Early start from Greybeard Overlook – 60 degrees, windy and covered in clouds, very different from yesterday. Will we see anything today?
The woods were still dripping from yesterday’s late afternoon rain, getting us soaked. The wind shakes the raindrops out of the trees onto my head. It comes in bursts, rustling the trees and sounding like waves in the ocean. I was a little nervous about falling branches. And, yes, once again we were feeling our way through overgrown vegetation.
Lunch Rocks between Greybeard and Glassmine Falls Overlooks was socked in – no views today. I will have to come back again with a better forecast. This is a wide expanse of mountain laurel and blueberry shrubs that are just beginning to bloom. There are many boulders to stand up on to see above the shrubs and look at the expanse of mountains all around…if I could see more than 50 feet, that is.
But even if the long views are not part of our day, there were two great surprises for close inspection – Gray’s lily (actually red) and purple fringed orchids – stunning. Half a dozen stalks of the orchids were nestled underneath a mountain laurel bush.
Crossing the Parkway at Balsam Gap, the character of the forest changes dramatically. We paused for a break to fortify ourselves as I was dreading going up Blackstock Knob, 1.6 miles of steep climbing – but it is also an SB6K peak that I am sure to tag without error, since the trail walks right across the high point. As is happening more and more often, I was pleasantly surprised, lots of switchbacks to break up the climb and soft balsam needles underfoot, huge old balsams with that special scent and a Hansel and Gretel feeling. Tiny bits of blue sky appeared in between smudges of clouds.
On top of Blackstock Knob we stopped again, but I forgot to celebrate with my piece of chocolate Danny had given me at the start. (She often does that to keep me going.) I did take a "trail break" to mark the occasion...
Eventually I recognized the spot where Jeff and I intersected the MST during our SB6K quest in June ’09 – and also the spot where I napped while Jeff climbed an unmaintained trail to tag up with the route we couldn’t find from the top. That was one fun day!
During the last long mile of our hike there were grand views of Mount Mitchell, which we will go up and over on our next hike. Although it's the highest mountain east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet, we have actually done most of the climbing over the past two days. As we approached Highway 128 Danny smelled new-mown grass, but I thought it was tar being spread on the road. Score one for Danny and forgive my poor olfactory sense.
Still early, so we parted ways and I sought out the Green Knob fire tower, only a steep half-mile trail off the Parkway at the Green Knob Overlook. On this weekday afternoon there was nobody there but me and the serenity of the tower, hazy and peaceful . I said my prayer of thanks for the day and for the earth.
My long drive home was poorly timed for traffic in Charlotte. I’m sorry to say that by the time I got to my house all the good hiking vibes were about gone. I will have to change timing and not do that again.
Read Danny's story of the day here.
Life for two weeks on the mountain tops would show us many things about life during the other fifty weeks down below. -Benton MacKaye