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Mighty Mt. Meader May 19, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
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View across the Basin from shoulder of Mt. Meader

View across the Basin from shoulder of Mt. Meader

Click on photos for better view.

I was looking for a hike I hadn’t done before, and one where I wouldn’t get bogged down in any lingering old snow in the evergreen zone—the infamous “monorail” of packed-down snow created by heavy winter hiking traffic. Trip reports said some spots still had that problem even as of May 15.  So I came up with a 10-mile loop with about 2700 feet of elevation gain in the Evans Notch area, a place I have taken a great liking to.

I knew from the reports that the Baldface Circle loop was free of snow, but—“been there, done that.”  My loop was just north of that.  I left my car at the Baldface Circle parking lot on Rt. 113 and walked a half mile up the road to the Mt. Meader trail.  Up to Mt. Meader, south on the Meader Ridge trail, and then down on the north part of the Baldface Circle trail.  I hadn’t been sure which direction I was going to do my loop, but in the parking lot as I was getting my gear ready, a pair of guys was preparing to set forth as well, and one of them was a talkative fellow who had an extremely loud voice that seemed to be going nonstop.  Nice guy, I’m sure, but the thought of hearing that voice at least as far as the trail split helped me decide.  I set off up the road, with the guys about 30 seconds behind me, and I figure they must have wondered where the heck I was going as they turned off to go up the loop.

I started seeing flowers right up from the Mt. Meader trailhead.  First there 100_0736were anemones and twinflowers, then violets.  The trail was an old logging road for a while that followed Mill Brook.  I enjoyed the sight of ferns starting to unfold. 100_0739 The climb was gradual until about 1600 feet, when the trail started to switchback and then hit a section where it went straight up.  At about 2300 feet I hit an open ledgy area that had views over to the Baldfaces.

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I continued climbing past open ledges with clumps of serviceberry in bloom.

100_0742Finally I reached the shoulder of Meader with views to the north and east, and then started along the Meader Ridge trail.  I passed over the true summit of Meader (a mighty 2782 feet in elevation) and came to a side trail marked “View.”  Why not, I thought, and went to see the view.  However, once I climbed up to the open view ledge, I could see that the spruces had grown up, and the views (toward the west) weren’t that great.  In fact, somebody had painted the word “END” on the ledge so that people wouldn’t continue on and on, hoping to get a better view.  I thought that was funny!

Meaning, you can stop looking for a better view!

Meaning, you can stop looking for a better view!

It was not long after the “View” that I encountered the only hikers I saw on my loop.  I was surprised to see anyone on the Meader Ridge trail, especially on a Monday.  They asked me about my route up and down and what the conditions were on the way up.  “No snow,” I said, wondering what conditions they were concerned about.  They said they were looking for an easier way down.  They had come up the “headwall,” they said, and hadn’t liked it.  I figured they must be talking about the stretch on South Baldface that involves a slightly difficult scramble.  I said, “It’s nothing like South Baldface.”  They told me to be very careful, as they’d found the ledges to be steep and slippery.  After they went on their way, I found myself slightly distracted: I’d told them I was going down at Eagle Crag.  Did they misunderstand and think I was going down from South Baldface?  Or had they in fact come up the route I was planning to take down, and found it surprisingly difficult?  I scratched my head and continued on.  Shortly before I reached Eagle Crag, I saw some interesting boulders and noticed that patches of snow were visible on the side of  Boott Spur.

100_0752I had my Irving convenience store sandwich on Eagle Crag.  I like the fact that this spot is a four-way junction with connections into the Wild River valley as well as the valley south of Evans Notch.  I then dropped down the Baldface Circle trail, wondering if indeed this was the way the couple I’d met had come up and if I would soon reach a “headwall.”  It was a bit awkward going down the first couple 100 feet, but there was nothing that I would call a “headwall.”  Soon I was off the steeps and enjoyed wending my way through the forest.  The new leaves unfolding everywhere and the plants poking up from the ground, some still curled up like furled umbrellas, all spoke of spring, spring, spring!

Lower down I got back into trilliums as well as clusters of twinflowers, and wound down into the valley of Charles100_0741 Brook.  Toward the bottom I saw a lady-slipper that hadn’t quite opened yet.  A very enjoyable hike.  I had barely cracked the 3000-foot elevation level (on the top of Eagle Crag, elev. 3030), but after all, my starting elevation was only 500 feet.  I look forward to continuing my explorations of the more obscure corners of Evans Notch.

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Gideon Pillow’s “despicable self-puffings” May 13, 2009

Posted by Jenny in history, military history.
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"The Battle of Chapultepec" by James Worth.  This is the version that does not feature Pillow.

"The Battle of Chapultepec" by James Walker. This version does not feature Pillow in the foreground.

It was October 1847, and American forces had recently vanquished the Mexican defenders at the Battle of Chapultepec.  With this victory at the gates of Mexico City on September 13, the war with Mexico was all but over.  Our hero, General Gideon J. Pillow, had played a role in the fighting, and he wanted to make sure that the American public knew about it.

As he recovered from a wound to his ankle received as his forces approached the Chapultepec fortress, Pillow got wind of a painter named James Walker who had been making sketches of battle scenes.  And now Walker was preparing to enlarge one of his sketches into a painting.  But the problem was that Walker had somehow gotten under the influence of Pillow’s colleague General Quitman, and the painting was going to feature Quitman’s division, not Pillow’s.  Something must be done about this!

Pillow prevailed upon Walker to paint a second version of the battle, this one featuring himself and his division.  He was delighted with the result and promptly had it shipped to President Polk in Washington.  “I am placed in my proper position in the painting.  It is quite large & will make a splendid ornament for your parlors.”*  I have been unable to find a reproduction of the

Nebel's work features Pillow's division in the foreground

Nebel's work shows Pillow's division in the foreground

Walker painting featuring Pillow, although I did find another, later (1851) work by Carl Nebel titled “Storming of Chapultepec—Pillow’s Attack.”  I theorize that this was modeled on the Walker painting, since, like Walker, Nebel also painted one featuring Quitman with the corresponding title of  “Storming of Chapultepec—Quitman’s Attack.”

But, as it turned out, it was not only through the medium of painting that Pillow sought to bring his own greatness to the attention of the American public.  In late October, Pillow’s commander, Winfield Scott, was startled to read a letter in the “American Star” authored by “Leonidas” that said Pillow had singlehandedly commanded the troops in the Battle of Contreras.  The article went:

[Pillow’s] plan of battle and the disposition of his forces were most judicious and successful.  He evinced in this, as he has done on other occasions, that masterly military genius and profound knowledge of the science of war, which has astonished so much the mere martinets of the profession…. During this great battle, which lasted two days, General Pillow was in command of all the forces engaged, except General Worth’s division, and this was not engaged… (General Scott gave but one order and that was to reinforce General Cadwalader’s brigade.)”**

As I described in my last post on Pillow, the general’s participation in the battle featured far more error than glory.  Winfield Scott was even more outraged when he learned that very similar articles had also appeared in the New Orleans “Daily Delta” and “Daily Picayune,” as well as one in the Pittsburgh “Post” signed “Veritas.”  It was all very suspicious, and soon enough the evidence made clear that Pillow himself had authored the “Leonidas” letters.

The version in the “Picayune” included a wonderful scene:  “[A Mexican] made one terrible charge at our General with his lance, which the latter evaded with great promptitude and avidity, using his sword, tossed the weapon of the Mexican high in the air and then quietly blew his brains out with his revolver.”**

Scott thundered about these “despicable self-puffings.” But to make things even worse, Pillow was found to have allowed, perhaps even ordered, for two Mexican howitzers captured at Chapultepec to be placed in his personal baggage wagon as souvenirs.  He claimed to have insisted that the howitzers —now government property—be removed,  but the circumstances remained murky.  It all came to a boil—with particular animosity between Pillow and Scott—and a court of inquiry was convened in early 1848.  The proceedings dragged on until June, and dozens of witnesses were called, but in the end Pillow’s ally President Polk allowed the matter to drop, writing, “General Pillow is a gallant and highly meritorious officer, and has been greatly persecuted by Gen’l Scott, for no other reason than that he is a Democrat in his politics and supposed to be my personal & political friend.”*

Pillow was to be active in party politics over the next years, even trying for the vice presidency.  But the “Hero of Chapultepec” remained largely in the shadows until the Civil War, when he played a role at the Battle of Fort Donelson.  Today’s post concludes our series featuring Gideon J. Pillow, but he will make a cameo appearance in an upcoming post about Ulysses S. Grant and Fort Donelson.

The illustration below, from 1847, is by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg.  It is titled “Attack on Chapultepec: Mexicans routed with great loss.”  It does not feature Pillow or Quitman or any other particular general, but it is interesting because of the lack of anything resembling the actual fortress of Chapultepec.

* “The Life and Wars of Gideon J. Pillow” by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes and Roy P. Stonesifer, UNC Press, 1993.

**”Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of Gen. Winfield Scott” by John S.D. Eisenhower, Free Press, 1997.

Things seemed more heroic in 1847

Things seemed more heroic in 1847

A visit to Dry Sluice manway May 5, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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headwaters1This is a piece I wrote a few years after I moved away from Knoxville.  I returned to the Smokies for a visit and one day went up the Dry Sluice manway.

I lost my way going up.  Strange—I’d been up and down the manway countless times.  I could even see the spot where the trouble started.  I retraced my steps to the last cairn, remembering that here the unmaintained path left the streambed and slabbed its way across the slope.  But for some reason, on this particular day, I could not find the place.  After stopping for a bite to eat, I continued up the watercourse.  After all, there was just one thing to do—go up.  The top couldn’t be that far away.

I even asked myself why the mysterious cairn-builders of the manway (prehistoric beings?) had chosen a route off to the left instead of straight.  The answer came quickly, when I found myself peering up at a high bluff.  Water trickled down through the hanging garden of rock and plush green moss.  It resembled a thousand places in the Smokies, a thousand headwaters of high streams, places that always seem to get better somehow as you approach the source.

I believed I could find plenty of handholds and footholds to get up the bluff.  Hitching my pants at the knees so they wouldn’t bind, I lifted my right foot up as high as I could, found something to step on, pulled myself up.   My fingers sank deep into tufts of damp moss, touching the cold streamwater sliding down over the rock.  Up another step, another reach.  Over my shoulder the valley opened up below me, a vast green blanket of forest split by the stream.  A hawk sliced the air overhead.

I reached the top of the bluff by the usual casting of arms and legs into odd positions.  Pieces of dirt and moss attached themselves to me, wanting to claim me and overrun me, it seemed.  A second bluff appeared above, then a third: like color plates in an illustrated book.  The plot always seems to quicken at the end, and the stream always steepens (at least, the stream always does here, where the slope of the stateline ridge has a certain typical profile). Soon the streambed had dwindled to a slight indentation that barely took on the shape of a draw.  Here was the magical place where gravity pulls the water right out of the ground.  I looked up the slope at a mass of deep, snarled (maybe even snarling) vegetation interspersed with decorative boulders and rotting treetrunks.  The mountain wasn’t going to yield without a fight.

This part at least felt safer, since the brush had such a tight grip on me that falling down the mountain was impossible.  But even placing my foot on the ground was a bit of a challenge.  I extended my toe toward a disorganized jumble, probing to make sure a bottomless hole wasn’t lurking.  Working along, I pushed aside briers and scooted over a slimy log.  But this was actually sort of fun.  I could imagine a simulation of this obstacle course in a children’s amusement park—a tamer version, minus thorns—next to the rooms full of plastic balls for them to crawl through and hanging ropes to climb on.

At last, the jungle spat me out onto the A.T.  No one was there to congratulate me or marvel at my disheveled appearance.  I strolled along to the “real” Bunion for lunch, thinking about how sometimes it is best to adventure alone.  You come more under the spell of things.  But at the same time, at least on that particular day, it seemed a bit lonely, maybe because I had often been there with other people.

Eating my sandwich and my apple, I gazed over at the human ants swarming on the  “tourist” Bunion and admired the Class 3 route that I had climbed with Chris, seen here in spiky profile.  After a drowsy hour, the warm sun beaming down on my head, it was time to pick myself up and walk back down the A.T. to the jumping-off point for the east fork of Porters Creek.  This was where by pure chance the hiking club had come down the day after a tremendous washout.  It is always a bit hard even for a dedicated bushwhacker to take those first few steps off the comfort of the trail, a task somewhat harder to do on my own, but off I went.

Down through the steep open hardwoods, footfalls crashing between trees, boulders, vines.  Down and down and down.  After a bit I saw below me the brightness twinkling between the trees, the openness of the washout.

When I came to the edge of the scar, I was amazed to see how much the place had changed over the course of seven years or so.  The vegetation had grown up dramatically.  The marks of the flood could still be seen—the chiseled sides of the draw, the heaps of broken rock.  But it no longer looked like a wasteland.  The green genius of the plant world had been hard at work.

I began to pick my way down the rubble.  And then, as I entered the new growth, something pricked my arm, and I realized it was solid blackberries.  What the hell!  Oh well, at least it was something living and growing.