Meanderthals is a series of trail reports for many of the best hikes in Western North Carolina. Jeff Clark is the founder of Internet Brothers, producer of this blog, and passionate about hiking. He has been sharing experiences hiking the forests and mountains of western North Carolina with trail descriptions, trip reports, maps and photos.
Loretta Brown walked along Bishop’s Beach near Homer, Alaska, looking for plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups, beer cans, cigarette butts, and old fishing nets.
“You tend to find things among the driftwood, since the same tide that washes up the driftwood washes up the trash,” she said, stooping to pick up a plastic water bottle. “It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt.”
Brown is a marine debris education and outreach specialist with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, a nonprofit organization based in Homer that educates the public about coastal issues and offers eco-tours of the region. She also has a keen, experienced eye for litter.
“We’re likely to find some up here among the grasses,” she said, homing in on small pieces of Styrofoam nestled in clumps of grass among the basalt rocks and clam shells along the beach. “The birds will eat these.”
With all of the work she does picking up litter and educating people about the long-term environmental damage it does, Brown has developed some theories about what makes people throw out their trash, and how to get them to stop.
“It probably goes to our roots as a species,” she said. “We’ve always had refuse of some kind. In the beginning, it didn’t matter if you threw things on the ground, because it was biodegradable and would rot. It wasn’t a problem until plastic was invented.”
Education, she thinks, is the way to change the culture of littering. “The best way for people to become engaged and change their behaviors is not just to inform them of the problem, but to have them actively experience the problem,” she said. “It’s about having the conversation—that really helps. It’s a behavioral change.”
Back in 2007, South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis rebelled against the Republican party and his conservative state: He told the world that climate change was real, that it was caused by humans, and that his party would “get hammered” if they didn’t step up and do something about it. Then, unlike other Republicans who gave the issue lip service at the time, he actually tried.
Why would a dyed-in-the-wool Republican take such a strong stance? Inglis’s son said he’d vote against him if he didn’t.
Apparently, his son’s vote wasn’t the one he should’ve been worried about: Inglis lost his seat in Congress three years later to a guy who famously declared that “global warming has not been proven to the satisfaction of the constituents I seek to serve.” But the story is a good illustration of the potential that young people have to sway their parents’ opinions.
It’s a power that has come into play a lot lately: Pushed by dire circumstances to explore tactics beyond the eye roll, middle and high school students are leading the charge on just about everything, from climate justice, to gun control, to criminal justice reform.
And, it turns out, that cliché about learning more from your kids than they’ll ever learn from you has some scientific backing: To paraphrase researchers at North Carolina State University, kids are damn good at changing their climate skeptic parents’ minds — and climate educators who work with these kids every day have some pretty compelling info about why that might be.
Jenny Bruso is a 37-year-old, plus-size, queer hiker living in Portland, Ore.
She went on her first hike seven years ago after a person she was dating asked her to join. On the 5.8 mile loop trail she felt self-conscious, walking slowly and sweating because she wasn’t used to working out.
“I really didn’t know what to do except walk,” she said. “But I felt something kind of unlock, this feeling of possibility like I was seeing nature for the first time.”
Ms. Bruso became obsessed with hiking. But the more she hiked, the more she saw that the people on the trails did not resemble her. In 2016, she created an Instagram account, Unlikely Hikers, posting photographs of African-American, gay, transgender and disabled hikers. It has grown ever since.
Ms. Bruso is one of many hikers turning to social media to try to make the outdoors more welcoming and diverse. While Ms. Bruso targets all minorities, other hikers and outdoors groups try to inspire people from specific nationalities, identities or with physical challenges. Many organize real-life events to push their members outside.
Our public lands have a diversity problem. A report released in 2017 by the National Park Service showed that 78 percent of visitors were white. African-Americans, by contrast, represented only 7 percent of visitors.
“Come 2040, our country will have more people of color than white people,” said Ambreen Tariq. “If these people aren’t going into the parks and green spaces, there won’t be anybody to be advocates and stewards,” she said. “We need people to get out there to love the land so they will fight to protect it.”
Quite a few stunning photographs have undergone their fair share of editing. For instance, the starry night photos you may see of the Watchman and the Virgin River in Zion National Park with the perfect lighting on both river and mountain even in the dark of night. Those are composites of two or more images blended together.
Some photographers will state how many shots it took to create that composite, while others remain silent about it. Is it a beautiful image? Yes. Is it an honest image, true to the original scene? Well … sure. The photo was taken at an honest location within a national park, as opposed to a Hollywood backlot, and the photo depicts what you will see in that specific location during a visit to this park.
But the photo itself has been manipulated beyond the average sharpening, saturation, contrast, and brightening adjustments. While the shot was captured at a beautiful landscape, there were a few enhancements made to that image, allowing the natural beauty of that scene to really pop out and catch the viewer’s eye, even in the dark of night. Does that matter to you? Is a pretty image a pretty image, manipulated or not?
Most of us like our national park landscape images to look natural. But, what is natural? If the image is dull, do we think that is what the natural landscape looked like? If the image is colorful, do we automatically assume it’s overdone, simply because there is so much saturation to the scene?
The Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Connectivity Project is a joint effort of at least 19 nonprofit and governmental groups working to bring the death rate of wildlife on Interstate-40 through the gorge down.
The many groups under the connectivity project umbrella, including the N.C. and Tennessee Departments of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, recognize the increasing hazards of vehicle collisions. Since the 28-mile stretch of I-40 between the Maggie Valley exit and the Foothills Parkway in Tennessee first opened in 1968, changes on both the human and animal sides of the equation have heightened the risk.
According to Bill Stiver, supervisory wildlife biologist for the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, black bear populations in the park have risen from roughly 400-600 to around 1,600 over the past 30 years. Over the same period, annual park visitation has gone from approximately 8.5 million to 11.4 million — with I-40 representing a major route to the park from the east.
In a recently concluded study, Stiver continued, 90% of male bears tagged with GPS collars within park boundaries had ranges extending beyond its borders. “Essentially, the park is not big enough for the bear population to be self-sustaining,” he explained. “If those bears can’t get across I-40, they can’t get to suitable habitat.”
And elk, which were completely absent from the I-40 landscape during its planning and construction, were reintroduced in 2001. Their population now numbers about 150; a bull elk can weigh half a ton, roughly four times the weight of the average adult male bear. These massive animals, said Wildlands Network researcher Liz Hillard, are “path-of-least-resistance walkers” and often follow roads instead of climbing over mountains.
Alarming headlines about missing hikers, or worse, can trigger panic about trail safety and the risks of exploring remote areas.
The potential for danger exists no matter where you are, but the best way to guard against it is to be prepared and alert.
Here are some tips for how to stay safe while hiking in remote areas, culled from the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Whether you’re alone or in a group, it’s wise to tell someone else where you’re going and when you intend to return. Establish a plan for checking in and follow through with it. If your plans change, let your contacts know.
There’s no harm in bringing your phone (except for taking perilous selfies), but it would a mistake to rely on it for directions. Find a current map and bring along a hard copy of it. Study it and make a plan for where you intend to go. And make sure you know how to orient yourself before you set off.
Places where people congregate – such as roads, shelters and campsites – can carry greater risks of unwanted interactions. Try to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible by camping away from roads and finding a location that’s not clearly visible from a trail.
In late 2017, German engineer Jan Dudeck was just completing a decade-long quest to create a new long trail through South America. The Greater Patagonian Trail (GPT), as he named it, would come to be 1,900 miles, stretching through the southern Andes from Santiago to the Argentinean climbing mecca of Mount Fitzroy. “This trail rewards the humble,” Dudeck says, “and humiliates the proud.”
Stories were emerging from some of Dudeck’s collaborators of glacial river crossings, trailblazing, and frontiersman-like bushwhacking on the GPT. These challenges were compounded by the fact that Dudeck’s creation has no trail markers, nor official recognition. It passes through isolated arriero cowboy country and the settlements of indigenous people.
Resupply points are up to 120 miles apart and separated by 10,000-foot mountains. Several sections are reached by culturally sensitive negotiations at restricted access points. Only a trio of adventurers so far have had the sufficient linguistic, logistical, and technical skills necessary to thru-hike Dudeck’s labyrinth.
Dudeck and his Chilean wife, Meylin Ubilla, spent ten years hiking the few established trails in southern Chile and Argentina before beginning to knit together the GPT. Dudeck got the idea for a single trail after returning home from a 2012 horse trek; once back in Europe, he deciphered the route his guides had taken him on using satellite imagery.
“You don’t see it continuously,” he says, “but you see enough to know there should be a connection.” The 12-inch-wide depressions made by the arrieros and Pehuenche people driving animals could be seen in images captured from space. It was a eureka moment, enough for Dudeck to start creating his massive Andean thru-hike.
Located at milepost 316.5 along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls moves in several distinct steps, beginning in a twin set of upper falls, passing through a small twisty gorge, and culminating in a high-volume 45-foot plunge. The Linville River flows from its headwaters high on the steep slopes of Grandfather Mountain and cascades through these falls as it begins a nearly 2,000 foot descent through this rugged and spectacularly beautiful gorge. Linville Falls has the highest volume of any waterfall on the northern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Towering hemlocks, dense stands of rhododendron, and native wildflowers grow along the trails that begin at the Visitor Center and encircle the falls. I hiked the Linville Falls trail system on Thursday, May 16, 2019 beginning at 12:00PM and finishing about 3:00PM. My plan was to explore all the trails that depart from the Linville Falls Visitor Center.
Total Length: 3.8 miles Hike Duration: 3 hours
Hike Rating: Moderate. None of the trails are long, but the Erwin View Trail and the Plunge View Trail can be pretty steep at times.
Hike Configuration: All trails are out and back Blaze: None needed
Trail Condition: First quarter mile of Erwin View Trail is smooth, wide double track. As you near each overlook, it gets quite rooty and rocky with stairs thrown in to help with navigation. The Plunge View Trail is single track that winds through the woods with lots of roots, and stairs at the very end. The Duggins Creek Trail is narrow and laurel lined with lots of roots.
Starting Point: Linville Falls Visitor Center milepost 316.5 off Blue Ridge Parkway.
Trail Traffic: About 50 other hikers out on this sunny, beautiful mid-May weekday.
How to Get There: From the Blue Ridge Parkway, get off at the Linville Falls spur road at milepost 316.5. It is 1.5 miles on the spur road to the Visitor Center. Erwin View Trail is beyond the Visitor Center and across the river. Plunge View and Duggins Creek trailheads are on the left before reaching the restrooms from the parking area.
Linville Falls Trail System Map
This day was a two-pronged treat for me. First, driving the ~80 miles from the North Carolina Arboretum to Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway with its many exciting features along the way. Second, hiking the trail system at the location with the ability to view this dramatic waterfall from five different vantage points.
The Parkway drive is like a roller coaster, going up and down and around, traveling from 3,000 feet to above 6,000 at Craggy Gardens and Mt. Mitchell, then back down to the Crabtree Falls region and on to Linville Falls. The foliage was a mixture of spring green at the lower elevations, to still waiting up at the very tops. As usual, Craggy Gardens was awash in morning fog, but was bluebird clear on the way back in the afternoon.
The Linville Falls recreation area is located at mile 316.5 on the Parkway. It includes a campground, picnic area, and trail system that surrounds the waterfalls. Two main hiking trails lead to multiple views of Linville Falls. Both begin at the Visitor Center and pass through remnants of a virgin hemlock forest mixed with other familiar tree species such as white pine, oak, hickory, and birch. A colorful and varied display of wildflowers decorates the trails in spring. A third trail makes a short trip to a smaller waterfall on Duggins Creek.
Erwins View Trail
This is a moderate 1.6 mile round-trip walk, offering four distinct overlooks, each revealing a different aspect of the Linville Falls area. Go past the Visitor Center and cross the footbridge over Linville River. You will have a rise over the first couple hundred yards followed by the same grade decline.
The first overlook is a half mile from the Visitor Center, and is a moderate walk with a slight loss of elevation. Here, the Linville River spills gently over the twin upper falls where it widens and pauses before picking up momentum. Drifting into a narrow twisty canyon, the water suddenly spirals out of sight and crashes loudly 45 feet over the lower falls.
The next overlook, Chimney View, 0.7 mile from the Visitor Center, is the first point on the trail where the lower falls can be seen. It offers an opportunity to photograph both the upper and lower falls. You can also see the Plunge Basin Overlook across the river. This overlook is named for the chimney-like rock outcroppings located to the right of the waterfall. The trail here is fairly strenuous, with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain, then you give some of it back as you descend several stairs to the platform.
Continuing farther up the hill, at Gorge View Overlook you can see the Linville River cutting its way through the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Unfortunately no looks at the iconic Hawksbill and Tablerock Mountains as they are around the bend out of view.
Just another 150 feet and the Erwins View Trail ends at Erwins View Overlook, 0.8 mile from the Visitor Center. From this vantage point you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Linville Gorge and a somewhat distant view of the upper and lower falls. You might want to bring a zoom lens to get your best shots.
Linville Gorge Trail
The trails to Linville Gorge (1.4 miles round trip) and to Plunge Basin (1 mile round trip) also start at the Visitor Center, on the parking lot side of the restrooms. The trailhead is kind of hidden among the rhododendrons.
The trail to Linville Gorge forks two tenths mile from the Visitor Center, with the right fork taking you to Plunge Basin Overlook where you can view the lower falls and the Chimneys. I think this one is the best view of all. That’s the look in the photo at the top of this post. If you happen to time it just right, when the rhododendron is in bloom, or when the oaks and hickories are crimson and gold in fall, it only adds to an already spectacular scene. The last 100 feet down to the platform consists of several stairs. Remember that on the way back up.
The left fork of Linville Gorge Trail winds down through rock cliffs to the bottom of the falls where the force of the cascading water creates a large pool. Don’t be tempted to swim here. It is quite dangerous, and also prohibited. Both of these trails are moderately strenuous, especially on the way back up.
Speaking of Linville Gorge, the Wilderness Area has more than a dozen other trails for the serious-minded hiker. I have trekked several of them in the past. You can see my reports here. By the way, did you know that Linville Gorge Wilderness was the first so designated back in the 1960s? The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast… and Linville Gorge was the very first.
Once you’re returned to the Visitor Center, don’t forget to give Duggins Creek Trail a chance. It starts the same place as the gorge trail and heads to the left. It is three tenths of a mile through thick forest to a footbridge over Duggins Creek where you get a somewhat muted view of Duggins Creek Falls through all the rhododendron that lines the creek. This one is actually best viewed in winter when there is not as much foliage obstructing the view.
It’s impossible to imagine modern life without plastics. From the moment the day begins, we are using plastic. It’s in our toothbrushes, our shower curtains and our phones. We use it on the way to work in bus seats, car dashboards, and bicycle helmets. We see it at lunch in takeout containers and disposable utensils. Whether you’re in your living room controlling the TV with a plastic remote or on the top of Mount Everest wearing cold-weather gear made with plastics, it’s there.
We rarely think about where it all comes from, but we should. According to a new report on the full life-cycle of the world’s plastic production, the long-term environmental results are nothing short of a catastrophe. The report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) finds the production of plastics — from extraction to manufacture to disposal and steps in between — is a significant source of carbon pollution and set to become a major driver of climate change.
While other studies have calculated emissions from plastics at various stages of production and disposal of plastics, this report is the first of its kind to estimate the impact of plastic across its full life cycle. Most carbon emissions associated with plastics comes from the production phase of the life cycle, but even at the end of the cycle, plastics are a source of pollution.
Most of the plastic ever produced has been released into the environment and persists in some form. What happens next is known. Turtles wind up with straws in their noses, dead whales wash ashore with almost 100 pounds of plastic in their stomachs, divers swim through currents of plastic pollution. Even at this stage, plastics are a source of carbon pollution.
Minam River Lodge is a rare piece of private property within Oregon’s 360,000-acre Eagle Cap Wilderness, which itself is located within the 2.3 million-acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. It was founded as a hunting camp in 1950 and even today the only ways to get here are to hike, ride a horse or have local rancher Joe Spence fly you there in his three-seat Cessna 206.
Once at the lodge, which is open from late May into October, there is no cellphone reception, Internet or television; power in the cabins and main lodge comes from an array of solar panels near its organic greenhouse and pigpen.
Eagle Cap Wilderness has 535 miles of trails and 17 peaks taller than 9,000 feet. Much of the Wallowa Mountains, called “the Alps of Oregon” and pronounced WAH-lau-waa, are in the Eagle Cap. Four rivers that run through the wilderness are in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, including 39 of the Minam River’s 51 miles.
Ninety-nine percent of guests hike in from the Moss Springs Trailhead, which, at 8 1/2 miles away, is the closest trailhead. But you can also start at the Wallowa Lake Trailhead. This allows you to see dozens of high alpine lakes and some of the range’s tallest peaks, but is substantially longer in time and distance then the trek from Moss Springs.