This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog about my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issuEdgy in Montreat Wildernesses. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Mountains-to-Sea Trail Growing Across North Carolina

Reedy Fork Farm on the MST
Reedy Fork Farm on the MST


A few weeks ago, Milestone Press asked me to suggest changes for Hiking the Carolina Mountains. The book is on its sixth printing and it’s updated before each printing.

I looked at what I had written about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 2006. before its first printing. At that time, the trail was “over 900 miles”. Now it’s 1,100 miles. I also said

Only eight people have walked its full length.

Now over 45 people have completed the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina. Unlike in 2006, there are websites, blogs and personal accounts of walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. We’ve had veterans walking off the war on the MST. The trail was featured on a program, Highway to the Future, shown on UNC-TV. The MST has even been a day sponsor on WCQS, the Asheville NPR station.

Kate Dixon
Kate Dixon

Much of that credit goes to Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the  Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Kate seems to be everywhere in North Carolina, talking up the trail and conferring with state officials on its future – the trail is a North Carolina state trail.

And now the state is funding a Master Plan which “will chart a path toward designation of remaining planned portions of the Mountains to Sea State Trail. The master plan will describe the trail sections to be designated, unify regional planning efforts, recommend priorities for preparing plans for logical sub-sections of the trail, outline potential partners and their roles, identify funding strategies and sources, and provide tools for segment managers.”

Friends of the MST
Friends of the MST

The state wants our input – and with 18 task forces, it will get input. So what can you do?

First, if you’re not a member of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, join and become a member. Remember, the most important thing is to show up and be counted.

You’ve joined? Great! Tomorrow, the next step to getting involved.

Best Outdoor Books of 2014

If you haven’t gotten all your presents, here are some ideas of outdoor books that I’ve enjoyed this year.

Walking Distance by Robert and Martha Manning is a coffee table book which describes 30 long distance hikes. Published by the University of Oregon Press ($35), it would make a special gift for hikers and dreamers.

PNF BOOKcoverAPisgah National Forest by Marci Spencer just came out last month. Published by the History Press, the book has gotten a lot of great press locally. Somehow, she managed to interest the Cecil family, owners of Biltmore House, in her book.

Good for her.


Emma Grandma Gatewood was not the first woman to thru-hike the A.T. but she was the first woman to do it by herself.

Grandma Gatewood
Grandma Gatewood

She was also the first thru-hiker to attract a great deal of national publicity. When reporters asked Emma why she was walking the A.T., she kept saying, “I did it as a lark.” Her reasons may have been deeper and darker. She inspired the next generation of A.T. hikers, including me.

Now, in the first biography of this famous A.T. icon, Ben Montgomery, a staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times, examines Emma Gatewood’s life on and off the A.T. It turns out that Emma Gatewood was the author’s great-great aunt. Read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk published by the Chicago Review Press.

I plan to read Untamed by Will Harlan by a woman who lives on Cumberland Island. It received tremendous reviews and I’m going back to Cumberland Island next month.

BookcoverMSTsmallAOf course, I can always suggest that you buy one of my books but my latest one,  The Mountains-to-Sea Trail Across North Carolina was published last year.  I just revised Hiking the Carolina Mountains which is going into its sixth printing.

I’m working on a new book on the people of the Southeastern national parks, to come out in 2016.



Grotto Falls on Ice

GSMA board and staff
GSMA board and staff

So the government didn’t shut down on Thursday night. The House narrowly passes a bill to avoid a shutdown. The adopted measure funds the government until the end of September, 2015 and the national parks are still open.

Friday, I went to a board meeting of the Great Smoky Mountains Association in Gatlinburg. The big discussion centered about the search for a new executive director. Terry Maddox, at the helm since 1990, is retiring at the end of next year. Then Lenny and I attended the park’s annual Christmas party and stayed over.

Lenny and I always take the opportunity to hike on the Tennessee side of the park on the next day. This time, we went up Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls. Trillium Gap Trail is one of five trails that go up to Mt. Le Conte and LeConte Lodge. The llama train, which brings up supplies and brings down trash and dirty laundry, takes this trail, so you know that it’s well maintained.

Icicles on Grotto Falls
Icicles on Grotto Falls

It was a beautiful but cold day. We were hardly the only car in the parking lot but only saw two other groups on the trail: a well-prepared 40sh couple from Southern Indiana and two millenials without a pack. He was carrying a water bottle in his hand and she was carrying her cell phone. Neither looked like they were enjoying the trail.

Grotto Falls
Grotto Falls

The trail around Grotto Falls was icy. We stopped a little short of the falls but I was still able to grab this shot on the left. I was expecting the falls to be frozen but the water was coming down in force. Icicles dangled from rocks on the sides. If we had continued up the trail, we would have reached Mt. Le Conte but it would have been much icier and colder. We turned around and strolled down.

At the bottom, while I was changing out of my boots, I saw this sign at the Rainbow Trail and Trillium Gap parking area. This picture is for Anna Lee Z., of Friends of the Smokies.


Now what am I talking about? Look at the sign carefully. Note that Mt. Le Conte has a space. Mt. 20141213Trilliumgaptrailsign1ALe Conte was named after one of the brothers, Joseph or John Le Conte. For this discussion, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is the space between Le Conte on the line about the mountain. “Conte” in French means “tale”, so “the tale”.

But LeConte Lodge doesn’t have a space. Why? Anna Lee called LeConte Lodge and they said that the lodge is spelled without a space. Probably easier to remember on their marketing material.

Yes, accuracy matters. Friends of the Smokies will be leading a trip to Mt. Le Conte and stay at LeConte Lodge next July. Come on up with us.


Can we have another park shut down tonight?

In the Everglades
In the Everglades


As I write this, our House of Representatives could shut down non-essential services at midnight tonight. Somehow, our representatives have decided that non-essential means our national park service. Their job is to come up with a budget that will stick for a while. Instead they’re discussing the budget at the last hour. You can see the details as of about 2 pm.

A couple of days ago, the Executive Director of APPL (Association for Partners for Public Lands) sent out this assessment of the bill to fund the government until the end of 2015. Though his letter is dated 12/10/2014–that’s yesterday– it may already be obsolete but it’s certainly worht reading.

The Contents of the bill

The pluses behind the bill are less than inspiring, but pluses nonetheless:

After last year’s awful government shutdown, we avoid similar closures and disruptions this year.

Shiloh Military Park
Shiloh Military Park

The funding levels for land management agencies are not as bad as they could have been. Department of Interior budgets were largely flat, at a time when many agencies like the EPA will face substantial cuts. BLM, for example, received more funding than was requested by the Administration. On the other hand, FWS will receive more funding than last year, but less than the President’s request. (To be clear, I believe all of our land management agencies need more funding than this bill provides… but in today’s political climate, it could have been worse.)

NPS received an additional $39 million in operations and $10 million for a Centennial Challenge public-private matching program? (minimum 50% matching funds required of private sector to federal match). The NPS is required to provide the Congress with information about how it will implement the Centennial Challenge within 90 days of enactment, and APPL will be in dialogue with NPS about how it might work with its nonprofit partners on this opportunity.

View from Bodie Island
View from Bodie Island

Authorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which APPL has strongly advocated for with Congressional leaders, is extended through September 2016.

Report language is also included the encourages the NPS to support ongoing public private partnerships, a statement that APPL worked with House staff to develop this summer. The bill states that “Efforts made by the Service thus far to expand partnerships are commendable, but more can be done. The Department and the Service are urged to continue reassessing recent policy interpretations and review procedures to promote the greater use of partnerships that have historically proven beneficial to national parks and partners.” The work of APPL of the NPS Advisory Board to revise Director’s Order 21 is an example of the review Congress is requesting of the NPS.

And now the minuses. It appears that in the negotiations the cost of reasonable budgets are several blows to the environmental movement through riders – an informal term for an amendment to an appropriation bill that changes the law governing a program funded by the bill. In this case, the most controversial riders places a moratorium on the Interior Department’s ability to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), although there are several provisions that negatively impact wildlife. ?Unfortunately, many provisions that APPL and other conservation groups hoped to see included in the bill – especially the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – were not.

 I can tell you that there is a great deal of debate within the environmental community in Washington DC during the last 16 hours about whether public lands and the environment are bearing too much of this compromise bill. APPL is working with others to develop a balanced. community response to the legislation in the next 24 hours. We want to recognize the good work of many appropriators who fought for reasonable land management agency budgets, while registering our ongoing concern about the health of our lands in light of certain riders.

So, if you’re still with me, here’s the irony of the situation. Tomorrow, I’ll be attending the board meeting of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, one of the part partners. Then the park will have the annual Christmas party, both being held in Gatlinburg, TN, outside the park. So these two functions aren’t threatened.

But on Saturday morning, Lenny and I are taking the opportunity to hike on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. The park had better be open for us.



Friends of the Smokies – Excitement off the Kephart Prong Trail

20141209FOTSKephartprong 001AWhat do I mean “off the trail”? Don’t I mean on the hike?

Our Friends of the Smokies December hike was going to be an easy four mile hike on Kephart Prong Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, followed by a pot luck get-together at the Oconaluftee administration building. What could be simpler than that? Meet at OVC, caravan to the Kephart Prong Trail, up the trail and down and eat.

Thirteen hikers, including Lenny, my husband, met at Oconaluftee Visitor Center (OVC). Ann Lee Z. of the Friends Waynesville office, had volunteered to stay behind to organize all the lovely food that hikers had brought and make some hot drinks. We consolidated cars and started up Newfound Gap Rd.

20141209PriusdentHolly Demuth, also of the Waynesville office, and I were in the back of Lenny’s Prius, chatting when I heard a scream, followed by a thump. A deer had ventured on the road, didn’t look both ways and ran into Lenny’s car. Not good for the car and not good for the deer. I didn’t take a picture of the deer.

Thank goodness that we still had cell service. And thank goodness that Holly knew the phone number for OVC. We called and the ranger said that she was dispatching a law enforcement ranger. Lenny stayed with the car while the rest continued up the road. We got to the trailhead and started walking up the trail.

Our first stop was the Civilian Conservation Corps site – number 411 – one of the largest CCC sites in the Smokies. The picture above is of the group, minus Lenny and me (I was the photographer), in front of a rock information board left over from the CCC camp. These guys improved the roads, and built trails, parking areas and comfort stations. In 1942, they closed the CCC program and consciouscious objectors moved into the same camps.

20141209FOTSKephartprong 004AWe followed the stream on an old railroad bed. It was starting to hail a little as we climbed further up. I pointed out a WPA (Works Project Administration) fish hatchery up on the right and a couple of us climbed to the top. They bred rainbow trout to stock the streams.

20141209FOTSKephartprong 008AAfter two miles and five bridges, we reached Kephart Shelter where we had an early, light lunch. After all, we were going to have refreshments very soon.

Holly talked about the exciting hiking for next year, including a trip to Le Conte Lodge. We discussed Horace Kephart and his influence on creating Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

And as we talked, Lenny came up the trail. Yippee!! The ranger had been very efficient, the paper work was done and the deer was well enough to limp away. The ranger called the wildlife officer who arrived to see the deer leaving. The park doesn’t rehabilitate the wildlife, so they weren’t going to set the deer’s leg, if it had been hurt.

We strolled down as the hail came down harder. But by the time we got back to the cars, the precipitation stopped. We drove back to OVC but we reached a barricade. The park had closed Newfound Gap Road because of the weather on top. Whoops!

We were in that in between area without cell service. I was ready to walk down to the visitor center but saw a car coming up, trying to go through. As they turned around, I asked them to give me a ride to OVC to ask for the ranger’s assistance again –  this time to have someone come up and open up the barricade. I told my sad story to the ranger at the desk and she went through the proper channels. “They’ll get to it,” she said.

20141209LyndaatbarricadeBut Lynda Doucette, supervisory ranger on the North Carolina side of the park, helped us out. She grabbed the keys for the barricade, jumped into her car and I went with her.

We reached the barricade and I took pictures while she opened the gate. We were free – actually I had been free for a while but it would have been a long walk back to Asheville if I didn’t have a car.

So thank you, park staff, for helping us out today. We really appreciated your service and all you do to keep the Smokies a hiking park, even if visitors get in trouble on the road.

We had a great hike and kept the drama off the trail. And oh yes, the food and hot drinks were delicious. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

To register for 2015 Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact Anna Lee Zanetti at or call 828-452-0720.