Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Got Yer Alpenglow Right Here!

For most of my hiking and backpacking career I kept hearing about this thing called "alpenglow". It apparently is this type of sunlight that can only be seen for a few brief and magical seconds every afternoon at sunset (and, some say, at sunrise). Since I'd spent my whole life in the outdoors here in the East I was told that there was no alpenglow. That it could only be seen in "real" high country, such as that in the American west, or in the European Alps (from whence the name), or in other such very high mountain regions.

Well, shee-it, I figgered. I'd have to hail for points far afield to ever see this here "alpenglow".

Finally, I got my chance to visit California in the 90s. Somehow, though, I never saw this magical light show. Well, I was in the peaks south of the Sierra, so maybe they don't have it there, I decided. Better luck some other time and some other spot.

In 2010 I went to Yellowstone. I intentionally hung around the mountains in late afternoon just a-huntin' fer that thar alpenglow. No luck. Well, shee-it. Perhaps the mountains have to be over 11,000 feet high and not the measly 10,600 feet where I was looking.

Then, in 2012 I went backpacking in the San Juans in Colorado. Peaks there higher than 14,000 feet! If I was going to be able to see this phenomenon in the lower 48, then this had to be the joint!

Finally, my hiking companions called out one late afternoon! "Alpenglow! On the peaks! Aplenglow!"

So I went a-runnin' with my trusty camera and looked up.

Okay. So that's it. Alpenglow. Yes, it's gorgeous. Yes, it's pretty. Indeed it is nice to see the red and orange and gold of the filtered sunlight striking those lofty summits.

And what a load of shit I'd been fed for fifty goddamned years. Alpenglow is nothing more than the same, exact sunlight I'd seen uncounted times when hiking in my native South or in the Northeast.


Fuck that shit.

Alpenglow, Chicago Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Alpenglow, Seneca Rock, West Virginia.

I got yer alpenglow right here! Sharp Top, Peaks of Otter, Virginia.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Last Hike in Colorado

For about two weeks I was either hiking or backpacking in Colorado late in September 2012. It took me almost that long to acclimate to altitude over 11,000 feet. So I spent a lot of that time feeling awful whenever I'd crack the 11K-foot mark.

Finally, by the time the main part of the trip was done, I was over my altitude sickness. On our way back to Denver to catch our flight, we stopped one last place to climb a mountain. I've forgotten the name of the mountain, but it's just outside of Durango.

Because I had lost about twenty pounds and that my lungs and innards were finally accustomed to thin air, I pretty much flew up that mountain. We'd gone there to see what we'd been told were epic stands of aspen trees. And, true to the claims, we found the aspens in large numbers, great health, high tops, and spinning gold in the sunlight.

I want to go back to Colorado some time and do more hiking. And next time I'll make sure that I acclimate more effectively to the high altitude.

I don't care what anyone tells me. There's something about the skies out west that makes the colors more vibrant.

The last mountain we climbed. Just outside Durango.
Summit area seen from an adjacent ridge.

Older pines along the trail.

The reason we climbed the peak--vast groves of aspens.

I hear that there is a grove of quaking aspens in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. Which would make it the southeasternmost grove of those tress in North America. I need to go back there to find it. I tried once, but failed to spot them.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I'm gettin' old, folks. I can't do the letter-carrier deal and still come home and work on essays and fiction like I could in the past. I'm just flat wearing out, is the truth of it.

I'll come back when I've been able to have a proper rest.

At the Maroon Bells. If you've seen the movie Jeremiah Johnson, then you've seen these iconic peaks.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Possible Peaks

I've been going over my Glacier National Park map and comparing notes with folk I know who hike there. What I've been searching for are really impressive summits that are not technically difficult and which can be done as day-hikes. I won't be in a position to do any overnight backpacking trips, so the peaks I want to reach have to be something I can do within the span of a day.

Initially I was curious about a peak called Grizzly Mountain. Seemed to have all the criteria I was searching for. High, but not a mountain that requires technical climbing to reach. But the more I looked at it the more I realized that it's at the absolute limits of reaching as a day-hike. I got differing mileages from people who had done it, but all of them seemed to say that the hike was somewhere between 20 and 22 miles. That's just more than I want to plow into a peak. If I had two days to use I'd arrange to make it an overnight hike. But Carole and I and our friends are going to be trying to pack so much into our time in Glacier that I have to stay close at hand. So Grizzly had to be ruled out.

And finally I think I found the two peaks I can bag while I'm in the park:

Mount Helen in the Two Medicine area (where we'll be camping), and Mount Oberlin near Many Glacier. Helen is a longer hike, but well within the constraints I've set. And Oberlin is often termed as the most climbable of Glacier's major summits.

So. That's the deal, as I now see it. Things could change, but the more I look at the maps and read about the hikes, those are the two that are currently foremost in my plans.

I've never hiked peaks exactly like the ones in Glacier, so I'll be comparing them to terrain out west where I have hiked. Features such as:

On Mount Washburn, Yellowstone National Park.
Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park.
From Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Older Photos

I love digital cameras. It's one part of computer technology that I absolutely love. Digital cameras and high volume memory cards have given me almost unlimited ability to take photos of the places I visit. I can take thousands of shots, knowing that most of them might be unremarkable, but that some of them are going to be outstanding.

But sometimes when I'm leafing through my digital files I'll find a shot and won't be able to recall why I took it.

Here's one: 

I took this photo in the Tower Canyon area of Yellowstone National Park. I couldn't figure out why I framed it the way I did. I'd taken several from that vantage point that made a lot more sense.

Here's one that's traditional and dramatic:

So why had I shot that other photo that focused on that bend in the river? It didn't make a lot of sense outside the fact that with a digital camera you can take thousands of photos and never worry about wasting film (or even your time).

I decided to enlarge the photo to see if there had been some critter down near the edge of the river that had engaged my attention. But there wasn't. And then I saw what I'd obviously spotted from high up on the lip of the canyon:

It was a thermal feature! Down at the edge of the river I had spotted steam rising up. So there, just at the river bend, was a boiling-hot steam vent.

I'll be damned.

I still get a kick out of looking at photos from old trips. And I still find surprises!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Megafauna from South to West

I spend a lot more time in the outdoors than most Americans. A lot more.

One reason I go to Parks and wilderness areas is to find solitude. I also go to enjoy various types of scenery. Mountain vistas. Waterfalls. Rivers and streams. Forests.

But another huge reason I head off into the forests and swamps and mountains is to see wildlife. And there are all kinds of animals to define wildlife, but when I talk about that aspect of my journeys I'm speaking about megafauna. These are the larger animals. Things that are not tiny to us.

Most of our National Parks feature habitat that is the very reason that enables us to view such creatures. And in my wide journeys I am always on the lookout for the big critters, and I have varying degrees of luck spotting them.

For big fur-bearing animals I suppose the places like the western National Parks are the best. It's hard to visit one of those spots and not see the large critters we all think of as designating wilderness. In the east...well, the pickings are slim in comparison. When I'm hiking in the Piedmont or along the spine of the Appalachians, I just don't see a lot of wildlife. I feel fortunate to spot the occasional black bear. Elk are only now being reintroduced, but I do spot them from time to time. I've never seen a bobcat or a mountain lion here in the East. About the only big critters I can count on seeing in the East are white-tailed deer, raccoons, wild turkey, and the two vulture species we have.

But there is one place in the east where I often travel where there is at least as much wildlife as in the west. Maybe more. And that is in the wetlands of the deep South. If I go paddling in the Okefenokee Swamp, or trekking the rivers around the Outer Banks, or cruising the low country of Florida then I can pretty much guarantee myself that I will enjoy a vast bounty of wildlife.

West, East, South. I'll take what I can get.

Mullet school. Silver Glen Springs, Florida.

Black snake. Virginia Creeper Trail, southwest Virginia.

Migrating hawks forming a "kettle". Linville Gorge Wilderness, North Carolina.

White-tailed deer. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Coyote/Red wolf hybrid. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Alligator Snapping turtle. Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Cottontail rabbit. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.

A black bear and I surprise one another. Douthat State Park, Virginia.

Bison herd, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park.

Bothersome raccoon. Blue Spring State Park, Florida.

Black buzzard, Manatee Springs State Park, Florida.

Bull elk. Rocky Mountain State Park, Colorado.

Bull elk, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee section, North Carolina.

Grizzly bear, Yellowstone National Park. (Yeah, not a good photo, but I prefer Grizzly bears to be far away.)

Manatees. Manatee Springs, Florida.

Bull moose. Grand Teton National Park.

Key Deer. Big Pine Key, Florida.

Osprey. Fort DeSoto Park, Tampa Florida.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

And...the Bad.

I didn't want to post this with the blog entries about the rest of Big South Fork. I figured it would unfairly color the Park as a sketchy place to go. But it happened so I figured I have to at least report it.

Most people who hike down to Charit Creek use a different parking area than we did. That trail is much shorter (only eight-tents of a mile), but is a lot steeper. We opted to go down via the Twin Arches Trail because, while it's longer (2.1 miles), it's a lot easier on the legs and lungs. Lots of people do park there to go down to the lodge. But most use the other trailhead and parking lot.

So, we headed down and left the truck.

I have to mention here that we had just bought two brand new tires for the truck. They were installed on the front. Left and right. The tires were two days old, because we bought them on the trip when we had a flat and just decided to replace both tires.

We had a great time and hiked back up. We got to the truck to discover that both front tires were absolutely flat. A quick inspection soon revealed that they had been slashed by vandals.


I have no idea. Vandals never need a reason. Frankly, I'm surprised that only two tires were slashed instead of all four. I suspect that they destroyed the front ones because it was obvious that they were brand new. Or maybe something scared them away before they could do any more damage. Who knows?

Fortunately, for some bizarre reason, we had cell phone service there at the parking lot in the middle of nowhere. We have Good Sam road service and they soon dispatched a tow truck to take us right back to the place where we'd bought the tires two days before. The owner was horrified. He said that he'd never heard of anyone having suffered anything like that at one of the parking lots in the Recreation Area. It made him feel bad about the local folk. But of course it wasn't his fault. 

At any rate, it happened. It sucked. Weirdest thing about it...I didn't even get upset. I think I said "damn" once. And "Oh, well" several times.

Both front tires. Flat. Both brand new.

I've circled one of the punctures. Looks like they used a knife. Each tire had at least two such slash marks.

The tow truck fellows arrive and load up the ol' truck.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Random Scenes from Big South Fork

Here are just some random scenes from our rambling around the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

I spotted this gorgeous Fall color from the walkway across the top of the coal tipple at Big Heron Historical Area.

The restored coal tipple at Big Heron. It once contained the machinery that sorted sizes and grades of coal.

The walkway across the top of the coal tipple. Once, a rail crossed here that unloaded coal into the tipple.

The view from  Station Camp Overlook peering down toward Charit Creek Lodge.

And, down at Charit Creek Lodge looking up at the rocks of  Station Camp Overlook. (That's the Lodge stable below the hill on the other side of the meadow.)

The top of South Arch. Don't stray to the left or right. A fall of over 100 feet would greet you. Briefly.

Grotto beside Natural Bridge.

Yahoo Falls, the highest waterfall in Kentucky.

Water at Devil's Den.

The restored O & W bridge.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


While we were in Big South Fork we shared adjacent campsites with Bobby and Sharon Childers. Sharon is a long-time friend of Carole's. They reconnected via Facebook and the two planned a reunion at the Park.

As luck would have it, Sharon and Bobby love to travel and they love to hike. A great combination to my way of thinking. Sharon is now retired from her small business and Bobby is a Navy veteran who has worked for decades at King's Bay helping to keep our nuclear submarine force in tip-top shape.

We all did a lot of hiking while we were in the Park and also made plans to meet again in 2015 for a trip to Glacier National Park (which has been on my bucket list for a long, long time). Bobby and Sharon have been to Glacier before so they'll know how to get around the Park once we arrive.

I've always admired people who are mechanically inclined and who are adept at engineering. Bobby Childers proved to be exceptionally skilled in such when I toured the 1970 Holiday Rambler that he completely rebuilt and restored. When he and Sharon found it, the trailer was a total wreck (it was bound for scrap metal and they got it for $400). But they spent the better part of two years refurbishing and improving it. This is not only going to be their RV, but will be their permanent home.

They decided some time back to downsize so that they could enjoy the traveling life. Thus, the Rambler will be their house 24/7 after they sell their current home. I was absolutely stunned at the quality and breadth of workmanship that the Childers have poured into their Rambler. While we were camping, hardly an hour or two passed without someone stopping to see close up the fruits of all of their labor and skill.

Now we're looking forward to exploring Glacier National Park with them in August of 2015.

The four of us in front of the Childers' restored 1970 Holiday Rambler.
Motto the Childers applied to their home (aptly named "The Phoenix").
We stop along the Ladder Trail in Pickett State Park.