Dec. 31 – Climbing Shuckstack 

Shuckstack Fire Tower via the Appalachian Trail – 12/30/16

I can’t believe another year is coming to an end. What a year 2016 has been. One of the many benefits of documenting our adventures in this space is looking back at the many memories and adventures that we did over the course of the year. I’m fortunate to have some time off during the Holiday season and I’m always trying to fit in a hike when I can. It’s always fun to try a new hike and yesterday I got that chance with two of my closest hiking buddies. Below is our trip report from a cold and windy Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Shuckstack Fire tower is a 60 ft structure that was built in 1934. It’s purpose was to keep an eye out for fires that would threaten the immediate area. It’s one of only several remaining towers still in the park, what more motivation did I need? I needed to experience this first hand. We started our journey on the NC side of the National Park, just above the massive Fontana Dam (Just so happens to be the largest dam this side of the Rockies)  This is where the Appalachian Trail enters the park and we would stay on this portion until we reach the short side trail that would take us to the tower.

The total time we spent on the AT was just over 3.5 miles in length or 7 miles round trip. This portion of the AT is particularly gruesome as you gain several thousand feet in elevation to reach Twenty Mile Ridge. This is the ridge in which the tower sits on. I would compare this climb to be tougher then that of LeConte or the Chimney’s. Make no mistake this is a hard climb but the payoff is so worth it.

I had heard through the internet and several books that the tower hasn’t been maintained in some time, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I worried if we would even be able to climb it if it was in such bad shape as everyone was telling me about. When we finally reached its location, I was pleasantly surprised that the overall condition of the tower was in good standing. The base of the tower all looked good and you could even see the remnants of a small shelter that once stood just beside of the tower. The staircase and steps were in excellent shape as we made our way up the tower. This day was already cold with temperatures around the 20’s, but what made it feel even colder was the very strong wind that was blowing into us the whole climb up the trail. It only picked up as we reached the summit and as we made our ascent up the tower. We were literally having to hold on for our life as we reached the top of Shuckstack.

 

Once you make it to the top of the steps you will enter a small covered perch that has a INCREDIBLE 360 degree unobstructed view of the area around it. From this point you can see Fontana dam and lake, Fontana Village, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest. I don’t know the exact visibility range but this particular day was very clear and I could see a incredible distance. No wonder they picked this location to place this fire tower. I will say that Once we entered the crows-nest of the tower it was in bad shape. The floors were the worst in my opinion. At any moment I wasn’t sure if i was going to fall through to my death, it was that bad. The sides of the perch were in decent shape and the windows were intact except for a few on each side. For the Tower to last much longer I would think that someone will need to renovate it at some point in the near future. All in all, we had a great experience and I really wish I could have stayed up there all day taking pictures of the awesome view but our fingers were literally freezing, so we gladly made out way down the AT back to the warmth of our vehicle. What a way to close out 2016.

 

Nov. 17 – Back to LeConte

Mount LeConte via Boulevard Trail – 10/10/16


It’s hard to imagine that it’s been 2 years since I last hiked Mt. LeConte. You can read about that experience HERE. Alot has happened since that last hike 2 years ago and the craziness of life has kept me from going back. When the opportunity became available to climb the mighty mountain once again I couldn’t pass it up. This would be my 4th time hiking LeConte and the previous times have always been via the wonderful Alum Cave Trail. This time I vowed to venture outside my comfort zone and try another route to the summit. Enter the long and winding Boulevard Trail.

 


Make no mistake, this trail is a BEAST! 17 miles roundtrip makes for a LONG day on the trails, but for the views it’s a gem from start to finish. The first third of the trail starts on the AT from Newfound Gap, It’s relative easy and enjoyable as it matches the route to another of my favorite spots…Charlies Bunion. Once you come to the split in the trail (Where Boulevard begins ) the trail immediately drops to a ridgeline that connects Mt. Kephart with LeConte. You’ll enjoy the drop until you realize that you’ll have to climb that guy on your return. This is one reason many people turn this hike into a loop (Up Boulevard, down Alum). Did I say this hike is beautiful? The views this particular day was gorgeous and at one point as we were making our way close to the top of LeConte we passed a clearing that we could clearly see our starting out point at Newfound Gap. As we reached LeConte we finally passed Myrtle Point and the actual summit of High Top before make our way to eat our lunch at Cliff Tops. This particular day was special because I got to visit with Phillip aka P-NUT,  He’s a buddy of mine that works on the crew at the LeConte Lodge. He took us  for a behind the scenes tour at the lodge, showing us the kitchen area and their bunks that they get to stay in during the season. Ultimately, I wish we could have stayed longer visiting and enjoying the weather up on the mountain but we had to get back on the ‘vard as we still had another 8 miles to knock out before the day was done.  I won’t comment on the return trip other than it was long and my knees were struggling as we made our way back to our vehicle. Advice: Hit the trail early and give yourself plenty on time because you’ll need it…Also, consider staying at the Lodge overnight or doing a loop and come down via another trail.

 

Oct. 4 – Cool air and cold water 

I was talking to my wife a few days ago and we shared that this time of year is our favorite season.

The cooler temperatures, the change of colors, football…. To me atleast it appears that winter and summer last forever but that when it comes to Fall, it’s here and it’s gone. It’s kinda funny because I just celebrated a pretty significant birthday (The big 3-0) and I appear to have the same thoughts about that as I do with fall. IT JUST GOES BY TOO QUICK!

The truth is that 30 is just a number and just like the seasons, the days will come and go. Here’s to enjoying those crisp mornings in October, the laughter of your daughter as she falls in your arms as she hugs you goodbye, and quiet moments with only you and God in His wonderful creation.

Sept. 22 – Paddling Citico Creek

Citico Creek – Sept. 5, 2016


 

Elizabeth and I finally got the chance to take out our kayaks for the first time earlier this month. Below is some pictures and a trip report from our first of hopefully many outings to the Citico Creek area on the Little Tennessee River. This area is a gem for paddlers and it’s about 5 minutes from where we live… Did I mention that I love living in East Tennessee?

 

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Elizabeth and I launching from the 129 side of upper Tellico lake. We will be paddling directly across the river (lake) to the mouth of Citico Creek.

It’s a short paddle across the river to Citico Creek. You’ll pass several islands that were used for Indian burial mounds, these are protected and are to be not disturbed. Crossing this portion of the river you’ll notice the water is very shallow in areas with a depth of only a few feet. Be mindful of submerged trees and stumps are scattered throughout this area.

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Once you reach the other side you’ll notice the mouth of Citico Creek and the immediate calmness of the water. From this point you can begin the relaxing paddle as you explore the creek. On this particular Saturday morning we were the first ones there but as we left on out way back to the ramp we passed 10-12 fellow paddlers out kayaking this great area.

As you paddle up the Citico you’ll notice several camping spots along the creek. I hope to try out these spots very soon (and post about my adventure). We only had a few hours on this day to explorer but we hope to return and continue our kayaking journey. I could not be more blown away by the sheer beauty of this natural area that’s literally in out backyard! Did I say that I love EAST TENNESSEE?!?!?

 

 

 

 

Aug. 18 – Journey on Middle Prong

Middle Prong Trail – July 15, 2016

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Last month I had the pleasure of hiking this trail with my good friend, Ryan. We were short on time for the day and needed to hike a trail that was “closer” to home. Enter, Middle Prong and it’s amazing waterfalls (4!!!!) and fascinating history (including an abandoned Cadillac and homesite) …. Here’s a trail that I’ve never hiked before (I’ve hiked West Prong ALONG time ago) and always seem to overlook it for the higher elevation hikes at Newfound Gap. Being a member of the Hike the Smokies Facebook page, I would always see pictures of this area and comments of people raving about this hike….you could say it finally intrigue me enough to venture out on my own and give it a try. I appreciate anytime I’m fortunate enough to spend time in the woods but I have to say I was blown away by this trail and everything it had to offer. Below you’ll find the trip highlights.

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