Adventures in Peru

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wanyapicchu

The fourth and final day on the Inca Trail started with a 3:30am wake up and quick scramble to pack and eat breakfast only to have to wait in line for an hour before the final control checkpoint opened at 5:30 so we could make our way to Inti Punku, The Sun Gate, and entrance to Machu Picchu. The previous two days had been long hiking days with more steps than you can imagine  but the final day was much shorter with our destination finally within reach. Both spirits and the pace are high during this final stretch of trail and after climbing the monkey stairs we enter the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu appears just below us. From this vantage point it is even bigger and more majestic than I had imagined but I had but one thing on my mind - Wanyapicchu, the mountain just behind Machu Picchu in all the classic photographs.

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There is a trail to the top from where the Incans were able to  keep watch on Machu Picchu. Now the trail is opened to just a few hundred tourists a day and I had a ticket and a plan to run to the top. We toured Machu Picchu a little and then I left our group just after 9 so I could make my way to the Waynapicchu Control for the 10am opening of the trail. With a couple of hundred people already waiting I knew if I was to run I would need to be one of the first people through the checkpoint otherwise I would be hopelessly stuck in traffic so I waited as close to the front of the line I could and was about a dozen people back. After four days of trekking across the mountains I wasn't really prepared for a trail run and was wearing the same clothes I had been for the entire trek. I did have my running shoes and a bandana and a bottle of water.

They opened the gate right at 10 and after signing in I hit start on my stop watch and took off. The trail started with a short uphill and then a steep down before shooting straight up to the top. I quickly got in front of everyone and gave it everything I had on the climb. Just from looking at the mountain from Machu Picchu I knew it would be almost vertical at times but was fairly short. It was indeed quite steep with several staircases no more than two feet wide at over a seventy five degree angle that found me scrambling on all fours. This trail is known as one of the most dangerous in the world and it was clear why it had that reputation - a misstep could be disastrous. As I made my way up there were still a few stragglers from the 7am group on their way down who were quite amazed to see someone running up the stairs. I had to pause a few times to let others pass and catch my breath but was at the top after just 20 minutes of signing in.

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There was a ranger stationed up there who was quite stoked to see a gringo running up the mountain and cheered me on as I scaled the final pitch to the top. I sat there and talked with him for a few minutes as I took in the incredible view. Machu Picchu was the dominate feature but the  mighty Urubamba river was raging down at the bottom, the Sun Gate was sparkling in a pass off in the distance, the switchback road showed the way down to Aguas Calientes and the mighty Andes where everywhere I looked. A perfect vantage point that the Incas made the most of. I was amazed that they were about to build a trail to the top and then live and farm there. I could have sat there for awhile but was short on time so I bid farewell to my friend and started back down.

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I knew there would be a hundred people on the stairs and no real reason to try and set any records on the way down and  ran when I could and waited when I had to. There were a couple of tunnels up near the top as well as a few old buildings.

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And some terraces. Check out the ladders they built into their walls.

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The stairs were steep to say the least.

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I was back down at the control in just under an hour after signing in. I'd been wondering how hard it was going to be to find my group amongst the thousands of people touring Machu Picchu after I got back down but they were right there as I walked through the gate. They were amazed I was back already and I joined back into the tour without missing a beat.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

August Dies

It will be Autumn when I return. Summertime has come and gone once again. I managed to fit a lot into this summer. There have been many concerts, many camping and backpacking trips, many canyons, lots of runs and some bike rides, a total eclipse of the sun... Too much of everything...

Last weekend was jam packed as always with the highlight being a descent of a rather large waterfall. I've done it several times before but with four or more rappels in quick order this is a good one that is worth going back to!

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Take a peak at the trees

So, do you all know what is going on with the trees I post pictures of?

I spotted these two pointing the way down Cedar Rock Mtn. a few weeks ago. The bend is rather high but the fact that there are two of them, pointing to exactly the same place - the only way up and down the mountain - makes me think that they are indeed trail trees.

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Here is another pair of strangely bent trees. These are on top of Bald Knob and are pointing to a pile of rocks. While almost all trail trees are exclusively white oaks these two trees are interestingly maples. Normally I would discount them based on species alone but since there are two, with the exact same bend, pointing at a pile of rocks puts them in the Yes category. 

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A bad picture but here is the point of the second tree:

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 I found this interesting tree on Trace Ridge. It is a white oak so the species is right and although the bend isn't quite as distinct as on other ones it does have the elbow like feature and the second trunk that is found on other known trail trees so I am thinking this tree could very well have been intentionally bent.

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Here is another one for the maybe category. I found this guy about halfway up to Clingman's Dome on Forney Ridge. It is a white oak but the bend isn't dramatic enough for me be certain it is a trail tree.



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If a dramatic bend is what you are after this tree on Clawhammer Mountain fits the bill. I have no doubt that this tree was intentionally bent by humans. Its location makes me think that it was marking the way along the ridge top. I know what you are thinking- I hear it all the time when I talk to people about these trees - that it is not big enough to be old enough to have been around in the time of the Cherokees. I am not convinced of that at all and ask that you consider all that a tree in the forest has to go through. A sapling might have to wait 20 years or more before another tree nearby falls and opens up enough of the canopy for it to really begin growing. I recommend reading the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben for a very good explanation of the challenges a tree faces. You also have to consider the stress that this tree must have faced when it was being deformed. The binding it went through would have been more than enough stress for it's growth to be stunted for a long time. 
 
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Further down the same ridge you'll find this trail tree. It is about the same size as the previous example so they could be from about the same period but this one is different because it is pointing directly at a seasonal spring/seep. It is very high on a dry ridge and if you dig directly below it's elbow you will find water. Perhaps the most famous trail tree is the one on the MST near Skinny Dip falls that also points directly at a spring. I have no doubt that this is a  trail tree.

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High on Sassafrass mountain you will find this old white oak with an interesting bend. I'm undecided about this one. Maybe?

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There is no indecision about this tree on the rim of Linville Gorge - it was intentionally bent by the Cherokees. A classic trail tree.

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Head south to Panthertown Valley and you might stumble across this tree and wonder if it too was bent by humans for unknown reasons.

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Nearby you will find this rather phallic looking tree and wonder about it as well. After scouring the forest for these trees sometimes your mind starts to play tricks on you and many trees start to look like trail trees.

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Back north to Mackey Mountain and there are no tricks about this tree. It is undoubtedly a trail tree. It is very old and the trunk has morphed into itself.

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Very close to that classic example were a couple of the phallic trees that had me wondering if these trees were part of the same old marking system.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Photobucket Blues

As you can see this blog has been decimated by photobucket's recent ransom and extortion attempt. I am aware of the problem but simply have not had time to fully asses the extent of the damage or come up with a viable solution. Paying the $400 ransom does not interest me. If anyone has any ideas as to what I can do to restore the pictures please contact me at clayfaine@gmail.com. Otherwise please bare with me until I get something figured out.

Happy trails to you all!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Chestnut

Jonathon and I got out for a fun adventure a few weeks ago that had Pisgah once again surprise me with more of her hidden treasures. We met up at The Hub with our only plan being to get on a rope somewhere and after a few minutes of pondering our options we settled on heading to Courthouse Falls where I figured we could rappel the waterfall a few times and have some fun swimming around. Once we got to the trail head we looked at the map again and decided to tack on Chestnut Falls as well. It looked like a nice little loop but a tad heavy on the road walk so we headed straight up Chestnut Creek.

I'd been to the waterfall before and expected a half an hour of walking up the creek before getting to the falls but after that half hour of walking we reached a hidden little shoot that we were unable to get up.

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This left us with no choice other than to bushwhack around it. Normally a little bushwhack like that would not be a big deal but it turned out that this required more than just a little bushwhack. Both sides of the creek were blocked by enormous stone walls and the only way out and up was through an impossible tangle of dog hobble that just kept going and going. There were long stretches when our feet were nowhere near the ground as we wrestled our way across the vegetation.

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We thought that all we had to do was get around that one little waterfall but somewhere along the madness we saw a second even larger waterfall blocking our way and continued to work our way through the jungle.

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That meant instead of just Chestnut Falls there would be two additional waterfalls to rappel and what we thought was going to a short little jaunt was turning into a full on canyon trip. We finally freed ourselves from the madness and made it to Chestnut Falls which served as a perfect warm up for the more challenging terrain that lied further downstream.

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The middle waterfall which we had only seen from the distance during the bushwhack proved to be very difficult to negotiate. We didn't know just how big it was and once we got to it there was a very serious pothole blocking the entrance at the top. I set up an anchor and rappelled down to the pothole where the creek narrowed to a foot wide torrent that was pouring into a seemingly bottomless hole before tumbling down the main drop. No matter how I tried I could not find a safe way to enter that hole and had to retreat back up the rope.

We scouted around and set up a second anchor off to the side of the creek and used it to rappel down to the top of the waterfall avoiding the hole of certain death. From there I set yet another anchor and we were able to finally descend the falls.

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After that all we had to do was descend that final little shoot that had stymied us in the first place. We had a good anchor that put us right in the flow and there was no choice but to go right through the water. A true class C rappel.

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From there it was just a short way back down the creek to the truck where we left Courthouse waiting for another day.




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wilson Creek SWEaTfest

Last weekend found me in Wilson Creek with Pisgah Nation for the annual SWEaTfest fun run. I did the run last year and really enjoyed the route as well as the company and have been looking forward to doing it again ever since. This year things would take an unexpected but interesting turn just a few miles in.

Just after crossing over Yellow Buck Mtn. I arrived at a trail junction I didn't remember from last year where another runner, Vince, was pondering the options. One trail was blocked by dead fall and the other one was clear but a trail sign seemed to be indicating that the dead fall trail was the way to the road where we were headed so that is the trail we picked. We started descending rapidly with lots more dead fall and I had a strong hunch it was the wrong way. I tried yelling for Vince but he had pulled way ahead and couldn't hear me so I just kept going. After a mile or so I arrived at a creek and the tell tale white circle blazes told me what I already knew - we had gone the wrong way and were at Harper Creek. What I couldn't figure out was where was Vince. I thought for sure he would have stopped at the creek to plot his next move but he was not there.  I ran a quarter mile upstream and then a quarter mile downstream hoping to find him but he was nowhere to be found. I decided he must have realized our mistake and picked an alternate route to run. I pulled out my map and did the same.

Instead of reversing course and finishing the route I opted to do a different route altogether that would have me on some new to me trails. I decided to go up Persimmon Ridge to the road and then down South Harper Creek before rejoining the route near the end. I figured Persimmon Ridge was bound to be the least used trail in the area and from the start the trail looked faint and indeed little used. It climbed steadily and steeply and I resigned myself to not worry about the time or where Vince might have gone and to instead just enjoy my day in the woods.

I stopped about three quarters of the way to the top to stretch my hip flexors and was enjoying a nice break when suddenly Vince appeared coming up the trail behind me. I wasn't expecting to see anyone on that trail, especially not Vince behind me. He quickly told me he figured out we were off course when he got to Bard Falls on Harper Creek and was reversing course so that he could finish the route. It took me a second to process what he was saying and I had to ask if he knew where he was.

"Not really," he said, "but once I get to the top where we missed the turn I will."

That didn't make sense either and it took a little more back and forth before I realized he thought he was on the same stretch of trail we had come down which was on the other side of the creek. I explained how he was nowhere near there and I had intentionally left the course after our wrong turn to do a different route. He was eager to finish the course so I gave him my map and went over what he needed to do to get back on course several times. I took a picture of the map in case I needed it and I wished him well before we went our separate ways.

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A short while later the forest opened up into a grand stand of old growth trees so spectacular I had to yell aloud in amazement and wonder.

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From there it was a short way up to the road and then a short stretch of gravel before descending the South Harper Creek trail. After a couple of miles on the trail a waterfall appeared and the run couldn't have gotten any better already. While not the biggest of waterfalls it was a nice spot and I pulled out my fishing pole to play around a bit. I didn't catch anything or even get a bite but that wasn't the point of the exercise.

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Back out on the trail and low and behold a short distance later another waterfall appeared. This one was much bigger, much more intriguing, and ripe for canyoning.

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From there it was a long distance across an overgrown trail covered in downed trees and littered with creek crossings. There was little running going on and I was getting concerned that other runners might be getting concerned about where I was so I did my best to push on as fast as I could.

After a seeming eternity I finally arrived at the final waterfall - Harper Creek Falls.

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I wasn't going to stop there but it was just too inviting so I decided to take a quick dip before running the final mile back to the trail head. I went up to the big pothole in the middle of the waterfall and swam around while I watched some young men demonstrate the power of team work to free a tangled rope.

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Then much to my relief I saw some other Pisgah Nation runners sliding down the falls and followed suite so I could talk to them as I was eager to know if they had seen Vince. They had not and I gave them the short version before they headed back to the beer. I hung out a little bit longer before making my own beer run.

Back at the trail head we hung out in Wilson Creek where the big question was "Where is Vince?". Hours passed and we started to get concerned but with no clue where he was there was nothing we could do but wait. He finally popped out of the woods with a smile on his face and told us about how his adventure had continued after I last saw him with more wrong turns but in the end he finished the route with an extra ten miles or so.

As for myself, Persimmon Ridge was the best wrong turn I have ever taken!

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