Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Candid Camera

MST – Day 19 – 5/4/10 – Old Bald to Bear Pen Gap – 13.9 Miles 

After a couple of weeks playing around in other places, Danny and I are back on the MST. An hour-and-a-half commute from her home in Asheville got us onto the trail by about 8:30 a.m.. Who needs sleep anyway? Here we are at Old Bald again.

A quick descent brought us unexpected- ly into lovely meadows with long views southeast. In all of my photos the mountains have the same tilt, so I’m blaming it on the terrain rather than on my holding the camera crooked.

Can't think of a better place to be

I continue to be fascinated by the beauty of bare gray branches and blue sky.

Route finding was challenging early on with unevenly distributed white blazes. We both carry copies of the relevant pages from Scot Ward and Walt Weber’s books and we consulted them often today. We frequently switched from trails to road beds. This section of the MST is rather remote and therefore sees less maintenance and blaze freshening than other sections. The hiking itself was easy with scattered uphills and lots of level strolling. (We would remember this wistfully in a couple of days.)

I made a bet that we wouldn’t see people today – and I lost. Imagine my surprise when we came upon a group with a camp set up. Imagine my increased surprise when Danny speculated that they were a derivation of “Hoods in the Woods,” a backpacking program for youth at risk. No way to know for sure (I wasn’t asking) but the boys had on matching orange hooded sweatshirts. The adults cheerfully said hello, told us there was some “technical” trail ahead, and we kept on moving.

And they were correct as we negotiated rock scrambles and a scant trail clinging to the mountainside.
We crossed nearly two dozen creeks, nothing to get us wet but certainly enough to keep us watchful. Sometimes we would step over two or three small streams and look downhill to where they wove together to form a large gusher just below our crossing point. Props to the trail builders for taking the trail above the confluences and keeping our tootsies dry!

Flower of the day: Wakerobin (not to be confused with Vasey’s trillium, whose flowers hang below the leaves.) We tried many times to get them to smile but this is a difficult flower to photograph. BTW, we also saw Vasey’s trillium in the days following. Their leaves are enormous.

Another head- scratcher mystery camp today and we speculated several scenarios for this setup. Since we crossed so many old road beds, does the Forest Service have vehicle access here and is this one of their campsites? Could it be a hunter’s camp? The MST follows the Parkway and the Parkway’s land is very narrow in places, surrounded by forest land and wilderness where hunting is allowed.

Twisted but still standing

Can you spot Danny through the crazy tree?

Our last mile was a steep, challenging uphill and white blazes were scarce again. Sometimes one person had to wait while the other investigated down a path looking for clues. Without any mishaps, we intersected with a blue blaze trail to the Parkway at Bear Pen Gap Overlook, our ending point for the day.

Danny had been asked to participate in a documentary about the Blue Ridge Parkway’s 75th Anniversary and she arranged to meet Clay Johnson and his cameraman, Jay, from WRAL in Raleigh at Bear Pen Gap. They filmed us more than a half dozen times hiking back and forth along the blue blaze trail, a very interesting process (microphones and everything – watch what you say!) From there we went to the Haywood Jackson Overlook with its great stone picnic table and the long view westward, where we were interviewed on camera. News flash: I am in no danger of becoming a TV personality. I’ve done interviews for newspapers before, but I was surprised at how nervous I was at having my voice and face recorded. I am placing all my hope in the editing fairy that I will not look like an idiot.

The hike and the interview were over but the day was not. Section hiking a linear trail means lots of shuttling to retrieve cars, place a car for tomorrow and then drive down windy old Highway 276. Our reward was dinner at Twin Dragons Chinese buffet , which really hit the spot. And can you believe it: Somebody with a TV camera came in and followed a heavyset woman and a teenage boy around the buffet. Fortunately they didn't get between me and the sweet and sour pork.

Read Danny’s tale of the day here.  

God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild. ~John Muir

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