jump to navigation

Cammerer via Whiterock Ridge December 16, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
Tags: , ,
11 comments
Hoar frost on upper Whiterock Ridge

Hoar frost on upper Whiterock Ridge.

You won’t find Whiterock Ridge on the map. But I’ll be nice and show you where it is.

It's the half-ridge between Groundhog Ridge and Rowdy Ridge.

It’s the half-ridge between Groundhog Ridge and Rowdy Ridge.

I have to give credit to Greg Harrell for pioneering this route.

I started out with my hiking buddies Chris Sass and Cindy McJunkin. We were fueled by muffins provided by Chris’s wife Bethann—sweet potato muffins with crystallized ginger and chocolate chips, if I am remembering the details right.

Actually, our original plan (pioneered by me) was to explore the upper left fork of Shutts Prong starting from Newfound Gap, going down to the stream from the Boulevard trail and then following the stream up to the Horseshoe Lead. But the Newfound Gap Road had been closed for more than a day and we couldn’t take a chance on wondering when the road would re-open today. So we shifted plans.

It was an utterly beautiful hike that entailed all the different degrees of frost with their distinctive patterns as we climbed from the no-frost elevation up to thin snow and beyond that to the hoar frost zone. It was a day of a luminous blue sky and crystal formations in the trees.

Even in the lower elevations we could see the patterns of frost and wind on the trees and the understory vegetation.

This is what the forest looked like in the lower elevations.

This is what the forest looked like in the lower elevations.

Even individual rhodo leaves had the windblown frost.

I like the way you see the action of the wind in the frost.

I like the way you see the action of the wind in the frost.

We decided to go up to the ridgecrest directly from the Lower Cammerer trail. The ridge was inhabited by a fair amount of vegetation, but it was manageable.

Chris grapples with the brush.

Chris grapples with the brush.

We climbed up steeply and reached the junction of two worlds.

Here to there---is connection possible?

Here to there—is connection possible?

We tackled a series of rock bluffs, the last of which was the most difficult, leading up into a rock slot with one handy laurel to aid the way to the top. It led us to a viewpoint where we had open views of worlds of frost.

We saw the view over the glowing ridgeline shown at top, and we could also see up past some serious cliffs to the tower. If you look very closely at the photo below, you’ll see the famous tower.

The tower is visible as a faint shape on the horizon. Note the cliffs directly below.

The tower is visible as a faint shape on the horizon. Note the cliffs directly below.

Above this viewpoint, we gradually merged with the Groundhog Ridge manway, with a few points of uncertainty, but it didn’t matter, because all we had to do was continue upward. Eventually we got up above the forest and onto the open rocks close to the summit.

Cindy climbs last boulders to the tower.

Cindy climbs last boulders to the tower.

It was an incredible day. The one strange thing was that I managed to get my eye injured early on the way up even though I always wear glasses. Somehow a branch stabbed me from the side. It was the kind of injury that looks a lot worse than it really is, the eye swelling and saturated with blood. I saw a doctor this evening and, after examination, she told me it’s not a big problem—my eye will just look “impressibly horrible” for a week or so.

Siege of Mafeking: A young court interpreter December 6, 2013

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, military history.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
6 comments
Sol Plaatje as interpreter. Source: "Mafeking Diary: A Black Man's View of a White Man's War"

Sol Plaatje (in suspenders, leaning against wall). Source: “Mafeking Diary: A Black Man’s View of a White Man’s War”*

This post is dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela, July 7, 1918 – December 5, 2013.

The story of the siege starts here. For background on the causes and major events of the war, go here. To see all the posts in the series, go to the “tag cloud” in the column at right and click on “Siege of Mafeking.”

When Sol Plaatje came to Mafeking in October 1898, exactly a year before the siege began, he was a newly married man starting a career as a clerk and court interpreter. He would go on to play an important role as an advocate for African rights. In 1912, he became the first secretary of the South African Native National Congress, forerunner of the African National Congress.

He was born 1876 at Doornfontein in the Orange Free State, where his parents were active in a Missionary Society. The family moved to Pniel, near Kimberley, and Plaatje was educated at mission schools. A bright young man, he took a job at 17 as a messenger with the Post Office—but his goal was to eventually become an interpreter. He belonged to a community of church-goers with progressive ideals.

Most of that community were of Xhosa or Mfengu descent; Plaatje was descended from the Baralong of Modiboa. During his time in Kimberley, he became proficent in English, Dutch, Xhosa, Sesotho, and German in addition to his native Tswana. He developed a liking for Shakespeare and attended performances at the Kimberley Theatre. Later in life, he translated several Shakespeare plays into Tswana.

The place name “Mafeking” was a corruption of the name “Mafikeng,” or “Place of Rocks,” established by  the family of Montshiwa, the chief in the Malopo region. Montshiwa was in conflict with the Transvaal Boers for many years and received aid from the British imperial government, which created the Bechuanaland Protectorate to stave off the Boers’ territorial incursions. In 1885 the British settlement of Mafeking was established a mile from Montshiwa’s court. The whites referred to the black settlement as the “Stadt.”

At the time the war started, the majority of blacks in the area were Tshidi-Baralongs—Montshiwa’s people. But there were also Shangan (Tsonga) refugees—workers from British-owned gold mines on the Rand who’d been run off by the Boers as the war approached—as well as Fingos (Fengu) and mixed-race “Cape coloured boys.” The differences between the groups—who “belonged” there and who didn’t—would become an issue in latter days of the siege when food ran short.

Sol Plaatje

Plaatje had plenty of work to keep himself busy. In addition to his interpreting work, he provided translation and transcription services to several newspaper reporters in Mafeking. But he also found time to keep a diary. And a most interesting diary it was, full of humor and observant of detail.

His first entry, for October 29, describes the experience of hearing the Boer guns firing on the town and listening to the response of the British Maxims. No music is as thrilling and as immensely captivating as to listen to the firing of the guns on your own side. It is like enjoying supernatural melodies in a paradise to hear one or two shots fired off the armoured train; but no words can suitably depict the fascination of the music produced by the action of a Maxim, which to Boer ears, I am sure, is an exasperation…

He goes on to tell of a moment as he walked along the street with Mauser bullets making a “screech” and a “whizz” all around him. He felt something hit him behind his ear and decided that he must be in the act of dying. Dead! To rise no more. A few seconds elapsed after which I found myself scanning the bullet between my finger and thumb, to realise it was but a horsefly.

(To be continued)

*Sol Plaatje, Mafeking Diary: A Black Man’s View of a White Man’s War. Edited by John Comaroff with Brian Willan and Andrew Reed. Cambridge, UK: Meridor Books, 1990. All quotes from Plaatje come from this edition of his diary. I am indebted to the book for historical background as well, particularly about the history of African peoples. The subject is complex; the names used have invariably changed over the years; any errors are my own.

Right fork of Trout Branch December 2, 2013

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains, winter hiking.
Tags: , ,
13 comments
We looked back down the big waterfall.

We looked back down from the top of the big waterfall.

I’ve been up Trout Branch maybe four or five times over the years, but I’ve always gone to the left at the major junction just below 4400′. Most times I’ve gone up what you might call the right fork of the left fork, the one that leads up to the Alum Cave trail directly below Cliff Top. Once I took the left of the left, which goes to the West Point ridge. The right fork was the only one I hadn’t explored.

I was accompanied by Cindy McJunkin and Chris Sass on this fine outing. They are great hiking companions. Chris and I have done a lot of hiking trips together, but this fall he’s been swamped with work at his teaching position at Young Harris College in north Georgia (he teaches math). He hadn’t been able to get out for a good bushwhack adventure since August… way too long. Cindy has been bitten by the off-trail bug in the past couple of years—she’s an experienced backpacker who’s put in a lot of mileage on the A.T.—so I was glad she was able to join this outing. Fellow female bushwhackers don’t come along all that often.

Our route up Trout Branch.

Our route up Trout Branch. It terminated at the trail, a dotted line hard to see on this map. Click for zoom.

We started a little after 9:00 and proceeded up the lower stream. Even in this photo you can see a hint of red discoloration on the rocks caused by landslide activity that exposed sulfuric Anakeesta bedrock.

Look closely, and you'll see a faint reddish tint on some of the rocks.

Look closely, and you’ll see a faint reddish tint on some of the rocks.

As we got closer to the base of the big landslide, we could see patches of the “tomato soup” water that you encounter after these cataclysmic events. For photos of a trip up the slide, go here. Recent heavy rains have diluted the water.

Now we get into the "tomato soup."

Now we get into the “tomato soup.”

The logjam at the base of the slide is just amazing.

These were living trees up till the landslide, which snapped them off and stripped off the bark.

These were living trees up till the landslide, which snapped them off and stripped off the bark.

Bottom of the slide chute.

Bottom of the slide chute.

The slide is fun to climb in dry conditions. In the ice and snow we encountered this day, it would’ve been pretty challenging.

All along the stream I enjoyed the ice formations.

Snow and ice over water.

Snow and ice over water.

There is a particularly beautiful pool a little above the landslide junction.

Chris approaches the pool.

Chris approaches the pool.
A place of dreams and imagination.

A place of dreams and imagination.

We had a treat a little further along: paw prints in the snow.

Bear prints in the snow.

Bear prints in the snow.
The bear walked across the snowy log.

The bear walked across the snowy log.

We saw a large waterfall ahead. In this photo you see the sunlight hitting the treetops above. We were in and out of sunlight in this stream valley.

This was a significant obstacle.

This was a significant obstacle.

We did some serious rhodo thrashing to get around the waterfall and finally got to the top, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. We got into pitches of steep terrain.

Looking down the slope.

Looking down the slope.

At around 5100′, several small valleys converge, some too small to show up on the map. At first we stayed with the largest, easternmost valley, but when we reached a point where it was clogged with blowdowns, we opted to follow a draw that angled to the left, going close to due north.

Cindy and Chris work their way up the valley.

Cindy and Chris work their way up the valley.

We got into a fun bit of steep rock scrambling. When we reached smooth icy ledge we headed off to the right and got into steep spruce forest. From there it was a strenuous but straightforward climb up to the trail.

We’d thought we might cross the trail and continue upward along a valley that in days past was used as a descent route by LeConte Lodge workers. However, sunset comes so early these days that we opted to head down, and it was a good thing we did, for it was getting dark by the time we reached the lower sections of the Alum Cave trail. Can you believe it took us from around 9:15 to 2:30 to go something like two miles on the off-trail portion? If you figure we’re especially slow or inept, I invite you to try it for yourself, in similar conditions of snow and ice.

As we descended the trail, we met J.P. Krol, the winter caretaker of LeConte Lodge. Most likely he was entertaining himself with a trip down to Alum  Cave Bluff.

A great hike with two fine bushwhacking companions.

Cindy took off her pack to squeeze under this log.

Cindy took off her pack to squeeze under this log.