Tuesday, August 22, 2017


8/20 - 8/21/17

Knoxville and view point off Cherohala Skyway
The eclipse has been on my calendar for more than a year. About 6 months ago, we booked a hotel room in Knoxville with the idea that it would give us more options depending on the weather. We would either drive south towards Tellico Plains (TN) or drive west towards Nashville, hopefully we would be able to find a hole in the clouds to see the eclipse. The weather forecast looked good, so we drove down to Knoxville the night before the eclipse.

We saw the Sunsphere (made famous by a Simpsons episode).

The kids played in the water park

And we went to bed too late and woke up too early to try to beat traffic. Originally, I had hoped that I was picking an out of the way place, but as the eclipse date got closer and more people started mentioning it, I realized that my spot was likely to be crowded. We got to the overlook about 10am, managed to find a spot to drop chairs, blanket and cooler and I drove up the road to find a spot to park. Luckily I did not have to go far. I got back to the family and my son asked about the eclipse glasses. Back to the car. I later went back to the car to get the big umbrella for a little bit of shade.

I played with my cellphone and the solar glasses, not too bad.

I also played with my SLR and the solar viewer.

Cool shadows on the road.

All set for totality

Here it comes

A took a minute and ran off a bunch of exposures on my SLR. Unfortunately, the focus had slipped a little bit, so no great photos (I wasn't really expecting greatness anyway).

I don't know why the video shows up so small, but it looks fine on the full screen view.

After totality, we packed up and headed back home. Traffic ended up not being too bad, but there were a lot of people on I-75.

It was a truly awesome experience. In retrospect, I wish I had not bothered with my SLR during totality or maybe just a couple exposures. The 2:30 minutes went by way too fast to spend much time with a camera.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Abrams Creek (GSMNP)

8/3 - 8/6/17 (3 nights)
Abrams Creek Campground
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
2017 bag nights: 24

I took my 3 kids to Abrams Creek Campground in the Smokies to meet a friend for a little bit of relaxing and splashing/tubing in the river. My oldest and I had passed through the campground last summer and we both thought it looked like a good place to return.

We got there on Thursday and had no problem getting two sites on the creek, showing up on Saturday would have been a problem. We mostly just splashed in the creek the first day.

The second day we drove up to Look Rock to check out the view.

We got back and the kids played some more in the creek before it started to pour. We had strung a big blue tarp so we had no problem staying dry and it lasted less than an hour.

The next morning the kids practiced their fire starting skills, they had a head start with all of the hot coals from the night before. Then a short hike and more playing in the water.

The last morning, another small fire and packing up.

Abrams Creek Campground is in a great location, but the sites are too close together and there are no trees separating the sites. It would probably be fine in the middle of the week, but it is too crowded on a nice weekend. If I go back, it would be show up on Mon/Tues and leave on Thur/Fri.

Laurel River Lake (again)

Holly Bay Campground, Laurel River Lake, Daniel Boone NF
7/29 - 7/31/17 (2 nights)
2017 bag nights: 21

We went back to Laurel River Lake for what is turning into an annual camping trip with friends from Danville. It was a beautiful weekend and there were only a couple walking tent sites left. We were lucky to get a double site with easy access to the water. For the future, the walk-in sites on the G Loop are a decent way down hill. It was a bit of a haul setting up camp, but we made it.

After getting set up, I inflated the kayak and squeezed all three kids in for a short paddle.

When we got back to camp, our friends had arrived and it was time for a swim.

Woke up to a beautiful day.

The kids had fun throwing rocks ...

...and then we played in the water. The oldest kids had fun paddling around in the cove.

The last day I took the oldest three for a short paddle and swim.

Both nights is was clear enough for astrophotography, but the first night I walked down to the shore, there was group of people with a lantern or something, so I headed back to the tent and went to bed. Thankfully, the second night no one was around so I got to play with my camera a little bit. It turns out there is a ton of light pollution to the northeast (I assume it is London). But I still got to practice.

As an experiment, I tried a whole bunch of slightly zoomed in photos. This is a stack of 35 8 second photos at 48mm. Not sure why, but there is a bit of blurring on the edges, the center still looks ok. Next time, I'll have to aim at a specific part of the sky and see what happens.
And then a couple milky way photos over the trees.

For the future, I think I will avoid Holly Bay on the weekends, it is way to crowded feeling when it is full. But, all in all, a great couple of nights with friends.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Packrafting Big South Fork

7/12 - 7/13/17 (1 night)
2017 bag nights: 19
Station Camp River Access
Big South Fork NRRA (TN/KY)
Animals: 1 deer, 1 turkey, 1 turtle, 1 salamander, 2 snakes, butterflies, lots of bugs

I have been looking at the Big South Fork map for a couple years. There is a stretch of river between Big Island and Devils Jump/Blue Heron that is only accessible by boat. On top of that, a lot of the trails that parallel the river for other sections don't actually have views of the river with all of the trees getting in the way. I have also been reading trip reports of packrafting out west that sound like a lot of fun.

With the idea of packrafting the Big South Fork in mind, I got a Klymit LWD off Massdrop last fall. I'm not a whitewater paddler and I did not want to freeze, so I have been waiting for the temperature to warm a bit and for a reasonable water level. The stars finally aligned, the kids were in camp, the water level had fallen after a bunch of rain and because it was the beginning of July, it definitely was not cold.

I planned on putting in at Station Camp and paddling approximately 10 miles, camping somewhere near where the KY trail parallels the river and then hiking back to Station Camp by way of the KY Trail and No Business Creek. This would also allow me to see a part of the area that I had not seen before.

I put in a exactly 12pm on 7/12. There was a definite current, but it was not a problem getting going without getting too wet. The Leatherwood Ford discharge was right about 400 while the Bear Creek height reading was about 3.5'.

Bear Creek water height guage

Leatherwood Ford Discharge Gauge

It was a beautiful day, but very hot. When I got out of the car, the thermometer was 85. The forecast was for a high in the low 90s with a heat index approaching 100. There was a slight chance of thunderstorms late in the day. I looked at the clouds and hoped they would block some of the sun.

All loaded up and ready for the maiden voyage.

There are a lot of flat water sections with a very slight current, nice for floating, but I had to work to make forward progress. The ~3 mile stretch from Station Camp to Big Island is mostly flat, I had to paddle most of the way. I'm not sure I would repeat this part again. 

I liked this rock, it looked like a big toadstool.

There are a lot of swift riffles that maybe would be considered Class I, they were easy to handle, but a couple time I was wishing for higher water as I scraped the bottom and bumped rocks.

Around 4, the clouds got a little thicker and I began to hear thunder in the distance. It actually sprinkled a little bit which was nice since the heat and sun was beginning to wear on me.

According to American Whitewater, there are two Class II rapids, one at 7 miles and one at 8 miles. They both had waves in the 2-3 foot range and some narrow passages that required maneuvering. I felt like I had to work a bit to keep from capsizing or getting pinned against a rock. Both times I took on enough water that I pulled over at the first opportunity to dump out all the water. Both times were a lot of fun.

About the 9 mile mark, I began looking for a campsite. There had been a great one in the fall around mile 10, but I could not remember how far above water it was, so I decided I would stop at the first good site. Unfortunately, this site was on the side opposite the KY Trail, so I would have to cross the river in the morning, but it had a nice view and was not too trashed.

I watched the light change, cooked dinner and really wished I had a beer. I also spent a lot of time swatting biting flies, they got me a couple times and I got them a couple times.

I had visions of enjoying the stars, but I was wiped out and in the hammock by 9:30 and asleep by 10.

I woke up, choked down a bit of oatmeal that I immediately regretted making since it was already hot. I ended up carrying out what felt like a pound (certainly less) of uneaten oatmeal.

This is looking across the river at my campsite before setting off on the hiking portion of the trip.

This is the "normal" view of the river from most of the trails, i.e. not much to see.

Parts of the KY Trail are nice

and parts are very overgrown. It is pretty obvious this part of the trail doesn't see many people.

Sandstone and water and time do neat things.

A lot of the trails in the area follow what appear to be old railroads or roads, nice hiking.

A little bit of wildlife.

Troublesome Creek

The "bridge" over the creek, the water was low so it was easy to rock hop across.

More wildlife.

The "bridge" over Difficulty Creek.

Somewhere about this point, I realized that I was making really good time. I had been considering camping along No Business Creek and checking out the Muir Overlook but I was soaked with sweat, slightly dehydrated and had visions of swatting bugs for five hours. I decided that I would see what happened over the next couple of hours, if I could be at my car by 5:00, then I could be home before my kids went to bed. Not long after this, I began to hear lots of thunder in the distance which made my decision pretty easy.

Lots of rock walls in the area.

More wildlife.

About this point, it began to rain so the camera got put away. After this I saw 2 snakes and 1 deer. The trail turned into muddy slop where the illegal ATVs had been playing and I was completely soaked with sweat and rain. I was ready for a beer and dry clothes. I got to Station Camp Crossing about 3:00 and saw the first people of the day, a couple of horse riders had just forded the river ahead of me. I used half of my paddle to help cross the river, it came up to my crotch at the deepest point, but the current was not too bad so the crossing was pretty straightforward.

Dry clothes and a beer were awesome and then a drive up out of the valley by way of a seven mile gravel road. Sometime in the last 24 hours, the Park Service dumped a lot of dirt and regraded parts of the road. This combined with the rain made it a little slick, the anti-skid light kept coming on and I had visions of ending up in a ditch or just not being able to make it up a steep part of the road. In the end, I made it to the paved road and then a burger in Oneida and an easy drive home.

This ended up being a great trip that was very different from my usual backpacking trips and I got to see a part of the park from a different perspective. I paddled about 9ish miles in 5 hours with a couple breaks and I hiked about 12 miles. The next time, I think I will hike down to the river from the west to Big Island and start paddling there. That way, I would not have a ford to do at the end of the trip and would not have to worry about the river rising too much.

Even though this was a great trip, I think I am done with backpacking in the summer heat. I either need to be up in the mountains or in Canada next summer.