Forty years ago on this day, I was born into this world with love, pain, and blood. This weekend I figured I would celebrate with the same style for the BUSAR team’s monthly training.
What is BUSAR you ask? It’s an interagency fitness and training group for Search and Rescue professionals.
BUSAR’s rougish development arose from my belief that fitness and backcountry skills are as important as technical skills, so I target recruited outdoor athletes for the group. We PT with our SAR packs once a week and do some type of monthly outdoor training.
BUSAR has class V paddlers, an ER doc, a helicopter pilot, and adventure racers, but the most important factor is that these guys live this lifestyle and are willing to push themselves. If we weren’t headed to the woods this weekend for training, they would be there anyway, running, paddling, biking, or climbing. Fitness and experience are not something you can learn in a weekend class and these guys have decades of living that lifestyle. To those that would argue that there is not a need for that level of fitness, I would reply “Come hither my friend, out of the truck, and behold the brutality of offtrail or a snowy rescue in thine mountains”
More info on the BUSAR project can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/BUSAR1111
September took us to an orienteering race and this month fell on my shoulders, so I picked a “manway” that I had been on my radar for 15 years.
Ekaneetlee Trace was an old trail from Tennesee to North Carolina, originating in the Cades Cove area and ending in the Eagle Creek drainage. It was the historical route to cross the west end of the Smokies back before this was even a nation. It departs Gregory Ridge trail, heads up to Ekaneetlee Gap, and drops into North Carolina following Ekaneetlee Creek. Fontana Lake, and the neccesity of a boat pick up or drop off, make the logistics of completing this manway a pain in the ass, but I had a good plan up my sleeve.
Intel on the net is sparse, but a few quotes that were meant to deter, only pumped up the crew.
“I absolutely love off-trail hiking, but this was a piece of s**t. Nothing redeeming about it whatsoever. There is reallly no visible manway thru much of it. You may as well just blaze your own trail from point A to Point B. If you have not done any off-trails in the Smokies, do NOT do this one. Try something a little more fun.”
“My advice..unless you are experienced at route finding, map and compass reading and or GPS, are in good physical shape and are prepared to bushwack….then stay away. This was one nasty trip!”
As for the quotes, they are completely accurate. My brief description, and the pics to support it, would be as follows..
“A 9 1/2 hour fight with a wild cat, while doing yoga in a rainy jungle gym”
Out of the 9 1/2 hours, I would estimate we were on a “manway” for about 2 hours, the rest was bushwack city. The Tennessee side was better, as the trail crew used to access the AT via that route according to “Rambo” Ricky, but the NC side was long and rough. On both sides, you would get a short section of manway, only to lose it in a mass of deadfall and rhodo.
One can only take so much beating from rhodo, before the creek calls your name. We were soaked from the incessant rain anyway, so it was a welcome break from the rhodo hell.
There were a couple highlights, including big trees..
And the barrel camp where I punched a bear in the face circa 2003..
About an hour before dark, we popped out at Campite 89 and set up shop. One of the training goals was to bivouac out of our SAR packs, which typically run about 15 pounds. We also worked on map and compass skills, UTM plotting, and firestarting in crappy weather.
“Casa del cabro”
Day 2 was a fast paced, 4 mile hike until we felt like Ranger Robin was closing in on us, so we stole a getaway car..
But had to ditch it..
So we swam the hell out of there..
So why would I choose to punish my body, not sleep in my bed, or eat a spectacular meal for my 40th birthday? Well, that is the “love” part of my first line.
I love these mountains.
I love adventure.
I love finding a camp after bushwacking through a nightmarish rhodo hell and wading a creek all day.
I love sharing those experiences with hardcore, experienced people.
I love knowing that a group I created can handle the crappiest manway in the park and overnight out of their SAR pack with ease.
I love the feeling of gratitude that comes from adversity when you return home.
And I love looking up to see my wife and son watching us swim across a lake, not because the top of Fontana Dam is closed or it saved us money on a boat shuttle, but because it made us happy..
Future BUSAR member waits for his Dad..
Special thanks to my mum and dad for bringing me into this world and making this adventure even possible.
And practicing what I preach. For “Survival 101” alumni, below was our trip plan. I also informed a co-worker of our plans and two rangers at the trailhead that morning. Free trip plans are downloadable at: http://www.bigpigoutdoors.net/bpo-trip-plan.html