Frozen Head

This past Friday we woke up at 5:30 AM, loaded up the car with all of our backpacking gear and Milo, and drove east through the frigid Tennessee countryside. Only two and a half hours later we were transported from the Nashville basin to the towering mountains of Frozen Head State Park. After a few glances at the map, we were off walking on frozen trail through seemingly untouched land.

As we wound around the mountain, switchback after switchback, we climbed in and out of the morning sun up the primarily oak forest of the Chimney Top trail. As we moved into the sunlight, sounds of distant birds and squirrels were constant, as the trail switched back into the shadows it became eerily quiet and the only noises we heard were our footsteps and Milo’s breathing. It quickly became apparent that we had the entire park to ourselves apart from the workers in the valley below. M.E. noticed in the shade there were thousands of hexagonal ice crystals lining the trail just underneath the top layer of leaves. A thick layer of crystals had formed underneath the dirt pebbles on the trail and gave the appearance that we were walking on floating rocks. It was magical. We were not necessarily happy that the park was empty, but excited that we got this incredible mountain all to ourselves for the cold December day.

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After a period of time we followed the trail the the top of Rough Ridge where we stopped to look at the small sandstone capstones that littered the top of the ridge. For a brief moment we were unsure if we had reached the top of our climb, but as we looked towards the east we noticed a peak at least a thousand feet taller than where we were standing. Then the trail began downwards. One of the things learned after thousands of miles of hiking is that trail builders usually do things for a reason. It seemed that the only reason we would be descending off of a ridgeline was that there was a water source at the bottom of the valley. About fifteen minutes of descending later, the prediction stood to be true as we crossed over Rocky Fork Branch and then immediately began ascending again.

There are things in the eastern United States that unfortunately are uncommon; the beautifully colored darters, the high towering American chestnuts and Hemlocks. While we did not get to see any of these, we did get to walk through a very old growth oak and hickory forest as we reached the top of the mountain. The trees towered high above our heads and appeared to be well pruned upwards of seventy feet. Even though we see trees everyday in Nashville, and even big trees when we hike in Percy Warner Park, the size and multitude of these trees stopped us in our tracks. Eastern Tennessee’s rich history of logging and mining extracted most of the large timbers in the state to use for large buildings, structure for coal mine shafts, fuel to melt iron ore and removed trees to clear land for agriculture (link below). At that time, resources seemed inexhaustible and there was not much care taken to preserve the trees. One hundred year old pictures of the American chestnuts show trees rivaling the redwoods of the west. Trees that are now nearly extinct in our region. To walk through a forest of massive trees that had to have preceded this time is a very powerful thing.

Soon we arrived on top of a steep ridgeline and decided to go ahead and eat a couple snickers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (Milo had dog food and a few treats of course). Even on a short hike, maintaining energy to continue is crucial for an enjoyable day. Although it is possible to hike a long distance with little food, hills that would normally seem easy become more and more difficult. A few hundred feet later and we came to the fifteen to twenty foot tall sandstone capstones of Chimney Top. Icicles hung over a small overhang in the rock that appeared to create a perfect campsite. To the south a small trail led up to the top of the rocks where a sign read “Chimney Top Elev. 3120.” This prominent overlook felt massive compared to the elevation of Nashville (~500 ft) only a couple hours away. The Crab Orchard mountains appear to form out of nowhere from the surrounding farmland, making them feel even taller.

After hanging out at the top for awhile, we decided to head back to the ranger station before the trails closed. We talked and laughed about the amazing day on our way down the mountain, filled with the happiness and joy that only comes from spending the day outside. We had not even been phased by the sub freezing weather and gusts of wind due to the excitement of the beautiful hike. There is something to be said about this feeling. What causes it? The fresh air, the solitude, the physical exertion, the silence, or even just the visual stimulation. No matter what the exact reason is, these are all reasons that we are hiking the Continental Divide this summer. Just the opportunity to prolong that feeling is refreshing to think about. That feeling drives both of us everyday.

Below the ridge, our car became visible again and we had completed another beautiful hike in a beautiful park. A park that is not as well travelled as some of the others in the state and does need donations to continue to maintain and protect its beautiful trails. To donate to Frozen Head State Park or to just find out more information, visit the park or click the link below.

 

 

Chasing Steel: Our Days in Western New York

As the cold approaching winter wind rolls off of Lake Erie a mighty fish works its way up stream over marbled shale, rusty axils and contorted railroad pieces mosaicked into the creek bed, through the small town of Fredonia. Hundred of miles from the big city lights and thousands of miles away from the sexy steelhead green of the Sol Duc and other western waters, eastern steelhead make their journey up the Canadaway creek to the redds as the town begins to freeze over for a long winter. Eastern steelhead will never know distance or even how the saltiness of the saltwater turns sweet as they work their way into freshwater, and they sure as hell do not give an angler the fight like their wild, westerner brothers, but they are steelhead nonetheless. 

The first day on the water started as layers upon layers of attempts at warmth pressed to our skin by waders and boots, a menagerie of new and used flies, and the fear of there just being absolutely no fish. With deer season opening and a gaggle of guides frustrated at the delay in the steelhead run, we had the creek to ourselves.

We hiked down stream searching for movement, when all of a sudden a shadow that had been holding along a seam in the water darted out of the darkness and downstream turning back upstream once in position. One, we stopped, scanning the water, we held our breaths- two. Another shadow darted up to join the first shadow, but leaving her behind moves beyond the position and upstream to more rippling water. Three, another male joins the female. Four, Five, Six- shadow after shadow and overwhelmed with excitement, we almost forgot to release our fly from the guide and get it in the water. Such large Steelhead in such small, gin-clear water looked like fish in an aquarium; their size and power becoming delicate against the glass.  

We presented every fly we had in our boxes and aside from an casual turned head the clearness of the water gave them too much time to judge and turn down what we were offering. Finally, after switching over to a bead, the indicator bounced and the bead disappeared in the mouth of a large male. 

Over the course of the week, we worked our way down the same stretch of water, a half mile section that we spent seven hours fishing. 

Each night warming up with long bow practice and settling down with the stories from the day on the water.  

And each day we danced with another Steelhead. 

The final day was preceded by a night of rain moving water back into the creek. That morning from dad's fishing cabin we could see water beginning to fill in beds of gravel slowly trickling to meet the creek again on the other side. The water a milky green would make presentation easier, and fortunately for us, we were able to use the consistency of where the fish held each gin-clear day to our now blind advantage. 

The silent torpedoes hidden behind opaque waters as the creek began to roar back to life, and we walked the same stretch now ever so different in shape, flow, and color.  

Fishing for winter Steelhead is no easy task. With a bite so gentle and quick, it may be by pure luck that you set the hook on one, and who knows how many you may have missed without ever knowing. We fished hard those days on the Canadaway. Through cold temperatures and missed meals, we kept going. Cast after cast after cast, fishing smarter and more accurately each day we got to know the creek just a little bit better. We were after what ever Steelhead angler is after: that one tug followed by the zing of our line running up stream. 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CDT

A continental divide by definition is 'a naturally occurring boundary or ridge separating a continent's river systems.' Running North to South through the Rocky Mountains sits the Continental Divide of the Americas, also known as part of the Great Divide. The Continental Divide separates the water systems associated with the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and it holds great geographic importance to our continent as well as provides us with absolute, geographical beauty. A thread to the seams of country bringing together and forming the American West. In 1805 as the famous Lewis & Clark expedition traversed their way across the country, the group arrived at the formidable ridge-line of the Continental Divide. Much history has happened along the Great Divide, and the divide has proven to be an extraordinary piece to everyone's story who has found themselves along its path. 

Speaking of paths, the Continental Divide trail was officially recognized and established by Congress in 1978. Since the establishment of the trail, the CDT has had an extensive history of inadequate funding and lack of public interest. This mixed with an identity crisis that the trail experienced through lack of management, questions of national significance and continued failure of volunteer programs left the fate of the trail in question. Luckily, the glamorous act of thru-hiking started gaining traction on the east and west coasts with the popularity of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Long trails grew public interests and volunteer groups started building long sections of trail on the CDT. Still today, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) is working hard to raise awareness and money to finish the trail. 

It is safe to say we decided to hike this trail without knowing all of the above information, but as we plan and learn more we realize that the trail needs hikers just as bad as we need the trail. Next year as we begin our journey up America's "backbone", we hope to join the travelers before us who have made up the trail's story and raise awareness for its future. 

Heading to The Great Divide

Working in an outdoor store is a lot tougher than most might think. Not in a physical workload sense, it is not a dangerous environment and our co-workers are not terrible. In fact, the people we surround ourselves with everyday are some of the most interesting, talented and friendly people we have yet to meet. The trouble comes from spending our days inside the store outfitting people for trips we dream of doing. After awhile, even with the hospitality of a store like Cumberland Transit, cabin fever sets in and your mind begins to reel. You feel the rivers tugging at your shirt tail and the mountains whispering in your ears. When the store slows down and the customers are sparse, the air is filled with stories of past adventures and dreams of new ones.

We did not formulate this grand idea together. We both had preconceived the dream on our own and then loosely mentioned it to each other one day. After a few weeks of denial and deciding our plan would never work out, we pulled a wildcard out of our back pocket and concluded that actually it just might work, it would definitely work. We are going to hike the Continental Divide Trail in 2017... together.

So there you have it, there is our big announcement for anyone that has not heard from us both already. Even though we both are not ones to talk about our plans and lives very often, we are going to post them all over the internet. If you happen to find us here and read our stories, scroll through our pictures, and follow us on this journey, then we hope we can provide inspiration, tips, and hopefully some laughs to your own journey. If your own journey takes place in a charming outdoor store, behind a desk, or any other occupation, we hope that we could spark a desire to be outside or even a crazy plan to hike across the country. When your days at work are slow, your mind is wandering and you are having trouble staying focused, here is some direction for your trailing thoughts.