MST – Day 29 – 8-11-10 – Woodlawn Park to Old NC 105 -- 15.4 miles
After a couple of months off for other adventures, Danny and I are back on the Mountains-To-Sea Trail. The next segment on the agenda is advertised as one of the toughest, so we chose to schedule it without any other hiking days. Yes, a great decision, or I would not be here to write about it.
We are getting farther away from Asheville and Danny’s home, so we planned to camp at Lake James State Park the night before to get an early start. When I arrived at Lake James the first thing I saw was the sign at the entrance informing that the gate doesn’t open until 8:00 a.m. I went in search of the park office and Danny was already standing there, asking the same questions I had in mind: Are you sure? Are there any exceptions? Can I talk anyone into opening earlier? The answers are: Yes, no and no. We went to check out our campsite and found that, although I knew it was a walk-in site, it was a looonngg walk, hauling gear to pack up in the morning in at least two trips. Finally Danny suggested we just place the end car and go back to her house for the night so we can be in control of our start time, so that’s what we did.
(Fellow CMC member Jim Reel had shown her the end point for our hike, for which we were very grateful because we would have had some difficulty finding it. It’s on Old 105, the Keistler Highway (gravel road) on the western rim of Linville Gorge.)
We were almost at Danny’s house when she mentioned that she had no air conditioning… so it would be a little like camping after all…
Thus we got our early start from Woodlawn Park, where the tough Woods Mountain hike on my birthday had ended.
The trail starts out innocently enough switching among old forest roads and trails. We were using Scot Ward’s guidebook today, and trail maintenance and blazing was excellent, so navigation was great and we had no questionable moments. I think we are finally getting the “feel” of the trail, too, and recognizing when and
where to look for blazes and when to trust just a few more yards
around the bend.
A nice field for camping - but don't
An absolutely awesome
bridge built by dedicated trail folks across the North Fork of the Catawba River – for which we were again very grateful because the river was extremely muddy and very uninviting.
I’m guessing a million snakes, thousands of pirhanas and a few dozen alligators live under that bridge.
Right after the bridge is the Clinch- field Railroad
The infamous Southern heat and humidity were oppressive even before we started the switchback climb up Bald Knob. Today was the first time in a very long time that I have worried about having sufficient water on a hike. My Camelback holds 3 liters and I had filled it nearly full. The advantage of water bladders is being able to sip as you walk along, but the drawback is not being able to see how much you are consuming. Safety guidelines say to drink anyway rather than rationing water, but it’s hard to do that when you know there are few (any?) water sources and a lot of miles ahead.
The climb definitely whipped my butt. There were several viewpoints at the switchbacks and we stopped to look a couple of times, but eventually we were stopping just to catch our breath and (unsuccessfully) a breeze.
Scot’s notes were a little confusing about the summit. It fit with the mileage on Danny’s GPS but he sometimes leaves out items that I think are noteworthy, so when they are not mentioned I start doubting where I am. I guess you can’t put everything in a guidebook. We concluded we had summitted Bald Knob only after we had also summitted Dobson Knob (which Scot does not name in his notes at all).
The climb up Dobson Knob is straight up at an unbelievable grade – my slightly educated guess is more than 20%. I had recently read an article about the rest step, and while I had heard of it several times before, I had never used it. Going up Dobson Knob I tried it out and I can say that it was fantastic. It slowed me down to the point where my breathing was normal and I did not feel tired when I reached the top. I repeated to myself, “Step, stop, step, stop” and it was a physical and mental lifesaver.
After Dobson Knob we cruised along the ridgetop before descending on a combination of forest roads and trails again. Trail blazes are essential for this section as the changes kept coming. Walking a forest road thinking about what I would like to drink if I ever got off of this trail, one song popped into my head, and Danny and I sang “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” as we tramped along in the heat. If there were other hikers in the area, we may have scared them off.
Some fading summer wildflowers were hanging on (check out this yellow fringed orchid), but the real “bloom” report is that today was mushroom day, every color from bright white to yucky mud. I even saw one that was a grey-purple, but it was not very photogenic. Oranges and yellows were the prettiest.
Today was a new record for spiderwebs, hundreds of them, and we often came eyeball to eyeball with the architects. Ahhh, how I love hiking in the dead of winter…
Part of our route overlapped for a mile-and-a-half on the Over- mountain Victory Trail. Can you see thousands of soldiers coming up the road?
The last .8 miles was on the Kiestler Highway, gravel and dust and sun burning the back of my neck. My forearms were aching, I assumed from the extreme temps and swelling from fluid retention and possibly from using poles after nearly a month off, but later I wondered if it had something to do with kayaking a few days earlier and helping my daughter move to a new apartment. No matter what the reason, my arms were sore for several days. We ended the hike looking over the western edge down into Linville Gorge.
The good part about this trail section? Very well maintained, very well blazed…and we are past it. Read
Danny's tale of the day here.
You will never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe, but the more chance you have of getting somewhere. ~Charles Kettering