During the week and two weekends of September 29 through October 8, 2017, my buddy Paul Anderson and I went scuba diving on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, which is adjacent to Aruba and Curacao and just north of the Venezuelan coast. We were diving with David Smith and his wife Hilda who snorkeled each day. When Paul and I returned home, David and Hilda stayed another week and were joined by others of their family members for more diving. This was about my third trip to the island and 75th dive; it was about Paul's seventh visit to the island and 275th dive; and about David's twelfth trip to the island and 275th dive.
Most of my hiking and back packing career I have been traveling under the influence of tough hike leaders. All persons are different in all kinds of ways. A hiking or backpacking group of two or more persons is going to have someone who is faster and stronger; and someone who is slower and weaker. A tough hike leader is one who is faster, and who won’t mitigate his or her pace to accommodate the slower ones. Of course, the same dichotomy applies to any group endeavor – biking, canoeing or whatever.
On the beautiful, sunny Saturday of May 4, 2019, Deena Thomas and I took a rehabilitation hike. About two months earlier she had surgery on her foot, and I had hip joint replacement surgery. Our doctors told us to start exercising, but it will be several more months before we will be fully (hopefully) recuperated. The weekend before we walked three miles on the North Wilkesboro Greenway. Today would be our first post-operation mountain hike.
The Laurel Fork Gorge is a river valley that is traversed by the Appalachian Trail. It lies just west of where Dennis Cove Road crosses the A.T., northeast of Hampton, TN, and a few miles east of Lake Watauga. The Gorge is known for having a section of the trail that crosses a narrow rock ledge right in the edge of the water. In the course of hiking the A.T., I went through Laurel Fork Gorge quite a few times in the late 1970's and early 1980's, in several hot and cold seasons.
One weekend during late November in 1977, Ranger Bob and a group of his family and Sunday school classmates from Forest Hills Baptist Church went on a backpacking trip to Mount Mitchell, NC. We were expecting cold weather, but none of us considered ourselves to be true, hard-core winter campers, nor were we prepared for temperatures in the single digits.
One long weekend near the end of law school, my apartment mate Jim McKinney and I went on a winter backpacking trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Planning the trip and providing our snowshoes was Jims buddy from Maryville, TN (whose name I am sorry I forgot).
In my early days as Ranger Bob, during college and law school, my outdoor buddies and I took many backpacking trips to Linville Gorge. We often took the loop route from Kistler Memorial Highway down the Conley Cove trail, up the Linville Gorge Trail beside the Linville River to Sandy Flats (no longer on the map, located where the spring is marked by the river on the trail southeast of Wiseman's View), further up the river to the Babel Towers Trail and back down Kistler Memorial Highway to the Conley Cove Trail head.
Sometime during my first or second year in law school, I am thinking maybe in January 1975, my roommate Jim McKinney and I planned a winter day hike over Grandfather Mountain. Accompanying us were our standard outdoor companions Billy Gardner, (Jim's college suitemate at NCSU) and our NCSU buddy Bruce Frasier, nicknamed Nooksoo, because he always wore an "NCSU" T-shirt (...get it...it looks like it should be pronounced...).
Also along were my younger brothers Frank and James; a girl from UNC law school who was Jim's date, whose name I also forgot; and another girl from NCSU or Meredith who was Nooksoo's date [I think'or did Jim have two dates?].
We spent a cozy several days in my family's cabin at Hope on Shulls Mill Road, Watauga County, before and after the hike. The only heat was a wood and coal burning pot bellied stove in the living room. The bedrooms were so cold as to have frost in them, but we were young and tough and it felt great anyway. The girls were good cooks so we ate hearty.
The main feature of this hike across Grandfather was the heavy ice of various sorts all over the mountain: solid frozen water ice on the trail, rime ice on all the trees, hoar frost in the dirt and snow in the air. We ate lunch on the trail, and it was so cold that we could not take off our gloves. The peanut butter and crackers broke into pieces and we had to eat them off our open palms ' like horses eating grain out of a pail!
Near the top of the first main peak, Calloway, the snow got deep enough that we had a couple of snow ball fights. Jim and Frank exchanged some accidental (or maybe not?) face hits and got into a shoving match. In one of the photos at the top you can see Frank is still scowling.
I have been back on Grandfather Mountain several times since then in similar icy conditions. Each time I found it to be very rough going and memorably tough trips. But for some reason, I have no memory of this 1975 trip being so difficult to traverse the mountain. In all the photos we look like we are having a good time in pleasant circumstances. Were we that much tougher when we were younger? Or does our memory grow rosier as time passes? Either way, a fun time was had by all.
The weekend before my graduation from Wake Forest University, I went backpacking in Linville Gorge. Along for the trip was yours truly Bob Laney, my sister Ann Laney, my good friend from high school Mark Boone and another good friend from NC State Billy Gardner.