Monday, June 22, 2009

Gregory Bald Azaleas in Peak Bloom Right Now – So I Am Told. When Good Hikes Go Bad.

Friday was just one of those days in the Great Smoky Mountains national park that you just not be sure how the day was going to turn out for hiking. The weather man said a high chance of rain and the haze and 90 degree weather in the valley made me rethink my plans 3 times throughout the day to hike up to Gregory Bald where the azaleas would be in peak bloom and I could look down on Cades Cove and Lake Fontana.

Gregory Bald Azaleas in Peak Bloom Right Now

Though Mount Le Conte was obscured from view by the haziness in Sevierville, as long as the air quality was good I was willing to take a shot and hope for as good view from Gregory Bald by hiking up to the mountain late in the day as it got cooler and returning down the mountain in the dark. The ozone level was at 38 so I felt as though the air quality was good enough to take this moderately strenuous 11 mile hike.

Driving through Cades Cove with the windows down it was still warm but comfortable as I was moving and few deer were out of the cover of the woods in the cove in the late afternoon sun. I decided as I was driving that since I was hiking back in the dark, to take the trail off Forge Creek Road rather than the one off Parsons Branch and upon arrival I could see the parking area was filled with other hikers looking to enjoy peak season on Gregory Bald.

Since it was so warm at the trailhead I threw 2 more water bottles in my backpack and I checked my water filter system in a dry bag even though I just consumed 2 bottles of water since I entered the Cades Cove. An extra flashlight got tossed into the pack along with some camera gear and I was off.

Within 5 minutes on the trail I ran into to 2 National Park employees I ironically was going to contact this week chatted for a few minutes and they confirmed it was spectacular up top and I was back on my way up the mountain to the parks pretties bald that I was sure was in peak bloom.

About another 5 minutes in and older couple was hiking down the trail. Seeing me geared up so heavily they asked me if I was a ranger and told me that and older couple was in distress up by the bald and that the man was very sick and suffering from the heat, when I asked as to the man's condition the response was "bad". He was very hot, very sick, had bad color and was unable to stand.

I told the couple to continue back down the trail carefully and to go to the Cades Cove visitor center so they could radio for help and to not rush down the trail so they don't fall and get hurt as well and I would go up and assist the couple in trouble.

I decided to run up the trail as quickly as possible as I would be the first responder at least an hour ahead of the parks EMS crew and that's if they were in Cades Cove which was doubtful. As I was working my way uphill I decided to hang some of the gear in my pack on the bear lines once I could reach campsite 12.

I passed a hiker leisurely coming down the mountain who I had seen a few months before on the same trail. I asked him the condition of the couple as well as their present location and he casually respond they were just above the campsite and the man was sick.

Still rushing up the trail I eventually ran into the couple slowly descending the trial. He was a tall fit gentleman who recognized me from the Porters Creek Trail. He was standing in the trail with a wet cloth on his head and swaying.

Apparently he and his wife went up the mountain with small packs, heavy camera equipment and about 2 liters of water. They were given more water when he wasn't feeling well and worked their way down to a stream where he rested and they refilled at least one container of water from the stream and wet the cloth on his head.

As he and his wife were telling me the story I observed his respiration, skin color and demeanor. When I asked him about nausea, dizziness, headache and other symptoms he didn't have kept saying he felt "real bad" and didn't feel that good on the way up either.

I told him help was on the way but we could see that he was feeling way better now that he started hydrating. He decided he was well enough to work his way down the trail and didn't want the park to execute a full blown rescue. As he was talking I was finishing off my last bottle of water and I set my stopwatch.

Since the trailhead was full and people would be working their way down I told him I was going to update the park as to his condition and to keep one of the people coming back down the trail close by him and his wife.

I worked my way down the trail quickly making note of the time at the trailhead and drove to the Cades Cove Visitors Center and advised them of his condition and returned to the trailhead to hike back up to the couple with more water I had in the car as well as Gatorade powder.

I dumped some gear back into the car to lighten my back for the trip uphill and just at the time and Park Ranger with EMS training arrived. I updated on the gentleman's improved condition and last know location and he notified dispatch and stared packing out his emergency pack as I rushed back up the trail.

When I caught up with the couple they were far further down and were accompanied by a kind middle aged couple watching out for him. We all stopped by a stream to cool off and wait for the ranger who arrived about 5 minutes later.

The ranger conducted a quick field exam checking for signs of dehydration, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. The ranger was thorough and had a fantastic bedside - make that streamside manor.

At this point the gentleman was drinking a light Gatorade mixture I had made for him and when asked how he was feeling responding clearly and emphatically "lousy". Since his balance was still in question we all accompanied him back down to his car carrying his pack for him with his precious camera gear.

Back at the car I unloaded my soaking wet backpack and finished off my 5th bottle of water in under 2-1/2 hours. Since it was too late to get good lighting I knew the day was over for me.

I have since heard from the gentleman who was very thankful and in great spirits.

Proper hydration and moderation in strenuous activities are especially crucial when hiking for an extended time in high temperatures. What appeared to be a mild case of dehydration and heat exhaustion could easily become deadly heat stroke if left untreated.

The couple left with far too little water and no way to safely treat more water if they needed it. When first not feeling well they should have stopped and cooled off - even going as far as soaking clothes with water or just sitting in a stream. Hydration and moderation are keys to comfortable safe hiking.

If this gentleman was not in such good general health, this story would had have a far more tragic ending rather than me not being able to see the peak in the azaleas on Gregory Bald.

Plan on hiking? Check out our new first aid pages for hiking listed below:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Aggressive black bear closes popular Cades Cove Hiking Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains national park has had a black bear problem for weeks in the back end of Cades Cove at the Abrams Falls Hiking Trail and has finally been forced to close the trail for visitor and the bear's safety.

The closure of the Abrams Falls Hiking Trail starts on the dirt road before the parking lot area so the Rabbit Creek hiking trail in Cades Cove is also affected.

Aggressive black bear closes popular Cades Cove Hiking Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains

There are other hiking trails with black bear problems in the Great Smoky Mountains national park which have warnings issued on them include: the Little River hiking trail, The lower portion of Trillium Gap trail near Grotto falls and the lower portion of Crooked Arm Ridge trail.

Great Smoky Mountains national park Black Bear Information

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Great Smoky Mountain National Parks 75th Anniversary Celebration Continues with Oconaluftee Visitor Center Ground Breaking.

Tomorrow will be the Great Smoky Mountains national parks actual 75th anniversary and what better way to celebrate than to have the public be able to join in with a celebration at the Oconaluftee visitor center and Farm Museum? From 10 am to 2 pm there will be demonstrations, music, storytelling, dancing and a ground breaking on the new state of the art visitor center.

Long overdue, the new energy efficient visitor center will be more than 6 times larger that the present visitor center built in the 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which was originally used as a ranger center. The new visitor center will have a museum with displays of the history and traditions of the Cherokee people, Southern Appalachian culture, the and the Park's establishment and development.

New Oconaluftee Visitor Center in GSMNP

Around 2,000,000 people a year pass by Oconaluftee to get into the Great Smoky Mountains national park with nearly 350,000 visitors presently entering the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Farm Museum area. The original building will be kept when the new visitor center is complete.

original Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Besides the entertainment, the Park has extended a special invitation to all former CCC members who served at Great Smoky Mountains National Park to attend the groundbreaking and some are expecting some to attend.

Dale Ditmanson the parks superintendent commented "We are excited about the opportunity to hold the visitor center groundbreaking during our anniversary year and are especially honored to have several CCC men who assisted with the construction of the existing visitor center over 65 years ago. This project will represent a symbolic bridge between the past and the future of the national park".

The ground breaking ceremony hosted by Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson will also include Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Michell Hicks, and Cherokee Elder Jerry Wolfe giving the "Blessing of the Ground".

The schedule for the 75th anniversary celebration at Oconaluftee 2 miles north of the Cherokee North Carolina Parks Entrance is also follows:

  • 10 am - Music performed by Boogertown Gap
  • 11 am - Warriors of AniKituhwa: Official Cherokee cultural ambassadors performing traditional dances including the War Dance and Eagle Tail Dance
  • 11:30 am - Storytelling by Charles Maynard
  • 12 pm - Groundbreaking Ceremony
  • 1 pm - Music played by Earl and the Boys

Thanks to 2 fantastic organizations: the Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association the buildings and exhibits have been funded.

Both Friends and the GSMAs work and the funding make this and many projects possible within the Great Smoky Mountains national park and it is impossible for me to accurately state how much they mean to the park, the surrounding communities and me personally.

I am very grateful that Oconaluftee will finally be honoring in a significant way the Cherokee and Native Americans who have inhabited the area for more than 10,000 years.

Great Smoky Mountains Nat Park 75th Anniversary Celebration Continues Today With Park Open House

Join Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson and other park personnel at an open house today from 12 noon to 4 pm at the Sugarlands headquarters as part of the 75th Anniversary Weekend celebration.

The park headquarters just outside the city of Gatlinburg was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1940 and will be honored as part of today's celebration as well as a first-of-its-kind behind the scenes view of the Park's day-to-day operations open to anyone and the a unique opportunity to meet and talk with key managers of the Park along with the opportunity to see park equipment up close such as search and rescue, fire and road maintenance vehicles and the offices of the Great Smoky Mountains Association will also be open to the public.

According to Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson "We will basically showcase how we perform and accomplish our duties, everything from conducting air and water quality research, protecting wildlife, treating nonnative plant and animal species, search and rescue, maintaining historic buildings and cultural landscapes, prioritizing road construction and facilities improvement projects, conducting visitor and educational programs, and carrying out our fiscal responsibilities,"

The winning quilt from the Pigeon Forge 75th Anniversary Smokies Sampler Quilt contest made by Naomi Davis of Sevierville, Tennessee will be held unveiled at 11 am at the visitor center and from 1 pm to 3 pm there will be an easy guided hike to the Sugarlands Civilian Conservation Corps camp via the Old Sugarlands Hiking Trail.

Parking for the event will be at the Sugarlands Visitor Center right next door to the headquarters.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cades Cove Concert: 40% chance of wash out.

Tomorrow a much anticipated event will helpfully take place in the Cades Cove, the crown jewel of the Great Smoky Mountains national park; the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will perform to a crowd of around 5,000 spectators to celebrate the parks 75th anniversary. There will also be special exhibits and programs on the history of Cades Cove.

The concert will take place at 3 pm near the Cades Cove Visitor Center in the back end of Cades Cove where there is very limited parking on asphalt and since there is no shelter from rain for performers and visitors and most of the cars will have to be parked on grass fields, even wet grass can become a parking and driving nightmare.

According to 3 Smoky Mountains weather reports the consensus is that there will be a 40% chance of rain with a slight chance of thunderstorms in the morning and a greater chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Thunderstorms + Open Fields with spectators = canceled event.

Unfortunately if the even gets canceled there is rain date or refunds.

Around 200 more vehicle passes are still available at $25 a pieces and can only be purchased and picked up today between 9 am - 5 pm at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra box office located at 100 South Gay Street in Knoxville.

Laurel Creek Road will be closed tomorrow at noon to anyone without a vehicle pass or who is not a registered camper at the Cades Cove Campgrounds. This means you will not gain access to the following trail heads:

  • Anthony Creek Trail
  • Bote Mountain Hiking Trail
  • Crib Gap Hiking Trail
  • Finley Cane Hiking Trail
  • Schoolhouse Gap Hiking Trail
  • Turkey Pen Ridge Hiking Trail

Cades Cove will be closed all day to bicycles and pedestrians.

According the GSM national parks superintendent Dale Ditmanson "in the interest of avoiding a premature and unnecessary cancellation of the concert, the final decision may be delayed until the very last possible moment". Since we will be covering the event we will not be able to give out updates about potential cancellations but if cancellation is imminent the hot line phone number (865)436-1316) will be activated and we are told that will have up to date concert information.

Let's hope the weather in the Smokies cooperates for the 75th anniversary celebration of the Great Smoky Mountains national park in Cades Cove.