Here’s a proven mathematical formula for you: the quantity of time spent planning to hike a complicated trail section is directly proportional to the probability that the plans will be thwarted. The more planning, the better chance it ain’t gonna work out.
Danny spent a considerable amount of time looking for hiking partners for the Linville River section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. We’d already scratched one plan to do this section back in the summer. Then a stroke of luck: Carolina Mountain Club scheduled a key swap hike for this section which suited us perfectly, lots of people to help shuttle, cross safely, and we wouldn’t have to do an out-and-back hike (i.e. cross the river twice.) This hike was planned for a Sunday and we schemed to add three more hiking days afterwards to really knock out the miles.
Kate Dixon, avid hiker and executive director for the Friends of the MST, signed on for the experience. We were excited to have Kate along as another person for safety and someone new to talk to (face it, after all these hours Danny and I know each other’s jokes).
Jim, my cycling husband, signed up for the Cycle North Carolina ride for this same time frame. Why do I tell you this? Because I had to deliver him to Biltmore House in Asheville, NC for the start of his ride, coordinating nicely with my arrival at Danny’s home on Saturday night. A good dinner, a good night’s sleep, and we woke up ready for the river.
So what’s all this rain about?
Due to the torrential downpour in the area, the hike leaders wisely canceled the hike in the wee hours of Sunday morning – too much water for safe navigation across Linville River. So do we have a Plan B? Of course we do! We have four days of hiking planned so we can just substitute one day for another…sort of. Danny, Kate and I set off in three cars for Table Rock. Going through the driving rain, I thought about Jim and his buddies cycling on the back roads…yikes.
For our alternate plan we set up a shuttle to hike from the Table Rock picnic area to Highway 181, really the end of our original Linville Gorge scheme. Hitting the trail from the picnic area we were suited up for continuing rain, but we soon removed our layers and ended up with no real rain at all except for a slight drizzle for the last hour that was not worth putting rain gear back on. We experienced yet another great hiking day for the memory banks, a cool, easy trail with a couple of brief uphills and awesome water features.
Sometimes we take snack breaks at spectacular views or beside gurgling creeks, but most often we take them according to the clock or our stomachs. For example, we look forward to “elevensies” for a little something-something to tide us over till lunchtime, which is often after 1:00 p.m. If we find ourselves stopping often, we may call it “second breakfast,” “first lunch,” “second lunch,” etc. (On rainy days we take very few breaks because who wants to sit in the rain?) All that is required for a break is a little patch of sunshine (or shade, depends) and a log to sit on…or maybe not. Sometimes we just plop down on the ground inside a rhododendron tunnel and go for the food.
Today at a snack break at a nondescript spot on the trail, I told Kate about the feeling I get when I stand up to leave such a place. While we’re sitting, eating, chatting, packing up again, I don’t feel it, but in that moment before beginning to move, I pause and acknowledge that I will probably never be in that place again. Try it the next time you’re on a hike. Close your eyes, be grateful, take a deep breath, and start walking. LOVE IT.
Trail conditions varied from cushiony pine needles to numerous wet slippery rocks. Kate was happy to see the great trail maintenance and blazing. As ED of the FMST, she channels many inquiries and comments about trail conditions and always knows the latest on trail building efforts. If anyone is interested in thru-hiking or seriously section hiking the MST (or trail building/maintaining), connecting with Kate can be very helpful. There, I just increased her work load – she’ll love it! Check out the FMST website.
About 5 miles in we crossed Buck Creek and then began following Steels Creek – gee, it’s already time for a “second lunch” break, this time on big rocks beside a nice cascade. There are huge waterfalls farther upriver but we did not take the very steep side trail because it looked like a mud slide. In this area we passed two young guys and a young woman who were soaking wet, said they had been playing in the waterfalls and were heading back to their campsite.
Kate crossing a creek
Near the day’s end Scot Ward’s book cautioned us to “be careful” crossing a waterfall. Scot does not often embellish directions, so when he does we pay particular attention. Sure enough, this cascade went off an infinity-like edge into oblivion and we had to walk directly across the slanted and slippery rock face about 10 feet from the edge. Someone had strung a rope across it to hang onto, anchored on both sides, but using it meant pulling it taut and walking through a deep, murky pool. As much as I like creek crossings, the most dangerous thing is usually slipping and getting wet. At this cascade the danger was in slipping and going over the edge and down a few hundred feet. We all made it, of course, but I wouldn’t sign up to do that every day. (Credit goes to Kate as the photographer here.)
Danny tries out the rope
During the hike we tossed around alternate scenarios for the remaining hike days and I think we did a pretty good job of planning on the fly. After we reached 181 we made a mad dash back to my car at the Table Rock picnic area to get my stuff and then left the car there for the next day’s hike ending.
Accommodations were a special treat: my friend Diane’s cozy cabin near Linville Gorge. It was absolutely wonderful to have a place to spread out wet stuff and get warm and dry. Everyone had their own room and there was even electricity and hot showers! Sigh…….
Click here for Danny’s writeup of the hike.
When late morning rolls around and you're feeling a bit out of sorts, don't worry; you're probably just a little eleven o'clockish. ~ Winnie the Pooh