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Cammerer via Leadmine Ridge October 17, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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Ed climbs up the rocks


Only six people went on this outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Oh, what fools you others are to have missed out on this wonderful off-trail adventure on a beautiful October day!

We started up the right fork of Groundhog Creek and traveled easily in or near the creek through open woods. Before long we reached the Lower Cammerer Trail and made the short traverse over Rowdy Ridge to the drainage of Rowdy Creek. The original plan had been to go up Rowdy Ridge, but assorted knowledgeable people had consulted with each other and decided that Rowdy did not offer sufficient rewards to offset the punishment of the unrelenting thick brush.

As a matter of fact, I led an SMHC hike up Rowdy with Al Watson back in the 80s. I have to admit that it was pretty much 100% brush crawling, but we did have a great time at the top singing all verses of “Clementine” from the copies of the old SMHC songbook that I had brought along, much to the horror of other hikers who happened by.

The difference between Rowdy and Leadmine is that the latter offers some fun rock scrambling near the top that gets you out of the dense laurel.

We climbed steeply through open woods to reach the ridgecrest and then started dealing with the laurel and rhodo.


David and Hiram negotiate the ridgecrest


Rebekah seemed to be having a good time.


Rebekah climbs up the faint bear trail on the ridge


There were places where bears traveling on the ridge had very thoughtfully created neatly spaced footprints up the steeper sections of the deep, soft duff.

Just when the brush was starting to get a bit too claustrophobic, we started encountering some large boulders that we could scramble up and get out of the vegetation.


Looking up the rocky section of ridge


We had emerged from cool, dark shadows into a world of light and space and color.


Hiram's hiking apparel was color-coordinated with the foliage


It was the kind of day that makes you think of yodeling. You will be relieved to hear that none of us actually did that.


Looking down the ridge at a world of color


We reached the fire tower and encountered a few other people who liked the idea of Cammerer on a nice fall day.


A few other people had the idea of visiting the top of Cammerer


We relaxed on the large boulder on the far side of the fire tower, ate lunch, and applied the lavender-scented hand sanitizer that Rebekah had brought along. It was nearly enough to overcome any offensive odors that might possibly have developed during the strenuous brush-crawling.

Then it was just a matter of descending the Groundhog Ridge manway. The soil in the upper section of the manway has always reminded me of chocolate pudding. An old friend in the Hiking Club commented once (after I made that comparison), “Remind me not to have dinner at your place!”

The soil is rather slippery, the upper section very steep, and I decided that I would make it a personal challenge to see if I could get down the manway without my butt touching the ground. I almost succeeded.

We got down safely, stopping for a break on the Lower Cammerer Trail, where we continued a longstanding SMHC tradition of gossiping about the more notable “characters” in the club.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.


Chris descends the Groundhog Ridge manway


In South Africa: Collared Sunbirds, Dark Chanting Goshawks, and Fork-tailed Drongos October 13, 2010

Posted by Jenny in nature, travel, wildlife.
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Dark Chanting Goshawk

For an introduction about my recent trip to South Africa, go here. All photos in this post are from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise noted.

I never would have been able to compile a bird list for Kruger National Park and its surroundings if it hadn’t been for Klaas van der Westhuizen, who seemed to know everything about birds, plants, and animals in the area. It was he, for instance, who alerted me to the danger of disturbing the nest of the Hamerkop. According to the myth of the Khoi San, he said, anyone doing so will be struck by lightning. This took such a hold in my imagination that I started pestering him with silly references to “the bird that causes people to be struck by lightning.”


Klaas was fond of the idea that people from other parts of the world think many forms of nature in Africa are frightening. He was endlessly amused by the notion of “Africanized killer bees,” and laughed when I brought along a hiking stick on our walk near Arnold’s place to fend off stray leopards. (One had indeed been spotted not far away—not recently, though.)  From Arnold’s ample selection of hiking sticks, I picked out a medium-sized one so that I could at least deal with a medium-sized leopard, I told him.

Klaas and Carol van der Westhuizen and I were guests of Arnold Van Dyk and Sonja Myburgh at their vacation house on the border of Kruger. During my visit and in writing this post, I leaned heavily on the expertise and helpfulness that each one of them offered me.

I fell in love with the names of the birds nearly as much as the sight of them. And I did get some good views through Sonja and Arnold’s high-powered binoculars, but I realized from the start that it was hopeless for me to try to photograph birds with my camera, which has an inadequate zoom.

The name “Dark Chanting Goshawk” is pure poetry, for instance. The name derives from its breeding season song, “which consists of chanted flutes and whistles,” according to Wikipedia. The article also makes the interesting observation that the bird’s flight is “stiff and mechanical.”

And who could not love the name of the Fork-tailed Drongo? It somehow put me in mind of another bird name that I love, the Elegant Trogon, a resident of the southwestern U.S. The common element is that we not only have a bird with a funny-sounding name (drongo or trogon), but we actually have a particular subvariety of it—there could even be other kinds of drongos or trogons.

Fork-tailed Drongo

Another bird with a wonderful name was the Southern Pied Babbler. Klaas told me that in Afrikaans, this bird is known as the Witkatlagter, or the “White cat-laugher.” He could not explain, however, whether the bird has a call that sounds like a cat or whether it simply likes to laugh at them.

Southern Pied Babbler, or "White cat-laugher"

We saw the beautiful Collared Sunbird…

the Saddle-billed Stork…

and another type of Babbler, the Arrow-marked one.

On the final morning of my stay, Klaas and Carol drove me through a southern section of Kruger using the unpaved Randspruit and Burne roads above the Crocodile Bridge checkpoint. Along the way we spotted vultures sitting on the carcass of a rhino.

Vultures on rhino carcass. My photo.

Sadly, we could see through the binoculars that the horn had been removed. There was no way of knowing whether the rhino had been killed for the horn, a pricey commodity on the black market, or whether the horn had been removed after the animal died from other causes. There could be no more diabolical means to kill off an animal species than to promote the idea that one of its body parts has medicinal value—a belief completely untrue.

We saw two species of vulture there:

Hooded Vulture


Cape Vulture

Thanks to Klaas, I can also list the following that I saw:

Blackheaded Oriole, Emerald-spotted Dove,  Oxpicker,  Egyptian Goose, Woolly-necked Stork, Blue Waxbill, Cormorant, Common Sandpiper, Greenbacked Heron, Great and Pied Kingfisher, and Fisher Eagle.

And Sonja pointed out to me the Lilac-breasted Roller sitting perched on the very top of a thorn tree, with its feathers of many colors that suddenly added a tiny rainbow to the drab palette of the savanna.

Lilac-breasted Roller


Noland Divide from end to end to end October 10, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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I saw a beautiful cloud inversion


The dimensions of this hike were 23.2 miles and 5450′ vertical—the vertical consists of the 4150′ elevation difference between bottom and top plus the 650′ drop in the middle that has to be reclimbed going up and going down.

I hadn’t planned on doing this when I started. My original plan was to do a loop up Noland Divide to the Pole Road Creek trail and back via Deep Creek. But as I started the climb on this beautiful cool October Saturday, the evil thought came to me: Why don’t I go all the way to the top?

The only problem was that I hadn’t brought enough food and water. I had only two quarts of water and about 1000 calories worth of food. On this dry ridge, there would be no opportunity to replenish my water.

I ate half a bagel as I mulled things over, climbing up the moderate but steady grade toward the Lonesome Pine overlook. At the first opening in the trees, I saw that I had climbed above a sea of clouds. I continued on until I reached the open views of the narrow Beauregard Ridge. The clouds had transformed the surrounding mountains into islands and peninsulas.


Ridges had become peninsulas


What a beautiful day! How wonderful to be back in my mountains!

I climbed the little side path to the Lonesome Pine overlook and found that the scene was actually too dazzling, for I was looking across the cloud-ocean directly toward the sun. The scene approximated what I would imagine people going to heaven might experience, if I happened to believe in heaven. (By the way, I noticed that Billy Graham’s advice column in the Asheville paper recently reassured a concerned reader that it would not be dull in heaven sitting around on those fluffy clouds—there would be just enough things to do, not too much and not too little.)

So I did not take a picture there, but ate an energy bar and continued along as the trail climbed up to 4600′. Then I descended gently for quite a while until I reached Lower Sassafras Gap.


Here I had to make up my mind


The lightly used trail had been so pleasant, so soft underfoot. I felt great. Only 3.7 more miles and 1700 more feet to get to the Clingmans Dome road. I ate the other half of my bagel, and on I went!

Before long I got up into the spruce forest, which has become one of my favorites of the many different forest types of the Smokies. I continued climbing steadily past a tower used for acid rain observations. I heard the sound of motorcycles, and then I spotted the road. I had made it to the top!


Made it!


I sat down to rest for a bit. My legs were starting to feel tired, and I knew I needed food and water, which I had been rationing. I finished my first quart of water and had my other energy bar. After basking in the sun until the top of my head felt toasty, I knew it was time to face the return trip.

Now I was heading toward the afternoon sun, which made everything glow.


Everything looked warm and bright


I noticed some witch hobble, which changes its leaf colors in fall in an interesting segmented manner.


Witch hobble (a kind of viburnum)


When I reached Lower Sassafras Gap, I ate the dried apricots I’d brought. No more food left, and about half a quart of water. I felt tired. But I only had 650 more feet of climbing and 8 more miles to do!

As the trail wound in and out of the bumps along the ridge, I welcomed the shadier spots. This stretch seemed much longer than I had remembered. But finally I reached the Lonesome Pine overlook. The cloud inversion had long since disappeared, and I had a good view.


All I had to do now was get down the rest of the ridge


I drank the rest of my water except for a little splash at the bottom of the bottle. I had now officially entered the Death March mode. My legs creaked a bit as I stood up to do the last stretch.

Beauregard Ridge took me through sparkling colors and plunging views. I had never been here before (or anywhere on Noland Divide), but I would now place this segment high on any list of “Best places to go in the Smokies.”


Virginia Creeper along Beauregard Ridge


Down, down, down I went. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I was still moving at a decent clip as I completed the last miles and heard sounds of human activity at Deep Creek Campground.

I completed the whole thing in 9.25 hours, suffering fatigue and some knee twinges at the end, but otherwise in surprisingly good shape.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself. And then, as I was organizing things back at the car, along came another hiker. I’d seen him head up the trail about 15 minutes before I got started, and he got back down about 15 minutes after I finished, but he’d apparently done the whole thing plus walked a little ways along the Clingmans Dome road! So this was not exactly a unique achievement…


Goldenrod along Beauregard Ridge