Monday, August 27, 2007

Hiking in the mountains again

Man, it sure has been hot in Tennessee this summer. I remember few, if any, 90 degrees days last year. In fact, I don't remember using the air conditioning more than about 10 days last summer. This year has been a different story. We have been running the air conditioning for almost a month straight recently.

So again last Thursday Nancy and I decided to beat the heat by heading to the Smoky Mountains for a day of hiking. When it is 100 in Knoxville, it is only in the 80's in the higher elevations and shade of the mountains.

We went near Tremont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Middle Prong trail. This trail parallels Lynn Camp Prong for several miles. (a "prong" is another name for creek or stream in these parts) The picture above is not a waterfall with a name, it is just the normal look of Lynn Camp Prong as it tumbles along. We saw trout in many of the pools as we hiked along.

The trail that we walked on was the bed of an old railway that was used for the lumber industry before the area became a national park. It was very wide, compared to most trails in the park, and it is also used by horses. On any trail that hikers must share with horses, the hikers must watch where they step due to the piles of horse manure on the trail.

The reason I mention all of this relates to the beautiful butterfly in the picture. You probably think of butterflies as those delicate creatures that sip nectar from flowers. Well, we saw many of these "Red-spotted Purple" (official name) butterflies and they were all sitting on the horse deposits sipping that kind of nectar. You sure would think that flowers would be tastier than horse poop.

We hiked a total of about 8 miles round trip. At the 4 mile point we followed a narrow trail through the Rhododendron and Laurel 100 yards to a great 4 tiered waterfall called Indian Flats Falls. We decided to put this hike on the Fall schedule of the hiking group.

We have another 10 mile hike scheduled for this coming Friday. However it is south of here towards Soddy Daisy Tennessee and not in the mountains . We are hoping for the weather to cool off before Friday.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Appalachain Trail Hike

A couple of days ago, Nancy and I decided to get out of the 90-100 degree heat and head to the Smoky Mountains. That was the day that Knoxville hit a record of 100 degrees. In the mountains it was only in the 80's and we were in the shade most of the time. We were at an elevation of between 5000 and 6200 all day where it is cooler.

We decided to hike on the Appalachian Trail to a famous destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park called Charlie's Bunion. It was named by Charlie's hiking partner who said that the exposed rock reminded him of Charlie's foot ailment. Charlie claimed that his feet were fine, just red and sore from a long hike. The hike is 4 miles one way or 8 miles round trip, but we hiked 9.5 miles that day due to some side trips for great views.

The large pile of berries next to my GPS was on the trail just before we got to the Charlie's Bunion overlook. These aren't just a normal pile of berries....they were processed through a bear before being deposited on the trail....if you know what I mean. There were National Park Service signs on the trail warning of recent "bear activity" in the area. We did talk to a couple of backpackers who saw two bears on the trail, but we were not lucky enough to see one on our hike. Bears normally skedaddle in the opposite direction when they encounter humans.

On the trail we encountered 12 people in two different groups that were backpacking and planned to spend the night at Icewater Springs shelter on the Appalachian Trail. It was a great looking shelter with two levels of sleeping platforms capable of easily accommodating 20 or more people. This shelter like others in the Smokys used to have chain link fences to shut at night to protect campers from bears. But it was determined that the safety of the fences caused goofballs to feed the bears through the fence. The fences were removed and the open shelters now cause campers to hang their food out of the reach of bears. Amazingly, bears are no longer a problem at the shelters because they no longer associate campers with easy food.

Charlie's Bunion is comprised of rare (for this part of the country) of Anakeesta rock formations. There are 1000 foot drops and supposedly a number of people have fallen while climbing around the rocks. The rocks here are bare because long ago dead trees from timber operations caused a forest fire which left the slopes bare of vegetation. Then, heavy rains washed away the soil to expose the rocks. The rock slopes look more like the Rocky Mountains than the Appalachians. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you can see a person out on Charlie's Bunion.

It was not a very clear day due to the heat and haze. Guidebooks say that the best time to hike Charlie's Bunion is in the winter when the leaves are off the trees and the air is clearer. Even so, we had some great vistas. "Jumpoff" is a side trail a couple of miles from Charlie's that has a great long range view. The picture to the left was taken on the trip back down to our starting point at Newfound Gap. It is looking east into North Carolina.

We wanted to hike this trail to evaluate it for a possible Fairfield Glade hiking club hike. It might be a little long and rocky for the group. A group of hikers is only as fast as the slowest hiker and the nature of this trail might make it a long day for a group, even though the guidebooks rate it as "moderate".

But, if you think you have at least 8 miles in you, we highly recommend the beautiful hike to Charlie's Bunion on the Appalachian Trail.

Save the Brookies

My fishing buddy Ray and I went to the Cherokee National Forest in far Eastern Tennessee, near the North Carolina border, on Saturday to work with Trout Unlimited, Inc. and the National Forest Service.

The purpose was to record the number of Brook Trout in a specific stream and to capture any Rainbow or Brown Trout found and move them downstream below natural barriers. Brook Trout are the only native trout to the Eastern United States and their original habitat is dwindling. Introduced Rainbow and Brown trout displace Brook Trout. The idea is to try to keep certain prime Brook Trout streams exclusive so the Brook Trout can continue to survive.
The method used is to temporarily shock or stun the fish in a stream so they can be identified and counted. The fish float to the surface but quickly recover.

The current to shock the stream is done with generators or battery packs strapped to your back. The person with the electrodes wears rubber gloves and waders so that only the fish are shocked and not the people. The National Forest Service has the equipment and they use volunteers to do the work. Once you strap the 45 pound battery pack to your back and put two 6 foot electrodes in your hands you immediately understand why they use volunteers. It is very strenuous, and after about 1/2 hour you are ready to give the battery pack to the next volunteer.

But it is very rewarding and even fun. You get to see how many and what size fish are in a stream. We counted 57 Brookies in about 1/2 miles of the stream. Brook Trout streams are usually very small, as in small enough to jump over. Also, Brookies like cold, clean water. And, like the streams, Brook Trout are small, especially in the Southeastern U.S. An 8" Brook Trout is a pretty good sized one. Many were between 4 and 8 inches. But, I think that many would agree that there is no more beautiful fish than a Brook Trout, especially when they are in their fall spawning colors.

Like I often say, "Having fun is hard work" and Saturday's adventure was both hard and fun.