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See you in a couple of weeks September 18, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, military history, travel.
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Emily Hobhouse

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll head off for two weeks in South Africa.

The first couple of days, I’ll be attending a conference at the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein about the British concentration camps during the 1899-1902 conflict. Interestingly, the subject becomes one of healing rather than divisiveness when it comes to the unique figure of Emily Hobhouse, a British woman who came to South Africa during the war and did much to improve conditions in the camps. Hobhouse is remembered with reverence in Bloemfontein.

The conference will be a great experience for me to meet others who are interested in the subject I’ve been pursuing now for a while in a solitary fashion: I feel that I will be joining a community.

One of the highlights will be having dinner at a place formerly the residence of Orange Free State president Marthinus Steyn, a man, according to one observer in April 1900, “possessed of dogged courage.” During much of the guerilla phase of the war, he rode about the veld trying to dodge British columns—but he had the famous Christiaan De Wet by his side much of the time.

President Marthinus Steyn of the Orange Free State

Like their counterparts of the Transvaal Republic, the members of the OFS government maintained a strict adherence to the formal structure of their administration even after their capital city of Bloemfontein was occupied and they were forced to operate on horseback “in the field.” They scrupulously elected new officers to replace any who were killed or wounded.

I will then participate in a tour of battlefields of the war’s first phase, fought in Natal. The highlights will include Elandslaagte, Dundee, Talana Hill, Ladysmith, Colenso, Platrand,  Surprise Hill, Spionkop, and Pieter’s Hill.

I hope to walk up the slope of Spionkop as quickly as did members of the Isaac Malherbe corporalship. Here is a picture of Boer fighters below the towering hill. Its top was the site of a terrible battle.

Boer fighters below Spion Kop

The photo must have been taken after the battle, to judge by the truncated limbs of the tree.

Following the tour of the battlefields, I will have the opportunity to visit Kruger National Park, thanks to the great generosity of a kindred spirit in Bloemfontein.

This Kruger resident has been in a few fights---think I'll steer clear of him!

East Fork of Porters and its side valleys September 17, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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East Fork, April 1987

The photo above shows the East Fork of Porters Creek as it looked nearly three years following a massive washout that occurred July 1984. (If you click on the photo for the zoom, you’ll see the hikers descending it and get a better idea of the scale.) By sheer chance, the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club had descended the East Fork the day after the washout occurred, after climbing the Jumpoff via Lester Prong, and I was fortunate to be on that outing, as well as the one pictured above a few years later, when we came down after going up the USGS Bunion.

Yesterday I went up the East Fork. This is what it looks like now at a comparable elevation. I’m sorry the pictures are blurry. I have my new camera, but I obviously need to change the way I hold it when I take pictures! (Maybe something to do with it being a lot smaller than my old one.)

Looking down the East Fork 26 years later

The regenerative power of the Smokies is pretty amazing! You’ll notice the spindly trees that are growing in along the banks. The photo below, taken lower down, gives a better sense of the young tree growth.

Spindly young trees along the creek

But my main reason for exploring up the East Fork was to see if I could find a certain side valley that I’d mentioned in my hiking journal back in the 80s. In April 1985 the SMHC went up the stream to look at the washout, and my entry described a place where the washout forked and five people went to the left and the rest of the group went to the right. The five who went to the left were Matt Kelleher, Rob Hawk, Brian Worley, Andy Zenick, and myself. I’d described a very exciting climb up a steep rocky draw with some interesting scrambling. But when I looked at the map, I couldn’t figure it out at all. It looks like all the steep terrain is to the southeast, going up to the Sawteeth. The north side of the stream is a flank of Porters Mountain, not as steep—and no clear side valley is shown.

Map showing East Fork with side routes drawn in (the one I did is to the north, other interesting-looking ones to the south)

So I went up the Dry Sluice manway, following the famous cairns, and stayed to the east where the manway follows the South Fork of Porters.

Not all the cairns are as obvious as this one!

It’s been a long time since I’ve been up the manway past the Lester Prong junction, and I was struck by how much slower it is than it used to be in the 80s, partly because it is much more overgrown and partly because at many stream crossings you have to hunt around a bit to see where it goes. I remember it as having been nearly as easy to follow as a maintained trail.

I climbed up the draw, pushing through quite a bit of nettles, blackberry, and witch hobble. At around 4600′, I passed a side valley on the left that looked as though it might be the bottom of the route described in my journal.

Side valley leading northeast from East Fork

I wasn’t sure if that was it, so I continued on. I came to some blowdowns that presented serious obstructions.

This was lots of fun to get around

And this was even more fun!

And so I worked my way up to Porters Gap. I am thinking that this route is not quite so much of a bargain as it used to be as an alternative descent route to the Dry Sluice manway.

At any rate, I did not see any other side valleys that looked like possible candidates. So now that I know where it is, I plan to go back and climb up it. From the map above, you would think it would be a totally wimpy route. Here is how I described the upper section in my journal: “I climbed up the steep chute that must have been a turbulent watercourse during the flash flood. All around, I saw rocks in different sizes and shapes, no plants, nothing green. When I arrived at the top of this chute, I saw an ugly brown scar that fanned out above me. We were climbing up bare plates of exposed rock, inching our way upward like flies on a wall. I found myself on a massive slab tilted at an uncomfortably vertical angle…” And so we climbed to the ridgecrest, which was actually the upper ridge of Porters Mountain, reaching it close to the A.T.

But still, I find myself gazing curiously at the extremely rugged terrain of the Sawteeth. I think the first ridge on the right after the forking of Porters looks doable, and maybe some of the draws further east—I saw yesterday where that valley comes in at around 4200 (it forks further up). The valley below the “BM” on the map looks too steep, but the others look not too bad, or maybe you could escape to one of the neighboring ridges if it got too steep (as the easternmost one does at the top). Something to think about!

So many places to explore…

Cardinal flower (red lobelia) seen on lower Porters Creek trail

Morning glories, and a few words about Shining Rock Mountain September 12, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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A jungly area behind my house that I really like, in between the vegetable garden and the beehives. The bees love it here!

This post is going to be very odd.

Visitors here know that I ruined my camera a few weeks ago when I was wading up Lester Prong to get to the Jumpoff. It took me a while after that to get around to researching waterproof cameras and to discover that my local stores didn’t carry the one that I’d decided on (Sony Cybershot DSC-TX5). I ordered it online, and it arrived the day after I did my last hike, which was up Shining Rock Mountain.

I thought I might be able to find some nice images of Shining Rock that weren’t subject to copyright, but in fact I didn’t. And I try to be scrupulous about not lifting other people’s photos.

I’m just going to say a few words about the hike. I did the Old Butt Knob/Shining Creek loop from the Big East Fork trailhead. Here is what I liked about it:

The fragrant, enticing high-elevation meadows of Pieris floribunda—what I would call andromeda—mixed with Catawba rhododendron. I haven’t seen this anywhere else.

The eponymous quartz boulders.  (Hah! How often do you see the word “eponymous” in a hike writeup?)

A slope high up along Shining Creek carpeted with Grass of Parnassus.

The pines along the Old Butt Knob trail that looked like Japanese paintings. And the steepness of the Old Butt Knob trail.

The (appropriately) shining cascades on mid-elevation portions of Shining Creek.

Here’s what I didn’t like:

The literally scores of people that I saw on this Monday of a Labor Day weekend. Ah well, what can you expect!

The unintended effects of the wilderness designation: the lack of signs amidst the warren of side paths to campsites and longer trails is only leading to new informal paths created by confused hikers—and thus the spiral of confusion continues. Shining Rock Gap is a complete mess of little footpaths going every which way.

Someone has placed three or four wooden steps at the top of the unmarked Shining Creek trail. The steps aren’t actually needed from a trail construction point of view. The only reason they exist is that someone realized it was really hard to find the top of the trail, but since it would go against policy to place a trail sign there, the steps were installed with the idea that people would perhaps scratch their head over it for a minute and then realize it must, in fact, be the Shining Creek trail (as I did).

The funny thing is, the “wilderness experience” thus becomes not one of carefully observing natural features, but rather of trying to figure out which category of human created a particular path: a camper, a hiker on the right track, a hiker on the wrong track, a trail maintainer?

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my morning glories!