Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pure MST

MST Hike – Day Six – 12/7/09 – 13.4 Miles 
(Click here to read Danny's blog about today's hike.)

A shiver of excitement and anticipation went through me when I saw the small vertical post: Today I would take my first steps on the plain old MST, not a Smokies trail that runs concurrent with it, not a road section because there is no existing trail, but the bonafide, pure MST.

The weather forecast plays a different role in this project than in my Smokies hiking. In section hiking a linear trail, shuttling is always a major consideration. If one road was closed in the Smokies, well, another one was open so I just chose a different trail. Very seldom did the weather stop me in my tracks. But the MST…well, flexibility is a skill we must exercise often. Danny and I had planned four days of MST hiking and already had to abandon our original premise of hiking the entire trail “in order” from west to east. The BRP was already closed for snow and icy conditions, so we capitulated to hiking out of sequence in the Asheville area. Today’s forecast was not great either – yes, it would rain, but exactly when and how much? So today we opted for an easily accessible route in case the rain was significant.

 The Carolina Mountain Club maintains the MST around here and trail conditions are top-notch, including great bridges. We were almost always in sight of a white circle blaze. In the Smokies I carried my trusty $1 map and all the junctions had signs confirming that I was where I thought I was. Not so the MST! The white circle has become my new obsession and it is not always found on trees:

On rocks

Okay, on a tree but very creative

On the utility pole

Don't forget to look underfoot

In addition to the white blazes (which will not always be so conspicuous or plentiful) we have help from a couple of very timely publications. The first, “Trail Profiles and Maps: From the Great Smokies to Mount Mitchell and Beyond,” second edition, is hot off the press, authored by Walt Weber of the Carolina Mountain Club. The topo and profile maps on facing pages for each section are an invaluable tool for us and could not have come out at a better time. The second is “The Thru-Hiker’s Manual for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail of North Carolina 2009" by Scot “Taba” Ward. No maps, but a minutely detailed mileage listing of every bump in the trail, stream locations, side trails to ignore, possible camping spots, left and right turns, you name it. Danny copied the pages for personal use for each day’s hike and we constantly referred to them. Weber’s guide will get us to Black Mountain Campground east of Mount Mitchell and Ward’s guide will assist us all the way to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Our route ran eastward (always eastward!) from NC 191 to the Folk Art Center, curving around the bottom and east edges of Asheville, so we were not hiking “in the wild.” This is also perhaps the mildest section in the western region, gentle ups and downs totaling about 2,000 feet elevation gain over 13.4 miles. But new miles are new miles.

How different it feels to walk on soil! We were never far from traffic noise and even sight of civilization and we crossed a number of overpasses of Asheville’s major roads, but feet on dirt, kicking up rustling leaves, is so much better than pavement. Even the views from the BRP on our last outing did not engender the same feeling when we trudged along that manmade stuff. I was very happy to be back in the woods.

Within the first couple of miles today we began to walk parallel to a very high black chain link fence, discretely invisible until you are within a few yards of it. It seemed to say, “We want the woodsy view but not YOU!” It even went over the creek. Eventually we saw a sign designating a nice gated community behind the fence. Hope they are enjoying it.

We criss-crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway numerous times and walked directly on its bridges that spanned major roads like I-26 and Highway 25. We stood on the bridges and waved at the cars, even got a few waves back – not a very common trail experience. The MST passed through a tunnel underneath I-40. Although not the wilderness experience one may be looking for, I found this section very interesting, kind of like a scavenger hunt. Where would the blazes take us next? And how awesome that you can walk this far around Asheville!

Bridge going under I-40

Railroad crossing

A very narrow stile

Our final destination was the Folk Art Center where we had dropped my car. The rain turned out to be just a rumor. All in all, an easy day and a good feeling of making forward progress once again. Tomorrow’s plan is for a longer, more strenuous stretch…alas, all plans are subject to change…  

Flexibility: characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements ~ Mirriam-Webster

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