A note from the photographer

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Check out my photography website at J. Commons Photography


Contact me to find out what I can do for you! Jennifer.commons@gmail.com


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snow Hike 2017, Round Bald and Roan Mountain {J. Commons Photography ~ Roan Mountain}

It's been a couple of months since I have posted any photos, but we have still been out hiking nearly every week!  Our hikes are getting longer and more challenging and I am finding my camera to be more of a hindrance and really not my focus (pun not intended) on these hikes.  Since last spring we have consistently hiked and have gained so much knowledge on things we need to improve our hiking journey.  One of those things - POLES!!  I had been on the fence about wanting trekking poles, feeling that they showed weakness while I am getting stronger.  I read an article on LowerGear by a person who held a similar belief and finally gave in and tried a walking stick first.  After seeing its benefit s/he (I want to say it was a man, but I can't remember) moved up to full-fledged trekking poles and hasn't looked back since.  Deanna and I have great husbands who are both 100% endorsing our love for hiking and we both received poles and new backpacks with water bladders for Christmas.   We did a mini hike on New Year's Day around my mountain to break in our poles and try to fit our packs.  It didn't take me long to see the benefit in having poles!  They were awesome!  I couldn't wait to get them out on a real hike!!

This past weekend we were blessed with our first snow of the winter.  I LOVE SNOW and immediately was dreaming of being up on Roan Mountain and taking in the snow views and frozen creek.  Tuesday, Deanna and I headed up to Carver's Gap to hike Round Bald.  I was a little anxious about driving up there (still reliving my last unsuccessful snow trek up to Carver's Gap), but the roads were magically clear all the way to the top!!  We had dressed warmly (or so we thought), but we underestimated the wind!  In the parking lot it was 29* and already quite windy!

I found on the way up that I had a fierce determination to get to the top and I was climbing faster with the help of my poles, but the cold air was giving me quite a stitch in my side! If you haven't hiked Round Bald, the first half of the climb to the top is mostly through a Spruce Pine forest.  That part of the hike was cold, but not unbearable.  When we stepped into the open it was quickly apparent we were not prepared for this level of battering!  The wind was so strong and just a continuous, sustained wind.  If I had to guess, I'd say at least 25-30 mph.  It was literally blowing us sideways.  Deanna had on a hat and two hoods.  I didn't have any head covering.  My head started hurting and burning.  Thankfully, Dee shared her hat and saved me from frostbite!  A lot of my pictures didn't turn out because of the conditions, but here's a few.

I love how the mountains look outlined by their trees.



The wind was blowing Deanna's poles like that!

On the side of the pines facing the bone chilling wind frost had developed.  It was ghostly and beautiful.  


This photo looks like a painting to me.  I love it!

Our path leading back into the shelter of the spruce pines.


The ice formations along the road were amazing.

A frozen Doe River.


Deanna along the Riverside Trail.



We attempted to do this two mile loop.  It was very pretty and had ups and downs, straight through the forest, and really represented what I expected from a snow hike.  About halfway or so, I realized I had lost my lens cap.  Instead of finishing the loop we had to back track in hopes of finding the cap.  We found it almost at the beginning of the loop!  Oh well, we will trek it again!

Some people might think we are crazy for hiking in the cold, snow, and wind, but it was invigorating!  We can't wait to get back out there through the winter, but the next few weeks look more like Spring!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains NP ~ Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome {J. Commons Photography ~ Oconaluftee and Clingmans Dome}

Last Saturday the husband and I made it out for a day trip.  It's one of my favorite things to do together!  Several years ago, 2001 I think, elk were reintroduced to the Smoky Mountains near Cherokee, NC.  We have talked about going multiple times and finally went!  The drive to Cherokee was breathtaking.  The leaves were in peak color.  It was then I realized we may be in for a lot of leaf peepers at the park!

We first stopped at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and checked out the surrounding areas.  There were no elk to be seen at the time, but it was still early in the afternoon.  My parents had ventured over there a couple weeks ago and said the elk came out around 4 pm.  We decided to head up the road, visit Clingmans Dome, and then backtrack in hopes to see the elk.

Just down from the visitor's center was Mingus Mill.  The grist mill was built in 1886 for $600!  It has a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel.  It was beautiful and very well preserved.

I love how the you can see the leaves falling!



Peeping at the leaves from the inside.

After Mingus Mill we headed up to Clingmans Dome.  I have wanted to make the hike to the top of Clingmans for a long time.  However, I had no idea it was such a HUGE tourist attraction!  About 2 miles from the top we hit a ton of traffic.  About a mile from the parking lot we were barely moving and there were cars parked down both sides of the road.  The husband has a bum knee and ankle, so I told him that if we didn't find parking at the top we could just skip it.  Thankfully, we found a spot in the actual parking lot.

View from the parking lot.

The climb to the tower is a half mile paved path.  However, it is wicked steep.  I've done a lot of hiking this year and I don't think I've hiked anything that maintained that steep of a grade over that long a stretch.  I felt so bad for Mike, unlike me, he has not been hiking all summer, but he was a trooper and made it all the way to the top with me.  

For all my snake haters - the next photo is a baby snake!!
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Along the way we found this little guy.

Now, if you know me, you know I hate crowds.  I love to people watch, but at the same time a crowd just stresses me out and annoys me.  I had zero idea that Clingmans Dome would be this crazy busy.  Seriously, it was ridiculous.  If someone had told me that there would be a thousand people up there I would never have gone.  Besides the fact the path was so steep, I struggled to enjoy myself because of the sheer number of people.

First view of the tower.

We were packed in like sardines at the top and people would not take a picture, enjoy the scene, and move on.  There were also signs that showed what you were looking at in the distance.  I tried to read one of the signs, but two girls were standing in front of it, not reading the sign, not looking at the view, not taking pictures, but texting.  And don't get me started on the people that took 20+ selfies.  I snapped my couple of pictures and got out of there before I pushed someone over the edge!

View from the top.  


The Mountain Ash berries were in full bloom (is that the right word?) and beautiful against the blue sky and evergreens.

One of the many overlooks on the way back to Oconaluftee.

When we returned to the visitor center we were very surprised to find a ton of cars and people sitting in chairs along the edge of the field waiting to see the elk.  It was kind of a funny scene.  The fields are closed to keep people away from the elk, but behind the visitor center there is a mountain farm museum with several buildings and barns.  It is located on the far side of the main field.  We walked down to the farm museum and were treated to two yearling elk behind the barn eating cornstalks from a pile. We were inside the barn and they were just on the other side of the fence.


The Oconaluftee River runs behind the farm and people started to gather down by the bank.  We wondered down there and this majestic bull was getting a drink of water.  He was so large and beautiful.  And that rack!  It was darker back there, so my ISO setting was high, and sadly there's a lot of noise in these photos, but just wow!  We also were treated to hearing the bull make several noises including the famous bugle!!


The elk wandered back into the woods and we drove around to another field and found about 30 elk in a field.  Well, actually, it was a person's front yard!

The final exciting moment of the day - the park rangers came to move the herd along because it was getting quite dark and they wanted the people to move on.  Two rangers came up behind the herd clapping and shouting to push them across the road to another field and then up in to the woods.  I heard the rangers talking and letting each other know that the large bull was still behind them.  After they got the main part of the herd across the road the bull was coming up from the creek.  One ranger hopped into this car, turned on the lights and sirens, and drove towards the bull to force him across with the rest of the herd.  Well, the bull was having none of it!  He stood his ground and let out a loud, aggressive bugle directed at the ranger. It cracked me up!!  He did eventually give in and took the five does with him across the field.  It was a really amazing trip and I felt like I was in the middle of a National Park special!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Roan High Bluff {J.Commons Photography ~ Roan High Knob}

Monday, Deanna and I headed back to one of my favorite spots - Roan Mountain.  Last September I attempted the hike to Roan High Bluff (or Roan High Knob depending on what reference you are looking at).  I had done some light hiking that day around the Cloudland Hotel site and a little of the Cloudland Trail for around 1.5 miles.  When I reached the trail to Roan High Knob I was too tired and too out of shape to go any further.  I felt a bit defeated.  Earlier this year we did the Cloudland Trail and the Rhododendron Garden Loop for a total of roughly 3 miles and I was once again too tired to make the climb to the top.  On Monday, I was a woman possessed and more determined than ever to make it to the top of Roan Mountain.

On the drive up we got stuck behind a super slow vehicle and pulled off at one of our favorite spots to get a couple pictures.


Does anyone else see a problem with this setup?



We had planned to drive to the Cloudland Trail head, hike to High Knob, and then down the other side before turning around at some point.  These plans were thwarted by one simple gate.

We parked at Carver's Gap, picked up the AT, and headed for the top.  We were on a bit of a time crunch and I was so determined to get to the top that I didn't take a lot of pictures on the way up.  It was all up hill and the path, while mostly wide, was covered in rocks and pebbles.  Footing was awful and the hike was tiring, but we kept on.  Here's a few scenes from the way up.

 A clump of Mountain Ash berries on a cut log.



I guess it could be a good place to stop for the night.

 At the Cloudland Hotel site the AT continued off in one direction and we cut through the parking lot to join the Cloudland Trail.  This is the overlook along that part of the trail.

On the surface this is not a favorite picture of myself, but for everything it stands for I love it!  It was a 4.5 mile all uphill hike to get to this point. And with not being able to do it twice before with less difficulty leading up to it makes it that much sweeter! Celebrating my victory on Roan High Knob! (And I just noticed there is a "JC" carved in the wood below my elbow!)

The sweet reward.


 Much to our surprise, the AT does not cross Roan High Knob and the trail actually ends at this spot!  So back down we headed.


As I mentioned, we were on a time crunch.  We opted to follow the road back down the mountain instead of the trail to save time.  While we did save time, the pounding of the pavement on the decline hurt both of these bodies! #NotAsYoungAsWeUsedToBe

 Just enough time to check out the Miller Farmstead and the overlook!

This hike distance ~ 8 miles!!!  Our longest hike to date and for me, personally the most rewarding. :)


Appalachian Trail ~ Big Bald, North Carolina {J. Commons Photography ~ Big Bald, NC}

Last week, Deanna and I headed out to Wolf Laurel.  She has a cabin there that overlooks Big Bald and Little Bald along the Appalachian Trail.  I had not hiked Big Bald yet, and we were excited to see the fall colors.  Even 5,000+ feet there still was not a lot of fall color, but the day was beautiful and our views were magnificent!!

Mountain Ash berries against that blue sky are amazing!



Halfway up Big Bald and looking back at Little Bald.

The top of Big Bald marked with the AT blaze and a plaque.


The road less traveled.

Halfway up Little Bald and looking back at Big Bald - It was crazy realizing we were at the top of that!

So, on top of Little Bald there is a bird society counting and banding birds.  They have nets set up to catch the birds that will not harm them.  As we rounded one curve we saw a bird on top of a post and we got so excited thinking it was a big bird of prey.  My long lens confirmed it was a large bird of prey . . . made of plastic!  Oh well!

We hiked down the other side of Little Bald and on our way back to the top there was a loud commotion behind us.  We had been trying to catch a picture of a couple of chipmunks that were playing hide and seek with us when a group of deer crossed behind us.  It was probably a funny scene to watch from the outside.  Deanna and I were stock still waiting to see the deer better, the deer were still waiting to see what we were going to do next, and the chipmunks kept popping out to laugh at us!  We were in a thick area and I was only able to get this one not-so-great picture of a deer.  Shortly after they took off back the way they came.

The only winged creature we saw in the catch nets - a ladybug!

After our hike we drove over to the cabin to check on things.  I forgot how much I love their cabin!  Part of it is even pre-Civil War!  How cool is that?!


 The view of the Balds from the cabin.

We drove around Wolf Laurel so Deanna could show me this awesome mountain hole on the golf course.  Crazy!  Can you imagine playing that?!

Hike distance for the day - 7.5 miles!