Family ties

January 30, 2008

About two years ago I hiked to the top of Mt. Kephart, one of the South Beyond 6000 peaks. My trip report remains one of the top posts of this blog, but it hadn’t generated a lot of comments.

Yesterday, a comment was posted there that surprised me. I don’t have any way to confirm it was really posted by the great granddaughter of Horace Kephart, but reading the pride and passion of her words tells me it must be her.

I thought I’d share her comments here.

Horace Kephart was my Great-Grandfather. Several years ago my younger sister and I hiked up Sweat Heifer Trail to Mt. Kephart….camped at Ice Water Springs. We have spent many days out on the trails over the years. One interesting hike was going to the campsites my great-grandfather spent time writing, living with the locals, etc. Many summers of our youth were spent in the Smokies….time spent learning about our Great-Grandfather through the eyes and words of his son, our Grandfather…George Kephart. My grandfather was immensely proud of all that his father accomplished. He was equally proud of all his mother accomplished. My legacy…immensely gifted and focused people who truly know what their “journey” in life was meant to be.

I am in my early 50’s now….the Smoky mountains continue to be a source of peace, contentment and a place where I truly feel at home (even though I do not live there!). When I visit, hike, walk the streets of Bryson City, I experience a sense of peace that I know only exists there.

For all of you who hike Mt. Kephart, think of the good works this most remarkable man accomplished. If only more of us had his vision, his determination, his quest for knowledte, his joy in writing….Enjoy your hike!


Let’s hope he knows what a black bear looks like

January 27, 2008
A Walk in the Woods
Bears that look like this don’t live on the AT. Only black bears inhabit that portion of the U.S. and this ain’t no black bear.

Robert Redford finally confirmed rumors that have been circling for a couple of years.

From the AP:

Redford told The Associated Press that his next film project is an adaptation of the best-selling 1998 Bill Bryson book about hiking the Appalachian Trail. He will produce the film and star as Bryson, and Barry Levinson is expected to direct it.

Part of rumor has been that Redford would reunite for this film with Paul Newman, but there’s no mention of Newman in the AP’s article.

Worth noting: Bryson was 46 when A Walk in the Woods was published. Redford is now 71.

Sad commentary

January 23, 2008

From CanYouSpeakThis Charley Reese at

The young lady recently murdered while hiking the southern tip of the Appalachian Trail might be alive today if she had tucked a pistol into her backpack or fanny pack.

I hope I’m not the only one who thinks you don’t have to pack heat to protect yourself.

UPDATE: In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, the link above was changed. I didn’t realize until later that the post at CanYouSpeakThis was reproduced from another site.

Power to the people

January 18, 2008

Bear Electric Fence SystemI’m no Luddite, but sometimes I rail against over-reliance on technology in the wilderness.

In fact, I’m just as tech-obsessed as the next geek. It’s just that I’d rather not trust my life to a set of AA batteries and a few microchips.

So when I saw this product, I was, well, shocked.

Bear Shock is the first ultra lightweight battery-powered, electric fence system and is designed to provide safety and sound sleep while in bear country and to help protect you and your equipment from curious bears by providing a surprising electrical shock if touched. Bear Shock uses three sets of poly-wire with two hot and one ground. When the energizer is turned on, Bear Shock will distribute an electric charge of about 6,000 volts if touched.

Okay, let’s think about this, folks. You’re going to carry a 3.7 lbs. (with batteries) device so you can forgo the need to properly store food and follow other safety precautions in the wilderness.

And if that does make sense, did anyone think of what’s likely to happen when you get up in the middle of the night to pee?

Tip: The Goat

Dumber than a box of rocks

January 17, 2008

Box of rocksIn an article about Tennessee’s so-far futile efforts to stop unregulated rock mining from stripping the Cumberland Trail bare:

“This is a lot more benign than logging is,” said Rick Hitchcock, a Tennessee attorney who represents Lahiere-Hill LLC, which owns the mineral rights in this area.

Mr. Hitchcock is right, if by benign he means trampling everything is sight, filling creeks with silt, promoting soil erosion, and threatening wildlife with dozers, earth excavators and dump trucks in order to remove rocks that have been there for millions of years.

Tip: Jeffrey Hunter

Distress and stress are not the same thing

January 17, 2008

SARSAT satelliteThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put out a press release to brag that 353 people were rescued in 2007 with the aid of personal locator beacons.

Of the 353 rescues for 2007, 235 people were saved at sea, 30 were rescued from downed aircraft, and 88 were saved with help from their PLBs — the highest total since PLBs became operational nationwide in 2003. The total rescues in 2007 mark an increase from 272 the previous year.

Personal locator beacons have become cheaper and more commonly used by civilians, so it’s not surprising that the number of rescues has increased.

I’m all for safety, and I know that if my life was in peril while in the wilderness, I’d be grateful for a rescue, but I wonder about the effects this technology will have on rescue agencies and volunteer organizations.

One of the rescue “highlights” cited by NOAA is the aid given to a 71-year-old hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail, who was too exhausted to continue his hike.

Admittedly, I don’t know many details of this rescue, so perhaps this was a legitimate, life-threatening situation. But I know there are thousands of cases every year in which hikers get caught ill-prepared for conditions and unaware of the risks.

PLBs may soon do what cellphones and GPS units now do for some people in the wilderness, provide them a false sense of security.

PLB manufacturers include warnings like this:

This Personal Locator Beacon should only be used in situations of grave and imminent danger, and only as a last resort when all means of self-rescue have been exhausted.

But some people seem think their means of self-rescue has been exhausted because they forgot a flashlight or a raincoat.


January 17, 2008

Lane NakajiComments on my last post about ultra-marathoners on the Appalachian Trail generated some interesting responses.

Dave and samh wondered if trail running for records was an appropriate use of the trail.

But AT Class of 2007 thru-hiker Woodstock came to the defense of those who attempt to set speed records on the trail.

While it’s wise to consider appropriate uses of trails like the AT, I’m going to straddle the fence here. To be sure, I think you have to be crazy to run a 100-mile marathon, let alone a 2175-mile trail. I am also frequent to complain about so many people using their thru-hike to champion a cause.

But every time I start to question why someone did this or that on the trail, I always come back to the age-old reminder, “hike your own hike.”

Sometimes we hike for profound, life-changing reasons. Sometimes we hike because it’s fun.

An article about Lane Nakaji’s Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in today’s Asheville Citizen-Times drove that point home for me.

People attempt long-distance hikes for a variety of reasons. For some, it marks an important moment in life, such as college graduation or retirement from a desk job, according to (PCT Communicator Editor) Angela Ballard.

Others set out with ambitions of writing a book or selling photos from their journey.

But Nakaji had no such plans. Instead, he took the first steps of a journey that wouldn’t end until Sept. 13 for different reasons — to tackle a challenge while connecting with nature.

“Around (Western North Carolina), I go out for a day or two at the most, usually it’s just overnight like most people,” he said. “But you come back, get back to work, and you’re kind of sore. You never really have a complete chance to get immersed into your surroundings. And I think that if you’re out there for more than four or five days, it starts to get easier.”