Monday, December 2, 2013

Summits # 336-338 - Mt. Kephart, Masa Knob and Charlies Bunion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

     I spent the final day of my Thanksgiving vacation hiking in a true mountain paradise - the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. I hiked north on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap in the center of the park over three incredible peaks. First was Mt. Kephart, whose 6,217 feet in elevation makes it the 22nd highest mountain in the Eastern US. Second was Masa Knob (5,680 ft.), named for George Masa, a Japanese-American photographer whose incredible photos of the Smokies were essential in helping the area become preserved as a National Park. Last was Charlies Bunion (5,564 ft.) which is one of the most well known peaks in the park and probably my favorite that I've summited this year.
     I spent most of the day hiking through the famous blue haze for which the GSMNP gets it's name. Often visibility was down to a few feet and snow flurries fell from the sky. I summited Kephart and Masa Knob in a thick fog and saw no signs that the weather would clear any time soon. I was so pleased as I turned the final corner to Charlies Bunion to see the clouds part for just a few minutes. I took as many pictures of the incredible view as I could before the clouds and snow rolled back in. It was almost as if the weather opened up for a few moments just for me, rewarding me for my long drive and early alarm clock. I ate lunch in the foggy silence before heading back south on the AT. It was a surreal moment that I'll remember forever.

Coldwater Spring Shelter on the AT near the summit of Mt. Kephart. Not a terrible place to have to spend a night. 

view from Charlies Bunion. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Summits # 296 and 297 - Tray Mountain and Yonah Mountain, GA

Fall in the North Georgia Mountains. It doesn't get much better.

brilliant fall colors on the AT climbing up Tray Mountain
Tray Mountain summit survey marker

looking south from Tray Mountain. Yonah Mountain is the hump shaped mountain in the center of the picture. 
Backpacker Magazine rated the view from Tray Mountain as the best in Georgia. I disagree, (Rabun Bald is probably my favorite) but as you can see it's still pretty great. This is the view north into the Nantahala National Forest. 
Yonah Mountain is used for rappel training by the Army Rangers.

view from the top of the cliffs on Yonah Mountain

Monday, September 9, 2013

Summits 251-255 - Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

     I spent the day Friday hiking in one of the crown jewels of Southern Appalachian backcountry - North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest. Located just south of Asheville, it's a stunning place that contain some of the highest peaks in the Eastern United States. The terrain is unlike anywhere else I've been this year, with grassy, open balds that offer incredible views from all directions. I spent most of the day on the Art Loeb trail climbing to the summits of Sam Knob, Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and Grassy Cove Top and I rose early the next morning and hiked to the rocky summit of Devil's Courthouse. The next time you're in Asheville, plan a side trip to Pisgah - It's a place you won't soon forget.

pretty standard view on a clear day in Pisgah 

Sam Knob summit view

late summer wildflowers in bloom. Sam Knob rises in the background.

Black Balsam Knob

Black Balsam Knob summit. At 6,214 feet, it's the 30th highest peak in the eastern United States.

The Art Loeb Trail winds between Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain

Wild Blueberries. And yes - they are delicious. 

Tennent Mountain summit

Devils Courthouse summit just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I hiked early Saturday morning in the dark so this was my only picture.

Looking Glass Rock

Monday, July 29, 2013

Summits # 210 and 211 - Wesser Bald and Wayah Bald, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

     First off I'd like to thank everyone that has donated to this worthy cause. For the second time I've hit my fundraising goal for the year and will (gladly!) raise the amount again. Thanks so much and let's keep it going. There's plenty of mountains left to climb. Your generosity is an inspiration.
     I spent the weekend with some friends in one of my favorite places on Earth - the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina. For an outdoorsman, this part of the country is simply paradise. Hiking, whitewater paddling, fishing, mountain biking - The Nantahala has it all. And to top it off the place is staggeringly beautiful. I spent some time hiking to the summits of Wesser and Wayah Bald on the Appalachian Trail along with paddling the chilly Nantahala River. Again, I'll let the pictures and video tell the story.

the AT just north of Tellico Gap near the summit of Wesser Bald

Wesser Bald fire tower

Wesser Bald

Wayah Bald fire tower

Nantahala River

Monday, June 17, 2013

Summits #169-171 - Buffalo Mountain, Virginia

Elev. 3,971 ft.

     My wife and I spent this past weekend in the beautiful rural town of Floyd, Virginia. It's the kind of place that should probably be a well known Appalachian vacation destination by now, complete with miniature golf and go kart tracks. Thankfully, it is not. And that's just the way most of it's residents like it. Life moves at a slow, steady pace in this part of the world and it's just about the most relaxing place you could possibly imagine. Just off the famous Blue Ridge Parkway (which winds it's way a few miles from town) lies Buffalo Mountain, the highest peak in Floyd County. I managed to hike the mountain all three days I was in town and was shocked to have the entire mountain pretty much to myself. The rocky, exposed summit offers breathtaking 360 degree views of the surrounding farms and woods. It's a beautiful spot. Just don't tell anyone - It's our little secret. 

Buffalo Mountain is named for it's Buffalo shaped "hump"

wildflowers if full bloom in SW Virginia

views from the summit

Buffalo Summit sunrise

Virginia sunset