Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blazing Eastward

MST – Day 25 – 6/16/10 - Bull Gap to Greybeard Overlook – 11.4 miles

Why am I driving this far this early? I can see the sunrise in my rearview mirror as I head towards the mountains. Because of a commitment the night before, I am paying the price of three hours in the car before my feet are on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail again.

But the views down into the valleys from the Blue Ridge Parkway are lovely. Heavy cotton clouds are settled into the low areas and the sky is clear up above. And it should be a lot cooler up here than the high 90’s that I’ve left behind.

Hmmm. ..a critter sitting on the road. Now it sees me and it jogs back across the road and into the brush. What kind of animal is as large as a dog and has a very short thick tail? A bobcat on the Parkway – what a great omen for adventures ahead!

Danny and I haven’t hiked in a few weeks. A meticulously planned backpacking trip through Linville Gorge had to be postponed because of a family emergency for me and because of a spill that Danny took on a Smokies hike that resulted in a fractured right wrist. Although her splint doesn’t keep her from dayhiking, hefting a backpack and using hiking poles to cross the Linville River was not a necessary risk for her to take with further injury. The good doctor told her to avoid “perilous” activities – a matter of interpretation, don’t you think?

We met at Bull Gap, which we left back in December in cold and rain. Today proved to be the opposite, a hot and humid day. So much for my relief from the Piedmont sauna. All day we were dripping sweat, clothes

Spiderwort was the flower of the day, plus a few pale red columbines, yellow sun drops and vivid red fire pinks.

Fire Pinks

We learned that if we spotted a single bloom of something, soon we would pass a mass of it. Indian pipe looks ghostly, not pure white, sort of like translucent plastic with smudges of dirt. It has no chlorophyll and lives off the roots of other plants. I have only seen a few of these in the Smokies, so coming up on a hillside covered with them was spectacular. So many wonders in the plant kingdom!

A highlight of today was the remains of Rattlesnake Lodge, the summer home of Dr. Chase Ambler of Asheville. Please see Danny’s blog for background – anything I put here would just be plagiarizing her. Like standing in the ruins of the Vanderbilt’s root cellar, I felt transported back to the time when Rattlesnake Lodge was a forest retreat for a wealthy family. Will the mansions up on the ridges be in ruins someday and will future generations hike by them and envision their bygone era?

The rock wall for the spring is behind this fallen tree

Some trail mainte- nance had been done on today’s section, but as was our experience on other parts of the trail, some places have not seen a weed eater this season. The stinging nettles drove me insane, itching and burning. I used my poles to push aside the offending plant, but sometimes the vegetation was above our thighs and the nettles seemed to reach around and sting me from behind. And I thought to myself, I can’t worry about snakes or I would never be able to do this.

We saw at least a dozen batches of bear scat, but no bears today.
Up and over Lane Pinnacle we climbed. This peak itself looks absolutely awesome from its namesake Parkway overlook (sorry, no photo of that).

The MST took us through Craggy Gardens, closed for repairs, so we waved to an empty parking lot and climbed up and up to the bald. This gnarly tree along the trail probably is in thousands of family photos.

The MST white blaze passes through the shelter originally built by the CCC – I was here last year during Jim’s BRP biking adventure. I forgot to make a copy of Walt Weber’s pages to see the ups and downs of today’s hike and 11.4 miles felt unbelievably long. What happened to my 15- to 18-mile Smokies days? But at the end of the day I learned that we had 3900 feet elevation gain! I am really going to miss Walt’s trail profiles after we leave Mount Mitchell behind. I have learned a lot about percentage grades and really like having one more way to orient myself on the trail.

Between Craggy Gardens and our ending point at Greybeard OV were treacherous, very rocky, slippery, stepping-stone size rocks disguised by overgrown vegetation. Danny said that this is one section of trail she will likely never see again in her lifetime and I agree. I reminded myself not to take a single step for granted. Still, there were many slips and one true fall. As my left foot slipped off the steep trail, I hit the ground and torqued my right knee at an ugly angle. It didn’t hurt to walk, but the next morning it was stiff, and bending and squatting the next day was challenging. We bypassed the trailhead to Douglas Falls with just a glance because we were concen- trating on our footsteps. The rest of the hike was an exercise in patience and endurance as we slogged our way towards the Parkway, crossed it and ended at Graybeard Overlook.

 After an arduous shuttle to retrieve cars and set-up for the next day and a long drive back to Asheville, we were rewarded with a real treat: Lenny was our gourmet chef with a fabulous meal prepared. A glass of wine makes a sore knee feel much better. Are we having fun yet? You bet!

 I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. ~G.M. Trevelyan

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