbing areas and their approaches. Educate people and see them rise to the challenge of protecting while utilizing these resources that belong to the American people. Don’t lock it away to be underutilized by preventing access to world class climbing areas in our beautiful forests.”

If you are interested in helping to keep the National Forests open to climbing both here, and ultimately nationwide, please spread the word and write a letter at the following site: Click on https://www.accessfund.org , and go to the bottom of the page for the quick help with the letter. It really only takes 5 minutes and may retain climbing access for years to come. 

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My son, his wife, a friend, and I went hiking in the Gorge last Friday. The temperature was perfect, the skies were deep blue, the wildflowers popping and beautiful, the conversation enjoyable, and the hiking strenuous. We went down by way of the Sandy Flats Trail which is on maps but no longer marked or maintained. In places the trail was easy to follow, but in others downed trees and shifting creek obscured any remnant. It was always extremely steep with actual rock scrambles in several places. I am glad that we went in this way instead of coming out this way, because we would have been discouraged when tired. Instead, it was an adventure with many undisturbed spots for wildflowers and jutting rock outcroppings.

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Steep descent via Sandy Flats Trail next to Wiseman’s View

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Newlyweds on a jaunt in the woods

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Crazy Friend

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Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia)

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Wake-robin Trillium (Trillium erectum)

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Showy Orchis (Gelaris spectablis)

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expanding tree Shelf Fungus (or Bracket Fungus; Polypore)

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Linville River

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Sandy Flats?

Next, we turned up gorge toward Babel Tower. My son felt like the Sun would beat us to our destination, so he set out on a fast pace. With taking pictures here and there, I had the hardest time keeping up. The Gorge is so narrow down by the river that at times you are only a few yards horizontal from the river but 1 to 2 hundred feet above it.

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Trail on the Edge

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Notice the rounded cut outs in the far bank from flood scouring.

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Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

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Tower opposing Babel Tower

I am beyond frustrated with the autofocus. In one attempt, I even tried to put a large leaf in the immediate background to force the nearer focus and it still chose 1/5 of the field of view and focussed further away. But I did record a flower that I have not seen often. I saw several of these plants as we went along.

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Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) with violets below

Perhaps the most classic and beautiful view of the Gorge is from Babel Tower toward Hawksbill, Table Rock, Little Table Rock, and Chimneys:

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From Babel Tower downstream

The river goes around three sides of the rock outcropping called Babel Tower. A wide angle lens could record in 30 degrees of field of view the upstream and downstream river flowing at an angle about 60 degrees downward. This is extreme topography.

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radical descent

It is always good to have someone to share the journey and the view with, whether the day be pleasant or strenuous, or both.

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And to think, God is pleased to share the journey and the beauty with us and one day bring us to dwell with Him for eternity.

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I love to observe the beauties of nature. Some of the following pictures are from before the pandemic and many are part of my coping mechanism since it has started. The first picture shows algae with what I believe to be a brown spore case. If I am wrong, I wish some algae expert would set me straight.

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Algae under a microscope

Cameras can be deceptive. The pizza place was actually rather dim with little points of light. We enjoyed the cauliflower crust pizza with organic toppings of veggies and cheese.

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

It is convenient that my son has several downed trees in his side yard that I have cut off of a few times. I had never been so low on wood, oh, except for the time many years ago when I had been sick for several months and nearly ran out. At that time a friend felt sorry for me and brought some wood. The present wood is dry and off the ground with very little rot. The day was pleasantly cool for work.

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A little more wood needed

I gave one of my 9 year old Sunday School students an adult coloring book. The next Sunday she showed me the following:

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Sunday School student’s art

A mobile lab comes to our school each semester to do a DNA Electrophoresis Lab with our Biology students. It is a very effective use of their time.

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

A friend of ours from Bible School days came by to visit. She is retiring from many years of missionary work in the Philippians. It has been a privilege to be in contact with her all of these years, following what God has been doing with and through her.

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A friend and missionary

All of the previous pictures were pre-pandemic. The following ones are various fresh air excursions since warning to keep apart from others. The trillium are going wild in a little triangle of woods about 1/2 mile from my house where I frequently walk.

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

I like the beauty of my own yard in Spring as well.

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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Just a week before the restrictive stay at home orders came, my daughter and two grandchildren came to visit.

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He can look so serious

Only 3/4 of a mile from the house is a small waterfall in a draw (small vale or notch for those of you from a different neck of the woods) surrounded by wooded suburbia.

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Neighborhood waterfall

We hiked one day to a much larger waterfall. It is a short but steep walk, which I would have thought nothing of had it not been for the little ones to help along. We have had so much rain lately that the ground keeps giving water.

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

I can’t paint a still life, but I can appreciate one.

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

When my daughter went home, my granddaughter wanted to stay. We did several fun and relationship building things. When we went to the climbing gym I told her to watch me climb at first, knowing that she takes time to warm up to things. After about 45 minutes of following me around, she asked if she could have some climbing shoes. She was really quite good.

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

My wife is a wonderful cook. The only problem is her food doesn’t last long around our house with me there.

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

On the way back from a doctor across the state line, I decided to stop for a leg stretcher. In warm weather it is one of the best and most crowded swimming holes.

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

Two more backyard blooms and a small neck of the woods trillium follow:

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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There is little for perspective, but this huge, perhaps 12″+ in diameter.

At 5 PM on this very day, they were closing down many outdoor venues, specifically including climbing areas. I went and got in a quick session since both gyms and crags are closed for the foreseeable future. So much time to go and so little availability.

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel

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Bloodroot

Having not been outside much to climb lately, I was mostly shutdown by problems that I could previously do. I enjoy climbing for the mental and physical aspects. I needed some success before I went home and this is a good boulder for it.

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

I bought this ground cover only last Spring and it is covering the ground!

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Verbana sp.

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Red Dogwood

I don’t know why it is named after a snake, but the vividness and pattern of the white lines on the leaves are fascinating:

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

Many trees can be identified to the species by how they are shaped. Even sometimes their reaction to heavy pruning still comes out identifiable. One bright blue day I took pictures of 8 or 10 treeforms. I won’t bore you with the lot of them but the general idea is there.

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Spruce treeform

If you know what fractals are, then you will see why I mention them before the white oak tree picture.

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Oak treeform

To end this random array of flower arrangements and outdoor excursions and such I give you one more flower that grows by my backyard shed. Enjoy what little joys and beauties you are afforded. They help you deal with the sad and ugly moments of life. They are gifts from a gracious Father who loves beauty and blessing.

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Star of Bethlehem

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We haven’t had much of a winter this year. If it has reached the teens more than twice, I don’t remember it. But I went on a hike with one of my great nephews (in both senses). He had never been to Mt. Cammerer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I had never been there coming from Cosby Campground. It was 20 degrees when I left the house and the top of the mountain is about 4000 feet higher. I suspect from the reported low on a mountain of similar height closer to home that the Mt. Cammerer saw 15 or lower. It also snowed 1/2 inch, clinging to the branches and needles. It was still below freezing on the north slopes when we reached the top around 11:30, indicated by the hoar frost on the branches and ground frost columns in the bare spots. There was quite a chilling wind when we began, but when we arrived on top the air barely stirred and the sun warmed the rocks to a comfortable lounging temperature for lunch. We felt so good that I suggested that we consider going back another way that would add mileage- 3 miles by my estimate. I was wrong and the hike extended out to 16 miles total. The way back along Lower Cammerer Trail was an easy grade on smooth ground. We hiked at our own paces in places and together conversing at others. There was so much to clear the mind of stress and consider God’s goodness in our lives and in creating the world. I have yet to hear how my partner fared for soreness, but I had relatively little. It was an overall pleasant day.

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Beginning point in Cosby Campground

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Good flow from abundant rainfall

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Mid-sized Yellow Poplar

My sister-in-law gives an excellent explanation of how this frost forms (click here) and my great-nephew had a a better camera to capture the effect. I am always fascinated by how it elevates pebbles and flat rocks.

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Ground Frost

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Still Fresh

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Which way?

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Ground Frost

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Snow Line

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Main Ridge north of Low Gap toward Mt. Cammerer, GSMNP

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Still well below freezing on the north slopes

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Treetop and Beard Frost

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Took some wind to produce that

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Such intricate outline

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English Mountain in the background

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Good to see in a warm, snowless year

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Pleasant experience, good reminiscing

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Mt. Sterling! rain gauge?

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Restored Mt. Cammerer Firetower

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The next two pictures show how intense the short-lived snow shower must have been. It would have been an adventure, though not so fun, to have been at this location during the snowfall.

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Many names of mountains have changed. The benchmark says Sharp Top, but the internet says it used to be called White Top because of white rocks jutting out. Mt. Cammerer is the name given it after the early Park Commissioner who helped to secure the parklands.

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BM Sharp Top, 1928. Why do they rarely include the elevation?

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Pine tree on a south facing slope with limited soil

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The following two images I borrowed from my great-nephew’s site (with permission) to highlight the immensity of the scene and the smallness of us sojourners. John Piper says that we were made for something bigger than ourselves, meaning God. The proper response to the bigness and beauty of creation is worship of the Creator.

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I-40 and the Pigeon River

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Galax, lichen, and snow

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Time to head down

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has decimated Eastern Hemlocks in recent years. The Park Service treats some of the larger ones that are left. Evidently the treatment has to be repeated (For details click here.) to save the trees. Are the two paint marks two successive treatments?

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Treated Hemlock

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Treated Hemlock next to the untreated one

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Christmas Fern

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Barely over halfway point

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Seep

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Mountain Silverbell seedpod on oak leaves

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Cemetery

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The only marked stone and probably the newest at 1912.

Many of the draws showed more evidence of high flows than the black width of drainage way here.

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The high water must have been something.

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Cruising the easy way in a north facing woods with little underbrush.

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Was the bridge nearly toppled by high water or poorly set to begin with? Bridges across the wider streams are a welcome and easy passage.

With all of the amazing things that cameras can do, I am still amazed at what the eye does better. The following scene revealed 360 degrees of mist penetrating rays to the eye, but several attempts with the camera failed to show any of it. It does show how low the sun was. With the driving to and from home, the hike, and the time on top, I was gone from home for 13 1/2 hours. It was well worth it.

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Almost there

My sister-in-law helped me identify this little beauty on a short detour we took off of the main trail. After the late winter snow and cold up above, it was a surprising harbinger of Spring after a brief brush with winter.

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Trail detour Hepatica

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‘For me this place is therapeutic, but I don’t know why exactly’, my partner mused.

Black Fork 1

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Table Mountain Pine

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Clouds cruising over the ridge (Colors were more vivid in person.)

It is the most isolated place in our county, thoroughly quiet and secluded, but opens up on a view of the valley a distance across several miles of woods. It feels like you are alone with God in this small wilderness with time to reflect.

The clouds and low sun made a significant distinction and contrast between the wooded draw and the valley and mountains beyond. We felt set apart. The clouds with evening colors rushed over the ridge like great ships entering harbor and yet there was no wind at the surface. The barren trees lay quietly in their winter snooze. A lone train whistle on the far side of the ridge quietly reported its presence at a far distance in the next valley. It was a time to praise God in prayer and quietly reflect on the peace it brings to the beleaguered mind and heart.

The Table Mountain Pine is not common unless you are on a south facing, shallow soil of a flat cliff top. It’s spiky cones suggest the struggle it has to tolerate the harsh heating and drying conditions where it outcompetes other conifers. My rough fingers, tape, and chalk suggest the cherished struggle I had with rock faces moments before.

It was a good day to climb, a good day to reflect, and a good day to imbibe the tranquil therapeutics. I am so blessed to have this outlet in seasons of stress. The focus and intensity of climbing and the reflection and relaxation of time in the woods and views from the clifftops are a gift.

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Life is good because God is good.

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Other responsibilities and stresses, consistently rainy weekends, injury and sickness do not make for consistent climbing or staying in shape. And they also discourage training for a better day. But if you sit down and give up you are not likely to ever get up again. After 2 months off and only sporadic climbing before that, I got to go out on MLK Day. The temperature was a crisp mid-thirties with a chilling breeze, but the boulder field we chose is south facing with bare deciduous trees. As you might imagine the friction was exceptional. I had not been to Rumbling Bald in quite some time. The “new” parking area that was put in a few years back when it became a state park was now more recently doubled. The effect was to remove the scrub Virginia Pines opening up a huge view of the various faces of the Bald. I was climbing with a teaching colleague for the first time. Having never been there, he was excited, and we were both very talkative. I headed straight for Trailside Boulder to warm-up. We met a couple there from Greenville, SC. They were fairly new to outdoor climbing and first timers at the Bald as well. I had beta on easier climbs, so we fell in together for the rest of the day. My stamina was low, but with four people cycling through, I had no trouble giving my best tries. Next I took them to Bart Simpson Boulder, played around, took pictures, and enjoyed the sunshine and conversation. After that they left and my partner and I hit the Cave Boulders for a few last tries. Our conversation picked up on the ride back home. Sunshine, rock, tree silhouettes, brisk temperatures, plenty of clothing, pleasantly tired muscles, getting to know new people, and visiting well-known places, I would say constitutes a good day.

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May

Before this most recent seasonable cold snap we had a strangely warm period. The appearance and feel was of a different season.

The sun arises, oh glorious day
Herb’s fresh flowers along the pathway
Mist arises, dew will not stay
Soon birds will come out to play
Grass grows, soon cut for hay
Horses graze and neigh
All bright, all gay
Warmth now lay
All say
May

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On our hike at Thanksgiving I challenged a great-nephew and niece to prepare for a backpacking trip next summer. Besides asking them to take regular brisk walks around their neighborhood, I offered to do day hikes building up to the overnight trip. Yesterday we went on the first of those trips: Sterling Gap to Mt. Sterling in the GSMNP. When they arrived at the meeting place, they had a cousin in tow. So the four of us enjoyed the strenuous 2 mile hill (~5.2 miles total) and the views from the ~50 feet fire tower. It was just cool enough to make walking comfortable and just overcast enough to make for better contrast in viewing distant peaks. We had interesting conversation and enjoyed the transition of the tree types as we increased in elevation. It’s time to get in shape for the next bigger hill!

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Waterville Hydroelectric Facility: Why does a hydroelectric facility have a chimney?

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The exit is in Tennessee but the hike is in North Carolina.

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Let do this!

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It simply is not 0.4 mile between the trail intersection and the tower at Campsite 38.

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Low elevation outliers

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Big outliers

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Spruce among decidies

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A great niece learning about Galax

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A break in the trees

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Incline

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Almost there

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Notice how it tappers, though you must know that perspective exaggerates the effect

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Mt S BM (Wow, 1928!)

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A camera with the proper filter would better catch what it really looked like with even more distant ridges appearing.

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NE more or less

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We made it. I wonder how any panes of glass survive in what must be a very windy site.

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Enjoying the view?

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Main ridge at Guyot to Cosby Knob

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Campsite 38

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Interesting perspective

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Do you see my great-nephew? Notice how perspective from here makes the tower appear straight-sided.

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After lunch relaxing

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Silly cousins!

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Can you tell which one is his sister?

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At the top and still smiling

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Survived many a storm and wind

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Black (or Wild) Cherry

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White Ash

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Beauty everywhere you look

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Almost down

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It was good to get out this past weekend. It is not as regular as I would like, so that I am not climbing as well as I would like, but to be healthy enough, have the opportunity to go at all, and have a young, Christian brother with whom to climb are all reasons to be thankful to God. He knows best what I need and what other things He wants me to be involved in. I am blessed, so I feel blessed. Get that right. Put the fact before the feeling. Remind yourself from Scripture, fellowship, and personal experience how you are blessed, then give thanks. At some point you will give way to feeling blessed.

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Partner on a wam-up lead.

For those who are not familiar with how lead climbing works, notice the rope going through metal devices called carabiners. These particular carabiners are part of what are called quickdraws, which are two carabiners with a stiff nylon webbing between them for easy deployment. He had to climb above the first device (a cam in this instance (you can Google all of these terms if you are curious)) before finding the next crack or hole to place protection. I am belaying from below, that is, if he falls then I stop his fall with a device the rope goes through and is attached to my harness. This is a mixed climb, meaning that it is has some bolts fixed in the wall to hook the quickdraws to and the climber must also place gear for other protection. When using the bolts, we call it sport climbing, and when using the other protection, we call it trad (for traditional) climbing.

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A fixed anchor with rings. You add the carabiners with runners (longer and more flexible than quickdraws) when you climb up to the anchors.
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A tall 5.8 climb. Red shirt of my climbing partner, about 100 feet up.

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My daughter was reminiscing about a backpacking trip we took when she was 20 years old. As I pointed out to her, I have always been bad with ‘when’s’ and am slipping with regards to ‘what’s’. So, she reminded me that it was in August of 2008 and that I had blogged about it (see “Casting Cares”). That former blog entry was more about a few impressions of the trip than a diary thereof. At her request I am posting more pictures. I can’t resist a little commentary, but I will keep it to a minimum. Check out the map of the route at the end.

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You can’t hide forever

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I like lichen for the patterns and color variety.

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Beech Gap Trail

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Mutual Support

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Fir Cones

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You can just resolve the fire tower on top of Mt. Sterling.

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Water Filter Blues

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New Style Shelter

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Old style blogging (trail journal)

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“Why do we do these things? I will tell you…Tradition.” Based on the elevation and approximate sequence of pictures, the location is near Eagle Cliffs (elevation 5781 ft.).

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Remembering former days on the trail

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A goodly sized Red Spruce

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The Happy, Rested Crew

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Bee Balm or Oswego Tea?

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Hog Wallow (Russian Bore, that is)

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Tired turns to fatigue

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I don’t even know.

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The Cucumber Magnolia seed pod begged to be photographed.

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Occasional Surprises in the GSMNP

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When it is sharp or slick or both, you have to watch you feet.

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Watching the wading crew

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Spores Galore

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Cool looking mushroom; frustration of automatic focus camera

08-08-16 Backpacking

Trip began and ended at Round Bottom, hiking counter-clockwise. The first night we stayed at Laurel Gap Shelter. The second night we stayed at Pecks Corner Shelter.

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Two weeks ago my climbing partner and I were making a short approach to a crag. I chose to come to the top of the cliff and set up a toprope. He went down through the crack to the base of the outcrop. When I was ready to rappel down, he said, “Watch the snake below you about ten feet above the ground.” I asked for further explanation. A moment later my partner said, “He fell.” I looked down just in time to see the snake smack the ground. This snake was climbing perhaps a 5.9 section of a 5.11 climb. We climbed a few pitches, watching this 5 foot Black Snake search for holds. After a while it gave up on the direct approach and moved up a slanted ledge toward the top of the cliff. While I was climbing, my partner commented that it had climbed into a bush high up on the ledge. We took no more notice for a while.

A little later while I was belaying my partner, I saw the snake 30′ up on a branch, reaching out to the cliff. It was at nearly full extension with just the last 6″ wrapped around the branch. I could discern the possible path that the snake had crawled out of the bush onto a far branch of the tree, to the trunk, and out to the end of the branch to the cliff. After much searching on the cliff for a hold, it slowly released hold on the branch, and soon afterward fell 30′ to a boulder below. I thought surely this killed the snake. However, I did observe the center of the snake strike the rock and the head flopped onto the leaf mulched ground beside it. It lay still. After my partner came down, I went over and poked it with a stick. It coiled up to strike. A few minutes later it crawled into a crack low on the ledge, and then back out followed by a shorter Black Snake. The shorter one tried climbing the wall several times, searching different holds to go up. It was more cautious that its climbing partner backing down instead of falling.

At one point I took a long stick and removed the shorter snake from a climb that I wanted to try. It got back on the climb shortly after I ascended. As I descended the climb I ask my belayer to stop at a small crack/ledge filled with miniature rhododendron bushes. The crack was no more than 4″ wide. There under one of the bushes was a fairly new bird’s nest without a bird or eggs. I suspected that this nest was the goal.

We moved to the right of the crag only glancing back occasionally to see the progress of the snakes. Now, nearly 2 hours since we had arrived, the larger snake was coming down from the top of the cliff and succeeded at getting into the crack where the nest was without falling. It must have been a disappointment to find no eggs for breakfast (late evening though it were). I would guess that they had visited the nest previously and consumed the eggs but had no idea that there would not be more eggs when they returned. So much effort with no return. Well, we certainly enjoyed the show!

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“Shorty” about 10′ up

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Check out the tail hold, full body contact, tense core, use of multiple holds, and hold searching

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Ledge Traverse

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Another “try hard”

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Climbing Partners in matching outfits

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It has been 3 1/2 months since I went climbing, and it was two months before that. This is beginning to not look like a hobby. Oh well, I was thankful to get out today, and perhaps we have a plan to be more regular without overwhelming our schedules.

Being a little warmer, mid-80’s in the valley, we went to a crag where a creek cascades between two cliffs and most climbs are in the shade. It is about a mile walk in, down hill, meaning, of course, that it is a fairly stout walk out after climbing. At least the walk in doesn’t exhaust you before climbing. I knew that my finger strength was still good because I regularly do doorframe pull-ups, but I have not persisted in endurance training activities for my arms. I expected to do single hard moves and then be exhausted. Surprisingly, I did somewhat better than that, though I definitely felt the burn too soon. We completed 4 pitches and worked on a 5/12a project. Gonna have to increase the endurance before that one goes down.

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“On Belay?” Ready to start a sport lead of a 5.10b
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Jigsaw 5.8
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Overhung, shady, and frequently damp (Frazier Magnolia in the foreground)
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Belay lock position
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Height is not a problem when you are properly tied in
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At the rings at treetop level
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The aesthetic cooling factor
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Wall with roof and tree
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Galax is so bright green and lively looking in Spring
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Beautiful and cold
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Grow where you’re planted
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Hanging out at the crag 

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After two months of rain and conflicting responsibilities, I got to go climbing yesterday. It was an exceptionally beautiful day, 20 degrees initially, but lower 30’s by the time we began climbing. Besides full sunshine on the south facing wall, the breeze was minimal and most of the climbs were dry except for one or two springs (yeah, not oozes, but springs, but hey, a record rainfall year just ended). In consideration of temperatures we chose a low elevation, south facing crag, Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Park (website) in the Brushy Mountains of Alexander County, North Carolina. Some forward looking people (community members and public servants, no doubt) planned and executed this transformation of a rock quarry into a park the whole family can use, and they do. The company my climbing partner works for designed and executed the parking, picnic, and climbing areas. Where else can you park, walk less than 100 yards across a mulched picnic area to 60 bolted sport climbs. Signs show topo pictures and ratings. My climbing partner suggested that we try to get in 10 pitches before park closing time at 5 PM. We warmed up on a 5.4, then progressed up to a 5.10. I only fell on the 5.10, but on the second try found the right foot placement to utilize the slopey, crimper sidepull for my right hand (Climbing Terminology). I actually figured it out by watching my partner do it between my two tries. Visual beta is the best when you can get it. It occurred to me that visual beta (seeing how it is done) is analogous to fellowship in the church. You can see the path forward as you watch and collaborate with fellow believers. I actually have a few pictures of me climbing in the park a former time I was there three years ago (Playing at 56). The day was particularly satisfying since my mind had been distracted by many difficulties and restraints. You can’t think about concerns when you are concentrating on climbing (Or at least, bears of little brain cannot so multi-task.) I was refreshed by the day, the conversation, the challenge, and the small accomplishments after so long a time away from climbing, and I am thankful to God for it.

Note: This blog post will be very dull indeed if you do not utilize the hyperlinks.

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I don’t take stock in premonitions, but I may have had one the other day. Whether I did or didn’t did not enable me to influence or change the outcome in any way. After doing some yard work, I was walking around my backyard enjoying the sunshine, which we haven’t had much of lately, and looking up at the tree branches to see how much more work would be raining down. I saw the large Virginia Pine behind my shed that overhung it. I paused and thought, ‘I wished that I had taken that down (about 16 years ago now) before I built that shed. It is going to fall on that shed one of these days soon.’ I had not taken it down because it was probably on my neighbors side of the line.

We had a wholly unexpected ice storm on Saturday morning, November 24th. My son called me to tell me what happened, because my wife and I were still away visiting relatives for Thanksgiving. ‘A large branch broke out of the oak tree next to house, but it missed everything. It didn’t even hit the gutter.’ I think that was his warm-up sentence. ‘You know the big pine tree behind the shed? It broke off and landed on the shed. It didn’t put a hole in the roof or break the rafters.’ What he didn’t tell me was that there was an ice storm. What he did not know, nor did I, was that the tree had a rotten trunk. There was no external evidence of it.

So, I had planned to finish my wood splitting this week for the season. Instead, I get to take down a ‘widow maker’ lying on my shed. I cut a four foot section hanging beyond the back of the shed. I was concerned that it would drop, knocking my ladder out from under me. So when the gap in the cut began to open up as I sawed down through the log, I stopped and climbed down. Then I retrieved a pole with a hook on the end and pulled the log down. Sure enough, it knocked the ladder aside. I had not moved the ladder, because I thought I might have to climb back up and saw a little more.

I finished today’s session at dark by clearing as many branches as I could reach. Sawing over your head is tiring. At the ground you have to choose the branches to cut that will not cause the tree to flip over or slide off of the roof while you are under it.

The next step will involve easing it down a cut at a time followed by one last knocking a block out to bring it down.

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The One That Missed

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It’s giving me a headache

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This can’t be good

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That is so much weight

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The rotten, splintered base

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That looks like a tedious job

I worked on it two more hours this evening before dark. It slid down a few inches at a time, perhaps three feet in all. I took all of the branches but two that now support in on the ground. The next step I have planned is to tie a rope to the large end and pull it off the shed with my truck. That way I will be well out of the way when it comes down. There is no way without a bucket truck to take it down without a little further damage. Oh well, I’m impressed that it didn’t collapse the roof, and I am thankful that nothing hit the house.

 

 

 

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