Book Review: Our Southern Highlanders

I’ve been reading Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart. I have less than three chapters to go until I finish the nearly 500 pages book. I’m excited to get everything I need to do out of the way, so that I can finish this book that tells a narrative story of life in southern Appalachian before the Smoky Mountains became a national park.  Horace Kephart was a librarian for better part of his life. He rose to become the director of a library in St. Louis. One day, he found his career lacking satisfaction and he left his wife and children. (not a legal divorce, just a separation.) He wanted to travel and write about something that other people have not wrote. During his research, he discovered that there is very little known about the folks who live in southern Appalachian. He made his way to western North Carolina and eventually into a camp in the Hazel Creek area of the Great Smoky Mountains.

He had one purpose: to write about life among the mountain people who lived on the highlands of the Smoky Mountains. He came to the Smokys in 1904 and he lived alone in a cabin in the Hazel Creek area for three years. (The cabin no longer stands today, but the tract of land is still visible and the park officials have a designated campsite not far from where it stood.)  He writes that the mountain people were poor, but respectful and generous people. Due to their lifestyle, they were always skeptical of “outlanders” visiting their highlands, but they never treated them with hostility unless they were defending themselves.

They lived a harsh life, and many times walking bare footed in the snow. They had to walk 20 miles carrying a 110 pounds sack of grain on their bare shoulders. (Keep in mind, this is very rough country.) Many of them were too poor to afford a wagon, or hire someone with horses to do this kind of chores for them. They lived so far from the nearest market, and lived in places that were cutoff from the outside world that they had no way to sell excess corn, or make decent income. They used the excess corn to make moonshine. They were descendant of Scottish-Irish heritage, so they learned whisky making from their ancestors. They weren’t trying to disrespect the government’s laws regarding moonshine. Their argument was: if I grow my own food and eat it myself, it’s not taxed, so how come I have to pay taxes on liquor that I make for my personal consumption when I’m too poor and too far from the outside world to buy legal whisky?

The mountain people showed extreme generously. The author writes that one time, he was exploring an area far from his cabin and he ran into another cabin and he didn’t know the man or his family that lived there. They invited him to stay, and the man of the house walked in the pitch dark without a lantern to get some grain and meals. The family could BARELY feed themselves and yet they told Horace to help him selves to whatever he please. The next morning, the author tried to pay the family for their meal and they did not accept the money. They nearly considered it an insult to accept such fare. Unbelievable hospitality from poor folks who lived in isolation to not accept money when they could barely feed themselves. He debunked a lot of city folks’ perception at the time on the highlanders.  He simply wrote the truth about the people, he didn’t judge their lifestyle, he wasn’t trying to insult them, he just simply wanted to write about how they lived with 100% accuracy. There are books on the Indians, the Colony, and many other cultures and civilizations throughout times. Horace just became one of the first to write about the folks in rural southern Appalachian highlands.

These are just a few examples of what the book is about. I find it very fascinating how these people lived before the Smoky became a national park. Horace would become one of the founding fathers of the national park and, sadly, he did not live long enough to see it become official. If American history interests you, I highly recommend this book. You will find the stories entertaining and flat out unbelievable, and have new respect for those that “kindly” left their land for it to be preserved and become a national park. If it hasn’t became a national park, they would have lost their land to the lumber industry. (In my opinion.) From now on, when I hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially in an area that the book has mentioned, my mind will see the mountain people and their ways those 100 years ago.


Short Hike

I went for a super short hike today. I almost made it to Mt. Sterling before unexpected road condition forced me to turn around. Apparently this road isn’t on the Park’s website as it’s not owned by them… Oops. Anyway, I changed my plans and decided to hike to a waterfall I have never been too.  A beautiful hike, no matter how short, is better than no hike at all. I also saw two bull elks roaming near the Big Creek Ranger Station. It was my first encounter with an elk and I’ve heard they are pretty content with staying in the Cataloochee area of the Park. Anyway, just a few pictures:


Computer Problem

My laptop is 5 years old and I’ve put it through some hell over the years in college. As a result, my backspace button is not working at the moment… This will hinder my ability to post blogs in efficient manner. I can  post from my phone, but that will take awhile. I have plans for day hiking but the Smokies has been closing roads due the weather before I can even get to the trail head!!!! Soon as my schedule and lack road closures get on the same page I’ll get out and take some pictures of snowy mountains. 🙂 Happy trail, everyone!

Backpacking Fee

I’m not a lawyer; I’m educated in accounting. It has came to my attention that a non-profit organization has threaten to sue the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The basis is that the new fee imposed on backpackers is highly illegal. This is the organization: . They mentioned on their site that the fee is an “entrance fee.” They are indeed correct about the deed stipulation and the Smokies continues to not charge such fee. I have done some reading and I believe I have found the legal cause for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to legally collect fees from backpackers. Here a link to FAQ for the GSMNP: and here a quote from the same link:

“6. Will I be able to purchase an annual backcountry camping pass?

Backcountry fees will be collected under authority of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). FLREA permits the creation of annual passes for park entrance fees but not other fees, such as backcountry use fees. Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have an entrance fee.”

So, that lead me to reading about the FLREA, again here the link:

Here the key quote from FLREA:

Expanded Amenity Fees are fees that provide direct benefits to individuals or groups. They include things like developed campgrounds, cabin rentals, highly developed boat docks and swimming areas. They may also include services like hookups, dump stations, special tours and reservations services.:”

The keywords from the above quote is “reservations services.” Which is essentially the primary purpose of the fee. I believe this is will be the government main argument and they did indeed follow through with a lot better reservation and planning services that were resulted of the fee.

The previous reservation system wasn’t broken, but it could have been improved and I actually like the new system. So, I will be gladly pay the $4 to enjoy such convenience service. I also live in an area where there are much more places to go backpacking that doesn’t cost money other than gas and food.

Feel free to share your opinion in the comment section.

Future Trip: Give Me Idea(s)

I sit here daydreaming where I want to go next as far as backpacking is concern. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has now imposed a $4.00 fee per person per night for anyone who wish to backpack here. I can live with the fee since it’s not completely outrageous, but it will take some getting used too. The only fees I think about when going backpacking in the Smokies is food and gas money.

Anyway, I want some idea(s) for my next trip. This trip can be in the Smokies on the southern side of the park around Thunderhead Mountain, Gregory Bald, etc. Or the next trip can be at any of the following locations: Roan Highlands, Nantahala Headwaters Loop, Shining Rock Wilderness, and Panthertown Valley. The last three are located in Western North Carolina while Roan Highlands is on the Tennessee and North Carolina state line. I already have the Nantahala Headwaters Loop mapped out, but the other three areas I have no idea what loop to do. If I go back to the Smokies, I want go somewhere I haven’t been. I have not explore the southern end of the park other than Cades Cove and the Little River Trail. I may leave Gregory Bald alone until June when the rhododendron are in bloom. Of course I’m not the only one who is thinking about this. There is a lot of places within two hours of driving from my house and I have no idea which locations to explore next, so help me out bloggers!!! 🙂

My Hammock Got a Liposuction

I was sitting around in my hammock over the weekend thinking how freakishly huge this bug net is on my hammock. It also has extra fabric attached to the main body. I’ve been wanting to make a new hammock for some times; the new hammock would have been single layer with no attached bug net. This is the bug net I would have used for the new hammock:

Anyway, my hammock weighs 2lbs on a scale. After lounging for a few minutes I had a brain fart and said to my self: self, why not modify this hammock? So, I decied to take a bold move of giving my Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter Pro hammock a liposuction. This is what the hammock looked like prior to its operation:Hammock

As you can see from the picture above, the bug net is freakishly huge compared to its competitors with similar designs. Due to my short thought and poor research at the time of the purchased, I learned real quick to set up the bug net as shown above with a tarp was nearly impractical. The shock cords interfered with the tarp in a big way, and it also had too much potential to create drip lines in a good rain storm. I made some mods to leave the bug net suspended in the air under the tarp without the potential for drip lines. It wasn’t perfect since the bug net still dangled close to my face and made the hammock feel small. I ended up cutting the brown fabric, zipper, and bug net completely off.

Here is the excess: IMAG1410

Here what it looks like now: IMAG1412Obviously I need to do a little more trimming. Also, I don’t sleep like this. The hammock can achieve a flatter lay if I stretch it out some more. It’s just hanging in a banana shape solely for the picture.

This is what it used to look like while stuffed: IMAG0951 It’s on the right, by the way. The small looking stuffed thing on the left is my tarp.

Here what it looks like while stuffed post-op: IMAG1411 It’s slimmer and nearly the exact size of a 1 liter Nalgene water bottle. This stuff sack used to be the stuff sack for my foot print for the Big Agnes Seedhouse tent. I leave the footprint in the same stuff sack as the tent.

I need to add a ridge line going from one end of the hammock to the other and I hope to procure the bug net I posted above. The ridge line will keep the next bug net off of my face and give me a place to hang a light and a storage pocket. The entire set up at pre-op (with tarp, ropes, stakes, etc.) was right around 2.9 pounds. I weighted the stuff sack post-op without the Amsteel Blue ropes, and my scale registered it at 11oz. With my tarp, the bug net at the top of this post, and modified hammock I’m looking at estimated weight real close to 1.15lbs. Factor in an extra few ounces for ropes and stakes, I’ll be slightly over 2 pounds. It’s still a lot lighter than it was before the operation. This projected achieved nearly a pound loss (for the hammock itself) and increased volume in my pack! I might be a little crazy. 🙂

Alcohol Stove Result

This isn’t my first experiment with my homemade alcohol stove. It just the first documented one, if you will.

I cannot remember the specification of the can, but I can tell you it has 10 jets and one center hole. After denatured alcohol is poured into the center hole, I cover the hole with a penny. (Don’t bother asking me why, the explanation is beyond me. I just followed instructions from a guy who knows a guy that knows a guy that knows his stuff.) It takes roughly 2-3oz of alcohol for the liquid to seep out of the jets and when it does, I light it! The flame is large in the center at first, then it’s eventually coming out of the  jets. There is a bottom piece to capture any liquid that runs of of the jet so that it doesn’t burn the ground. Then finally I have a pot support that I made from a can that once housed baked beans. Just enjoy the pictures:

Alcohol Stove 4

Alcohol Stove

Alcohol Stove 3

Alcohol Stove 2

For the statistical results: It took 14:34 minutes for 2-3oz of alcohol to completely burn out. I got 2 cups of cold, cold water to boil at the 9 minutes mark. Overall I was pleasantly please with the result. I’m working on an idea for a windscreen, and I’m thinking of another pot support idea that will be shorter to the jets to increase heat. I’d love to have a new titanium mug with a lid to cook with as well.

Instructions to making your own penny stove can be found by using YouTube or this website:

Thanks for reading!

Warning: playing with flammable alcohol is dangerous! I have burn marks on my porch! It will be better to store and pour alcohol out a container that will not drip down the bottle onto the ground.. You cannot see the alcohol flame in broad daylight; dark lights will reveal the blue flame and table salt will show the flame as well.