Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thumbs Up - Thumbs Out

Pisgah Backpack – Day Two – MST/Ivestor Gap Trail/Fork Mountain Trail - 13 miles

Cheerful bird chirping woke me very early and my tent began to lighten with the sunrise. When the walls began to turn pink, I realized I might get to see something special outside, so I unzipped and poked my head out into the very dewy wet morning. The sky was a pretty pink and it was time to get cracking for another fun day on the trail.

Jeff says the temperature got down to the high 40’s and it was definitely chilly as we ate breakfast. We packed up and headed out by 8:00 a.m., looking at 13 miles to get us back to our starting point. The good news was that the route was not as steep as yesterday. The bad news was it was 13 miles. We filled up with water at a new spot and then crossed Highway 215. Remember, we were now following the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST), which is blazed with a white circle (which helped my comfort level) and we were paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. Soon we reached the trail intersection where a left went to Little Sam Knob and a right went over the Parkway and up to the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook. Jeff and Ken went to check out the view, while Laurie and I chilled and chatted and looked at maps. She seemed a little less stressed than yesterday and I tried to keep up a joking conversation, but I knew I was more fatigued after yesterday’s challenges and that I needed to conserve my energy. So moderate to slow hiking was the name of the game for me, and the terrain was gentle ups and downs…all good.

 So I was very surprised when Laurie told me that at our next road crossing she wanted to bail out. She wondered if there would be cell reception to call a taxi, and I explained that cell phone reception was unreliable but that since that road was really just access to parking for hikers, and it was a beautiful Sunday, that we could probably find her a ride back to her car if that is what she wanted to do. Laurie said that she was tired, that going another 7 miles would make her so tired that she worried about driving alone back to Charlotte, and that she would not be able to go to work the following morning.

Now, some people would say to just suck it up, but I give Laurie big thumbs up for assessing her situation and making a safe decision. If she had been unable to continue at some point, the rest of us would have had to help carry her and her gear out (and I was working hard to handle just my own self). If she had continued safely but been miserable, what’s the point in that? Backpacking is not a contest. So at Black Balsam Road we stuck out our thumbs and within ten minutes Laurie was on her way back to her car – and Jeff and Ken and I turned onto the Ivestor Gap Trail.

I was familiar with Ivestor Gap from the Cold Mountain hike. It’s an old road bed without shade and we warmed up quite a bit. After a mile or so we turned left and Jeff led us onto the Fork Mountain Trail, where no one has walked except Jeff in the last year, I’m sure. There was undergrowth, overgrowth and everywhere growth. Fork Mountain Trail is about six miles long and seems…longer. It was surprisingly level. At one point we passed through a large bald area (good campsite) and Jeff and Ken went off to locate a spring that Jeff had heard about while I kept watch over the area from underneath a nice shady tree.

Not many details of this part of the hike and not many photos – you’ll have to go see for yourself. The guys went slowly and casually to make me feel like I was keeping up with them. Even the small ups seemed steep and I had to admit once again that I am not a great backpacker, carrying the extra weight. There was a little bit of rock scrambling and a couple of times I lost the trail, but they were not too far ahead to talk me through it. Like Green Mountain, the trail is just very faint.

Fork Mountain Trail finally took a very sharp left and the descent began in earnest (remember the 3,000-foot gain yesterday morning?) While armchair hikers may think that down is better than up – think again. You can catch your breath but you can’t save those knees. There were 12 very long switchbacks (yes, I counted) in the 2-mile downhill and we were each in our own world on that downhill (…tell me again why I do this…tell me again why I do this…tell me again…). And our reward? At the bottom we had to cross that West Fork of the Pigeon River, knee deep and refreshing!

In soaking wet boots we sloshed our way past the popular swimming hole full of teenagers jumping off bridges (hey, y’all, watch this!) and to the parking area, a half-mile that I had not been counting in my head as part of our mileage for the day. I was very thankful that Laurie had not continued because she would have hated it – I was hoping that memory would soften the experience for myself. And as usually happens, looking back, the pain goes away and the feeling of accomplishment grows.

Thus I completed a backpacking trip in the Pisgah National Forest. Have you heard of a challenge called the Pisgah 400?

P.S. The next day Laurie decided to drop out of the Grand Tetons trip…  

Truly it may be said that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a man. ~George Wherry, Alpine Notes and the Climbing Foot, 1896

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