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Charlie Klabunde February 14, 2015

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, grief, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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A gloomy-looking lunch on Woolly Tops. Charlie enjoys his sandwich. And who is that strange-looking woman on the left? It's me!

A gloomy-looking lunch on Woolly Tops. Charlie is in the blue jacket. And who is that strange-looking woman on the left? It’s me! All photos here were taken by Al Watson.

Charlie died February 7 at the age of 83. He had been a member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club since 1965. He contributed to the club in countless ways, ranging from production of the newsletter and the handbook to organizing the club’s photo contests to maintaining a section of the Appalachian Trail. It is a huge loss for many people. Here is something I wrote on the “Go Smokies” internet forum, when someone reported his death on that site:

I heard the news earlier this afternoon, and this is devastating to me. As he became very ill late last fall, I shared some of my thoughts with fellow members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, and I hope they will forgive me if I repeat some of these thoughts. I joined the club in 1983. I looked at Charlie as a mentor (I don’t know if he especially wanted a young woman putting him into that position, but he tolerated it.) As he led the way up many challenging off-trail places, like Cannon Creek for example, or my first trip up the Jumpoff from the bottom, I found his presence immensely comforting. Funny thing was, it was all the more comforting because he never tried to be gentle and accomodating. He was always true to himself, and he always just spoke his mind. Sometimes he could be impatient, sometimes amused, and people did occasionally perceive him as “prickly” and had problems with that. But I instinctively recognized his integrity, and that was much more valuable to me than any effortful politeness. What I truly marveled at was his approach to the subject of risk. Off-trail hiking always involves a certain amount of risk. And yet what I learned from him was that risk can be valuable, it can be an essential component of human experience. As I told the SMHC late last year, one of my favorite quotes from him was, in the face of some ridiculous obstacle, “You only have to go right up the middle.” On many hikes I followed right behind him—it probably annoyed him, actually—trusting that he would know the best way to go. I would pipe up with some comment like, “We must be near such-and-such stream junction,” and he would just look at me, shake his head sadly, and say, “No. We haven’t gone around the end of the ridge yet.” And somewhere nearby in the woods as we made our way along, I would see the familiar sight of him, always wearing the same style of plaid cotton shirts and khaki-type pants, and carrying his map sections in a zip-loc bag.

Andy Zenick and Matthew Kelleher in foreground, Charlie Klabunde to the right.

Still on Woolly Tops—the sun has come out, but we are rather damp! Andy Zenick and Matthew Kelleher in foreground, Charlie to the right, figuring out the best route down.

The photo below doesn’t show a lot of detail, but it reminds me of a neat little observation Charlie made: that on the lower section of Eagle Rocks Prong, all the moss had been scoured off the boulders—you can see that here.  Above a certain point, all the rocks had the normal mossy covering. A flash flood had hit the stream at precisely that point. I learned much from him along these lines.

Charlie sits astride a log on the scoured-out portion of Eagle Rocks Prong.

Charlie sits astride a log on the scoured-out portion of Eagle Rocks Prong.

Charlie gave me something that can never be taken away, and I celebrate that. He gave me an appreciation of detailed observation of the outdoors—the specifics of stream valleys and ridges. He also gave me, as I described above, an appreciation of the value of risk in human life. And whenever I venture off-trail, I think about Charlie.

The lure of Eagle Rocks November 18, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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A tributary of Eagle Rocks Prong

For years I have been intrigued by the idea of following Eagle Rocks Prong all the way up to the A.T.—up the Eagle Rocks cliffs themselves. A year ago, a group of five attempted to go over the top of Woolly Tops, down into a tributary of Eagle Rocks Prong, and then up to the cliffs. After spending a night on Woolly Tops, we had to abort our plans because of high water conditions. The rhodo was too thick on the streambanks, the water on our minor side stream too fast and too high to wade.

This was taken on last year's trip

Now there are rumblings of another attempt to be made next spring. It remains to be seen whether we will actually be able to coordinate schedules for what now looks like could be a three-day trip, going up the Prong, camping at the base of the cliffs, going up the cliffs and back down for a second night, then going back out the Prong with a possible side trip to Rock Den on Chapman Prong.

The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club did this trip back in the 30s and 40s, following an old footpath along the stream that was already hard to find back then. We’ll assume that above Buck Fork or so, there is no trace at all of any path. Here is a description of a 1942 trip from Harvey Broome in Out Under the Sky of the Great Smokies:

The next day we walked up Eagle Rocks Prong along the old trail which is so far gone that we were off it as often as we were on it… At the Laurel Top fork we took to the creek, and skirted great pools as we moved readily along the dry rocks at the edges. We climbed gradually through comparative flats and open woods until the Stateline loomed ahead of us, appallingly steep. At the first great cliff, lying close to its base, we found snow—a drift 40 feet long and two feet thick. There was momentarily a wintry sting to the air. We climbed the spikes of a leaning spruce and surmounted the first falls. Once we pushed over a loose rock which dropped with sickening momentum, hit with a splintering crunch and bounded on, gaining speed as it fell. It was frightening even to think of falling in such places. Then we saw the Black Cliff—a dry, warm, gnarled, lichen-covered surface with the water trickling in a fissure at the side. The cliff opened out over a gulf so steep we could look into the tops of trees, and on across a wide-flung blue world of mountains.

You can see Dutch Roth’s photo of hikers, probably SMHC members, climbing a cliff in the area here. It’s fun to read about these trips from the middle decades of the last century. One of the people who plans to do the trip next spring stumbled across an article about a trip done up the Prong in 1956 using equipment that sounds outlandish to us now, such as a “Trapper Nelson packboard.” Reading that whets the appetite to explore what could be considered the wildest, most rugged area of the park. And so, as I go through the winter months ahead, I will have this wonderful place to think about.

Resting on a log on lower Eagle Rocks Prong, SMHC trip 1986

More Woolly Tops pix November 13, 2009

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Smoky Mountains.
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I’ve received a CD of photos and videos taken by Josh and Paul of our Woolly Tops expedition.  Some of them show the waterlogged second day of our trip.  Many wonderful ones to choose from—here are a few.


The tributary of Eagle Rocks Prong we waded down (taken by Paul)


Brian contemplates the stream (taken by Josh)


Peter and Jenny forge down the stream (taken by Josh)


Jenny bushwhacks along Laurel Top ridge (taken by Josh)


Jenny's hat (taken by Josh)


We hit the A.T. (taken by Josh)


The Reaper cooks breakfast at Tricorner Knob (taken by Paul)


Hoar frost along the A.T. (taken by Josh)