Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Determination = Reward

When we couldn't find a safe non-technical route to the top, Andy and I retreated to a lower vantage point to scope out the peak. I had been told time and again that there was a relatively easy route to the top. However, every spot we had checked involved some moves that could put you in a deadly situation if you were to slip. And I'm not talking about falling a few feet--these would be tumbles of anywhere from a couple of dozen to several hundred-feet sure death plummets.

I just kept looking at Babel Tower, knowing that there was a Class II/III route to the top that we weren't seeing. I did not want to have devoted the day to driving up there and hiking to the peak just to return home without having bagged it. It was only about fifty or so vertical feet of mountain, but it was the difference of having reached the summit, or failure.

Since Andy was really bushed from our previous attempts to get to the top, and he was not as into bagging the summit like I was, he stayed where we had lunch while I went to look one more time to see if we missed something. (I knew we had.)

Climbing back up a trail that I could tell others had used, I went to the point where we had initially looked and had retreated when it looked like a sheer drop off. This time I pushed some low branches aside that were blocking the view, and realized that the trail did not come to an end, but in fact continued around the mountain on a wide ledge. Stepping out on it a few strides, I could see a well-traveled path that led right up through the rocks to the top!

As quickly as I safely could (it was still something of a scramble), I got to the top of the Tower as fast as I could so that I could call down to Andy. He heard me, looked up and waved. But he wasn't keen to join me and was content to wait while I took photos.

I'm glad I was persistent and found the route to the top. The views from there were quite good, and it was a rewarding experience to peer down on the hairpin curve in the river, Babel Tower standing watch over that terrific bend in the waterway.

Keep on keepin' on, as my dad used to say.

This was the pathway that I located at the point where we'd originally given up.

The tip-top of Babel Tower.

Looking down from the edge.

View of the Linville River.

View from the top looking south down the Gorge. Table Rock blocking the way.

After grabbing our daypacks, we started the long climb back to the parking area.

They don't call it a wilderness area for nothing. This trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s, and it's still a good one.

After 3+ mile round trip hike (plus much climbing and scrambling at Babel Tower), we approach the parking area where we'd left the truck. It was time to head back home.

Autumn Begins its Trek

Andy and I noticed that Fall was making its initial presence felt in the high country. September sees the first few types of trees beginning to lose their green coats and go to other brilliants hues of red and ocher and brown and gold. These are the first, and they were evident on the higher ridges above the Gorge.

Atop Babel Tower.

This single red leaf had fallen into this pool in the pale stone near the summit of Babel Tower.

Stone and shades of green going to more vivid colors.

A first touch of gold in the treetops.

Nature takes Her Autumn paintbrush and begins the first, tentative strokes of the coming season.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Babel Tower

One of the peaks that has been on my bag list for years was Babel Tower. Located in the northwest section of the Linville Gorge Wilderness, I had missed a number of opportunities to hike it with friends. However, Monday was my last day of recuperation before heading back to work. So I asked my son if he wanted to drive up to Linville Gorge to go for a hike. He agreed.

We hit the road at pretty much 7:00 am and got to the trailhead at 9:30 am. Good time. The Babel Tower Trail is straightforward. It just goes down and down from the Kistler Highway until you get to the peak they call Babel Tower. You lose about 800 or 900 feet in elevation, and the trail's kind of rugged in some spots. But that's not really very steep for a 1.7 mile hike.

Babel Tower is located on an extreme bend in the Linville River and it looms hundreds of feet above the rapids at its base. The summit itself is kind of difficult to climb. There are a number of technical and near-technical routes on it, but I'm not that into hanging my body out over certain death. So I always look for easier paths to reach the peaks.

Andy and I examined the tower and tried to figure out a way to the top that wouldn't involve anything dangerous. We tried a couple of routes, but each one ended up having some kind of exposure that would result in serious injury or death if you slipped. Neither of us like that kind of thing, so we retreated to a lower spot to examine the peak some more.

Andy was really tired by then, but I was bound and determined to reach the top. "I'm going to try to find an easier way up," I told him. Andy waited with our packs while I went in search of mountaintop access.

One thing I did was return to a spot where we had turned back. It had appeared that the trail ended in a very steep drop off, but I took a second look. In fact, the trail continued around the tower on a ledge, and from there I could see that there was a scrambling route to the top. I decided to go for it and pretty soon, after hauling myself up a couple of rock steps, I found myself at the actual summit of Babel Tower. I called down to Andy and he waved back, but didn't feel like clambering around to try to locate the route I'd found. That was good, since I didn't want him to try to follow me up. Too many places on the way that you could take a nasty tumble.

I took about 150 photos there (gotta love digital cameras), then climbed down and rejoined Andy. We took a few more shots and then headed back up to the truck. The climb back was steady, but not too bad. Andy's lost a lot of weight since he became a vegetarian, so now it's me trying to keep up with him rather than the opposite. I knew this day would come. The old man is getting older.

In short order we reached the parking area and then decided to drive down to Wiseman's View. Andy had never been there so he got a kick out what is considered the single best overlook in Linville Gorge. After that we decided to head back to Charlotte where both of us took showers. In quick order I was knocked out, completely asleep. It's going to be a while before I'm back up to speed.

Wiseman's View

Monday, September 28, 2009

Charles Towne Landing, Part II

When Carole and I first started taking our vacations, she would always suggest side trips along the way to my hiking, scrambling, backpacking, waterfall wandering destinations. These side trips almost always included historical sites. In my younger days, I would ALWAYS balk at these suggestions and only give in grudgingly. The only history I was interested in during those earlier times was natural history. Plate tectonics, erosion, uplift, forest succession, species extirpation/reintroduction--these were my historical interests.

Carole, last week just before her **** high school reunion.

I recall one particular trip to West Virginia when Carole wanted to visit the Beckley Coal Mining Museum. I balked. I created intentional roadblocks. Finally, I gave in:

It was the most fun we had on that trip. The museum proved to be excellent and fun and entertaining. I should have known that I'd like it, since much of the museum dealt with the grinding poverty of the common miner and their exploitation at the hands of the mining corporations and their rapacious owners. After that, I stopped complaining about Carole's suggestions of side trips. After that, I learned that Carole always did her homework on researching these places--as much or more than I did with my hikes.

For this vacation, Carole had suggested a visit to Charles Towne Landing. I only put up mild protestations (just for old time's sake), and this proved to be as much fun and as educational as any of our previous historical forays.

And so, we continue our photo tour of Charles Towne Landing State Historical Site.

There is some debate on what the houses at the initial colony looked like. Were they wood, or wattle, or a combination of both? This is what the museum's folk have settled on. This design is similar to some of the housing being constructed in the colonies (and in Europe) during the time of the settling of Charles Towne Landing.

Rear view of the house, bordering the marsh, showing the chimney, composed of wattle and timbers.

Inside view of the fireplace.

Dining/living area. The floors were earthen.

One of the earthen ramparts erected to defend the colony. Part of the initial reason for the colony was to create a foothold in the Americas to compete with the Spanish and the French who had concurrent claims on the land. The fort never actually saw battle, but it was well secured with both walls and weaponry.

Composite shot of the earth walls and trenches to defend the colony.

Video of the fort area with cannon.

Just past the fort we came upon a full-scale replica of one of the types of merchant ships then in use. These were used to transport goods from the colony back to other, established colonies in the Caribbean, and to Europe. They looked rather small, but could hold enough cargo to make the trips profitable between markets.

This fellow was dressed in period attire and singing shanties. He was also a wellspring of information regarding the ship and the colony.

This is actually a working ship. It does make trips to sea.

Access to crew quarters and the cargo area.

The bow of the ship. There were bunks fore and aft. Two bunks on either side. For a total of eight bunks. Sleeping in shifts, the ship could make use of a working crew of sixteen, not counting officers who had their own sleeping area.

Shot of the inside of the bow. This is a relatively new ship and still smelled of fresh pine wood.

A view of the rigging of the center mast.

A hull under construction.

Beyond the ship was the replica of the stockade area of the colony. The stockade walls in the distance protected the colonists living and working inside. This fence was to protect a replica garden from marauding critters.

Timber and wattle shed for use in farming and gardening.

The stockade walls. When I took this shot I stood in the grass. This was the only place where the mosquitoes found me. I can't say why. But I quickly retreated and the mosquitoes vanished.

As I said earlier, all of this historical property was owned and improved by some rich broad. Originally it had belonged to her grandparents. When she bought the joint from her siblings and other relatives the house was in ruins and goats were living in it. She spent a fortune fixing it up and expanding it. This was our first view of the house down the wide avenue lined in live oaks that she had landscaped for maximum effect.

A closeup of the rich broad's house as you get to the vast front lawn.

This was the pond in her back yard. Today the house and grounds are available for meetings and weddings. The pond is apparently full of alligators. Watch the kiddies!

They're not kidding about the 'gators.

The back of the mansion. there is also a secondary house just out of sight on the left. I suppose it was servants' quarters from back in day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It Has a Zoo??!!

We're still missing Marley as I write this chapter of my blog. Carole and I both think about him as we go through the day. I reckon it will be a while before that stops happening so often.

Visited the surgeon--he gave me leave to return to work on Tuesday. After that we drove to Carole's mom's place to visit. I got out the cleaning material and ladder and clambered up on the trailer. It was wicked filthy and coated with quite a lot of dirt and grime and even some algae on the roof. I hit it hard with cleanser and scrub brush and lots of soap. The dirt poured off of it like a river of mud. I've never seen my trailer so dirty. After I got it cleaned up I waxed it until I ran out of wax--I'll have to go back later and do the rear half of the trailer. That was all yesterday. Today I'm suffering from sore muscles and quite a lot of fatigue. That's what happens when you're inactive for a month. I hope to be able to start hiking again soon and maybe lifting weights a little to get some strength and muscle tone back.

So: It's a return to recounting the trip to South Carolina.

I'm skipping over our third day on our mini-vacation because that was the day we went kayaking and to visit Carole's friend Susan and her husband Bruce. Not because it wasn't an otherwise very pleasant day and visit, but because I was a dumbass and lost our camera in the ocean while kayaking up a tidal creek. Therefore, I will skip that day in any detail at all. (We did encounter a bottlenose dolphin while kayaking...but of course I have no photo of that.)

Our last day we broke camp and headed over to the Charles Town Landing Historical Site. This is owned and administered by the South Carolina State Park system. It was the gift of some very rich broad who owned the land where she had a palatial estate. Upon her death, the whole area reverted to state ownership where it's all kept in a very nice condition and used as a park/living museum. The experience was very nice, very educational, and a had more than a few surprises.

Among the surprises was a zoo--wherein they display living creatures that were once a big part of the local ecosystems but which are now extirpated, or rare, or just hard to find. Among the extirpated species were the bison (the subspecies of woodland bison is, in fact, extinct), the puma, river otter (they actually are in the area again, but hard to find), elk (again, the subspecies of elk that lived on the South Carolina coast is extinct). They also had bobcat, whitetail deer (which are extremely common, but they had them anyway), and black bear (which are also rather common along coastal South Carolina, but how often do you see a black bear in town?).

I'm going to break up the photo tour of the park into two posts for the simple reason that it was a hell of a big place and there was a lot to take in. I didn't even take any shots inside the museum, which was very well appointed and extremely interesting. Go see it.

We parked the truck and trailer in the bus parking area and hoofed it across the parking lot to the entrance.

This is the "History Trail" which takes you throughout the park to the various historical and zoological displays. Fortunately we went on a relatively cool (mid-80s) day and did not encounter a lot of biting insects (except for one spot where I stopped to take a photograph and had enormous mosquitoes cover my legs).

The very cool wooden fences that line parts of the park.

This was, according to the signs, the slave cemetery.

A monument in honor of the Kiwah Indian tribe who helped the Charles Towne colonists and who were dispossessed of their lands and their lives by the very folk they were aiding.

The park has an extremely nice aviary. The main residents appear to be pelicans and herons.

There were two black bears in the bear exhibit. They both looked very fat and robust, but this one seemed to be miserable from the heat (or some malady). All he did was lie in the sun and pant, as if in distress. This is one reason why I do not like zoos. Most animals I see in zoos act is if all they want is to get the HELL OUT OF THERE!

They also had a small herd of bison. Bison are one type of animal that never seems to be distressed by much of anything. I guess that's what happens when you can weigh upwards of a ton and spend the day munching on tasty grass.

This was an Orb spider that we saw in her web beside the trail. It was quite horribly and skin-crawlingly huge.

A monument to the chieftain who opted to help the colonists. I suppose he lived to regret it all.

Posing for the obligatory humor shot whenever you encounter one of these contraptions.

More tomorrow....