Sun Kosi, Nepal 2017

From both Mary and me, many thanks again to Liam Kirkham, a British friend, who put this trip together GRG_LOGO_150pxfor everyone, and the staff at GRG’s Kayaking Adventures for making our trip down the Sun Kosi River another outstanding and rewarding river adventure. The following blog update was, once again, prepared and written by Mary. Yea…

Below is a short video that I put together that illustrates some of what it’s like to kayak and raft down the Sun Kosi River in Nepal. It can be best viewed if you change the YouTube setting to 720p or 1080p HD quality. Enjoy!

Filled with excitement about our adventure and a bit of dread anticipating two very long flights, we boarded the Turkish Airlines direct to Istanbul on the night of October 11th. Eleven hours, two meals, three movies, and several stretch and restroom breaks later, we arrived at the Istanbul airport about 4:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EST). After exploring the airport, we found a row of chairs to stretch out on and catnapped until it was time to head to the gate for our flight to Kathmandu. After approximately 7 more hours of flying time, our pilot announced, “Ladies, gentlemen, and dear children we have arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal.” It was now about 6:30 a.m. October 13th (4:15 p.m. EST October 12th).

Turkish Airlines Flight

We purchased our visas, passed through customs and met the friendly driver of our hotel van outside. After a suspenseful drive through the streets of Kathmandu, where cars drive on the left side of the road with no lanes, stop lights, passing laws, yield signs with many buses, vans, small cars and motorcycles honking horns and zipping around each other, we arrived at the International Guest House in Thamel. The hotel is surrounded by a tall brick wall with a beautiful garden in the center filled with fruit trees, tropical flowering plants, and intricate carvings: a peaceful, green oasis in the midst of a loud, dusty city. We checked in and followed a strong Nepali gentleman who carried all 3 of our very large bags up 6 flights of stairs to our room. We settled in, had breakfast in the garden dining area, and ventured out to explore Thamel.

Needless to say, it was a unique experience. The streets were quite narrow and bustling with traffic: mostly motorcycles, taxis, rickshaws and pedestrians. We passed shops of all kinds from raw poultry and fish, hemp backpacks, yak wool creations, cotton clothing, and “fake” North Face and other outdoor gear. There were restaurants tucked back in alleys with gardens and trees, hotels with gates and guards, stray dogs, and people of all ages and races walking through town. After wandering around soaking in the culture for a while, exchanging some US dollars for Nepalese rupees, we climbed the stairs up to Alchemy Pizza where we sat on the balcony and enjoyed lunch, a few Nepali Ice beers and people watching on the street below. Later, we returned to our hotel for a nap, dinner, and early bedtime.

Our second day in Kathmandu was Saturday which is the Hindu/Buddhist holy day, so the streets were quieter, and many shops were closed. We did a little shopping and then took a rickshaw ride with a kind Nepali gentleman to the Rum Doodle Bar, keeping our promise to our friend, Bob Sarratt, that we would visit there if at all possible. The book, The Ascent of Rum Doodle (written by W.E. Bowman and published in the UK in 1956) is a parody about a group of mountaineers who set out to climb the world’s highest peak “Rum Doodle” (elevation 40,000 1/2 feet), in the snowy Himalayan mountains. Rum Doodle Bar is a meeting place for Himalayan climbers who used to come and autograph the walls. Later they created large cardboard footprints for climbers to sign with details of their expeditions.

It was only about 10:30 a.m. so the bar was not open yet. While we hesitated outside for a few minutes deciding what to do, a young man approached and invited us in. He greeted us warmly and told us we were welcome to stay until 1:00 pm when they had a private party coming in. Another English-speaking young man gave us a tour, told us how the original bar had been destroyed in the earthquake of 2015, but they managed to save many of the famous signatures on the wall. We sat outside under streamers of Nepali prayer flags surrounded by tropical plants and trees and enjoyed an early lunch of homemade tortilla chips and delicious salsa, fish fingers and Everest beer. Another cool oasis in dusty Kathmandu. Our easy-going rickshaw driver waited and returned us to our hotel by a much quicker route than we possibly could have found by ourselves.

After another nap to recover from jet lag, we met our river adventure group, led by Liam Kirkham (a kayaking guide we met on our trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in 2013), and Maila, the owner of GRG’s Adventure Guides. After a brief orientation, we all walked down the Thamel streets to Electric Pagoda, a trendy restaurant that served Asian, Nepali, and International food. After a few introductions, we discovered that our group consisted of 2 Americans (us), Aris from Hong Kong, and 10 others (including Liam) all from the UK.

The next morning our group boarded a van and traveled through town to the top of a hill in Kathmandu Valley to the ancient Buddhist temple, Swayambhunath (also known as the Monkey Temple). As soon as we walked up the steps, there were monkeys running around all over the place. The reason that all the monkeys live there is that they are considered holy. The legend is that when Manjushri, the Buddhist god of wisdom and learning, was raising the hill which the stupa stands, he made his hair grow long, then head lice grew in it and later transformed into these monkeys. The stupa is the large white dome at the top of the temple which represents the entire world. The gold structure above the dome is painted with the eyes looking in all four directions representing the wisdom and compassion of Buddha as he awakened from the bonds of the world and reached enlightenment. The temple area was crowded with tourists, Hindu and Buddhist worshippers, and vendors selling all kinds of local trinkets. It was a fascinating place, but also very disheartening to see so much trash scattered around. It was difficult to understand why cleaning up daily trash and debris from the earthquake isn’t a priority in a religious temple and a popular tourist attraction.

Later that day, David and I took a long walk through the narrow streets to Durbar Square, a complex of Hindu and Buddhist temples, shrines, and palaces. Many of the ancient buildings there had suffered damage from the 2015 earthquake and were very slowly being rebuilt. Our English-speaking guide told us that the British and Americans had generously donated money for the rebuilding, but corrupt politicians had confiscated much of it. It was formerly the residence of the Nepali king, but is now a museum, the home of the “Kumari”, the young living goddess, and the sight of many festivals. On the way back to the International Guest House, we took accidentally took a wrong fork in the road and ended up taking the “scenic route” back. We were relieved and happy to finally see familiar streets and return to our hotel.

Our river adventure began the next morning as our gear and some spare kayaks were loaded onto a small truck while we walked a short distance to the GRG headquarters. GRG leads 8 multi day trips down the Sun Kosi each year, 4 in the late spring and 4 in October and early November. They also provide some 5 day trips down the other Nepali rivers during monsoon season. The kayaks were tied on top of one bus with the supplies, gear, and guides inside. We were all loaded onto another bus with our head guide, Ram, and after waiting in a rather long traffic jam in the Kathmandu, we headed out of town up into the hills for our three hour trek to the Sun Kosi River. After about an hour and a half traveling on windy, dirt and gravel roads, we stopped at a roadside restaurant/home for local Dal Bhat (lentil soup & rice), the traditional Nepali dish.

After our stop, we continued up and around beautiful hillsides and through small villages across a bridge and on to the wide beach of the Sun Kosi River. The local children came down to watch as we unloaded the kayaks, blew up 3 large rubber rafts, organized many plastic barrels full of food and supplies, and finally loaded and tied all the gear onto the rafts. By the time we left the beach, it had become cloudy and began to rain a little. We traveled a short distance down river and set up camp on a beach just as it was getting dark.

Each day of river life was full of beauty, fun, and adventure. According to Wikipedia, “The Sun Kosi’s headwaters are located in the Zhangzangbo Glacier in Tibet. Its upper course, the Bhote Koshi is known as Poiqu in Tibet. Both river courses together form one basin that covers an area of about 3,394 km2 (1,310 sq mi).” The beautiful grayish green Sun Kosi was cool and refreshing fed from far away glaciers, but not freezing cold. It’s long and windy course was surrounded at first by high hills, then flowed into a tropical jungle terrain, and finally ended in a wide floodplain.

Our daily routine was to rise early with the sunlight, locate the hot water thermos and instant tea or coffee, and warm up near the campfire that was restored from the previous evening. Soon mueslix and or porridge would appear followed by toast, eggs, sausages roasted with peppers and onions and baked beans (a British staple). After eating, we would break camp, load up the rafts, and dress in our river gear for the day. Our group consisted of 10 kayakers led by Uttar, Sagar, and Alex, 4 rafters guided by Akash on the blue raft, and 2 supply rafts oared by Ram and Shambu. The rafters included Joann and Rob from Australia, Sally from England, and me. The group of kayakers included David, Aries from Hong Kong, Liam, Ryan, Peter, Jo, Matt, Adam, Hannah, and John all from the UK.

Each day on the Sun Kosi brought a variety of experiences. We would paddle lazily through wide, calm stretches only to round a bend in the river and encounter giant haystack waves, huge holes, and crazy whirlpools. The water was a mild temperature and the air was mostly warm, but sometimes in the cooler early morning and late afternoon hours, those of us on the raft preferred to dodge some of the bigger waves to stay dry. On the wide expanses of river as it wound its way through the deep canyons, the kayakers looked like little toy boats in their bright orange, yellow, red and green boats paddling up, over, and through the varying wave and currents, catching the crazy eddies and surfing the many varied sizes of play holes.

At the beginning of the trip, we were surrounded by high, green hills covered with lush trees and terraced rice patties, boulders of all sizes, shapes, and colors and wide sandy beaches. Some days we would hear rustling in the trees only to look over and see hundred of monkeys running up and down trees and along the shore. One day the kayakers passed by a deep cave in the rock and disturbed a giant group of sleeping bats who then flew out over the river all around them. Often in the late afternoon, we’d see a figure on the riverbank with a long stick gently urging a small herd of goats and a couple of cows down to the riverbank for an afternoon drink. They were often accompanied by a couple dogs running around the shore and sometimes a pig or two.

We’d stop on a sandy bank around mid day for a lunch break. Often, as we approached, the local children would show up on the bank, jumping in the water to chase and grab onto the kayaks and play with the paddles. As our guides prepared lunch, we would dry out on the rocks, watch the children laughing and playing, and compare our morning experiences and grab a few cookies (or “biscuits” as the Brits would say) from the plate that Alex brought around. Lunch usually consisted of pasta salad, coleslaw, cut fruit- watermelon, apples, oranges, grapefruit, salami, yak cheese, and bread for sandwiches. After a while, we’d load back up and head on down the river for the afternoon. On the riverbank there were always people fishing, washing clothes, bathing, paddling dugout canoes and happy children playing. They called out to us enthusiastically waving and yelling. Some of the teens had Ipads or cameras and were snapping pictures of us as we were photographing them. Each time we passed under the many steel bridges spanning the river, villagers of all ages would be standing over the river watching and waving as we paddled by. I started to wonder why the children never seemed to be in school.

After questioning our guide, I learned that it was festival time in Nepal. Dashain is the most important festival and is the celebration of good prevailing over evil. During this festival, families return to their home villages and spend a couple of weeks with their families offering male ducks, goats, chickens, eggs, and coconuts to the goddess Durga. The elders give Tika (a red mark of the forehead made from vermillion, rice, and yogurt) and large swings made of bamboo poles are set up for the children.Bamboo_swings_on_Dasain_festival The next most important festival in Nepal is Tihar. According to Inside Himalyas magazine, “ In each of the three days, a different deity is worshipped: on the first day the crow, the messenger of Yama (the bringer of death); on the second, dogs, which are believed to be Yama’s custodian; and on the third, the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, the bringer of wealth. Lakshmi is worshipped by lighting houses with oil lamps, candles and colorful lights.” We were intrigued by the bamboo swings and the many twinkling lights from glowing from the villages at night.

One evening, our head guide, Ram, paddled across the river to purchase some vegetables and fresh eggs and returned with several flower necklaces from the local village celebration.

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These bright flowers were tied to the back of the rafts for the remainder of the trip. Late that night, we all were woken up by music and celebration from the village across river which lasted until the early hours of the morning. Akash, my raft guide shared the tradition of Bhai-Tika (Brother-Sister Day) . From this time on, he referred to the women on the trip as Didi (sister) and we in return called him Bhai (brother).

Most evenings, we’d pull up to a beach in the late afternoon, form a pack line to unload the supplies from the rafts, and as the guides began setting up their “kitchen”- a tarp surrounded by the barrels of food, supplies, and propane tanks for cooking, we would set up our tents, clean up, change into dry clothes, and spread out wet gear to dry. One of guides, usually Alex or Sagar, would be assigned to task of preparing the “groover” (river guide lingo for privy or outhouse). Their job consisted of finding a spot on the far end of camp and using a raft paddle to dig a rectangular hole about 8 inches wide, 15 inches long and around 3 feet deep. On each of the long sides, they would place 2 flat rocks which created a serviceable outdoor squat toilet. Then they would place 4 paddles around it and tie a plastic tarp to them create a privacy screen. Two clear plastic bags would then be tied to the paddles, one for fresh rolls of TP and the other for trash. After using this “toilet”, one would politely cover their deposit with sand and this practice kept the area basically scent free. Not exactly the Ritz, but it worked just fine. Speaking of sanitation, a hand washing station, complete with a large bucket of treated river water, a squirt bottle of soap, and a pitcher for rinsing was also part of the daily set up. Dish washing was a several step process, scraping, rinsing, washing with soap & a scrubber, rinsing 3 more times in treated water, and placing in the nylon rack supported by paddles to dry.

After set up was complete, we’d enjoy appetizers of popcorn, soup and light crunchy rice or corn crisps, beer, hot tea (the Brits love their tea time!), coffee, & sometimes Peter would concoct his own special drink which became known as “Peter Punch” and would have to recreated times for other drinkers. Dinners took often many hours to prepare due to lots of vegetable chopping and possibly a bit of raksi (local moonshine) consumption. The evening meal mainly consisted of chopped vegetables, combined with a meat and sauce, fried in batter, or mixed in a slaw or pasta dish. Baked beans and bread were always included and one evening we had an unusual lasagna that included thick pasta noodles, olives, various veggies, and melted yak cheese. As David commented when we weren’t quite sure what we were about to eat, most meals were “actually good”. After dinner, we usually sat around talking and laughing and enjoying the ambiance of only lighting being the campfire and small luminaries placed around our camp.

On the second or third day, we visited a temple at lunch time and encountered a group of about 15 young boys ranging from around age 7 to about 13. Our guide spoke to them and learned that they had left their homes and were living at the temple for one year to study religion. Most of the boys were dressed in a gold colored wraps and they were as curious about us as we were about them. Another day we stopped for lunch near a gigantic waterfall that would was as powerful any pressure washer. It was a popular spot for a great outdoor shower!

The most exciting river experience was when we reached Hakapur, the biggest rapid on the river. The wide expanse of the river curved around and squeezed down into a section about a quarter of its original size between a tall rock wall and a house sized boulder. It was definitely a Class V+! After the guides and kayakers scouted it for quite a long time, they all decided to portage around this enormous rapid. It took a lot muscles and sweat equity to move all three rafts up and over the large boulders, but safety was the priority. Soon after, came the second part of Hakapur without the giant rocks, but with some exceptionally large dicey holes and massive waves. Several of the kayakers took a swim. A little further down river, our passenger raft flipped completely over in a set of gigantic waves. We were rescued quickly by the kayakers and Akash jumped up on the overturned raft and with a little help managed to flip it upright again. No one was hurt, all the gear remained tied in, and we had one more adventure to share.

Below Hakapur, the Dudh Kosi enters and the river narrows into a jungle corridor with several other exciting rapids known as Rhino Rock and Roller Coaster. The next day, I managed to take another unintentional dip as our raft rounded Rhino Rock. As I was being rescued by a Sagar in his kayak, the supply raft right behind us was flipped over with of the two kayaks tied to it. They kayakers and other supply raft quickly maneuvered it to the riverbank, but it took some unloading and a good bit and time and effort to set it up right again, but once again, we were impressed that all the gear and supplies were tied down well and nothing but a couple of eggs were lost.

On our last night we camped on the prettiest and cleanest beach we had encountered the whole trip. The trash was the hardest part of the whole experience. It is mind boggling to travel down such a gorgeous, wild river, surrounded by picturesque hills and beaches, and see plastic bottles and all kinds of trash washed up on the shore. Trash also covers the streets, walkways and back alleys of all the small villages. There are some campaigns and incentives in the schools and around the country to recycle plastic and collect waste, but it will likely take some time for the people to change their habits.

Since we stopped a bit earlier than usual that afternoon, we were fortunate to take a short walk to a small village close to our camp. We walked up to what appeared to be a someone’s home, but also a small restaurant with an open area containing several plastic tables and chairs. It overlooked the scenic Tamur River which intersected with the Sun Kosi just below our camp. After sharing a celebratory beer with our group, David and I walked through the tiny village down to the bridge over the Tamur. Just as we reached the middle of the narrow, shaky structure, several young teenage boys came running onto the bridge, jumping and bouncing it and laughing happily at our surprise. They passed by us and continued on across still giggling loudly at their joke on us. As we headed back to the village, we passed a young man, woman and teenage girl. The young man stopped and greeted us in very fluent English. We enjoyed a short conversation with him about his home and family. When we returned to the village, we were fascinated watching a gentleman plucking a chicken and roasting it over the fire, while the goats, cows and little chicks rummaged around the yard for scraps. Liam joked around & laughed with the precious little children who were quite happy to make silly face and pose for photos with him.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset and enjoyed our last campfire together joking around and playing silly games led by our fun-loving guides. They were always joking, laughing, singing and playing tricks on each other while they rafted, kayaked, cooked, and set up and took down camp. The local children spent hours watching us all at camp and helping them with the camp chores. They loved to play with the kayaks, paddles, and the soccer and bocce balls that Liam brought along. The beautiful smiles and easy laughter of the Nepali children added so much joy to our experience.

Our last morning on the river began with a few small rapids and waves before the river broke out of the valley into a vast wide plain which would eventually lead to the Bay of Bengal. We pulled up to a concrete embankment and worked together to unload all the gear and carry it up to the roadside at the top of the hill. Here we all changed into dry clothes, the guides deflated and packed up the rafts and we headed down the street to a family’s small home where our guides prepared our final lunch. As we waited for lunch, we watched many buses pass by on the road totally loaded with passengers inside and on the top. Also, passing by were tiny three wheeled taxis, and small cars packed full of families with children. Next to the home where we ate, we snapped photos of the largest black hog I’ve ever seen, played with several precious baby goats, fed a few stray dogs, and dodged chickens of varying sizes pecking around the outside of the building. As we went in to serve our lunch plates, we noticed a small area where their sleeping mats were placed, their toothbrushes stuck in the slats under the metal roof, a large ceramic pot on the fire pit for cooking, and strangest of all, a copy of a book about computer programming sitting on the shelf. Living in the Western world at such a fast pace and surrounded by so much stuff and so many modern conveniences, we were struck by the simplicity of their world.

After lunch, the GRG bus arrived. The kayaks were all loaded on top, the gear and supplies in the back, and then we all climbed in for the trip up the winding gravel road around the mountain and down the hill to a small, crowded village. Here we followed our guides into the dirt streets dodging trash, cows, people and dogs to a small restaurant/home where they took quick showers and were served Dal-Bhat and we enjoyed the shade, fans, and viewing photos of some of Nepal’s original British river guides from years past.

After leaving the village, we spent a couple of hot hours dozing on the bus ride continuing down the dusty roads until at last came to a small city with asphalt roads and reached the local airport. Here we said goodbye to our guides except Ram and proceeded to the airport cafe where we waited until Ram instructed us to check our gear and get boarding passes. After waiting good while longer, during which time the power went out a couple of times, we boarded a plane to return to Kathmandu. By the time, we reached the International Guest House in Thamel, it was close to 9 o’clock. We checked in, laid out our wet gear around our room to dry and walked down the road for pizza with most of our group. After a short night, David and I headed to the airport very early the next morning.

Our flight from Kathmandu was delayed so we missed our connection in Istanbul. After several hours trying to communicate with airport personnel who spoke English, but with a very heavy accent that neither of us could understand, we finally purchased visas, wound our way through the long customs line for the second time and at last found the Turkish Airlines hotel desk. Soon we were taken by van to a lovely hotel and given vouchers for dinner and breakfast. We really wanted to see more of Istanbul, but it was getting close to dark and since we’d been traveling since before sunrise that morning, we decided to just relax. The next morning, we were shuttled back to the airport, passed through at least five security and passport checks and at last boarded our plane for the 12-hour flight back to Atlanta. We were exhausted, but thankful for another amazing adventure and very grateful to arrive home to our beautiful Georgia mountains about 11 o’clock that night.

A Real Nat Geo Trip and Adventure! Thanks for following along!

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Middle Fork Salmon River, ID / Wyoming

From both Mary and me, many thanks again to Bob Sarratt, who put this trip together for everyone, and the fine folks and staff at Mountain Travel Sobek Mountain Travel Sobekfor making our trip down the Middle Fork Salmon River another EPIC outdoor river adventure. The following blog update was prepared and written by Mary and was taken from her notes that she kept on our trip. You will notice that we didn’t stop on the river to take photos running the many whitewater rapids along the way. However, I did have a helmet cam through a number of the fun whitewater sections. Below is a video that I put together that illustrates some of what it’s like to kayak down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Best viewed if you change the YouTube setting to 720p or 1080p HD quality. Enjoy!

Day 1 – Road Trip – Sunday, June 18, 2017
Our journey began on a cloudy Sunday morning, leaving Georgia driving past the familiar rapids of the Ocoee River and anticipating the unknown whitewater of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. After stopping at the Sarratt’s house in Nashville to pick up kayaks and gear for Bob, Dave, Andrew, Paul, and Jimmy, David and I continued on to Mt. Vernon, IL for the night.

Day 2 – Road Trip
We spent a long day in the driving across the wide open spaces of Nebraska on and ended our day in Kearney, NE near the Wyoming border.

Day 3 – Road Trip
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of our third day was spent driving across southern Wyoming. We decided to look for a place to camp and after driving down the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway and dodging many free ranging cows crossing the road, we found a tiny Forest Service campground on a hill overlooking the Green River Basin. We were quickly greeted by the campground manager, a friendly and quite talkative guy, who had spent his summers there for several years. After setting up camp, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a nice cool night.

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Day 4 – Road Trip
Waking up to a gorgeous sunlit view of the gorge, we left the Green River area and continued our drive across Wyoming and into Idaho. About halfway across Idaho, we turned north on Highway 93/75 and stopped for the night in the small town of Hailey.

Day 5 – Road Trip
We were so glad that we stopped in Hailey and didn’t drive on to Stanley the night before because our morning drive took us through the beautiful Sawtooth National Forest on one side and the Salmon-Challis National Forest on the other. We also passed through  Ketchum and the Sun Valley Ski Area. After Sun Valley, we drove over a breathtaking pass where we got our first view of the Salmon River and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. We were beyond excited knowing that we were going to spend a week in this magnificent place. After arriving in Stanley and checking in to the Mountain Village Resort,

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Stanley Idaho – Mountain Village Resort

we spent the afternoon enjoying being out of the car- exploring the tiny town, visiting a few shops, enjoying a cold beverage or two on a bar deck viewing the Sawtooth Mountains. Bob, Sandra, Joe, Stan, Paul, Jimmy, Dave, and Jen arrived from the Boise airport just in time for our trip briefing on porch of the River 1 Store overlooking the Salmon River. Taylor from Mountain Travel Sobek (who Bob and several of the guys knew from their Alta ski trips) gave us an idea of what to expect and passed out dry bags for our gear. We also met Greg and his granddaughter, Jill, from Colorado. The others settled in the motel & we met for a late dinner in town at Sawtooth Luce’s, an old log cabin with terrific atmosphere and delicious food. Later, Bob and Joe headed to Ketchum to pick up Andrew and Greg, whose flight had been delayed, and the rest of the group turned in to prepare for an early day on Friday.

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IMG_1061BDay 1 – Middle Fork of Salmon River Trip – Friday, June 23, 2017
Most of our group met for breakfast at the Mountain Village restaurant and then we all met Taylor in front of the motel office with our dry bags packed and ready to begin our river adventure. Our bus driver, Jessie, and Taylor took us on a two hour ride first heading north up the highway and then winding through several long forest service roads to the launch site at Boundary Creek.

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Boundary Creek Put In

After meeting Sage our Sobek trip leader, having a quick safety briefing, and watching the rafts slide down the wooden tracks to the river, we put on wetsuits, dry tops, and splash gear and began our Middle Fork trip in the late morning.

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Sage McDermott

The river was running fast, about 9 mph and 6.5 cfs (cubic feet per second), due to this area of Idaho getting an abundance (40 inches more than usual) of snowfall last winter. Our trip ensemble included 6 kayaks, 1 blue raft for paddlers, 5 yellow supply rafts, 6 guides (Sage, Taylor, Joseph, Robbie, Carl, Pat), George- the Sobek food packer taking his first river trip, and 14 trip participants – Bob, Sandra, Dave, Jen, Paul, Jimmy, Stan, Joe, Andrew, Greg, Grandpa Greg, Jill, David and me. Some of the group kayaked, some rode on the yellow rafts and others paddled in the blue paddle raft guided by Sage. We were surprised to find out that we were one of the few trips launching from Boundary Creek. The other raft companies opted to fly in and launch 25 miles further downstream due to the high water. Ours was Sobek’s third trip of the year and the first trip this year to run the entire 100 miles. Soon after departing, we encountered Sulfur Slide, Velvet Falls, and several other big

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Velvet Falls – Yes Sir…That’s A Big Hole on River Right!!

rapids. Though not as technical as they may have been in lower water, the waves were tall, the holes were huge, and the water was fast moving and COLD! No one complained about wearing wetsuits! We stopped for a picnic at one of the few reachable eddies and enjoyed chips, cookies, nuts, and fruit while the guides prepared an amazing spread of homemade bread, sandwich meats, cheese, pickles, avocados and various condiments.

After eating, we loaded up and continued through The Chutes and Powerhouse Rapids to Sheepeater Camp and Hot Springs at Mile 13.1 for our first night on the river. After arriving and unloading, our guides set up our roomy dome tents while we unpacked and set up cots. We each were provided a comfortable wide cot and a cushy sleeping pad as well as a warm sleeping bag. The guides set up folding chairs and tables complete with cheery red pepper tablecloths. We changed into dry clothes, visited the hot springs behind our camp, learned proper “groover” * and hand washing etiquette, relaxed and played cards. Soon the drink cooler appeared along with appetizers of cheese, crackers, and nuts. Not long after, we were treated to a dinner of grilled salmon, spinach salad, couscous, and asparagus. The best was dessert baked in the Dutch oven, my personal favorite, carrot cake! After dinner Jimmy was introduced to the art of river adventure storytelling due to the fact that he became our first group member to join the “Middle Fork Swimmers Club”. He did an awesome job relaying his whitewater experience! Our first day ended with a beautiful sunset, a warm campfire and many early bedtimes.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA*The groover gets its name from the rectangle shaped military ammo cans that were used for portable toilets in the early days of river trips. After a trip to sit on the “can”, significant “grooves” were often left on the back side of the user’s legs. “Groover” jokes and stories became part of the daily entertainment throughout the trip.

Day 2 – Middle Fork Trip
Waking up in the green meadow beside the rapidly flowing Salmon River was pretty incredible, but adding just brewed Starbucks coffee, French toast with fresh strawberries and maple syrup made a great beginning to our second day. Some of the group enjoyed an early morning soak in the Sheepeater Hot Springs,IMG_1109 but many just sat around the table laughing and enjoying breakfast and the warm morning sunshine. After packing up camp, we loaded up and headed through Artillery and Lake Creek Rapids and then stopped to scout Pistol Creek Rapid.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The canyon narrows at this spot and the waves can be dicey in high water. Each time we stopped on the river bank, there were large groups of butterflies gathered on the sandy beaches. We later heard that they are very attracted to the scat of geese that is found on the sandy shores and also according to scientists “it’s not uncommon in certain areas to see a whole mess of butterflies sitting on the ground, sucking up mud.P1010684B This practice is known as “mud-puddling” or simply “puddling,” and scientists believe certain butterfly species do it to round out their salt, nitrogen, protein, and amino acid intake”. (Just couldn’t resist adding a little science in!)  After scouting, a decision was made to go ahead and run Pistol Creek carefully avoiding the giant hole. We continued on past Indian Creek Ranger Station and launch site and watched a private group sliding their raft down the wooden planks into the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Later, we enjoyed a great lunch of chicken tacos and then took a short hike to the foundation of a home of former quartz miners. We continued hiking up the hill to view their old quartz mine and on around the surrounding area near the river to see leftover deposits of quartz and also the former dugouts of the Sheepeater Indians who made their home in the canyon years ago. Everywhere we walked, we were surrounded by giant Ponderosa Pines and firs. Short history fact- the Native Americans used pine resin for medicinal purposes such as mixing it with water to make a tea for curing stomach ulcers and arthritis, applying to cuts to stem blood flow, using it like glue to waterproof and repair items, and also as a fire starter.
We returned to the river, passed by Indian Creek and set up camp at Marble Creek around Mile 32. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter getting settled, Bob and I noticed a corn snake slithering right through the middle of our tent area. We didn’t share our discovery until a few days later as some campers may not have slept well that night knowing the close proximity of any kind of snake! After enjoying delicious dinner of spinach lasagna and salad, Bob, David, Jimmy and Dave could not resist the challenge of climbing up the high hill above camp. About 20 minutes after they began as we watched them separate and choose various routes on their steep climb up, we noticed a small shirtless figure to their left. Grandpa Greg had taken off up the hill and appeared to be quickly gaining on them. He beat them all to the top where they enjoyed some amazing views and displayed a quintuple “full moon”, which we at camp fortunately were too far away to appreciate.

They all returned safely, tired, sweaty and full of “manly” vigor! During their hike, Jill and I took a wildflower walk and discovered a beautiful white flower which the guides told us was the state flower of Idaho, the Syringa. She shared her flower pictures with everyone and the Syringa became our favorite flower to look for the rest of the trip. Night two ended with another campfire and a sky full of twinkling stars.IMG_1078

Day 3 – Middle Fork River Trip
Made to order omelets and sausage were on the breakfast menu for our third day. We spent just a short time traveling on the river before we stopped at a series of hot spring pools on the riverbank.

There were 3 pools up on the hill with a log placed in just the right position to create a hot spring shower that poured into the river. It was such a fun place to stop and relax! We then went on through Jackass Rapid and also stopped to see pictographs created on the canyon walls most likely by the Nez Pierce or Sheepeater Indians.

It was a busy rescue day as Andrew, Dave, and Paul were tossed around in their kayaks by some rogue waves and eddies. All three if them took a swim within a short time frame. In the late afternoon, we stopped for camp at White Creek around Mile 47. This was a narrow camp where all of our tents were very close to each other, the riverbank, the dining area, and the kitchen. Some people played the outdoor game of “Koob” (a game of wooden block throwing), while others were just content to enjoy the most amazing guacamole, salsa, chips, and margueritas.

Why is it that food always tastes better in the outdoors? To complete the night’s meal, we enjoyed tacos and brownies. Due to the 3 newly initiated members of the “Middle Fork Swimmers Club”, we were treated to unique and creative stories of river excitement all beginning with “And there I was…” sprinkled with a bit of truth and a great deal of exaggeration!

Joseph, our senior trip guide shared an interesting story of a couple of infamous kayakers running some rather impossible rapids. A few people missed the end of the story likely due to a bit of beverage consumption more than Joseph’s soothing voice.

Day 4 – Middle Fork River Trip
Breakfast today began with the usual Starbucks coffee and fresh cut fruit and ended with large buttery croissants filled with Canadian bacon and cheese. Delicious as usual! Our river adventures started with Tappan Falls and a visit to Daisy Tappan’s cabin. She and her family lived there for most of the 19th century. It is open for visitors and still used as a hunting camp. She was quite a remarkable and independent woman for her time. The homesite is beautiful with her horse pasture and fruit orchard still close by. Someone even discovered the evidence of some prankster deer hunters in a pine beside the river.

We lunched under the shade of a large stand of Ponderosa pines after taking a short walk to see the home of a hermit who spent his years living in a very small cave on the riverbank.

In the afternoon, we visited Flying B Ranch which is about 90 miles from the nearest road and only accessible by river or air travel. We took a short walk past the green irrigated fields, through the horseshoe turntable gate to visit their tiny store before resting and eating ice cream treats in the lush grassy front yard. The owner had just repainted the outhouse complete with a river and canyon theme and patriotic decorations. It sort of did make using a pit toilet just a tiny bit nicer. We hit the river again to enjoy Haystack, Earthquake Rock, and Jack Creek Rapids before stopping close to Mile 74 at Wilson Creek Camp. Wilson Creek had only a small beach area and our tents had to be placed a short walk down a path through the bushes to a larger grassy area. The tents were erected just before the first rainstorm hit us. The skies cleared and several people enjoyed some good fly fishing spots before a dinner of huge grilled pork chops, rice, cornbread and pineapple upside down cake.

After dinner, the skies grew dark again and before we could secure the big green tarp, we were hit with quite a downpour. Holding the tarp over our heads and enjoying some red hot flavored libations kept most everyone content singing and laughing through the deluge. Sage shared with us the story of a former Salmon River resident, George Norton- “a man of nerve”, who survived some pretty crazy situations. The rain continued off and on through the night, but we slept warm and dry in our tents.

Day 5 – Middle Fork River Trip
After breakfast of eggs made to order, bacon, hash brown, and toast, Sage announced to us that today was “Waterfall Day”. While the guides were loading the rafts, the rest of us began our day as we had the past few days with “Stretching with Jill”. Jill would check with Andrew, the stretching leader, and round up the rest of the group in a circle for our morning stretching/yoga sessions. She would choose how we began and would outdo all of us with her 7 year old energy, flexibility and coordination. She loved this time of day and made it even more fun for us with her precious smile and enthusiasm.2017-06-27 09.28.23 We loaded up on the boats and stopped fairly quickly for another view of the Native American pictographs low on a canyon wall. It was really interesting to see the people, animals and hunting scenes depicted and left on the walls from such a long time ago. We continued on down the Salmon through Waterfall Creek Rapid to Big Creek Bridge. We walked across the bridge from the west side of the river and saw one of the few trails that leads out of the canyon. We hiked up to a gorgeous waterfall that we had seen from the river below just before we passed under the bridge.

Later, we stopped for lunch at a spot with an great view of the tall canyon walls. We quickly cleaned up and headed back to the river before the rain hit again. We were cold and wet, and almost too tired to take a short hike uphill to one more narrow waterfall flowing down from some extremely high walls of rock. Legend is that an old river hermit lived there and did not like the being disturbed by people running the river. He was said to have yelled and thrown rocks down on visitors who came near his home.  After our short hike, feeling a bit cold and very wet, we stopped for the day at Cradle Camp near Mile 88. To our surprise, some of our guides had gone ahead and set up our tents before we arrived. Changing into dry clothes, enjoying drinks, journal writing and card games under the big green tarp was a nice way to end the day. Taylor took orders and grilled delicious gigantic steaks for dinner.

Dessert was strawberry shortcake and s’mores around the fire, but not before the dress up clothes bag was brought out and costumes were selected. Greg’s jewel green negligee paired with his slinky leopard print robe was definitely the finest of all the outfits!

After much laughter and many photos, we were treated to trumpet and harmonica playing by Joseph and Bob. It was bittersweet moment enjoying the beautiful sunset and clear night skies, but also realizing that it was our last night on the river.

Day 6 – Middle Fork River Trip – Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Our last day began with cereals, yogurt, granola, eggs, and toast while enjoying views of the morning sunshine on the canyon wall opposite our camp on the hill. Jen spotted some bighorn sheep high up and we took turns spotting them with the binoculars. After our final take down and load up, we proceeded through lots of fun waves with names like Rubber, Hancock, House of Rocks, Jump Off and Goat Creek Rapids. Just before we reached the confluence with the Main Salmon River, Joseph pulled out his trumpet and serenaded us with “Amazing Grace”.  The notes of that familiar song echoing through the majestic canyon created a unique moment to pause and consider the amazing wilderness that we had been privileged to experience for the past five days.

Shortly after, the Middle Fork joined the main river and we exited at Cache Bar Ramp right around Mile 100. Loading the kayaks onto the rafts, shedding our river gear, and changing into dry clothes, we said goodbye to six of our fantastic guides and watched them float away. After a short wait and taking a few more photos, Sage directed us to our bus and we headed for the town of Salmon. We enjoyed a lunch stop for tacos, watermelon, and cookies provided by a small store en route and then went on to the Sobek warehouse where we returned the last of our gear, thanked and said goodbye to Sage, and reboarded the bus for the two hour drive back to Mountain Village Resort in Stanley. We arrived in the late afternoon, said our goodbyes to Jill and Grandpa Greg, who were hitting the road to Colorado Springs, cleaned up and met up for a final dinner at Sawtooth Luce’s.PSX_20170628_171734

Day 7- Stanley, Idaho
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at Stanley’s rustic town cafe and shopped for t-shirts and souvenirs. Most of the gang returned to Boise for their flights home. David and I were fortunate to get to drive along the scenic highway paralleling the main Salmon River back to the town of Salmon to load the kayaks up for our trip to Wyoming for an additional week enjoying the Tetons and Yellowstone with some more friends and family. Our Middle Fork River adventure was officially over, but the stories and memories of it will last a lifetime.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park – June 30, through July 7, 2017
We met up with Mark, Jodi, and Taylor on Friday evening at the Kudar Motel in Jackson.  The next day, Shuana, Greg, and Shelby, our friends from Mineral Bluff arrived.  We spent the next 5 days showing them our favorite spots in Grand Teton National Park, and taking the boat ride across Jenny Lake and hiking to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, back around Jenny Lake,  and to String and Leigh Lakes.  Some of us went horseback riding in the rain near Teton Village and we all enjoyed dinner at the Mangy Moose. We had an exciting raft trip down the Snake River with Teton Whitewater becoming our guide’s first “dumptruck” raft of the season allowing David to practice his kayak rescue skills.

The 4th of July was a fun day.  Taylor, David, and Greg chose the long hike to The Meadows in Garnet Canyon as well as a side trip to Surprise Lake. Shelby, Shuana, Jodi, Mark and Mary enjoyed a fun hike to Phelps Lake Overlook. That evening we all went to dinner at the Snake River Brewing Company, on to the Jackson Hole Rodeo, and ended the night watching fireworks over Snow King Mountain.

On July 5th, we headed up to Yellowstone stopping to visit West Thumb geyser basin. We went on from there to the Old Faithful area and Mystic Geyser Basin. Our day ended in West Yellowstone, Montana with a great production of “Singin’ in the Rain” at the Playmill Theatre. The next day brought views of elk resting along the Madison River, geyser basin exploring in Norris, and watching bison herds in Hayden Valley. We took many stops along the way to see the canyon and the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The late afternoon was spent stopping by Tower Falls and in Mammoth watching several herds of elk grazing near the road. We spent the night in Gardiner, MT, enjoyed K-Bar pizza and sunset views of Electric Peak and the Yellowstone River. The next morning we headed south, waited in lots of road construction traffic and ended our trip with a “bear jam”.

It was great to see and be able to photo document a grizzly and her cub on the way out of the east entrance of Yellowstone heading home. Back in the days when we worked in the park, you always had to have photo documentation of your bear or bears sighting for it to actually count or for folks to believe you. Seeing bears and visiting Yellowstone never gets old and we always love sharing our favorite park with friends and family.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What a Trip! THE END!

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Big Whitewater Plans for 2017

Well, I hate to say it, but my plans to start hiking the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) have moved out to yet another year. Why? I guess you could say that those river gods are just calling me stronger these days. I’ve decided to take advantage and join some other folks on two rather large kayaking adventures this year. This summer Mary and I will be doing a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho through the Salmon-Challis National Forest. It’s the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Continental United States. After spending more than a week there, and paddling on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, we plan to head east just a bit to the mountains and rivers in Wyoming and Montana. The Tetons,  Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas will always remain close to our hearts after spending many summer seasons working there back in our younger years.

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Middle Fork, Salmon River – Photo by: Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures

I plan to spend the rest of my summer and early fall camping, playing and kayaking here in the Southeast on my home rivers like the Toccoa, Ocoee, Tellico, Nantahala, Tallulah and Chattooga.

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Double Trouble, on the Ocoee River, Tennessee

In the late fall Mary and I will once again head out for another big river adventure on the other side of the world in Nepal. We plan to spend several days exploring Nepal and the Kathmandu area before embarking on a eight day trip kayaking, rafting and camping down the Sun Kosi River.

Originating near Mount Shisha Pangma in Tibet, the Sun Koshi which if translated in English means the ‘River of Gold’ runs eastward through Nepal draining most of the eastern portion of the Himalayas. From the put-in at Dolalghat to the take-out at Chatra in far-eastern Nepal, the warm water of the Sun Kosi surges, snakes and winds its way through 270km of some of Nepal’s most remote countryside. At the right flow this river journey is an incredible combination of exhilarating whitewater, beautiful scenery and glorious evenings on white sandy beaches. It is truly breathtaking, and backed by its popularity is considered by many to be one of the world’s 10 classic river journeys.

It’s quite an experience to begin a river trip, barely 60 kms from the Tibetan border, and end the trip looking down the hot, dusty gun barrel of the North India Plain just 8 days later.

During the monsoon season though, the river is high and wild, and definitely not for the fainthearted. Swept along by the pulsing waters, maneuvering through boiling narrow channels and dodging obstacles, the river dances through corridors of lush forest  then accelerates through leaping waves and roaring drops. There are dozens of adrenalin pumping rapids, as well as miles of calmer water to relax, reflect on the beauty of this remote area and totally unwind.   ~ Makalu Adventure Group

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Sun Kosi River, Nepal – Photo by Unknown

So needless to say, Mary and I are looking forward to a great summer and fall in 2017 on both the water and in the woods. Let’s Roll!

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My Pinhoti Trail Thru Hike

img_3995I just finished my Pinhoti Trail thru hike a couple of weeks ago and for the first time I wasn’t a complete purist on the trail. I skipped over a very small section at Strawberry Mountain around the Lafayette area where I was enjoying a break from the trail (or the Georgia logging roads) visiting with some great friends and family. I’m still all good with that decision. If I knew then what I know now about the Georgia Pinhoti sections, I would have skipped out on a whole lot more than I did. More on that topic in a bit.

After talking with lots of locals who have lived all of their lives within a ten mile radius of the Pinhoti Trail, I was pretty amazed  that they had no idea about its existence.  So I figured they weren’t the only ones. So what is the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail and where does it go? Here’s a little history and description of the trail. ~ Wikipedia

 The Pinhoti Trail is a long-distance trail, 335 miles long, located in the states of Alabama and Georgia. The trail’s southern terminus is on Flagg Mountain, near Weogufka, Alabama, the southernmost peak in the state that rises over 1,000 feet. (The mountain is often called the southernmost Appalachian peak, though by most geological reckonings, the actual Appalachian range ends somewhat farther north in Alabama.) The trail’s northern terminus is where it joins the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia.

The Pinhoti Trail is a part of the Eastern Continental Trail and the Great Eastern Trail, both very long-distance US hiking trails connecting multiple states.

The north terminus is approximately 70 miles west of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Georgia has about 164 miles of the trail, and Alabama contains the other 171 miles of the 335-mile-long trail.

pinhoti-se-mapFrom the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association website: “The original plan for the Appalachian Trail was laid out in 1925 at the first Appalachian Trail Conference. This plan showed a main trail running from Cohutta Mountain in north Georgia to Mount Washington in New Hampshire. This plan also proposed a spur trail from Mt. Washington to Mount Katahdin in Maine and one from the Georgia Mountains into Northern Alabama. The spur in Maine was completed in 1940, while the spur into Alabama has yet to be blazed. However, the effort to make this Alabama spur trail a reality is underway and is the result of persistent work of many groups, individuals, agencies and organizations.”

Construction of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail began in 1970 within the Talladega National Forest in east central and northeast Alabama. In 1977, the Talledega National Forest portions of the trail were designated a National Recreation Trail. By 1983, 60 miles of trail had been constructed and Mike Leonard of the Alabama Wilderness Coalition proposed connecting the Pinhoti to the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. The U.S. Forest Service and Alabama’s Forever Wild land trust aided in the acquisition of major wilderness tracts. The Pinhoti Trail currently travels through some of those acquired lands and others in which it is planned to go through.

The Pinhoti Trail was initially completed in February 2008, and officially opened to the public on March 16, 2008. Efforts continue to improve the trail, mainly involving moving road walk sections of the trail onto trails away from the road. A new southern terminus of the trail at the base of Flagg Mountain, opened in March 2015.

For many years, Alabama and Georgia hiking groups have been advocating for U.S. Congress to officially designate the Pinhoti Trail as a part of the Appalachian Trail — a move that would make Flagg Mountain the southern terminus of the AT. ~ Wikipedia

This is just my opinion, but while the Alabama sections of the Pinhoti Trail are very well done, the Georgia sections have a long way to go before Flagg Mountain would ever be considered as a new southern terminus for the Appalachian Trail. Once you cross the Alabama / Georgia state line and approach the Jackson Chapel Trailhead, the trail really changes and takes a turn for the worse in Georgia. The entire Pinhoti Trail throughout the state of Georgia is mainly made up of asphalt roads, logging roads and forest service roads with small amounts of wood trails interconnecting them. If someone is seeking out a true trail and nature experience, I found most of the scenery, with the exception of a few areas along the way, to be less than appealing from the Jackson Chapel Trailhead to at least the Cohuttas or the Dennis Mill Trailhead. I’m sure many people will have different opinions, but that’s the way I saw the Georgia Pinhoti sections. On top of that, the AL/GA Databook is not current or up to date from the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website. In my opinion, if the information from the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website is not current or correct, it should be removed until it can be revised to reflect the actual routes of the trail. The Georgia Pinhoti would be very wise to learn from Alabama sections on how a trail should be marked, blazed and documented. All that being said, I still enjoyed the long distance hike and trail life is still awesome.

Below is a short recap on my October Pinhoti hike along with some photos. If anyone is interested you can view my original Pinhoti hike plan here: davids-pinhoti-trail-hike-plan-2016

Day 1, Friday, October 7th: Mary and I drove from Mineral Bluff, Georgia down to Flagg Mountain where she dropped me off at the trailhead late that afternoon. My original plan was to just hike in 2.1 miles to the Weogufka Creek Shelter and spend the night there and get an early start the next morning. I got to the shelter and figured out I had enough daylight to push on closer to where the woods trail ends and the road walk picks up, so I ended up camping very close to the last footbridge at mile 4.7 that first evening.

Day 2, Saturday, October 8th: I got an early start the next morning and began my road walk to the Trammel Trailhead. From there I got a ride back into Sylacauga, Alabama where I met up with a friend who wanted to hike with me for several days. Olivia has a real interest in possibly hiking the Appalachian Trail one year soon and she wanted to experience what trail life would be like. I realize now that she picked the best section to join me on which was from the Trammel Trailhead (mile 22.9) to CR 24 Crossing / Morgan Cascade (mile 91.5).

Day 3, Sunday, October 9th through Day 5, Tuesday, October 11th: We got another early morning start out of Sylacauga back to the Trammel Trailhead. We really wanted to leave Olivia’s car more in town than out at the trailhead, but never had much luck with a ride, so we decided to just go ahead and leave her car parked at the trailhead itself. It all worked out fine. That day, including an extra two mile walk down and back to Hatchet Creek for water, we camped somewhere around +/-mile 36. This section of the trail was awesome with lots of ridge walking and views off both sides of the trail. It was all fun for Olivia until I pointed out a rather large snake skin in the middle of the trail, belonging to an old friend of mine, a Timber Rattler (see my PCT blog). I think I remember the comment from Olivia was that she was “completely paralyzed”. I’m pretty sure she just wanted to get out of those rocky areas where those snakes love to live. Due to the severe drought, water was really tough to manage along the way. The cool thing is we ran up on two different locations where a trail angel left a water cache for hikers. It was just awesome and very much appreciated!

Day 6, Wednesday, October 12th: As usual, when I begin seeing a little light in the morning I’m up and going. Olivia began to get into the routine that I like of trying to get 10 before 10 (10 miles of hiking in before 10 a.m.) and we did pretty well on most days. Our day was filled with wonderful overlooks, a climb up Stairway to Heaven, Cheaha, and Hernandez Peak, the highest elevation on the Alabama Pinhoti.

Our data book information mentioned that once we reached AL 281, the Cheaha State Park entrance was down the road to the left 0.2 miles. We decided to head that way in hopes of possibly just being able to buy a Coke somewhere. We were in luck, even though the little store was closed because the power had gone off, the young lady there opened the store up and allowed us to purchase several refreshing drinks. It didn’t take long until we also figured out that a restaurant just up the hill was serving a full lunch buffet.  Wow, what a great lunch break and the views from the restaurant overlooking the Talladega National Forest were breath taking. Even with our long mid day break, we still managed to get about 16 miles in and camped that evening at Zulu Canyon. This made for a short day (a nero) into Oxford the next morning.

Day 7, Thursday, October 13th: We only had about six miles to hike before hitting CR24 which would take us into Oxford. It was awesome reaching the road and a huge accomplishment for Olivia to be out on a trail for five consecutive days. After doing a few high fives, I immediately turned around and stuck my thumb out to catch a ride into Oxford. We had about an eight mile hitch into town and while standing out there on the road with Olivia, I could sense some uncertainty from her about how this was going to work out. It dawned on me that she had never hitched hiked before. I reinforced that it’s a very common “Hiker Trash” thing to do to get into towns. I did let her know, for her own safety, that she would always be smart to do it with a group. An older couple heading into town for a Walmart run went by us, turned around and came back and picked us up.  They were a super sweet couple and we very much enjoyed our conversation with them on the way into town.

Once we got into town, we were able to get cleaned up quickly before lunch time. A friend of mine, Mike, was coming from the Birmingham area to meet us for lunch and to drive Olivia back to Sylacauga so she could pick up her car and head back to Nashville. We all went to the Mellow Mushroom there in town for lunch and had an awesome time. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos of our lunch, but thanks again to Mike for coming to the rescue.

Day 8, Friday, October 14th through Day 10, Sunday, October 16th: I got an early morning taxi ride out of Oxford back to the trailhead and even did some hiking in the dark for the first hour. That night I stayed at the Lower Shoal Shelter, which had great water, pushing a 23 mile day. The next night I made it to another shelter, the Choccolocco Creek Shelter, where the water source wasn’t as good.  The trail section just before the Choccolocco Creek Shelter was probably in the worst condition of any part that I had experienced in Alabama, but was still more than doable, just needed a little work. The following night I decided to stop at the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground. Good call! Some bikers immediately asked me over to have an adult beverage and they even gave me some great left over gumbo from their meal the night before. It was an awesome place to stop and camp! Later that evening,  I was again invited down to another camp for more adult beverages, dinner and dessert.  I was already too full for any more dinner, but enjoyed the beverages and dessert.

Day 11, Monday, October 17th: I had just a little over eight miles to hike to get to US 278 where I had another eight mile hitch into the town of Piedmont. The hitch there probably took me the longest on this journey. I think it was somewhere around 40 minutes, but the road really wasn’t very busy during the mid morning hours. I still got there in plenty of time to enjoy some coffee and a nice breakfast at the Huddle House.

Day 12, Tuesday, October 18th: I arranged a ride back to the trailhead on Monday night from a guy named Josh who worked at the car detailing place next to the motel where I stayed in Piedmont. He arrived right on time and put me back out on the trail early. I hiked just a little over 20 miles, crossed the Alabama / Georgia State line and made it to Cave Springs by the hardest once I arrived at the Jackson Chapel Trailhead. You really had to be on your toes through this area because the trail was very tough to follow. It was still a great day. I saw one big snake, four turkeys and five deer, one of which was a very large buck. I ate both dinner and breakfast the next morning at Southern Flavor there in town. Great people and great food! I chatted after dinner with a local guy named Rip Montgomery who owns a little store in town named The Peddler. He was a super guy to talk to and it was obvious that he’s very proud to be from Cave Springs.

Day 13, Wednesday, October 19th: From Cave Springs I went into Rome. The best description I can come up with is all road walk, even including a four lane highway for many miles. Not my idea of a fun hike!

Day 14, Thursday, October 20th: From Rome or the Simms Mountain Trailhead, I made it to the James Floyd State Park. The park was located downhill from the Pinhoti roughly 2 miles. I had to go down, because no water existed up on Taylors Ridge where I was hiking. The State Park was the only reliable water source for miles. It was late in the afternoon, so I wasn’t interested in hiking back up hill to the Pinhoti Trail to camp with no water. I decided to head over to the Ranger’s office to find out if they had any primitive camping sites.  Remember now, I’m just off the Pinhoti Trail. The answer was no, but we have one RV site remaining for the evening. I was just not really interested in an RV site, didn’t need the utilities and also couldn’t  pitch a tent very well on those pack stone drives/sites. Long story short, I was just going to sleep at the pavilion there by the lake. I figured I would be up and gone by daylight and no big deal. The head ranger came by later that evening and showed me a place very close by in the Pioneer Camping area where I could stay. I guess this Pioneer Camping area is often used by Boy Scouts and other large groups. I’m not sure why it wasn’t a suggested area for me when I first went into the ranger’s office to inquire about sites.  It’s not like I had a car that I could just jump in and go somewhere else. I later found out that they’ve had plans for a number of years now to have a certain location set aside for a primitive camping area (walk in tenting), but getting restroom faculties built are the problem and they can’t open it without having one right there. The State Park appears to have plenty of other restrooms close by.  It must be a government regulation thing??

Day 15, Friday, October 21st: After leaving the James Floyd Sate Park, I made it to West Armuchee Road Trailhead and walked basically two miles from there down to the town of Subligna, GA where I found some phone service. It was a pretty good day walking on the logging roads where I saw the most deer on this trip – six in one day. Boo, my wife’s cousin, came and picked me up for the evening and took me back to her home in Lafayette. Besides enjoying the steak and cold beer…I had a great time spending the evening with Boo, her husband, John and son,  Hayden. My tent and sleeping pad still got good use that night as Hayden took occupancy for the evening.

Day 16, Saturday, October 22nd: Due to a late morning out of Lafayette and a motivational problem with logging roads and forest service roads, this is where I decided to skip ahead a small bit leaving behind even more logging roads and an area recently consumed by forest fires atop Strawberry Mountain. The woods trail from the Snake Creek Gap Trailhead down to Dalton was actually a nice and beautiful walk. It was one of the better sections in Georgia.

Day 17, Sunday, October 23rd: From Dalton I went into Chatsworth. Best description again-all road walk.

Day 18, Monday, October 24th through Day 19, Tuesday, October 25th: A lot of the trail from the Dennis Mill Trailhead to the Northern Terminus was still old forest service roads although the scenery was much improved. The Cohuttas are beautiful and I knew I was getting close to home when I began hiking by creeks, mountain laurel and rhododendron. I made it to the Pinhoti Northern Terminus around 4:00 p.m. and continued on the BMT to Dyer Gap where Mary picked me up.

Posted in Post-Hike | 7 Comments

What’s Happening and The Pinhoti Trail in 2016

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last update on my blog, so here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on since finishing the PCT in 2014 and on what’s in store for 2016.

It was always my plan to take 2015 off from any long distance hiking and just enjoy a year camping and kayaking on the rivers here in the Southeast along with a mid summer trip out to Wyoming and Montana to catch some higher volume rivers through some of the most beautiful areas in our country. That plan was all coming together and going great until I dislocated my shoulder on the Upper Tellico River in fairly high water last spring.

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Baby Falls, Tellico River

After several doctor visits and a MRI, it was confirmed that I had a problem. I was still determined and hoping that I could get through summer before having surgery. I paddled a couple more times that spring and early summer, but quickly realized that I had a real issue that couldn’t be ignored. So instead of going out west and paddling, Mary and I decided to head up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire for a week of hiking before having my shoulder repaired. It was an awesome trip to be back on the Appalachian Trail in such a beautiful place.

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Franconia Ridge

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Mt. Washington Summit

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Greenleaf Hut

The surgery went well, but it turned out that I had two labrum tears and they had to cut and reattach my bicep to fix it. While I still have some stiffness and soreness today, I’m now getting to where I have free movement of my arm once again. I’m hoping to be back out on the rivers this spring.

It was also in the fall of 2014 that Mary and I started to build our new home outside of Blue Ridge, Georgia (the photo below includes the landscape concept).Front Landscape ConceptThe original plan was that we would have it completed in time for me to start my section hike of the CDT this spring. Well, that hasn’t worked out either. We’re very close to finishing, but still have a number of items to complete, so I’m going to postpone my CDT journey now until at least 2017. Hopefully, we can get moved and everything completed this summer. If that all works out, I’m now planning on doing the Pinhoti Trail, which spans roughly 300 miles, this fall.Pinhoti National Recreation Trail

Since finishing the PCT, I have done several small hikes on the Appalachian Trail and have enjoyed doing trail magic with some of my trail friends during the 2015 hiking season.

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Top of Blood Mountain

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Even today, I’m still really missing the trail life. You probably have to be a thru hiker to truly understand what it’s like to survive the post thru-hike blues. Typically towards the end of any hike I’m always looking forward to finishing the trail and getting back home to my family, friends and some good food. It’s all great, don’t get me wrong, I love it! But shortly after arriving back into the real world, your brain begins to really mess with you. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here in this mental disorder of life after the trail. I have yet to talk to a thru-hiker that didn’t start feeling these same emotions, and most everyone seems to spend all their spare time reminiscing on how fortunate they truly were to have such a great experience on the trail and its surrounding community. I’m convinced that most thru-hikers wish they were right back at it doing it all over again or wished they had never crossed that finish line at trails end. Who knows..I may be wrong?

So what makes this trail life thing so addicting? For me it’s a combination of the pure adventure, the wilderness and its scenery, the freedom, the simple lifestyle, the people, the support, the travel (it’s a great way to see and explore an area) and it’s a great way to get in really good shape.

Hope everyone has a great spring and summer. Hopefully in the fall I’ll do an update on my Pinhoti Trail journey.

Happy Trails!!

Posted in Post-Hike | 1 Comment

Manning Park, Canada

Day 148 – Friday, September 5

I made it to the northern terminus of the PCT or the Canadian border on Friday, September 5th right about 5 p.m. to finish my thru hike. It was a pleasure to spend the last couple of weeks on the trail with Red, Daniel and Timberline.

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From White Pass I entered Mt. Rainer National Park and had some wonderful views as I hiked along the trail. I ran into a guy with a team of Llamas which was pretty cool. He was a super nice guy and he was giving thru hikers Hershey’s Bars for trail magic. I stayed at the Urich Shelter on my way into Snoqualmie Pass.

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It’s always great to see so many folks out volunteering their time to do trail maintenance. A BIG THANK YOU to all those who give their time!

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Timberline and I both took the Goldmeyer Alternate out of Snoqualmie Pass to go to the hot springs for some R&R. It was well worth the trip! The alternate trail passes by Snow Lake…what a beautiful site!

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As I hiked further north into the Northern Cascades, the scenery just continued to get more and more awesome. However, I did miss some great views of Glacier Peak due to the clouds and rain.

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The North Cascades National Park and Stehekin were great! I stayed two nights at the Stehekin Valley Ranch. The food and the property were just super awesome! It was a great place to relax some before finishing the trail! It’s also super cool because you can only get to it by hiking in, taking a four-hour ferry or a float plane ride.

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The Bakery in Stehekin was not to be missed either. It was amazing how good this place was to be in the middle of nowhere!

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Here’s another story that I didn’t tell you about coming out of Cascade Locks. I met Matt, the guy in the photo below, center, hiking shortly after entering Washington. Matt is from the U.K. and I found him to be a super enjoyable guy to be around. Carlos, Paul the Frenchman and I were camping with him on our second night out from Cascade Locks. The next morning as I was packing up to leave, Matt stuck his head out of his tent and told me that he was really sick. I went over to see what was up and he went on to tell me that he had gotten up in the middle of the night to throw up and that he somehow blacked out and couldn’t find his way back to his tent. I could immediately tell he was in really bad shape. Paul had already left camp that morning before Matt had found his way back to his tent. Matt had slept out the whole night in the woods, lost, with no cover on a very cold Washington night. He was probably pushing hyperthermia. The man was very sick!

I called Carlos, who had camped on the other side of the trail and was just leaving, over to explain what was going on with Matt. We quickly figured out that we had a forest service road five miles ahead and that we needed to help Matt get there and off the trail somehow. After a pretty long process, Matt got packed up and we all headed down the trail together. As we started down the trail, I called Mrs. Whitewater (Mary) once again on a very weak cell signal and was able to tell her our location and what was going on and that once again we needed help. After that brief conversation, we totally lost any further cell phone service.

Carlos and I had gotten Matt down the trail at least three miles when I suggested to Carlos that I thought one of us needed to go ahead and head down to the forest service road to see if any help existed, drop a pack and come back and take Matt’s pack the rest of the way. Carlos told me he thought that was a good idea, so I took off for the forest service road. When I got there, I was glad to see that Mary had made contact with Stevens County and we had an ambulance and two EMTs waiting. I dropped my pack and went back up the trail with one of the EMTs to help get Matt the rest of the way down. We met them about a mile out, I took Matt’s backpack and we slowly made our way to the forest service road. Matt went right into the ambulance and off he went. Neither Carlos or I had any contact information for Matt.

After a long recovery, Matt skipped forward to where he thought he should be on the trail, which turned out to be Stehekin, where Carlos and I ran into him again. It was great to see him and that’s when we found out that he had spent five days in the hospital and seven additional days in Portland recovering from a bad case of Giardia. Carlos and I were both glad to see Matt was back and we had a great time visiting.

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Below are a few additional photos from my final three days on the trail. We all decided to finish at the border with a thirty mile day just for fun of it.

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We had a pretty good group of thru hikers who ended up at Manning Park at the same time. Pictured below is Wasabi, Lucky Strike, Carlos, Timberline, Whitewater and Quiet-man. Some of the others around (but not in this photo) were Red, Daniel, Tarzan and Asswagging.

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Thanks again for everyone’s support! Once Again Another Great Journey!

Posted in Trail Updates | 22 Comments

White Pass

Day 131 – Tuesday, August 19

These days I’m working hard to slow my pace down and enjoy the last several weeks on the trail. With the miles I have remaining it’s beginning to feel more like a short backpacking trip in the woods. I’m still doing some thirty mile days, basically because I don’t exactly know what else to do during the day except to walk. So I’m finding myself taking lots of pictures and enjoying many more nero’s and zero’s around the small towns in Washington. At this point no matter how many miles I do in a day, I still plan to finish on September 9th, meet up with the family, spend some time in Seattle, and fly home on the 13th. This schedule gives me lots of time to burn along the way.

After leaving Timberline Lodge and the Mt. Hood Wilderness, I found myself in what must be the waterfall capital of the country. They were absolutely beautiful and I only saw a few of them. Tunnel Falls was my favorite.

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From the Mt. Hood Wilderness, I ventured north into the state of Washington and the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

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After hiking out of the Mt. Adams Wilderness and making a quick stop in the town of Trout Lake, I entered into the Goat Rock Wilderness. What an awesome area! I would put this area way up there on the my list of suggestions for a weekend backpacking outing. It’s a fairly short section that reminded me of being back in the Sierras. The Goat Rock area is beautiful with Mt. Adams to the south and Mt. Rainier to the north. Heavy clouds moved in on me as I crossed over what’s called the Knife’s Edge. Photos just can’t capture the views I pass everyday. After arriving at White Pass yesterday around noon, I hitched a ride down to the town of Packwood and I’m enjoying a day off from the trail.

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From here, I will head into Mt. Rainier National Park, on north through Washington to the Canadian border,  and then to Manning Park in British Columbia to complete my journey.

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