Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ridgepole Mountain

Years and years ago I went hiking on the Appalachian Trail to get to a point where I could bushwhack to the summit of a mountain named Ridgepole Mountain. The old story when I was a kid was that Ridgepole Mountain was originally supposed to have been in Georgia. That is, the northern boundary of Georgia was to have been struck slightly north of where it ended up. However, the local Cherokees were in an agitated state and the surveyors tasked with marking the northern boundary were afraid to proceed, so they just picked a convenient spot and called it the northern boundary of the state.

Therefore, as all good little hiking Georgians from the days of my youth would say, WE WUZ ROBBED!

Robbed of what?

Well, apparently we were robbed of some 5,000-foot peaks. That was the buzz along the trail when I was a kid. If only those surveyors hadn't been such scaredy-cats, then we'd have some fivers in my native state. And I would always think about what would have happened if Ridgepole Mountain had become our highest point. Instead of Brasstown Bald having a road carved onto its slopes and all the way to the summit; instead of Brasstown Bald having its top leveled and a huge brick and concrete visitor's center lodged on its high point, then all of those crimes would have been committed against Ridgepole Mountain.

And what is Ridgepole Mountain now? It sits in the middle of a relatively enormous (by eastern standards) wilderness. There is nothing built on its summit. There are no roads gouged into its flanks. It sits in a sea of green, just one more 5,000-foot mountain surrounded by other 5,000-foot mountains.

Hiking on Ridgepole Mountain and the surrounding untouched wilderness, I'm always very happy that those Cherokee braves scared off those European surveyors.

Off in the distance there is Ridgepole Mountain. I took this shot from a mountain called Pickens Nose, named for the Revolutionary War general, Andrew Pickens (whose life served as the fictional basis for the character in the film THE PATRIOT). In real life, Pickens was a stealer of Cherokee land and killer of that nation's people.

This was, as near as I could figure through line of sight, the actual summit of Ridgepole Mountain. There is no visitor's center here. No road. No cars, no trucks, and other than me that day, no people. Just a great southern hardwood forest. It also has the highest bear population density in the southeast.

I found this really excellent campsite on the way to the bushwhack to Ridgepole. It's not far off the Appalachian Trail. Another neat feature of this campsite is that just a few feet away is a sheer cliff that plummets many hundreds (maybe over a thousand) feet.

Just beyond those shrubs is the edge of the cliff. Since I was all alone, that was as close as I dared go.

For contrast, this is what could have become of Ridgepole Mountain if it had ended up in Georgia instead of North Carolina. If it had been Georgian territory, it would have been our only 5,000-foot peak and would be ruined, as the summit of Brasstown Bald is ruined...

Instead, this is the extent of the engineering done on the slopes and ridges of Ridgepole Mountain. You can thank the Cherokee warriors of many generations gone...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some Old Hike Photos

All of these photos were taken, I'm pretty sure, in 2005. I did a lot of hiking in 2004 through 2005, all of it solo. Back then I didn't know anyone else who hiked or backpacked and so I took a lot of such trips by myself. Sometimes Carole and I would camp at a nice National Forest campground and she'd stay at the campsite while I climbed mountains or wandered around hunting for waterfalls and big trees.

I took this self-portrait on the last camping trip we went on without our travel trailer. The evening I took this, a big black bear came into our campsite and dismantled it hunting for food. After that, we vowed to get a hard-sided travel trailer, which is one of the main reasons we ended up buying our Casita. (I think the name of this waterfall is Mooney Falls. Near Standing Indian Campground in the Nantahala National Forest here in North Carolina.)

This was taken near the summit of Whitetop Mountain, the second highest mountain in Virginia and one of the few peaks in that state to stand over a mile in elevation.

This is my Sound of Music pose. This was taken in late November and it was hellishly warm that day. About 80 degrees even there at about 5400 feet above sea level.

Nantahala Lake. Not really a hike, but a paddle. Carole and I took the canoe out on the lake. This was on the same trip when the bear raided our camp.

I took this one on what I like to term: The Hike that Nearly Killt Me. This is on a patch of the Black Mountain Crest Trail. It's probably the toughest trail in North Carolina. I've hiked it a number of times, and every time I do it I end up in bad shape. Leg cramps, sore joints, exhaustion. On this trip I did the trail in halves by camping at Deep Gap in the middle of the trail, but the second day was a hike out to the northern terminus, then back to the Gap to pack up my stuff, then out to the southern terminus. I thought I was gonna die by the time it was over.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mah Blawg

It's difficult for me to do a blog on writing when I'm actually too busy doing that. I took on a project with a deadline, so that is going to severely limit my time blogging. I'll try to figure a way to work it into the mix.

I'm also unable to add much to posts about new hiking and camping destinations because I haven't had the time to do either of those things. When the new year dawns I'm going to take a few days to hit the trails.

So here are a couple of photos from December of 2009. That was the last time that Carole and I drove up to Sparta NC to buy a fresh Christmas tree from a tree farm. We haven't put up a tree in a while. It's just not the same with no child around.

On the way back to Charlotte we stopped at Stone Mountain State Park and I hiked up the climber's trail to the base of the cliff where I could get some photos of climbers scaling the cliff face. One guy was an instructor and he was trying to teach some chick how to climb. Maybe it was his current girlfriend and he was making an attempt to get her into his hobby.Or it could be that she was just interested in climbing and had paid for a climbing lesson. Whatever it was, one thing it wasn't was going to fly.

Here's a shot of the instructor and his female student. I could hear them clearly from my post where I scrambled up the rock face by way of friction climbing. When it got too steep for that I just stopped and took photos of the climbing parties (there were several). The teacher was trying like heck to get the girl to just stand the fuck up. She would not, could not do it. All she could do was crouch there hugging the granite face. She just was not a good candidate for technical climbing.

I can still hear his calming voice as he tried to coax her to stand up so that they could continue the climb. He was very patient and very calm. All I wanted to do was scream up at her, "STAND THE FUCK UP! JUST STAND THE FUCK UP AND YOU CAN WALK TO THE NEXT FUCKING LEDGE YOU FREAKING SISSY!"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Zombie Time

I had considered writing a sequel to THE LIVING END. I still have it plotted and I may write that novel at some time. Its title is THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH, but I have so many other writing projects on my desk that I can't see my way clear to work on that one just now.

In addition, I signed a new contract to produce three zombie novels. These will be something a lot different from my own vision of the zombie trope. They're grounded firmly in the Romero-esque world of zombie fiction, which to my way of thinking is the only way to treat zombies.

Some authors have produced stories and films where zombies aren't dead, merely infected with a disease. That's not my take, at all. Others have produced the undead as super-fast so that they're like Olympic sprinters with a bad attitude. That's not my take, either.

And, of course, there are those who have zombies that eat things other than living humans, that develop the ability to reason, that come back to life within instants of having been infected and killed. That ain't my idea of the basis of a zombie tale, either.

George Romero and John Russo laid down the rules back in 1968, and I'm stickin' to those, even if their creators veer from them from time to time. The zombies are all but mindless. They're slow and implacable and can only be stopped by destroying their brains. If you're bitten by a zombie, you might have a few days, but you're going to get very sick and you're going to die. And no matter what kills you, unless your brain is destroyed, you're going to come back as a zombie, too.

Those are the rules.

Look for my three-book series (written as Robert Mathis Kurtz) coming soon.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

They'll Steal My Ideer!

Many is the time I've heard young (or new) writers worry about the submission process.

"They'll steal my idea!"

You'd be surprised how many writers (or, actually, wannabe writers) worry about this. There are a lot of things that young writers should worry about, but this is very low on the list of such things. Grammar, punctuation, plot, ability. These are things that they should worry about.

That said, in the many years that I did submit my work, I suspected that one of my plots was stolen (at a comics company), and one was all but confirmed as stolen (at a magazine). I'll just talk about the one for which I have the most evidence. (And, no, I won't name any names. It's water under the bridge, even as pissed as I still am about it.)

Back in the 1980s and early 90s I was writing like mad. I would rarely go a week without writing a new short story, and I kept the Postal Service busy in sending out my manuscripts to magazines and anthologies far and wide. (This is one thing that I do really like about the digital age--online submissions.)

There was a particular market that I was often trying (without success) to crack. It was a horror magazine and I really wanted to get my name on their contents list. I would send stories there with some regularity. I'd heard that they had a new first reader/assistant editor who was also a writer, so I sent him one of my stories. It had a neat plot that boiled down to this:

What if everyone in the country who owned a gun was suddenly overcome with the urge to use it to shoot someone, anyone?

I've always had difficulty with titles for my stories and struggle as I might, the best I could come up with for this one was "One of These Days". I sent it out to the mag, specifically to the new assistant editor.

After a while, the story was returned, with a note from the assistant editor (I still have it). It read, "This one is pretty good, but it lacks a certain impetus, so I'm passing."

Fair enough. Unlike many other writers I've always appreciated the time an editor takes to read my work even if they don't accept it for publication. I've always had a thick skin that way. You really need that to be a writer.

Well, imagine my surprise when, a couple of months later, I get a copy of the magazine. In it, there's a brand-new story by that very same assistant editor. That story's basic premise? If you guessed 'what if everyone in the country who owned a gun was suddenly overcome with the urge to use that gun shoot someone, anyone?', then you are correct! To add a very special insult to the injury was a note on the editorial page by the publisher explaining how the author/assistant had come to the publisher with this great new story that was so good that the publisher delayed the deadline to include it in the issue. I'm positive it was written about a day or so after he put my own story back in the mail to me.

Shit does happen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Putting Together a Collection

After HISSMELINA hits the Internet via trade paperback and ebook versions, my next project is the fantasy collection, FOUR FROM MANGROVE.

For years I have been publishing short stories all based in, or around, an iron-age city-state called Mangrove. So I took what I consider to be the finest four short stories and collected them for publication in a single volume.

The four stories that I selected were: "A Child of the War God", which is set the earliest in the one thousand-year history of Mangrove; "Deadly", another one in an earlier version of the nation; "One Curse, One Blessing", which was the first Mangrove story that I ever sold and which was always my intent to expand into a novel at some future date; and "The Krang", the most recently written of the quartet and which takes place in what I consider to be the height of that state's position as an empire.

Early on in my days as a writer I wanted to compose mainly fantasy fiction. This was, of course, part of an urge to try to achieve something like the emotions I felt upon reading the works of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and Karl Edward Wagner. But in the days when I wanted to work in that format I always had a literary agent. And each time I would mention the subject to my agent (whomever that might be at the time) I was dissuaded from pursuing the matter because "fantasy is a hard sell". And they'd steer me back toward horror. (Yeah, I know...LOL!)

And so, of course, this has led me to the conclusion that the ebook format could very well be the liberating influence that so many writers have concluded. The verdict is still out on that matter, in my opinion. I won't have my first ebook reader until Santy Claus arrives at my house on Saturnalia. However, it has released me to finally place my fantasy fiction (at least some of it) out there in a format other than a single short story sold here or there over the course of many years.

Along with Howard and the likes of Karl Wagner, Frazetta inspired my love of fantasy fiction.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two New Anthologies...

Here are the covers of two upcoming anthologies that contain stories by James Robert Smith. I'm really excited about seeing both of them in print.

HORROR for the HOLIDAYS is edited by Scott Aniolowski and will be published by Miskatonic River Press.

THE DEVIL'S COTTAILS is edited by Jason Brock and William Nolan and contains stories by some of the greats of horror fiction. I'm especially excited to see a story in it by Ramsey Campbell. This is the second anthology this year that I have shared with the great Mr. Campbell. (I was also in DEAD BAIT2 with him.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Colorado in 2012?

I got invited to go on a two-week backpacking trip in Colorado in 2012. Currently, I'm trying to figure out how to get it done. One thing about the trip is that, of course, Carole won't be able to join me for the major part of it. She kayaks, and camps and walks some trails with me, but will never backpack. It just ain't gonna happen.

At any rate, the place we'll be hiking/climbing is the San Juan Range in Colorado. For sheer volume, it's the biggest mountain range in the state. Not the highest, but the biggest by land mass. It does, of course, have several "fourteeners" (mountains over 14K feet in elevation) and we plan to bag a couple of those, maybe more.

Part of the San Juan Range. (Image by Jack B.)

Well, I'm still trying to figure it out. I need to get the time off from work and buy a few things that I don't have in my backpacking stuff. But I'm going to do what it takes to get out there. Our animals are all going extinct, our wilderness is shrinking, our air and water grows more fouled each year. If I want to see these relatively unspoiled places either before they're gone or my life is over, I need to get cracking.

View from Windom Peak. Image by Josh Hansen.
(This one is on our list to climb.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lilly and Cairo

Over the years I became a cat person. Yeah, I started out loving dogs, but then I grew up. Being a mailman makes me even less a fan of dogs. I really like cats. I don't hate dogs (well, not anymore), but I just prefer cats.

Here are two of the cats who live with us:

This is Lilly. This photo was taken soon after we brought her home.

And a more recent photo of Lilly relaxing on the couch.

Andy found Cairo. I took this photo within minutes of her discovery (and adoption by us) in Cairo, West Virginia where we found her. What has amazed me always is how smoothly she adapted to being with us. She acted from the very first moment as if she belonged with us. She never cried or ever seemed surprised or alarmed. It was as if this was the way it was supposed to be.

A more recent photo of Cairo. She's very big and very fat now.

Cairo and Lilly on our new couch (which we had covered with sheets while we were teaching them to leave it alone).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adventures on Ebay

I landed a copy of Panic #10 via Ebay. This was the first comic I purchased since a crooked dealer tried to rip me off there. I had bought three copies of Panic from a fellow I will leave unnamed for now. The books had been graded at "VG", which means very good. When the books arrived they were flaking, coming apart, two of them had detached covers, and the one that still had its cover attached was because the spine was heavily taped. I, of course, immediately demanded a refund which he did not want to grant. Hilarity ensued.

I have to say that Ebay was really good during this minor tussle. They demanded that the dealer in question refund my money and they even took a portion of it from him and added it back to my Paypal account, the remainder to be refunded as soon as I returned the worthless books, which I did.

This latest issue I got (from a more reputable dealer) is classic Harvey Kurtzman material. I will assume that he did the layouts. Much of the material seems to have his hand in evidence. But the bulk of the book was illustrated by Will Elder and Jack Davis, both of whom did their usual exceptional work. Davis, in particular shows his talent, but I have to think that Elder was filing off the edges of his art here--I think that while Kurtzman and Gaines intended Panic to be pretty much a carbon-copy of Mad, they were making some minor moves to tone down the harsher aspects of the humor of Mad in favor of appealing to a wider audience...or at least a slightly different audience. Unlike Mad, the last few issues of Panic received the Comics Code Authority approval. But obviously the sales were not up to Mad's level and the title was snuffed out.

PANIC #10.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I'm neck-deep into a new project. Just now I'm going over the proofs of the manuscript for HISSMELINA. I hope to be done with those in a day or so and soon after that the book will see print.

Until then, mucho busy!

Coming soon from

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Childhood Reading

All of us who write are, of course, influenced by other writers. And as far back as we were able to read some writers stand out.

For me, the writers of my childhood who helped put me on the path to being a writer are still foremost in my mind. Some authors were suggested to me by my parents, but I think the ones that I enjoyed most as a kid were the ones who I discovered on my own. And so, here is a list of the writers who amazed me and fascinated me and actually made me want to convey my own thoughts into passages to be read by others.

Jim Kjelgaard is one who I recall as an effective and insightful writer of children's books. He wrote about things that I enjoyed even when I was very young--the outdoors and the creatures who share the Earth with us. His style was very stark and no nonsense, but there was sometimes a softness to it that appealed to me. His novel that stands out the most and which I never forgot is FIRE HUNTER. Herein he tells the story of a primitive caveman who--in bouts of brilliance and good fortune--discovers how to make fire, to make throwing sticks, to domesticate dogs...Kjelgaard in a display of pure brilliance put into the lives of one prehistoric man and a single prehistoric woman shows how we might have made the initial technological discoveries that set us apart from the other animals. And may I point out that Mr. Kjelgaard did this decades before Jean Auel followed him.

Kjelgaard did it first.

I've written about Ernest Thompson Seton before, but I can't go too many years without mentioning him. More than any writer, his work had an enormous effect on me. Here was a man who had actual respect and compassion for our fellow creatures. He showed me that things such as prairie hens and cottontail rabbits and yellow dogs and powerful grizzly bears had feelings and emotions and personalities the same as people. I'm not sure how I found his books, but the first one I read was BIOGRAPHY OF A GRIZZLY. Here was a tale about an animal whose life was packed with misfortune and wealth, with pathos and joy, with danger and triumph. Here was a bear with a name--Wahb! I followed Wahb from birth to death, and not a sentence was anything less than amazing to me. I went on to read everything I could find by Seton, collecting and hoarding the novels and collections. Not a day goes by that I don't reflect on the lessons I learned from reading his books.

"Wahb smashed his skull with a single blow."
In addition to being a great writer, Seton was a masterful artist--considered one of the finest wildlife artists of his day.

The first fantasist I read--even before my mom showed me books by Ray Bradbury--were the Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting. Here was a series devoted to a man of learning who could, quite literally, talk to the animals. From the moment I read the first line of the initial book I was captivated. Here was pure fantasy, not the more realistic material I enjoyed by other writers, but flights of fancy. And, as with Seton, the author also illustrated his own work with drawings wonderful enough to please any kid who found them. I found the first Dr. Dolittle book in the school library the first day of the third grade and I continued to check them out until, at last, I finally outgrew the stuff. But I never forgot it, and those tales hold a special place in my memories.

Good old Dr. Dolittle. Hugh Lofting was the first writer I ever overdosed on. I finally reached a point where I couldn't stomach one more Dr. Dolittle novel. I must have blazed through about seven or eight of them before they lost that initial charm.

Another writer who grabbed my attention was Evelyn Sibley Lampman. And, of course, it was her best-selling novel THE SHY STEGOSAURUS OF CRICKET CREEK that stopped me in my tracks when I pulled the book down from the shelf. Wonderfully illustrated, it told the story of a talking stegosaurus discovered by a pair of kids out hunting for fossils in a western desert. Ms. Lampman was another one who had a way of speaking to kids. And more, she taught me that there were other human points of view than those I heard each day there in my Decatur Georgia neighborhood. Some people lived on ranches in the big sky country, and some kids were Indians who lived on reservations, and not everyone spoke English and listened to Dixie as if it were the national anthem.

Sometimes a wonderful kid's novel is perfectly paired with a terrific and talented artist. So it was with THE SHY STEGOSAURUS OF CRICKET CREEK (art by Hubert Buel).

This illustration astounded me when I was eight years old. It still does...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Autumn Hike Videos

I thought I'd post various videos that I took on some hikes from this Autumn. Some of the forests I hit were particularly beautiful this Fall. That's the way it happens--sometimes the conditions just line up to produce some great Fall color and forest scenes.

In beautiful West Virginia.

Hiking down from Buzzard Roost in the South Mountains of North Carolina.

On Buck's Knob, the highest summit in Kumbrabow State Forest in West Virginia.

The loop trail on the summit of Gaudineer Knob, West Virginia.

On the trail from the top of Seneca Rock.

Fall colors, high relief, and cute little kids jibber-jabber!

On Mill Creek, Kumbrabow State Forest, West Virginia.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Buffalo Lake

Once again, I've been too busy to post a new blog for a couple of days.

So here's a photo of one of the spots we visited in West Virginia on our latest trip. Lake Buffalo is an isolated public lake inside the National Forest. Despite one of the two routes leading to it being blocked, and the only option being a tortured detour, there were quite a few people there fishing when we visited.

It would be well worth another visit, next time with fishing gear.

Click to embiggen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


When I was a young man learning how to write, one of the publications that I looked forward to every single year was THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR published by DAW Books and edited by Karl Edward Wagner. DAW no longer publishes a year's best collection of the finest horror stories, and of course Karl Wagner has fled this mortal coil. Anyway, who was going to try to fill Wagner's shoes at the helm of DAW's year's best collection every year? It would have been a really tough act to follow.

Wagner had a truly unique way of looking at horror fiction, and no one who collects this material has equaled his ability to choose the finest of the works of short fiction to be published each year. And, of course, the industry itself has changed. Almost all of the magazines are gone, and even the little fanzines and micro-zines have, like Wagner himself, faded into oblivion.

I really miss that yearly collection. More than anything else from the days of my youth, I miss that volume that would hit the shelves every year. I'd go to the bookstores and check every week until it arrived. I have every single one of that series. Including the six that preceded Wagner's arrival, mostly edited by Gerald Page. Mr. Page did a good job, too, with some memorable hits in his own tenure at the editor's desk. But nobody topped Wagner.

I miss DAW's Year's Best Horror. And I miss the professional presence of Karl Wagner. I wish they were still with us.

Alas, time passes. And everything, and everyone, eventually heads for extinction.

Two of my editions of DAW's YEAR'S BEST HORROR. I have them all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eagle Rocks, Smoke Hole Canyon, West Virginia

On one of our days in West Virginia the weather was so bad we just decided to go for a long drive. One of the places I had missed on all of our trips there was the Smoke Hole Canyon. There are a number of National Forest sites along this canyon, and I'd heard that it is an extremely impressive formation, so I really want to give it a look.

If you have old National Forest maps and information about the place, some things have changed. For instance, some recreation areas and campgrounds had been flooded out so many times that the Forest Service felt it best to let Nature have Her way with the landscape in those spots. So some campgrounds listed no longer exist. However, there is still one exceptional National Forest campground at the far end of the canyon.

The canyon itself gets its name from rising mist, and not actual smoke. The day we were there we witnessed clouds and vapor climbing from the steeps sides of the canyon and toward the peaks and into the skies. So it's well named.

One spot we stopped for a bit to admire was Eagle Rocks. It's not named for the bird of prey, but for one William Eagle who, at the age of fifteen, enlisted in the Continental Army and served in four regiments, including at both Valley Forge and Yorktown. He lived to a very old age and is buried on the Potomac River below the Eagle Rocks which bear his name. His grave is marked by both an historical marker and a headstone and is well tended. A great place to spend the ages.

Eagle Rocks. I'm wondering how hard it would be to climb.

The historical marker at Eagle's grave site.

William Eagle's grave. Well tended even today.

Near the headwaters of the Potomac River in the Smoke Hole Canyon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seneca Shadows Campground

To get back to our latest West Virginia adventure...

After we left Kumbrabow State Forest, we traveled over to the Seneca Rocks area to get a spot at the Seneca Shadows campground. It's a National Forest campground but is no longer administered by the National Forest and is instead leased out to a private outfit. This generally means a reduction in services and I was sad to see that this is the case with Seneca Shadows.

When we arrived there was no one on duty anywhere. The signs instructed us to pick out a campsite that had not been reserved (sites that were reserved were posted as such) and then go to the campground host to pay. So we picked out a site, set up our trailer and went to the host site. Even after some time, there was no one at the host site. About an hour later we returned to try again to pay. Finally, a very, very, very elderly couple emerged. Apparently they'd been there the whole time but are so hard of hearing they didn't perceive the knocks on their trailer door. We gave them our site number and prepared to pay. However, they informed us that the site we'd chosen had been reserved but that they hadn't had time to mark it as such. We'd have to move.


So we went back to the site, put everything back in the truck and hooked up the trailer. Then we went to the site they told us was vacant and available. Imagine our surprise when we found it occupied. About that time the very, very, very old fellow arrived in his truck to tell us that he was mistaken. To make it up to us he offered us a site with full hookups at the base price--water, electric, and sewer. We didn't really like the site all that much, but we took it for the convenience of having full hookups, and the view of Seneca Rock from that spot was impressive.

And that's where we stayed for the remainder of our trip. I can't really recommend Seneca Shadows. Since it's been handed off to a private company it's not run all that well. It was hard to find employees for help and some of the facilities were not operating well--leaking pipes, dirty bathrooms, etc. I wish the National Forest would revoke their concession and put public employees back to work.

The best thing about our campsite was the view.

Be sure to click on these photos to see them in greater detail!

This is a major rock climbing destination. They say it's one of the best places to learn the sport of rock climbing.

Amazing, but I don't want to involve myself in the sport, but I admire those who engage in it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Grand View of the Black Mountains.

One of the things we discovered when standing at the cliff top just at the summit of Buzzard Roost was that we were rewarded for our long climb with a unique view of the Black Mountains, the highest range of peaks in the eastern USA. You can see pretty much most of the Blacks from this spot, albeit from a great distance. Still, it is one of the best spots I've found to be able to see the range from end to end.

Looking past Propst Mountain we could see the Black Mountains. From Celo Knob (on the far right) to Potato Hill (far left).

A telephoto stitch of the range. Click to embiggen.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Another Bushwhack in the South Mountains!

For some time I have been trying to locate the highest peak in the South Mountains of North Carolina. I had read in a number of places that the range reached a height of 3,100+ feet. But whenever I'd search topographic maps, the highest peak I could find was just a shade under 3,000 feet. My pal, Andy Kunkle, finally realized that the confusion arose over a single Internet mention of the 3,100 foot mark. We quickly discounted it after researching the facts.

And the fact that kept coming up was that the highest peak in the South Mountains is a summit called Buzzard Roost, which is 2,980 feet above sea level at its highest point.

Andy, Jacky Thyen and I had tried to reach Buzzard Roost once before. We found a great waterfall (Sally Queen Falls), but failed to reach the high point of the range. This time Andy figured he had a better and shorter route mapped out for us, so we decided to give it a try. The team on this trip was me, Andy, and Bob Johnson. Jack opted out due to his holiday-period sideline business of selling toy Hess Trucks--this keeps him ultra-busy until Christmas time.

I met up with Andy here in town, then we drove to Morganton where we hooked up with the other Bob and then we drove to one of the new sections of South Mountains State Park. This spot is the old Broughton Hospital Reservoir (also known as the Clear Creek Reservoir). It will, in time, be the location of a new campground and cabin area for the park. For now, there's just a road, the lake, and lots of forest to explore.

We followed an old logging road for a while and when that finally vanished in the woods, we just followed the map, bushwhacking through the forest and climbing ever upward toward what we hoped would be the summit of Buzzard Roost.

Heading out from the car, we could see the dam that creates the lake, with the mountains beyond.

Above the lake was Buzzard Roost (on the right) and Hickory Knob (left). Although Hickory Knob actually looks a tad higher from this spot, it's about twenty feet shorter.

As we hiked through the forest we were reminded that Fall was still in full throttle here in the lower mountains of North Carolina.

Andy and Boone pause for a photo opportunity.

This time of year, the forest floor is often as beautiful as the trees above.

Golden as the sun.

We were pleased to find a great cliff just at the summit of Buzzard Roost. And what a wonderful view! We could see many of North Carolina's major mountain features from this overlook.

Looking down the 1700 vertical feet we had climbed, we could see the reservoir far below us.

This is the actual highest point of the South Mountains. The rubble summit of Buzzard Roost.

I was also surprised to find a healthy grove of the increasingly rare Carolina hemlock growing above the cliff on Buzzard Roost. These show no signs at all of adelgid infestation and could be saved with the application of the right insecticide.

Andy and Bob with a fallen oak behind them and some of the Carolina hemlocks around.

Andy took this one of me on the way down the mountain. The terrain was really tortuous, but this likely had made things difficult for the timber barons to rob the mountains of its old forests. We saw many big trees, including this impressive oak.

Andy standing beside the giant poplar.

Not quite straight down, but Bob and I both had more than our fair share of tumbles on the trip back to the base of the mountain.