October 19, 2016
Jenny at LeConte Lodge. Photo by Dave Landreth
Jenny died while hiking alone in in the.Greenbrier area of the Smokies. On Monday, June 8, 2015, her body was found in Porters Creek above campsite 31, near the mouth of Lester Prong, by a National Park Service search and rescue team. The exact date and time of her death, and the events leading up to it, remain unknown. Her brother Peter said, "It is likely that we will never really know what happened. We do know that Jenny died in her favorite place in the world, the beautiful Smoky Mountains." Here is Jenny's obituary, written by Peter.
On August 31, 2015, the National Park Service issued a press release stating that the Sevier County Medical Examiner's office concluded that Jenny died of "environmental hypothermia due to cold exposure from partial submersion in Porters Creek." Jenny had taken a substantial amount of diphenhydramine, an amount called "toxic" in the SCME report, so many have concluded that Jenny had taken her own life by sedating herself and then seating herself immersed in the 50° waters of Porters Creek.
On Sunday, September 13, 2015, the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club conducted a memorial hike to the SMHC cabin site, where Peter Bennett dispersed a portion of Jenny's cremains, and a Celebration of Life service at the Greenbrier Picnic Pavilion. Here is a link to pictures and thoughts from that day. The next day, a small group of hikers, including Peter, went off-trail up Lester Prong to disperse another portion of Jenny's cremains at the site where Charlie Klabunde's were dispersed ("Charlies Rock"). Peter wrote about his further memorials for Jenny here.
Jenny, we will never forget you. You have followed the great hikers' leads, and you, in turn, have inspired many current and future lovers of the Smokies
to follow in your lead. You have now gone right up the middle, and we will follow.
* * * *
Susan Jennifer Bennett, a native of Arlington, Virginia, moved to Knoxville and became a member of the Club in 1983. A 1983 off-trail assault on the "Tourist Bunion" with her then-husband, the late Chris Hebb, was a major turning point in Jenny's confidence and ability to conquer the off-trail heights of the Smokies. She hiked for a number of years on SMHC outings led by the off-trail legends Charlie Klabunde, Al Watson, Ray Payne, O.K. Sergeant, and Bruce and Dick Ketelle, among others.
Jenny left the area for two decades, living in Gloucester, Massachusetts.. After her longtime companion, the late Bob Parlee, split with her in March, 2009, Jenny moved to Brevard, North Carolina in October, 2009. From late 2009 through early 2015, she undertook just over five years of major off-trail hiking adventures, both alone and with a small group of compatriots. Jenny led a number of off-trail outings for the Club as well. Jenny moved from Brevard to Woodfin, north of Asheville, in March, 2010. Her final home was in Sylva, NC, to which she moved in late March, 2012.
She completed a quest to hike every major stream drainage route to the summit of Mt. LeConte. These hikes formed the inspiration for her 2014 book, "The Twelve Streams of LeConte". Jenny had previously published a mystery novel, "Murder at the Jumpoff" in 2011. Jenny also wrote an ongoing Wordpress blog called "Endless Streams and Forests" in which she documented many of her hiking outings and illustrated them with her photography.
There were few hikers tougher than Jenny Bennett. She took on any challenge in the Smoky Mountains.
She had hiked many routes that most hikers don't know, and would not attempt even if they did. She developed a knee problem in 2012, in which the knee would periodically dislocate and she would force it back into place, then continue with the hike. Ultimately the knee problem became nearly unbearable, and she concluded that an operation to correct the condition would be required. Nonetheless, Jenny kept on with the big hikes as long as she could.
After Jenny's inspiration and mentor in the 1980's, Charlie Klabunde, passed away in February 2015, Jenny organized an outing on March 22, 2015, in which she, Ed Fleming, Mike Harrington, Clayton Carver, and Rick Waggener would pass the Jumpoff on the Smokies' Boulevard Trail, then descend into Lester Prong to a spot to disperse Charlie's ashes. Jenny made it from Newfound Gap to the beginning of the descent from Boulevard Trail, but her knee gave out yet again, and she could not continue. She returned to her car and back to Sylva, while the remainder of the group continued on and completed the memorial as Jenny wanted. That she could not accompany the group to do this for her beloved mentor surely tormented Jenny.
On March 31, 2015, Jenny decided to leave North Carolina and move to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, due to what she described as a "perfect storm of life events." She wanted to live nearer to her sister in Massachusetts. Those who knew her described her as being excited by the move. She had located a home to buy. She packed her belongings and scheduled the movers to come on June 1. At the same time, there was an undeniable sadness about leaving the mountains she so dearly loved. She took a couple more offtrail outings on May 24 and 27 and blogged about them with a certain wistfulness. She was having a hard time saying goodbye to the Smokies, and the many memories they held for her.
And so it was, either on May 30 or May 31, 2015, she returned to her beloved Lester Prong alone. It was on this outing that she lost her life.
* * * *
Tributes to Jenny and News Articles
Note: If you'd like for us to include a message or tribute from you here, please send your words to
Here are the tributes to Jenny, in the comments section of the post Peter Bennett made on Jenny's blog.
The article by Mason Adams on the Blue Ridge Outdoors website.
The Holly Kays article on the Smoky Mountain News website
Stephanie Gott Seay: "Jenny's life was so multi-faceted it will take a committee to detail it all.
Jenny was brilliant and inquisitive. A meticulous writer. Three of her poems about off-trail hiking were set to music and performed by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in 2009 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here is a link containing the poems, and an audio file of the arrangement, with narration. http://www.alembickmusic.com/Off-TrailintheSmokies.html
I first met Jenny nearly 30 years ago when we began working together at a small publishing firm in Knoxville. She had a wry sense of humor, and we laughed together so often that our coworkers would complain about it. That camaraderie and laughter continued as we visited with her over the years as she moved around the East Coast. Jenny's work writing about the energy industry took her far and wide, and produced in-depth, insightful stories that were always a pleasure to read.
Jenny's heart lay in the mountains, and her hiker friends have many wonderful stories to share about her tenacity and companionship.
Jenny carefully detailed her adventures off and on the trail on her blog, which many have found essential to their own outings. She was always ready to provide help and advice to those interested in similar pursuits. In an age of electronic gadgetry, Jenny was proud to typically take only map, compass and altimeter with her on her well-researched outings. In case you haven't seen it, here's a link to her hiking blog: https://streamsandforests.wordpress.com/
As one of her non-hiker friends I'll share some other details: Jenny was a great cook, known for her pie crusts and popovers. She made a wonderful lunch for us last summer when we visited her in Sylva.. She also pursued master gardener certification and for a time worked as a landscaper in Massachusetts. That particular interest is demonstrated in her hiking blog as well, as she detailed flora encountered on her hikes.
Jenny was also a student of history, literature and philosophy, and maintained a separate blog for those writings, here: https://1870to1918.wordpress.com/
When Jenny was seriously laid up one winter with pneumonia in Massachusetts after cross-country skiing (a case so bad that it permanently reduced her lung capacity), she read a book about Deneys Reitz - a figure in South Africa's Boer War. She was so taken with Deneys and the other Afrikaaners that she later traveled to South Africa and began researching the events and wrote a book of non-fiction, "Transvaal Citizen," detailing their exploits. Her research and writing drew enough attention that she was later invited by a group of Afrikaaner historians to join them on a tour of battle sites in that country.
In addition to that book, Jenny authored two more, works of fiction based in her beloved Smokies, "Murder at the Jumpoff" and "The Twelve Streams of LeConte." Both centered around her favorite section of the park, the Greenbrier.
I like to think Jenny is just up ahead, scouting the way for us. I will miss my friend. Much love and healing to her family and all who knew her."
Rebekah Young, President, Smoky Mountains Hiking Club: "Jenny's love of the mountains was transcendent. She will always be in the mountains that she loved."
Olga Pader, President, Nantahala Hiking Club: "On behalf of your sister Nantahala Hiking Club, I extend our sympathy on the unfortunate and untimely death of Jenny Bennett. She obviously was a remarkable and unusual person and an intrepid hiker. The SMHC, members and friends of Jenny were blessed having her in their lives."
Peter Barr: "I first met Jenny Bennett in person in the Smokies in October 2009. Brian Reed and I had planned a multi-day off-trail expedition that would climb the north face of Woolly Tops from Greenbrier, then to Eagle Rocks and down to Cosby. It sounded brutal yet exhilarating, and it lived up to its hype.
I knew Jenny remotely before we finally met the morning of that hike. We began corresponding online about a year prior when she became a sporadic contributor on Dave Landreth's Wild Country forum. While she visited the forum to discuss mostly her Smokies off-trail interest (and considerable past experience), we began separately discussing northeastern peakbagging outside of the message board. Jenny had climbed all of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers, and more impressively, the New England Hundred Highest peak list. I knew right away she was a hardcore bushwhacker.
Jenny proved herself a great hiking partner even before starting that climb of Woolly Tops. Though we just met, I knew I liked her when she helped me hide an 8 pound pumpkin in Brian Reed's pack at the trailhead prior to starting the bushwhack. We got a good laugh when Brian managed to carry it all the way to the summit without noticing. It was really him who had the last laugh, as it didn’t slow him down a bit.
On that trip we faced constant rain and bitter cold, and Jenny always kept a positive attitude. She didn’t even bat an eye when we began down-climbing waterfalls in our foolhardy attempt to drop into Eagle Rocks Prong. At first I thought she may be trying to just "keep up with the guys" despite the ludicrous—even dangerous—conditions of bushwhacking down a drainage in a cloudburst. But quickly I realized she was entirely comfortable and in her element—certainly far more than I was at that time.
She was sweet enough to join me and some of the Wild Country gang when I arrived at Newfound Gap on my AT thru-hike in 2010. There she met Dave Landreth for the first time, with whom she would eventually have dozens of off-trail Smokies adventures. Despite that their relationship grew apart later on, I know undoubtedly that both would describe many of their adventures together as among the best and most cherished of their entire lives.
On that side-trip to LeConte, I recall them standing side by side at The Jumpoff looking down into Lester Prong, both practically drooling as if they already could envision the adventures they would one day share down in its wilds. I thought of Jenny fondly several months nearly 2000 miles later when I made the side trip to the summit of Mt. Moriah, which was the upper terminus of the trail she formerly maintained during her time in New Hampshire. It was a special spot to her, and I was honored to get to experience it and know its significance.
When I finished the AT and began an internship at Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Jenny helped edit some of my writing to aid me in becoming a more confident author—selflessly lending out her professional expertise. I was eager to impress and succeed at my short opportunity at the land trust, and Jenny's help played a part in enabling me to later get hired on as full-time staff, where I remain five years later in a career that I find endlessly fulfilling.
I was delighted to help get Jenny's first book published, first pitching her ‘Murder at the Jump Off’ manuscript to my editor at John F. Blair Publisher, and when that didn't work, connecting her to the Dingwalls of Canterbury House whom I had met while peakbagging in Boone. I was so honored to do this, because it seemed to make the world right: Jenny was the real writer while I was just a hiker. She was the one who should be published, not me. I was so proud of her when her book became a reality.
Jenny and I didn't hike in recent years, though not for any good reason. I had several recurring injuries that made me lose confidence in off-trail hiking (ironically one of them reared its ugly head--a dislocated shoulder--while bushwhacking with Jenny on our very first hike together), and looking back, I wish I would have been more like Jenny and her bum knee...and just gone anyways, undaunted. I would have gotten to share many more adventures with her if I had prioritized friendship and adventure over my fear.
We reconnected last fall when her second book—‘Twelve Streams of LeConte’—came out, and found a bond between us beyond the backcountry. We both had endured particularly difficult years personally, and we seemed to have a mutual feeling that events in our lives had unthinkably caused us to sully on our romanticism for the southern Appalachians. In the region we so dearly loved, we both felt isolated and angst. I hate deeply that this feeling never subsided for Jenny, and she told me in April that it had only grown more intense. I know that this led to her decision to leave for Vermont in June.
We do not know what happened to Jenny on Lester Prong, and maybe we never will. If she was mortally hurt and unable to escape the forest, I suspect that she ultimately would have found her final adventure and its fate to be fitting, albeit untimely. But part of me wonders if Jenny found herself truly unable to leave the Smokies prior to her move—a feeling that I find tragic but noble.
As they were during her lifetime, Jenny’s heart and soul will forever after remain an inseparable part of the Smoky’s “endless forests and streams.” I will feel them and be inspired by them every time I enter the Park—especially when I step off of its trails. I’ll see her smiling face in the impenetrable rhododendron thickets and I’ll sense her positive attitude in the frigid rain. And while I wish I had joined her on more offtrail adventures in the past, I know that she will be with me on every one I take in the future.
I will remember Jenny Bennett as a great hiker but an even better person. She is and always will be one of my heroes. Her love for adventure was only surpassed by her passion for the Smokies. Let us soothe some of our sadness by realizing that beyond the hurt of this great tragedy and loss, deep beauty can be found in that she departed in the place most sacred to her, doing what she loved more than anything else."
Don Casada: "A year or so ago, Wendy Meyers and I gave a talk to the Jackson County Genealogical/Historical Society about early scientists and engineers in the Smokies. I spent most of my time talking about Guyot and his interaction with the Collins family. In doing a bit of research, I ran across his discussion of the difficulty of making your way through these mountains because of the vegetative obstacles, including a mention of the necessity of having to sometimes follow bear trails. I tried paraphrasing it in rhyme and sent it along to Jenny, who came to the talk, by the way:
A hell of rhododendron, alongside the crick
Or on top of the mountain, a thick evergreen slick,
Are more serious obstacles to the traveler, I say
Than rocks and slopes and streams along the way.
Our only resource in these most difficult cases
Is to follow the bear trail, adjusting our paces.
Yes, four-footed travel – by knee and by hand,
Like our ursine trailblazer in this rough, woolly land.
Jenny sent the following in response - a marvelous play of words:
If only our bear friend were taller,
Or we ourselves a wee bit smaller,
That would make the path so easy
And the laurel patch less squeezy.
On another occasion, when Jenny came to Bryson City to listen to a fellow talk about old Cherokee trails, she, Wendy and I were talking before the meeting. Someone pointed toward scratches on one or the other's arms which were obviously the result of sawbriers and some of their brethren. As if on cue, we all put our feet up on a chair and pulled up our pant legs to compare gouges, bruises and scratches - badges of honor - and shared a laugh about how only exceptionally warped people would get into a contest on who had the most beat up set of legs."
Jim Casada: "Peter and Jenny's coterie of dear friends—This is terribly sad news. I greatly admired Jenny's spunk, her woodscraft savvy, her inquiring mind, and her diversity of interests. We were drawn together in part because of writing but also because of our shared loved of the Smokies and interest in South African history. Passionate about all she did, someone who had immersed her soul in the Smokies, and most of all a truly interesting person, Jenny was a woman of substance greatly admired by all who knew her."
Clyde Austin: "This is just so sad, Jenny was one of a kind. Blessings to you Peter, can’t imagine how you must feel. We will miss Jenny big time."
Ben Bacot: "Along with Adam, the first time I actually met Jenny was the Cat Stairs hike that Greg Hoover led about four years ago. She was already a legend in my mind. Once I found out that I had a passion for hiking, I sought out as much information as I could. I think I googled every possible combination for offtrail/secret/Manway/bushwack/anything to do with hiking that I could think of. Along with others, it was like Christmas morning when I came across Jenny's blog. It was too good to be true. So when I found out that she would be on the Catstairs hike, I was excited and nervous. I would also get to meet the infamous Mr. Hoover. It was a great hike and it introduced me to the face of the Pinnacle that I love so much. Anyway, when we finally took a break at the top I worked up the nerve to introduce myself to Jenny, and it was like we had been friends forever. She was instantly one of the most intriguing down to earth people that I had ever met. I asked her about future hikes and she was very welcoming.
We stayed in touch, always emailing about crazy routes up different slopes all throughout the park. Silly ones, like Bible Creek up to Parsons Bald and more creative ones like Lester to Jumpoff. Unfortunately we never attempted either together. Luckily we did share some great memories on the handful of hikes we shared, usually after a brutal climb through craziness to get to a spot that nobody had been to in a few years.
I envy the times that I didn't get to make some of the hikes I should have with Chris and Jenny and a few of the others here, but I know how special they were. She really was an amazing person!"
Adam Beal: "My first hike with Jenny was on a club hike that Greg Hoover led up the Catstairs and down the cable route on a snowy day a few years ago. Later Amanda and I got a chance to do an off trail with her up Mt. Winnesoka on a very very hot humid day in June. It was kind of supposed to be a short introduction to off trail hiking for us. We went up a ridgeline from Injun Creek area. It was only a mile from Grapeyard ridge over Winnesoka to Long Branch and none of us brought enough water for the conditions that day. I had 1 liter which was the least of the 3 of us. I thought 1 liter of water to go 1 mile should be enough at the time. We ran into a terrible mtn laurel thicket and spent many hours crawling on our hands and knees up this steep ridge and sometime during this all 3 of us ran out of water. We spent another hour or so getting to the top and couldn’t even stand up up there too much laurel so we sat under it on top of this mountain so incredibly thirsty. At that point I was thirstier than I have ever been my mouth bone dry. Jenny was also feeling bad and weak and we all needed water soon we were getting terrible cramps. We started down the mountain toward long branch praying for water and scouting every little draw for a spring. We heard some water running in a ditch and found a small spring. It was about 2.5 hours since our last drink and we felt so thirsty all of us dropped down to this tiny little pool of water and drank straight from it no filtering. That was the best water ever and I will never forget that spring. We traveled down long branch and back to our car but it took us 5 hours to go that short 1 mile. We didn’t hike with Jenny too much after that maybe once or twice I think we were more careful who we hung out with ha. We felt a bond with her though having been through a hard patch like that with her. Whenever she would see us she would smile and bring up Winnesoka.
We went to Jenny's farewell party here in Knoxville a couple of weeks ago at Stephanie’s house. There was just a few of us there, Stephanie, her husband and daughter, Ray Payne, Ken Wise, Mike Harrington, Amanda and I. It was probably the most fun I have had outside of the mountains we talked for hours trading stories and adventures with lots of laughing. Lots of talk about the history of the hiking club and off trail adventures. None of us kept track of the time and it was midnight before we knew it. It was the last time I ever saw Jenny. She said she wished she didn’t have to leave the Smokies."
Mike Gourley: "While I only hiked once with Jenny, I corresponded with her on many occasions and we both had a mutual respect and admiration for each others' blogs and hiking abilities. Our ambitions were different in that I liked a slower pace and wanted to find home places, cemeteries and such. Jenny liked a faster pace and more rugged terrain. One was no better than the other – just different goals. To be honest, Jenny could outhike me with one leg tied to the other – and I knew it! One thing we shared was our love of the Smokies. Whether you agreed with everything Jenny had to say on a particular subject did not take away from the fact that she had a passion for the Smokies. If I need information about what to expect if I traversed a particular creek then Jenny was the person to ask. Me, Mike Maples and Ben Bacot did a hike from Mt Sterling down to Mouse Creek Upper Falls then on to Big Creek trail. I had asked Jenny about her blog going up Mouse Creek to Mt Sterling. She was quite helpful and I remember after the fact, she commented that she thought we had a harder hike going down then she did going up! That’s what we get for thinking down was the way to go! We probably both laughed about it and I probably told her it was Maples fault anyway! Jenny you will truly be missed. Your name has been and will continue to be mentioned whenever we are crawling through the rhododendron!"
Kent Hackendy: "Every once in awhile, a person comes into your life who has such a profound effect on it, you are left struggling to arrange the proper words to respectfully do it justice. Thank you Jenny, for further educating me on, and further instilling a passion, for the transcendent natural wonders of the Great Smoky Mountains, filling me with passion for a more intimate way to experience the rugged slopes and valleys that make this place special – and for offering me your friendship. A unique individual of your caliber doesn't enter one's life very often. You will forever live in my heart!
Greg Harrell: "I had been a friend of Jenny since May 15, 2010. Greg Hoover and I had become aware of Jenny through our desire to climb some ridges in the Lester Prong Valley—Jenny’s was the only voice we heard through her blogs and descriptions of some routes in the area. Immediately she was a Legend in our eyes. Then one day, out of the blue, this broadcast request came through the ether of the internet, “hey, I am Jenny Bennett, I just moved back to the Smokies and I am looking for someone interested in an off-trail trip up Fort Harry Falls to the top of Balsam Mountain and then down LeConte Creek—anyone interested?”. Hoover and I replied—“we are?” Jenny had never heard of us—no-one had ever heard of us—yet, she met us in Rainbow Falls Parking Lot on a Saturday morning, we dove into her car, and sped off to Fort Harry. What a grand adventure we had that day—Hoover and I became friends with a Legend—we learned much from her depth of knowledge—and came to know a fearless woman. I counted Jenny a good friend.
There is a generation of hikers that looks to Jenny Bennett as one that has gone before, one that has shown it can be done, one that proclaims “it is wonderful to see”, and one that has experienced life fully—fearlessly."
Greg Hoover: "I made several off-trail hikes with Jenny over the past several years. The most recent was to No Name Ridge near Mt. LeConte in May, 2014.
I first encountered Jenny online, through her blog. My hiking partners and I were wondering about Porters Creek and Lester Prong and the Jumpoff and off-trail hiking in the Smokies. We couldn't find any real, helpful specifics except for a blog by some lady living in New England named Jenny Bennett. She had gone, many years ago, where very few had ever gone and even fewer had written about. A year or two later she returned to this region (living in Sylva) and quickly re-established herself as a leader among the few of us who consider ourselves to be off-trail enthusiasts in the Smokies. All told, I'd guess there are maybe 20 or 25 of us who are serious about off-trailing in the Smokies, but none of us are more committed to it than Jenny was. For a petite woman, she's left us with some big hiking boots to fill."
Brian Reed: "Peter Barr and I organized a trip to backpack three days off trail over Mt. Wooly Tops and on to the Eagle Rocks. This is about the most strenuous sort of hike imaginable. I will admit I was skeptical when Peter told me this middle aged woman we only knew from an internet forum had got in touch with him and signed herself up. She had told him she was wearing a backpack while doing stairmaster workouts at the gym to get in shape for it. Jenny showed up and dragged a heavy pack for days in dense rhododendron and up rock faces through atrocious weather. At some point we realized we must make our escape up to the Stateline ridge when the creeks got so flooded we could barely stand up in them. I asked who wanted to continue in a voice implying I certainly did not want to. Jenny was the last to say no. I think she loved that trip more than anybody else. Sitting around a campfire telling jokes in a cold rain was her idea of a grand time. Nobody spent more time out in the wildest places than she did."
Chris Sass: "I met Jenny on a very easy Smoky Mountains Hiking Club (SMHC) off-trail hike in 2010. We chatted for a good portion of the outing about hiking, literature, and travel. We must have exchanged contact information, because I remember getting an email from her shortly afterward inviting me to hike up Bearpen Hollow with her. My previous off-trail experience had consisted of a few hikes with the SMHC during which I simply followed the leaders who had recently scouted the route over and through the rough terrain. On the Bearpen Hollow hike, we had to find our own way. It was a hot, humid day. I became so absorbed in the various little route-finding decisions and the crawling, climbing, and slithering we were doing that I neglected to drink as much water as I should have. By the time we took a short break I was experiencing muscle cramps and chugged a significant amount of water. Not surprisingly I began to feel queasy shortly after the break, told Jenny to go on ahead, and then puked a couple of times. When we reconnected I'm sure I looked ashen. We slowly made our way to West Point and then over to the Alum Cave Bluffs Trail. We took our "lunch break" when we hit the trail (it was really the Chris-recovery break). Jenny was very kind to wait until I felt better, over an hour, to hike back down the trail. We passed the time in easy, pleasant conversation. She never expressed even the tiniest impatience with the situation and waited for me to suggest that we could end the longest-lunch-break-ever.
Just today I looked up Jenny's blog post about this outing. It is titled "Various ailments in Bearpen Hollow." In it Jenny very generously suggests that her physical ailments on that day also significantly contributed to the slowness with which completed this route. I can assure you that it was my ailments that were the primary cause.
I hiked with Jenny many, many times over the next five years. I have great memories of exploring with her in places like Trout Branch, Styx Branch, the Chimneys, Rocky Crag (USGS Bunion), Bunion Crag (tourist Bunion), Lester Prong, and many others."
Michael Vaughn, Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Director, 2003-05: "Jenny Bennett was a singular and remarkable person. She was such a unique woman, with an inquisitive and skilled mind. She was a talented writer and communicator. Jenny was one of the elite, one of the toughest hikers ever, doing things at age 60 that most people would find incredible and impossible. Jenny was also very matter-of-fact, kind, and upfront about the things she cared about.
I had been a part of Dave Landreth's now-defunct Wild Country Internet forum for some time when Jenny began posting there, and that's how I learned about her originally. When she started the Wordpress blog, she and I began corresponding via email about sundry and various off-trail topics. The majority of my off-trail explorations of the Smokies took place in the mid-2000’s, prior to Jenny’s return to this area in late 2009. Due to recurring foot and knee problems, I had given up the really hard off-trails by that time. As a result, I only had the privilege of hiking with Jenny a few times on Club outings, but none of the epics that she undertook.
The first time I met Jenny in person was on a 2002 SMHC outing going out the Gregory Ridge Trail and then up Mollies Butt to the shelter, with a return down Ekaneetlee Creek. The outing was led by Ray Payne and Charlie Klabunde, who invariably argued about the route down in the rhodo jungle of lower Ekaneetlee. They went separate routes but ended up at the correct place, the basal remains of the ancient "Big Poplar" near the Gregory Ridge Trail. I was one of the several of the group that followed Charlie, the rest followed Ray. And guess who else followed Charlie? Jenny, of course. We got to talk a little bit that day. Jenny was visiting the Smokies from Massachusetts, where she lived at that time.
The next time I hiked with Jenny was after she'd moved to Woodfin. This was the 2010 outing I co-led with Mark Shipley up in Tiptons Sugar Cove. Mark and I led the group down the wrong ridge, and we ended up in the rhodo hell of Bower Creek. I initially thought we'd need to continue down the creek to get out, but the group rebelled and decided to turn back. However, Jenny was all set to tackle Bower Creek for as long as it took to get out, and had already started thrashing through the rhodo when the group turned back. She was smiling and calling back the best ways to get through! It could be done.
The best memory of a hike with Jenny was a day in October, 2011 that the two of us did the "scouting" hike prior to co-leading an SMHC off-trail outing in Tremont.
We couldn't find the turnoff to the Meigs Mtn. manway (Jenny wrote "This had bamboozled me and Michael when we scouted it"!), so we hiked back out on the Lumber Ridge Trail. During the day, we talked about all kinds of things. Literature, botany, mathematics, off-trail routes, American history, book collecting, aging parents, the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, National Park Service policies, conservation issues, taxation, physics- it was simply one of the most enlightening conversations that I have ever had in my lifetime. I have known only a few people that could talk on her level about so many things.
If Jenny did not know about a particular topic or area of interest, as a journalist and a student of all things, she knew how to ask the right questions to keep the information flowing so she could learn more.
It was a remarkable, day-long conversation, a wonderful day, and one that I won't ever forget. The actual outing went great, and we had a good turnout. However, I did not see Jenny again until Charlie fell ill in 2014, and she briefly took over as SMHC newsletter editor. She attended a board meeting in late 2014, as did I, and that was to be the last time I saw her.
I did not know Jenny nearly as well as many of you who spent more time with her. I knew her best through her writing. I looked forward to every time she posted to Endless Steams and Forests, as did hundreds of other fans around the world. I have both her books, and have read through her online blogs at length.
When Charlie Klabunde passed away in February, 2015, Jenny and I exchanged messages of grief and support. His passing truly hit her hard, as she revered the grand old men of the SMHC. As the time for her move to Vermont approached, and she posted about the pain that leaving the Smokies was causing her, I grieved that she was leaving us. I remember reading the Balsam Corner Creek post, the last solo outing she wrote about, and feeling somehow that those were the last words she would write.
Jenny tried hard to put her thoughts, feelings, experiences, and knowledge into words, to share with other people. Her words are what so many people around the world have now connected to. She has succeeded. Jenny's words will live on. She is gone from us now, but her writing will last forever.
Farewell, Jenny. We miss you. Truly, as your friend and mentor, Charlie Klabunde, would have said, “You have gone right up the middle.” You are home now, in these hallowed mountains, the fastnesses of the Smokies."
Jacqueline Veldhuis: "Today, May 1st 2016, I was thinking of my friend Jennifer who I have not seen for so long. Realising that I did not even have her latest address (the last time We had been in touch was 2008) and she was still living in Gloucester, near Boston, I thought she probably moved by now) I googled het name and found she had passed away last year, almost a year ago.
What a shock. I remember her as the kindest and wisest person I know. She introduced me to hiking in the Washington area. She lived on Connecticut Avenue when we met and she took me to climb Sugarloaf Mountain which I loved. She knew all the plants that grew there and I later took my kids on that hike. i remember her as one of the most dependable people. We did lots of cultural visits together, notably to the Kennedy Center for concerts and theater visits as well. We used to joke that we would never have to wait around for each other because we knew, once the appointment was made, the other person would be there on time.
I am very sad to know Jennifer is no longer with us and that I should have gotten in touch much earlier but I do know het last moments were spent in a place she loved."
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