Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to Maximize One Day

In a nutshell---wake up early as hell, get dressed, and mine all of the gold you can out of the hours between first light and sunset. This is what I did on Saturday, November 29, 2008. I had a blast. By the time supper rolled around, I was ravenous. By the time we got back to the lodge room, I was so tired that I fell immediately into a very deep sleep from which I did not awaken for many hours.

I had a freaking blast. This is what we did...

Can't quite make it out? That's okay. It's Sharp Top Mountain, as seen from the back door of my lodge room before the sun had begun to rise, but after I was up and dressed, ready to roll.

My first order of the day (after breakfast at the Peaks of Otter Lodge restaurant) was to drive seven miles north on the Parkway to the trailhead for Apple Orchard Falls near the top of Apple Orchard Mountain. It's a hell of a trail, which descends steeply for about one and a half miles to the named falls. Some of the steeper sections have stairs, which the National Forest engineers have seen fit to install.

After a little more than a mile of descending the mountain, I came to this small waterfall (about eight feet tall). Initially, I feared that these were the much ballyhooed Apple Orchard Falls. I'd been hoodwinked before into long hikes for little payoff. But I could see that the trail pressed on, so I did, too.

I stopped along the stream at a couple of places to wash my hands and just admire the clear water.

A little past the small waterfall, I came upon a brief clearing in the forest, affording me this spectacular view to the west.

And a few minutes later I could hear the sound of crashing water. Looking down, I could see a really nice wooden viewing platform below the ice-laden waterfall. Already, I could tell that this waterfall was going to be much higher and much larger than I'd anticipated.

And here I finally was, at the foot of Apple Orchard Falls. This waterfall is really a great sight! It's far higher than I'd thought it would be--somewhere between 150 and 200 feet, with good water volume. Much of the rock face was covered in ice from recent sub-freezing days (November had already been a record cold month in that part of Virginia). While I was hoping for a nice waterfall, I had no idea that I would be treated to such a great viewing. I spent about forty-five minutes or so just hanging out at the falls, taking dozens of photographs.

Then it was back up the trail. I had to climb all of those vertical feet I'd lost on the way down. I'm not sure, but I think I had to climb back about 1800 feet to where my truck was parked.

The Appalachian Trail intersects with the Apple Orchard Falls Trail. (It's always nice to visit an old friend.)

And then it was back to the trailhead where my truck was waiting. (Some remnant snow from the week before.) After that, I drove back to the lodge where Carole was waiting. We then drove north again on the Parkway to Petit Gap where I caught a Forest Service Road to go to see Cave Mountain Lake Campground, a Forest Service facility that we're thinking of visiting in the summer months.

From this overlook on Apple Orchard Mountain, you can look down almost 3,000 feet to the valley floor. Apple Orchard Mountain may be only 4200 feet above sea level at its highest point, but its base lies at less than 1,000 feet above sea level, making for one of the most prominent peaks in this part of the East.

Along the Forest Service Road I caught a glimpse of this huge patch of exposed rock on the flanks of a mountain. This is not far from a landslide area called The Devil's Marbleyard. I wondered what it would be like to climb around on that exposed dome of rock.

About thirty minutes later I found out what it was like. The road takes you right past the slide area, where the forest had peeled away from the mountain years before, revealing the underlying strata. This made for some great friction climbing. I was surprised at how smooth the rock was. The years of rain have polished the stone so much that there are no rough or jagged edges at all. It made for some very easy friction climbing.

From the top of the slide I could look down on the spot of white that was my truck, where Carole waited patiently for her overgrown kid-of-a-husband to finish playing on the rocks.

This was my view from the top of the slide, looking back toward Apple Orchard Mountain.

After sliding back down the rock, I hiked back to the truck through the pines and rubble.

The jam-packed day will be continued tomorrow. We were not finished exploring the area. It wasn't even noon yet! Stay tuned...

Out of the Ice

We returned this evening from our trip to the mountains of Virginia. This was one of the most relaxing vacations I've had in years. We really took it easy, save for the fact that my hobby is climbing mountains and walking down into gorges to look at waterfalls.

I'll write more tomorrow. In the meantime, here's one of the last photos I took today, at the summit of Rocky Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the middle of a very severe ice storm. Luckily, my truck has four-wheel drive and I was wearing yak-trax.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Long Weekend

Lucky Break

On the grassy area outside our room from a few years ago. This view is looking across the Blue Ridge Parkway at Sharp Top Mountain.

I lucked out this year. My long weekend fell on the calendar alongside Thanksgiving. I get four days off without having to take any annual leave. So Carole and I are headed up to the Peaks of Otter for a few days of sightseeing and hiking. (These guys should pay me for all this promotion!) So this may be my last post for a few days.

This view can be seen by hiking the trail around the lake. Looking back across the lake, you can see the lodge and office on the lake shore, with Harkening Hill looming behind the lodge.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November at Davidson River

November 2006

In November I hitched up the trailer and took my nephew Mark, his son Harris, and my son Andy to the Davidson River Campground in the Pisgah National Forest. I wanted to take them to Panthertown Valley and do some hiking.

I love the trails here in the southern highlands. It's just a great experience to hike through a rhododendron tunnel.

When photographing waterfalls, sunlight is generally your enemy. It's just too hard to capture the water when the sun is blazing down on the scene. We caught this one, The Falls of Greenland Creek, before the sun could rise fully above the gorge and brighten it out.

The crew is not happy with me. I got them lost on the wrong trail. Later, I found out that we were on the right trail, but the distance was greater than I had thought. We turned around and headed back to camp.

Just before dark, we drove to Sliding Rock and watched it, wondering what it would be like to go swimming there. Too bad it was below freezing.

The next day, the weather warmed up and we hiked up to the top of Sam Knob. Always a great hike!

Nothing like making it look as if an infant is in peril.

Can you believe it? Bob didn't get us lost today!

Tomorrow, the last trips of 2006...

Monday, November 24, 2008

2006, the Year of the Diet (continued)

More 2006

Indian Boundary Recreation Area in August, which I've already talked about.

This was our campsite at Indian Boundary. On this trip, we had our first damage to the Casita. A thunderstorm raged over us one evening. The water came down so suddenly and so furiously that it pooled by the gallons in the awning and bent the center awning rod and snapped a screw. I was able to jury-rig a quick fix, but had to order a new center rod for the awning.

As I've mentioned in the past, this is one of our very favorite campgrounds. Our next opportunity to hit the mountains was at Hurricane Campground in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southwestern Virginia. Two streams run through the campground, so that no matter which side you choose for your tent or trailer, you're almost assured of being waterfront.

I hiked to see a notable waterfall while at Hurricane. The hike was pleasant, but hardly worth the effort. For the waterfall was barely six feet tall, and I discovered after arriving there, that the head of the falls was beside a parking lot with road access to the falls. What a rip!

They had some nerve calling this a "waterfall". A minor cascade (if that).

The old folks take it easy by the campfire.

The next day I walked up a nearby 4,000-foot peak. Nice, but I can't recall its name!

Later that same day I hiked down to Rowlands Creek Falls, which deserves much praise for being a great waterfall in a great, isolated location. But I hiked in very late and almost got caught in the dark. And I hate hiking in the dark, even if I do carry a headlamp with me everywhere I go hiking.

More tomorrow. This old man is tired...

Sunday, November 23, 2008



One of my favorite movies is considered a minor film of the 1950s. It starred Dana Andrews who portrays an American skeptic (Dr. John Holden) investigating a quasi-religious organization run by one Julian Karswell, played by Niall MacGinnis. NIGHT OF THE DEMON is based on the Montague James short story "Casting the Runes", it's an effective take on that brief bit of weird literature.

Among the film's few claims to ever-lasting fame is the image of the demon that is actually conjured by Julian Karswell. The figure is genuinely hideous, and gave many a kid (and adult) nightmares over the decades since it first appeared on the silver screen. Today, the movie is principally looked upon as a "cult" film. But it deserves a far wider audience than that back-handed compliment would seem to provide.

The movie was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who had produced many great films with the former German talent Val Lewton. This movie contains all of the atmosphere one would expect from Tourneur's former efforts alongside his old mentor, and is so well shot and directed that I've never been able to find any fault at all in those aspects of the film.

Dana Andrews gets the lion's share of the screen time, and hogged most of the screen credits. He was, after all, the main draw for the public, even if he was on a downhill slide at this point in his career. He does a more than admirable job as the scientist investigating Karswell's organization. His portrayal as Dr. Holden is strong, personable, and even-keeled. I get the impression that he fully understood both the supernatural plot of the film and the ironic nature of his character having to be a skeptic in the face of the inexplicable weird going on around him. Seen in that light, I've grown more impressed with this role of his than I was the first few times I've watched NIGHT OF THE DEMON.

And, yes, although curmudgeon that I am, I must admit that I've seen this movie at least eight times. Maybe more. It's one of those films that tugs at me when I chance across it while channel-surfing. Even though I own the DVD, I feel compelled to sit and watch it whenever I encounter it on one or another network.

The main reason for this fascination with the movie is the acting of Niall MacGinnis who portrayed the character of Julian Karswell. Karswell seems to be a thinly-veild version of Aleister Crowley. At the opening of the film, we see that Karswell has built quite the profitable cult--rich in both followers and cash. He does not look kindly upon those who would try to "expose" him as anything but what he claims to be: a type of holy man. Niall MacGinnis gives what I assume to be his finest acting job in this movie. His acting is flawless, and it's a shame that he wasn't more well known outside of his native Ireland and UK. Perhaps better known for his turn as Zeus in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, this was his best opportunity to shine as an actor. He eclipses everyone else in the movie, including the film's star, Dana Andrews.

While it would have been very easy for any actor portraying Karswell to picture him as a total monster, MacGinnis instead imbues the man with many facets. He is both ruthless on the one hand, willing to conjure demons to destroy his enemies; and very kind on the other, taking the time to entertain the children of some of his followers with magic tricks, greasepaint, and ice cream. He always seems to offer his enemies an out, but they generally wait too long to accept the escape route. And so be it. He even has a doting mother whom he is only too happy to spoil with, perhaps, more patience than he should exhibit.

One thing that I quite like about this film is its chain of logic. Yes, logic. How can a movie about a man who can conjure a murderous demon be logical? Well, yes, there's that. But one does have to set aside a bit of disbelief in order to be able to enjoy such a movie. Having done that (as I do every time I see it), I still expect such a movie to contain its own logic, and to stick to it. THE CURSE OF THE DEMON does just this. It sets up a premise, follows it along a certain track, and it maintains that singular route to the very end.

And I feel obliged to mention Peggy Cummins as
the romantic interest in the film. She doesn't get a lot to do other than speak a few lines, move the plot along a bit, and look fantastically pretty, which she did quite astoundingly.

Yep, this one's a keeper.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two More Great Websites

I'm not what you'd call a history buff, but I do enjoy reading my fair share of that subject. Recent history, world history, ancient history, etc. To get my fix of information I generally begin my trek at a specific online location. It's a website that always ultimately leads me to other sources that enhance my knowledge of certain places, their peoples, their histories, and on.

That website is
The CIA World Factbook. Now, as the CIA is often politically motivated, you'd assume that such a site would be packed to capacity with dogma. But that's not the case. Not at all. As the title suggests, they're concerned pretty much with stating the facts. Just hard, cold facts. Yeah, you could argue that there's something of the political and philosophical in the organization having come to that conclusion, but there you are. For me, the CIA Factbook is a wonderful resource when I'm just beginning to do research on the history of just about any place on Earth.

Some decades back I stumbled upon the works of Robert Graves. Like most people, my first exposure to his fiction were his volumes concerning his fictionalised versions of the life of the Juli0-Claudian Roman Emperors, I, CLAUDIUS and CLAUDIUS THE GOD AND HIS WIFE MESSLINA. In his day, Graves was known to turn the literary world on its ear. He had no problems in shocking readers and critics and the general public. And his work has only grown in stature since it was first published.

Because of those novels on the machinations of those ancient royals, I became fascinated with the lives of many of the Roman emperors and began to read widely of them. One of the most convenient online sources for basic information about these crazy bastards is
The Throne of the Caesars. Here, you can glean the basics on the royals and the guys who tried and fell short of Imperial majesty. There's lots of politics here; much murder; high comedy; name it. Humans being...well...human. The purest form of the march of insanity and greed that mark us as one of the most fascinating species to travel down the biological rails toward extinction.

Julian. My favorite Roman emperor. Short-lived, tragic, but one of the best of the lot.

A few more links:

The only religious leader whose opinions and judgments I respect: Rabbi Michael Lerner.

And his organization, Tikkun.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blowing Smoke

Here's one more reason I can't stand most writers:

A few years back...well, hell...more than a few. Maybe twenty years ago (you have to cut me some slack now that I'm over 50), I knew this guy who was a wannabe writer. Just like me. We'll call him Wannabe W.

Anyway, this guy was really gung-ho. He had him a system down, a plan of action, and he figured that if he followed this plan and stuck to it, then there was no way he was gonna lose! I mean, he was countin' his millions and wondering what it was gonna be like to pal around with Stephen King and Tom Clancy and see who was gonna be a billionaire first--him or Clancy. Yeah. He was an insufferable prick.

One thing that this guy was big into was sucking up to whomever, for any outside chance that it would get his foot in the door at any publishing house you could name. If some editor was Jewish, he'd crow about how great Israel was. If some editor was black, he would act like he'd walked side by fucking side with Dr. King. If an editor was Italian, he'd talk about "the neighborhood"! Nobody sucked anal
sphincter like this guy.

Around this time there was this moderately famous writer who had hit it big with the shtick of protecting abused children. Or, rather, making a lot of money claiming that he was writing these books that were selling well for purely the sunniest of motives. So I read a few of this guy's books. They were okay. Not great, but good, old-fashioned pulp. Then, after having read a number of these, they began to strike me as really creepy. As if he was actually getting a kick out of describing the monstrosities committed against helpless children. It hit me in the middle of a particularly nasty short story by this guy that he was just one more level of exploitation. He was making his bundle off of the abuse of children, despite what he claimed to intend.

So, I told this Wannabe W what I thought of that guy.

Now, then. I certainly wasn't going to be able to help W's career. Not no way, no how. And he knew this. However, what I didn't know was that he'd been sucking up to the self-proclaimed child's rights crusader. So Wannabe W lit into me about how the crusader I was crackin' on was a saint--the truest of the true. And how dare I say such things about him? How dare I?

A few weeks later I'm at a writer's convention with another writer pal. (We'll call him Wannabe R.) Genre conventions do have one thing going for them. Hotel parties and open bars. You might think that fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fans are geeky (and you'd be right), but man do those bastards know how to party. Thinking of a few cold beers (I'm a bit of a prude when it comes to alcohol), I agree. "What's the party? Who's givin' it?" I ask him.

"It's Wannabe W's party."

Oh, joy, I think. But it's probably free beer and maybe some decent conversation if I can find the right person to talk to. "Okay," I say. "Let's go."

We head down the way and walk a hall to Wannabe W's room. R knocks on the door lightly and it opens as someone admits us. As the door swings wide a massive load of pure cigarette smoke oozes out, all white, stinking like the depths of Satan's lungs. I just stand there for a second in disbelief. I'm a non-smoker. Not only that, but I quite literally cannot stand the stench of cigarette smoke. It makes me want to puke, to put it mildly. In addition, I have about the same
intellectual respect for a cigarette smoker as I do for religionists: zero.

Well, it's a party and I think there's an outside chance I can tolerate the smoke. At least long enough to drink a few beers and have a conversation or two. So I step inside. As the door begins to shut behind me, I realize that I've made a mistake. I can't breathe! The smoke is so thick that I'm having a hard time drawing a breath! There's no way I'm going to be able to tolerate this shit, and I'm just about to turn tail when my eyes are drawn to the far end of the room:

On that side of the room are Wannabe W and his wife. They're talking to another writer. But on the bed at their knees is their infant son. He's lying there, gasping for air. His mouth is wide open and his eyes are bugging out and his arms are waving in the air.

This defender of children's rights. What a fucking load!

Yeah, I could have said something. I could maybe have even called the cops. I don't fucking know. What I did end up doing was turning my back and walking the fuck out of that room. "I'm outta here, R," I told the other wannabe. "I can't take this smoke!"
(Nor the stench of selfishness.)

I glanced back just as the door was closing. Through the pale tendrils of poison and carcinogens I could see that baby lying there, his mouth wide, his eyes bugged out, his arms waving in the air.


Sometimes I fucking hate writers.

Man, did I ever get a kick out of this video!! I mean, think about it: Who wants their photo taken as they shake hands with a mass murderer?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Heading Back

For many, many reasons, 2008 has been one of the worst years for me as far as hiking and backpacking are concerned. In fact, I went on only one extended backpacking trip in 2008, and that one was merely an overnight backpack into Linville Gorge. It just was not my year for hiking. Basically, it totally sucked chimp ass.

In about a week, Carole and I are heading back to one of our favorite places where I'll finally get to do some decent hiking. We're going to stay at the Peaks of Otter Lodge. I've done a lot of hiking there, but there are still many peaks to summit within a few miles of the lodge.

I like this area for a lot of reasons, not least of which are the wonderful cove hardwood forests that seem to cloak just about every peak and valley in the vicinity. The hemlocks there are all dead, of course, as this was one of the first places where the adelgid ended up causing 100% mortality in the hemlock forests. You just won't find any living hemlock groves around there.

If you're ever considering a stay along that part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I highly recommend the Peaks of Otter Lodge. The rooms are very comfortable, but you won't have a phone or a TV, much less cell service or cable. This place is for quiet and relaxation. That, you'll find in abundance.

At any rate, it's going to be a welcome break from work and an opportunity to bag some peaks that have been on my to-do list for some time.

It was late in the afternoon when we got settled in to our room. This was the view just outside our patio. I'm a very antsy person and I can't stand to hold still. So I decided to hike to the top of this peak and try to get back down before night fell. I told Carole I was going to summit Sharp Top, and headed off.

Soon into the hike, I was zooming along on an easy grade.

The trail to the summit of Sharp Top is really nice. I'm figuring it was engineered and constructed by FDR's wonderful CCC.

On some of the steeper sections there are stairs.

This was one of my first good views as I broke out of the trees onto some exposed rocks. The afternoon sun was beginning to tint the landscape whenever it would peek out from behind the clouds.

Finally I got my first look at the summit area. This is a sub-peak called Buzzard Rocks. One of probably thousands of places in North America called "Buzzard Rocks".

A sign near the very top. It explains, among other things, how this mountain was once considered the highest in Virginia. Not only is it more than 1600 feet shorter than Virginia's true highest peak, it's not even as high as one of its nearby neighbors, the weirdly named Flat Top.

From the summit, I look down more than 1500 vertical feet at the Peaks of Otter Lodge and the lake on which it sits (and from whence I'd started my hike).

Flat Top Mountain, which is even more "sharp" topped than Sharp Top. Why the name? Hell if I know!

Self portrait on the very highest speck of the summit.

Blurry photo, yes. But I just wanted to show that I did not beat the fall of darkness back to the lodge. The sun set just as I reached the foot of the mountain and had to hike the trail around the lake back to our room.

I saw this deer as I got back to the patio. The place is quite literally lousy with white-tailed deer. They know they can't be shot in this area, and congregate here in vast herds during hunting season.