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My new hiking tool January 19, 2015

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, history, Life experience.
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Actually, it's pretty old... but in this case that's a good thing.

Actually, it’s pretty old… but in this case that’s a good thing, because this is rare and valuable.

Everyone who explores off-trail with me knows that I use map, compass, and altimeter and don’t own a GPS. If you are curious about this preference, please read this piece, which I wrote in late 2008. That was toward the end of my long sojourn in New England, so you will find references to oddities like the severe magnetic declination in the Northeast.

At that time, I still owned an analog altimeter. It was a Peet, the second one I owned. An earlier Thommen had been lost. The Peet got drowned after I returned to the Smokies area and waded up Lester Prong (I’ve also drowned a camera there). And I found that I was unable to replace it, due to the now-complete dominance of digital devices of one sort or another. All I could find on the market was crude altimeters with very large increments of elevation, some meant for skydiving. Because smaller means more precise, you don’t want anything more than 20′ increments.

I’d also been using a digital altimeter on a lot of hikes. I do like the multiple functions of these devices, the ability to do things like get your cumulative elevation gain or fun-but-totally-unnecessary things like set an alarm to go off when you’ve reached 4000′. But they have never been as accurate as the mechanical altimeters.

So I reluctantly accepted that the older ones were extinct, and I’ve gone through several digital altimeters. They always seem to start going wonky well before the battery dies, and they are severely affected by temperature. Check your wristwatch altimeter in a warm car just before you get out into near-zero temps, then check it again. You’ll see what I mean.

In the meantime, GPS technology just keeps getting better and better. I remember folks trying out the early models in the mid-1990s and practically heaving them into the woods with frustration, often for lack of satellite coverage.

I don’t hate GPS units or think they’re “cheating” or somehow inferior to traditional technology, though I do believe that everyone who uses a GPS should also know how to use map, compass, and altimeter in case something goes wrong. A compass never goes wrong unless you’re in weird magnetic terrain or unless the compass becomes mechanically broken (that did happen to me with a 25-year-old compass). My only other hesitation about GPS use is that folks sometimes seem to look at the unit more than they observe the terrain.

I admire the wonderful tracks and maps that people produce with GPS and associated software. And I see how GPS is especially useful for people pinpointing very specific locations such as old homesites.

Anyway, there was recently a discussion about all this on the “GoSmokies” forum. I put in my typical comment about my method of navigation: in the Smokies I use altimeter more than compass to locate points like specific stream junctions where I know the elevation. At the end of my comment, I mentioned that if anyone had an old analog altimeter, I’d like to buy it. And someone responded! A very nice guy named Dan G. was willing to part with an old but top-of-the-line Thommen altimeter.

I immediately wondered if it had the wonderful feature of my old Thommen: a small window that changes color each time the needle makes a circuit of the 3000′-dial. A little below 3000′, it shows red to alert you that you’re moving up to the next circuit; below 6000′, it shows yellow; below 9000′, it shows blue, and so on. And it DID have the window, plus some features related to units of barometric pressure that my old one didn’t.

You may ask what’s so wonderful about a little window that shows color. Well, it’s because the dial can’t show more than 3000′ since any larger amount of elevation would take up too much space. Suppose you could see up to 10,000′ with one revolution of the dial. Can you imagine how small the markings would have to be—or how large the dial would have to be?

I know, so much easier to have a rectangular screen with numbers that change digitally. But you miss out on the beauty of a complex and ingenious mechanical device. And…it has no battery. Hah!

Closeup of the small window.

Closeup of the small window.

In the photo above, you see red disappearing to the left and a tiny bit of blue coming up on the right. We are a little more than two-thirds between the 0 and the 3 because the photo was taken at my house, which is at elev. 2160′. You can see that in the top photo.


“Simple exercises for the figure” March 31, 2014

Posted by Jenny in history, Lifestyle, memoir.
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ShirtwaistsMy maternal grandmother, Beatrice Grieb Johnstone, grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When she passed away, my mother found among her belongings a diary she kept at the age of 16. It was a hardbound volume with five printed lines beneath each date, clearly intended for the jottings of a society lady, produced by the John Wanamaker department store.

Grandma’s diary entries had much to do with music lessons, ice skating, “rough-housing” with her cousins, and bringing a lizard to school to cause a commotion. She grew bored with the diary by September and apparently did not try it again the next year.

The Wanamaker Diary featured a pithy saying for each day, such as “Glass, china and reputation are easily cracked and not well mended.” Many pages were filled with advertisements, and other pages contained short articles about topics ranging from “The Value of Archery” to “Theory of Nerve Vibrations” to “The Hygiene of Travel.”

Beatrice Grieb

Beatrice Grieb

Here is an article titled “Simple Exercises For the Figure.”

A sensible means of reducing the number of inches at the waist, thus achieving slimness without compression, is to spend a few minutes in deep nasal breathing before an open window. Walk round the room stepping high, first with the right leg and then with the left.

Walk round the room with the arms stretching up as high as possible, and working one after the other as though progressing along the rungs of an imaginary ladder laid horizontally near the ceiling. The walking must be done on the tips of the toes, so that the whole body is kept at full stretch. Once round a fair-sized room will be enough of this at a time.

An elegant poise may be obtained, as well as a beneficial effect on the nervous system, by raising the leg sideways as high as it will go while standing perfectly still on the other foot. Repeat on each side alternately a dozen times.

Artists have accepted the Greek proportions as those of the ideal figure, and, according to this model, a woman’s height when fully attained should be 5 feet 5 inches; her waist should measure 24 inches; the bust under the arms 34 inches; and over the arms 43 inches. The circumference of the upper arm should be 13 inches; of the wrist 6 inches. The thighs should measure 25 inches, the calves 14 1/2 inches, the ankles 8 inches each. And the weight of this ideal figure should be 138 pounds.

Philadelphia soap

Early hikers of the SMHC March 16, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, history, Smoky Mountains.
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The first outing of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, October 1924

On this outing October 18-19, 1924, hikers agreed to organize the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club. Photo by Jim Thompson. (Click for zoom)

The photo above was taken at Cliff Top on Mt. LeConte. The group had a guide, Jim Eslinger, to help them find the way up the wild, rugged slopes of the mountain. From Knoxville, a trip to LeConte was generally an overnight outing in those days. Bear in mind this was well before the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the birthdate of the park is generally considered to be 1934, but land acquisition was not actually completed until 1938, and the park was not dedicated until 1940.

I don’t know which route the SMHC pioneers used to climb the mountain. My guess is they went up Bear Pen Hollow. I do read in Ken Wise’s book* that the founder and builder of LeConte Lodge, Jack Huff, used the Bear Pen route when he and his wife Pauline went up to the top. They hiked up the West Prong valley, forded the stream at Fort Harry, and spent the night at the hollow before climbing up.

Up at Cliff Top on that October 1924 trip, the hikers discussed and agreed to form a club that would work for protection of the “natural beauty” of the mountains. The names of the individuals on the outing are given at the bottom of this post. The SMHC was to become an important group in advocating for the creation of the park.

The first scheduled hike of the newly formed club was another trip up LeConte on December 6, 1924. I’m not surprised they chose to go up LeConte again. It’s an endlessly fascinating place.

I have a pamphlet that describes the 1926 SMHC program. The year after that, the club would begin to produce the multi-page handbooks that have continued to appear every year since then, even during WW2 when the hiking program was curtailed by gas rationing. During the war years, hikers were advised to take the Gatlinburg-Asheville bus, which went over Newfound Gap. Along the way, the bus could let them off at various points of interest—including Huggins Hell and Anakeesta Ridge!

Photo from 1942 handbook taken by Fred Beckman.

Photo from 1942 handbook taken by Fred Beckman. Names of hikers unknown. Situation very well known….

In 1926, hikers carpooled from Saunders System, 204 W. Church Ave., next to the Sentinel newspaper building. This appears to have been a car rental place that was succeeded by Dixie System for many years.

I’m going to quote a few paragraphs from the pamphlet. “Carry your canteen on all hikes. No fire arms allowed on hikes. All trails are being marked and numbered with our official emblem. [In bold face type:] Don’t expect the other fellow to carry your pack.

“Leaders should start slowly, and gradually work up to required speed. They must see that lunching places and camp sites are made clean. Burn all garbage and rubbish before leaving. Appoint some one to gather fire wood. The leader shall be in command of the party from the time of leaving until its return. The majority shall rule in case of storm or emergency when leader is undecided as to the best thing to do.”

“It is advisable to take a light-weight rain coat, and possibly a sweater, on all hikes. In cold weather it is best to wear a coat over your sweater, to give protection from the hard winds that are usually encountered on the mountains. Gloves and wool sox are also advisable. A study of the following equipment list may prevent your forgetting some important item of equipment: Canteen; Mess kit; Knife, fork and spoon; Matches, in air-tight tin; First aid kit; Axe; Lantern or candles; Compass; Nails; String; Field glasses.”

A list of recommended foods included: “Bacon; Bread; Butter; Cocoa; Cheese; Eggs; Ham; Evaporated milk; Chipped beef; Malted milk; Figs; Dates; Potatoes; Pancake flour; Jelly; Prunes; Sugar; Salt; Lemons; Apricots…”

There are many ways in which these recommendations differ from our present-day hiking and camping practices!

A sample hike from the 1926 pamphlet: “Alum Cave. Trail No. 1, 2 and 3. Circle trip from Gatlinburg via Mt. LeConte and returning via Indian Gap Trail. Total distance 15 miles of hard hiking. A trip only a few persons have made. Leave Knoxville Saturday at 9:00 a.m. Spend Saturday night on Mt. LeConte. Sleeping accommodations on top of mountain.  Bring food for three meals. Leader, Albert Roth, old phone 6173-J.”

* Kenneth Wise, Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996.

The hikers in the topmost photo are, left to right, Charley Barber, Frank Wilson (seated), Baxter Gass,  Guy Barber, Charley Kane, Charley Lester, Marshall Wilson, Louise Smith, Caesar Stair, Douglas Smith, Besse Geagley, George Barber, W.H. McCroskey, and Carlos Campbell. Also on the trip were T.S. McKinney, A.L. Chavannes, Neal Spahr, Hugh White, Jim Eslinger (guide), and Jim Thompson (photographer).

Photo titled "Getting a close-up of a flower" by Wylie Bowmaster. The name of the pictured photographer isn't known. From 1938 handbook. photographer

Photo titled “Getting a close-up of a flower” by Wylie Bowmaster. The name of the pictured photographer isn’t known. From 1938 handbook.