Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Snow Fun

Yellow Mountain &Whiteside Mountain – 1/22/11 – 12.1 Miles

MST hiking has been moderate to easy for the last few trips and I hadn’t been on a strenuous hike in months.  When my friend Jeff posted a hike on the Carolina Berg Wanderers meetup group I felt a shiver of anticipation/dread:  a strenuous climb to a fire tower, possible snow.  Could I do it?  Most of the people signed up were familiar, strong, good-natured folks.  Would they leave me for dead if I could no longer keep up?  Take a deep breath…

The drive was a long one from Charlotte to Cashiers, NC, but the car was filled with chatter catching up with hikers I haven’t seen in a while, who has hiked where and what grand plans are forming.  Carolyn found a water-filled Nalgene bottle under the front passenger seat – wonder who that belongs to?

At the trailhead we saw Mike’s van but no sign of Mike.  It’s likely that he started out ahead of us (he did).  There was snow on the ground and I was happy I’d brought my tall gaiters.  Getting all geared up, I found that my Camelback had leaked, soaking the bottom of my pack and leaving me with no water.  But wait…where is that Nalgene bottle that Carolyn found?  Good karma.

The route that we hiked to the Yellow Mountain Fire Tower can be found in Peter Barr’s book Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers.  It’s a simple five-mile-out-five-mile-back until you look closely at the topo lines.  The most difficult part is on the return.  Picture a bowl with uneven sides.  You start on the lip of the high side, go down into the bowl, up to the other side (fire tower) and then back down into the bowl, and up the high side.  Add five inches of slippery snow and you’ve got yourself a party.

Lunch at the Yellow Mountain Fire Tower is all blue skies and happiness

View from the tower

Ninja Jeff
The return hike was tough for me.  As usually happens, the group gets more spread out between the jackrabbits and the gaspers.  I was by myself for quite a while so no one could hear me whimpering.  You know you are working hard when the temp is near 20 degrees and you are not wearing gloves or hat or jacket.  The slippery snow dictated short steps and strong ankles and a renewed gratitude for hiking poles.  However, like childbirth, the intensity of the pain fades and the memory of the sparkling world and the exhileration of being outside remains.  

Standing still even for a short time is not an option (getting chilled) so we piled back into the cars for the short drive to Whiteside Mountain.  Jeff wanted to catch the sunset today and we will follow Jeff just about anywhere.  I briefly tried to rally a vote for skipping this part and going to eat, but was quickly shamed into submission.  I was promised no elevation gain (not true) but it did end up being a very worthwhile second hike for the day.  There was much more ice than on Yellow Mountain and the trail we were planning to return on was closed – which in Berg language means “try me.”  

Jeff putting on his crampons is a big clue, y’all 

Awesome icicles

A pause for gratitude

Frozen feet

The grand finale was a series of ice-covered steps on the “closed” trail section.  A couple of us chose to slide down the slope on our backsides rather than risk falling on the steps.  A rendition of “Winter Wonderland” by Sandy, Neil and myself (anyone else I’ve forgotten?) was absolutely called for and delivered with enthusiasm.  What a fabulous day to be alive!
The day ended at a Mexican restaurant that we cannot remember the name of but can always locate.  It was particularly festive this time due to two strolling guitar players who serenaded several times at close range.  I must say that “La Bamba” does sound great when everyone joins in. 

Most people are pantywaists. Exercise is good for you. —EMMA ‘GRANDMA’ GATEWOOD (1887-1973), at age 67 the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (1955)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hunting Island State Park, SC

Hunting Island State Park, SC – 1/15/11

A little winter diversion to treat the post-holiday blues:  Jim and I took an overnight trip to Beaufort, South Carolina with just a vague idea to look for "The Big Chill" house and visit Hunting Island State Park.  Beaufort is a pleasant little lowcountry town that doesn’t take much time to check out, especially on a sleepy weekend in January.  We walked around the downtown area, stopped in a few shops and had lunch at Plums, where several newly graduated Marines were celebrating with their families.  (Parris Island, the Marine training base, is just down the road.)  The waterfront park is lovely for a stroll too.

We did find the “Big Chill” house (aka “The Great Santini” House).  The current owners have creatively planted bamboo to screen any good photos.  Imagine wanting privacy in a famous house…
Dinner was at 11th Street  Dockside in Port Royal – an adventure to find and delicious local seafood to consume.  But our best meal was Saturday’s breakfast at Blackstone’s in downtown Beaufort.  Check these all out if you are ever down that way.

At Hunting Island State Park we drove through a tropical jungle filled with different types of palmettos and slash pines and dripping Spanish moss – we were surely not in Kansas anymore.

Hunting Island Lighthouse

View from the top of the lighthouse - from here we watched a dolphin lazily swimming up the coastline
A trail at the beach - this counts as hiking, right?
Jim on the wasteland beach
Palm tree roots are not much to rely on

All in all, a fun overnight getaway that I highly recommend...but I still miss the mountains.

All the windows of my heart I open to the day.  ~John Greenleaf Whittier