Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making Mistakes

MST – Day 16 – Balsam Gap to Old Bald – 11.1 Miles

(Photos from today are by Danny Bernstein.)

Nice day, early start, on the trail by 7:50 a.m.. We parked at the spot we scouted the day before, the Balsam Gap Maintenance Center where the BRP crosses Highway 74/23.

Wildflowers began very quickly with yellow violets and Danny exclaimed at the first sighting of an unopened bloodroot. We thought flowers would be sparse as we gained elevation, but on the east-facing slopes was a profusion of spring beauties, along with squirrel corn, purple violets, hepatica, more bloodroot (some fully opened), trout lilly, cut-leaf toothwort and trailing arbutus. We saw emerging foliage for mayapple and even trillium (not sure what type). Very exciting (and time-consuming) taking many photos as the flowers increased.

Hiking was a gradual and steady uphill with the ribbon of BRP far below on the left. We had a bit of trouble keeping track of where we were “on the ground” with our combination of Scott Ward’s and Walt Weber’s books. Finally we realized we were moving slowly and blamed it on the wildflowers. It was great weather and we had all day.

We finally placed ourselves by Scot’s line descriptions when we climbed very steeply up and over the Parkway’s Pinnacle Tunnel. There were no more white blazes after this so we concluded that “this must be the trail.” After about 10 minutes of descent I stopped to put on sunscreen…and realized that my camera had fallen out of its case that is clipped to my pack’s waist strap. Thus began a series of poor decisions on my part.

Without giving it much thought, I dropped my pack, told Danny I was going to “go back” for my camera and I began to backtrack, running through my head where it could have slipped out. My record for cameras is not great (I’ve broken one, lost one) so I am now fairly consistent in touching the case to insure that it is still with me. So how far back could it be? Well…the real question is how far is too far to backtrack? It’s an expensive camera versus a little bit of my time. I walked back down the Pinnacle Tunnel stretch – no camera. Then I walked back to a serious blowdown that we had navigated, thinking that it had slipped out while I was bending and climbing – no camera. I continued on back to the last place that I knew I had seen it, which was a snack break – no camera. It was gone for good.

Then I looked at my watch and realized how much time had gone by – perhaps 20 minutes of downhill backtracking was going to equal 30 minutes of traversing the same ground for the third time now. I was carrying no water, no food, no nothing. As I hurried up the trail I guessed that Danny would probably be coming for me at some point…and she did meet me about 5 minutes from where I had left her. Fortunately she was at the concerned stage, not yet at the angry stage. The list of mistakes I made as an experienced hiker: walked away without checking the time, didn’t take my pack or even a bottle of water, made no plan for turnaround time. Not hard to see how an inexperienced hiker can get into trouble. Danny did take time to think before she decided to come after me – you can read her story about the day here.

Thus I added a couple of miles to my day and wore myself out with the hustling back and forth. I will always remember that mile of the MST!

 From that point the hike stretched out and I had a hard time resurrecting my enthusiasm of the day before. But looking back at Danny’s photos, I am reminded that the woods are beautiful even if you are distracted.

Cimbing up and up

A very gnarly resident of the forest

Something yummy must have been living in this tree before an ambitious woodpecker got to it

At the Grassy Ridge Overlook the trail intersects with pavement and we took a well-deserved sit-down snack break. Two cyclists were also there, trying to set up a timed photo, and I offered my services. They reciprocated with this photo of Danny and me, undaunted and ready to press on.

Long ending to this day. It took nearly 8 hours to complete the 11-mile section (plus my 2-mile backtracking. But even the last mile afforded knock-out views and interesting obstacles and twisted trees.

I can see for miles and miles and miles

Frequent blowdowns - all in a day's walk after the harsh winter

Be sure to duck your head

Mountain sculpture - Danny wanted this for her front yard

However, I was indeed relieved to see the orange bandanna we had placed the previous day to signal the end of this section.

Reward: dinner at Soul Infusion in Sylva, NC, a truly unique place. We shared a pot of blood orange tea while enjoying the eclectic surroundings and chatted with the owner. Following that we stopped in at the City Lights Bookstore. Sylva is a great little town, lots of interesting restaurants and shops, seems like a nice place to live. ‘Night!  

We may never pass this way again ~ Seals & Crofts (unless you're looking for a camera...)

1 comment:

Amy said...

It is nice when the flowers are out and you are not expecting to see them yet.