camping Dad Foothills Trail Lake Jocassee rock climbing

What happened to "I hate the outdoors"?

“I hate the outdoors.”

This is what I used to say. We camped in campgrounds a few times, and went fishing a few times. A couple times we camped out in the backyard, which was pretty much just an experience in the cold. I enjoyed bike riding as a teenager, but those rock hard legs I used to have softened up once I got my driver’s license. I went to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with a church youth group in 2000, and I merely thought, “This is cool.” I had no awe, I was not enamored. I was not captured by the splendor before my eyes.

Even when I was growing up, my parents would get out the slide projector and the big silver screen and we would watch slide shows some nights (I’m not as young as I may look). We would see slides of my dad’s trips out west. I cannot recall all the places I saw, but I know my dad has been to Arches, Bryce, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and more. More times than I can remember, he took me outside and showed me constellations in the night sky and taught me about the stars. Even with the slides, the stories, the stars, and the sparkle in the eye of someone who has experienced the wonder of realizing the world is bigger than one man’s place in it… I failed to catch the bug. The seeds were definitely planted in my youth. Thanks dad.

In 2005, we moved to South Carolina, where I continued to be more interested in Futurama and Halo than I was in North Carolina or Utah. I became friends with Tom, who was clearly had a passion for the outdoors. For several years, he kept telling me, “I’ve gotta get you out.” In the summer of 2009, he did. He took me to Lake Jocasee in the north western border of South Carolina. Nine miles via boat, we finally set anchor and pitched our tent along the Foothills Trail. The picture for this post, which is the only one I have from this trip, is what I first saw when I opened my eyes the next morning. After that, we hiked to a waterfall pouring into a lagoon and went swimming. This was fun. In Spring 2010, Tom and I joined a couple other guys from church, and we backpacked to Sam Knob and Devil’s Courthouse in Pisgah National Forest, which is adjacent to Shining Rock Wilderness. Tom taught me about reading a topography map, paying attention to my surroundings, trip planning and Backpacker Magazine. He really took me under his wing to get this bird off the ground.

In April 2009, I met Erich. He kept asking me to go rock climbing at the gym (Climb @ Blue Ridge on Bulls Rd). Finally, I went, and it was super fun. We went several times after that over the winter and the following spring we wound up climbing at Crowders Mountain State Park in NC. Then in July 2010, we adventured at the New River Gorge in WV along the Endless Wall. I believe this was the trip that REALLY grabbed me for adventure.

A few dayhikes and waterfalls later, I planned my first guys overnight camping trip. We camped along Kistler Memorial Highway at Linville Gorge and did the central (legal) section of Rock Jock trail, with side trips to Razor’s Edge Point, Razor’s Edge Rock (which is one of the most thrilling outdoor experiences I’ve ever had), and Hacker’s Point. Thank you everyone who encouraged me on the planning of this trip.

It took many years, and many seeds planted, especially by my dad. Thanks for all of the places you showed me when I was a kid. I wish I had paid closer attention and had much more fervor than I did. Even though it’s late, I can say with total honesty….

I love the outdoors.

backpacking camping hiking Little Green Mountain Panthertown Valley Schoolhouse Falls Trip report Yosemite of the East

Trip Report – Panthertown Valley May 11-12, 2012

So myself, Andrew and Matt are planning on going to Panthertown on Friday. Rob emails me during the week to invite me up to Graveyard Fields with him and his boys the same time. I had been anticipating Panthertown for a while, so I declined to go but instead invited his group to join ours! They did. Ready to roll – 4 guys, 4 boys. Awesome.

This was also the maiden voyage of the Lorax. I read Dr Seuss’s book to my daughter, Emma. That’s our thing. We each got a stuffed Lorax, and his trial run was on this trip. A mascot for a photo album. Anyway..

Rob and the boys headed up earlier in the day, and we were going to meet them at the shelter. Gory details spared, things were not going the way I planned and wanted them to on this end. I left on my own, then Andrew and Matt were not far behind me. Cold Mountain Road, here I come.

I arrived at the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead a little after 7:30pm. After screwing around with my pack and trekking poles and map and taking pictures of the Lorax at the trailhead, I finally headed off into the woods at 7:49pm. 5 minutes into Panthertown Valley trail, I was met with praise music cutting through the forest. An oddity, for sure. Canaan Lands, which is accessible from this trail, was the source of the music. High quality speakers with soothing crooning of how Jesus died for my sins. I’m apparently not going to be allowed to hold onto my grudge this evening. Also, I have no idea what Canaan Lands is. Hm.

Heading on, Panthertown Valley Trail is an old logging road and extremely easy going. Along the way to my intersection at Mac’s Gap, I was pleasantly surprised by the biodiversity of the area. A true sandy flats (unlike some I have experienced!) followed the creek. At one point there was even a white sand bar island within the creek, a beautiful area with a small waterfall within sight. Small nature sign posts scattered along informed me that the sphagnum moss growing showed the area to be a perfect bog that allowed the growth of carnivorous plants. Cool, although I did not see any, which is not cool. I looked for some variety of a Pitcher plant, which is what I thought seemed appropriate, but nothing. Next time.

I met up with Andrew and Matt on Mac’s Gap trail before it cut through some meadows and campsites. Briefly, we spoke on the anticipation and expectation we had of our reconciliation before it had even happened, and how we would be better friends after we worked through it. It’s funny how idolatry works. I held onto this trip so tightly that I was willing to allow resentment grow for my friend and brother who Christ died for as well. Hiking in the dark, though still not what I would prefer, is better than a severed relationship. John Calvin was indeed right when he said, “Our hearts are a factory of idols.”

Moving on.

We came to the intersection of Mac’s Gap Trail and Granny Burrell Trail, and took Granny Burrell. This is a complete rhododendron tunnel, and had an otherworldly feel as we were now hiking in the dark. An opening in the rhodo to our right revealed Granny Burrell Falls, which we walked out into the middle of. This makes sense if you’ve seen the falls, as it’s a giant sluice. I did not get a picture, sorry. We continued on with headlamps giving me tunnel vision through our rhododendron mess. Easy to follow, but wet and sloppy and dark as we went through.

After we came out on the Great Wall trail, I started giving whistle beeps to communicate with Rob. We all found each other and we camped in the trees right across from the shelter. A few bratwurst over the fire and lateral thinking puzzles later (albatross, anyone?), we crashed for the evening. It was a chilly 45F, but my North Face Green Kazoo worked beautifully. I also used a Magellan (Academy Sports brand) mummy bag liner. This was also the first time I used my Therm-A-Rest pillow which Jenny’s parents bought for me for my birthday. It’s the small size, fits right in the hood of my mummy bag, and will now be the one luxury I do not leave home without. What a difference that made from the improvised stuff sack/clothes pillow. Blech!

6:20am. Awake.

We mulled around camp a bit, ate breakfast, broke camp and finally set off on the Great Wall trail. I was really looking forward to this, having the Great Wall of Panthertown looming over us as we hiked the valley. Unfortunately, the trees of Panthertown obscured much of our view and gave us teasing glimpses of the spectacular rock face.

We turned left onto the Big Green trail which led us on the ascent to Big Green Mountain (home of the Great Wall of Panthertown). The US Forest Service has put in plenty of work on stairs (wooden and cut into the rock), bridges, etc. All of the obstacles, save the elevation gain, we’re gone. We found 2 of the 3 side trails out to the cliffs of the Great Wall. Spectacular views of the valley and Goldspring Ridge from here. The rhododendron and mountain laurel were blooming beautifully. Plenty of bees, as well.

If you’ve ever been to the top of Table Rock in Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, the cliffs of Big Green were very similar. I love cliffs and rock formations, and I love scrambling around on them. So that’s what I did. Apparently being on the edges of cliffs like these don’t bother me that much, as Andrew comments very similar to what my wife Jenny did when we were in Linville Gorge in March…in that I am pretty nonchalant and lightfooted in these areas. Lightfoot. I could stand that as a trail name, although SlowPoke might be much more appropriate as I am ALWAYS the slowest guy and at the back of the pack. Anyway… So I was on these cliffs, and came to a lip in the rock. I was descending from the top, and I hopped over the lip.

Pucker factor just went to high alert.

Behind me, which I do not see, but hear, in the lip of the cliff, is a rattlesnake. He immediately began rattling as I landed probably right in front of him. I did not get bit (as I would not be worrying about thing like trip reports if I did get bit), but after I was clear of his area, we DID try to maneuver around to see if we could get a good look at him. No such luck. He wanted an altercation with me about as much as I wanted one with him. The snake slithered back into the rock crevice (I assume) and quit rattling.

At the end of the Big Green Trail, there is an official dead end. Unofficially, there is a steep descent trail that is through a messy snag of rhododendron, but it was a fun descent. Chandler (one of the boys) and I even used some branches to swing around on as we descended. Good stuff!

Back on Mac’s Gap near the intersection to Granny Burrell trail, we took Mac’s Gap towards Little Green Mountain. There were a few black and green swamp areas that were pretty cool, but still no pitcher plants. We came to a section of trail where the trees thinned out to a clearing and what looked to be a great view of Blackrock Mountain. While it was a great view, I discovered the clearing was a bog when my boot sunk in about 6 inches. Time to head back.

From here we trekked up to the peak of Little Green Mountain on the Little Green Trail. Once on top, the terrain was very similar to Big Green: flowering rhododendron and mountain laurel, bees, granite cliffs. We followed the way around to Tranquility Point, where an older couple who lives in the area were taking in their lovely tranquility. What a great spot, an not entirely long or difficult to get to, really. A beautiful view of Blackrock Mountain from here.

Ok, now we were on our way to what I hoped would be the crown jewel of this trip: Schoolhouse Falls. This has to be one of my favorite waterfalls now. As with any picture, justice is not done. Like a mirror dimly lit indeed. There was a great pool at the base that would be perfect for cooling down on a hot day. A few stepping stones allowed for crossing the creek and gain access to the sides and rear of the waterfall. It is wallowed out behind the falls, so there is plenty of room for a number of people to stand. There is a rocky shore here with a spot for 2 tents, plus there were a couple of (Clark!!) hammocks near them. Best thing I can say is check out this waterfall for yourself, it’s a beauty for sure.

Not far from there, we made it back to the first bridge on Panthertown Valley Trail. It’s worth noting there is a wooden bike rack here, as the trail allows for mountain bikers as well as horseback riding. Obviously hikers, too.

Overall a good trip. There is definitely the potential for an exploratory waterfall hunting trip in the future, probably up the Devil’s Elbow trail and maybe even up to Big Pisgah, time allowing. If you’re new to backpacking, this is a good trip to go on. Good view, some elevation but nothing long and brutal. I will say that I think it is vital to have Burt Kornegay’s “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown” map before going in. That made a world of difference for us. I was also surprised at the amount of signs the USFS had put up. While there were no blazes, trail intersections (at least the official ones) were very officially marked.

Study the area, study the map, take your compass, take your map, and start chasing some waterfalls!

Pictures are on my Facebook.

Bible Christianity Focus Gospel Grace Idolatry Life Sanctification Sin

I am a Poor Pathfinder

(Paris Mountain State Park)

I’m a poor pathfinder

Every day life is difficult to navigate, especially when I start to see how painfully weak I am in the day to day. As a Christian, it is my desire to see the Gospel permeate every aspect of my day to day, and not simply showing up for church on Sunday out of some lame excuse like “showing respect.” That’s garbage. So what are some of the things that demand part of me and what are things that grasp as the leftovers, and where do each of those things overlap or usurp the other? Already, it’s becoming clear that much wisdom is required to navigate the day to day paths of life. Wisdom I seem to not have…or at least not use.

I’d love to see my priorities line up in this order: Christian, Husband, Father, Employee (I stole that from Mark Driscoll). Then everything else falls where it may. Unfortunately, that is far from reality. I will typically top that list out with Myself. Then while in church yesterday, instead of connecting with the truth we were singing about, my heart was far from God and my mind was focusing on the upcoming Linville Gorge LNCW trip, and then stayed there for most of the remainder of the day. At least I wasn’t giving into covetousness and thinking about all the ways I can get an iPhone5, right? Wrong, I’m pretty sure.

It’s difficult to navigate life as an idolator. I know. I am frequently lost, bypassing God, stepping on those around me and pushing my family aside like they are some sort of obstacle to my true passions. If that sounds horrible, it’s because it is.

Last week, I awoke to a rare moment of Scripture being the first thought in my head. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” (Jeremiah 15:16 esv)

A joy to me and delight of my heart. Isn’t that what I chase after in any thing? Isn’t that what fuels my pursuits in relationships, adventures, and finances? “If only…then I’d be happy.” Here, God is promising that joy and delight is found in the Bible, the direct revelation of God himself to humanity. This passage goes on to say that joy is found by being called in God’s name. This verse is a really good place to camp out, because you could unpack it and the ramifications for a while.

What does any of this have to do with pathfinding, other than I am totally lame at it when it comes to life and things that TRULY matter (unlike which ledge I should use in an upcoming hike). The Bible gives us these revelations in Psalms:

For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. (18:28 esv)
Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. (119:105 esv)
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (119:11 esv)

What can I conclude from all of this? If I am pursuing God by finding joy in the Bible as I learn more about who God is, I will sin against him less (LESS, as I will be a winner until I see my God Jesus face to face). If I am sinning less against God, then I will be sinning less against my wife, kids, friends and co-workers, because all sin is first and foremost an offense to God (another good place to camp out). I will not pursue vain idols and interests and hobbies and pleasures to the expense and neglect of God and my family.

There was a punk back back in the 90’s called Crux, and one of their songs closed with the lines “Where I focus my eyes is where I’m led in time. Please I plead give freely to the strength I need to keep my eyes set on You.” Amen.

Lord, help me to love You more, because I am weak and wicked and prone to wander. Grant me desire and not through Your word and knowing You, so that I might reflect You brightly instead of my sin so shamefully. Help me to keep my eyes and heart set on You, and let me be filled with You, that I may love You and enjoy You forever.

Ember ENO Gear Review Hammock Hammock Camping underquilt

ENO Ember – Initial Observations

Eagle’s Nest Outfitters (ENO) is making hammock use more accessible than ever with quality gear. I own a DoubleNest hammock, and want to graduate to hammock from tent when I go camping. In the summer that’d be fine, but in the winter, it would be frigid and I’d get a serious case of CBT (“cold butt syndrome” – thanks, Derek Hansen). ENO’s remedy to CBT is an underquilt is called the Ember. There are few reviews to be found on the Ember, and they vary. It is kind of expensive at $175, but with my Therm-A-Rest lent out for this fall’s trip and a $100 merch credit at REI, I decided to give the Ember a shot.

Let me say before going any further, I am a hammock novice, and have not attempted any DIY hammock gear.

After buying the Ember, I weighed it on a kitchen scale. With the stuff sack, it weighs in at exactly 2lbs (32oz). It does not come with any instructions, however the Ember Setup Guide is available on ENO’s website. The specs on the tag list out:

8’6″ – 35ozp
30d ripstop sil nylon shell
30d ripstop nylon inner
Hi-loft synthetic insulation
Universal fit
Sil Nylon compression stuff sack

There have been some improvements in the Ember from video reviews I’ve seen on YouTube. Gone are the ENO emblazoned edges along the top of the quilt. Gone are the bungee cord closure system. New (unless I missed them in the reviews) are a shock cord attachment system. FixedByDoc stated a weight of 2lbs5oz (per ENO), which has been cut.

Anticipating today would be a slow day at the shop, I took my ENO gear to work with me to give it a try. I hung it up between the lifts! The setup was easy and I had it attached to my DoubleNest hammock in no time. (I use SlapStrapPros as well, if anyone is wondering.) The shock cord attachment has a cord lock on it. Loop the hammock carabiner through the shock cord, keeping the cord lock on top. Once attached, slide the cord lock all the way up to meet the Ember. Once you get into the hammock, the cord locks slide out as a self-adjustment to keep just the right amount of tension on the underquilt.

Without the bungee straps to keep the top closed, this seems to have definitely moved away from the peapod concept that I’ve read some people lay on it. It was easy enough to get a diagonal lay across the hammock, and I never felt any tension on my back as I lay in it. Without the top being closed, there will be much more need for a top quilt or sleeping bag.

So, overall my initial observations are positive. I like how it looks, and the quality is there. These hot South Carolina days are still in full effect, so I won’t be able to test the temperature until this fall. My first trial run will be in about a month when I take it to Linville Gorge. Consequently, this will also be my first time sleeping in the DoubleNest Hammock as well. Once I can test it at low temps, I’ll post a complete review. For the preliminary, it’s looking good.