Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Spiders Are Winning

SB6K Hike – 9/1/11 – Waterrock Knob/Lyn Lowry/Plott Balsam Mountains – 8.3 Miles

Jeff has hiked to the top of all of the SB6K’s, but for some reason (boredom? nice guy syndrome?) he offered to help me with a hike that I wouldn’t try solo, and of course I said yes.   As a review, the SB6K Challenge is summiting a list of 40 mountains in the Southern Appalachians that are over 6,000 feet high.  Today on our out-and-back trek we tried to tag Waterrock Knob, Lyn Lowry, Plott Balsam and Yellow Face Mountains, scored three out of four. 

I left my cozy campsite in the Smokies and met Jeff at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Our hike began about 10:30 a.m. on this hot and hazy day. 

The half-mile trail to Waterrock Knob’s summit is paved for a short distance and then a well-worn trough, a popular stop for BRP motorists stretching their legs.  I climbed Waterrock Knob in 2009 when my husband Jim biked the BRP, but it doesn’t count as a SB6K summit unless it’s part of a five-mile hike.  Challenges are challenges, rules are rules, and hikers are honest.

We spent just a few minutes at Waterrock Knob where the maintained trail ends and then we stepped off into manway territory.  This is where my life fell into Jeff’s hands because I’m leery of navigating unmaintained trails.  This one was tagged with orange and/or pink plastic tape at frequent intervals and I paid close attention because the trail was faint, especially in the dense vegetation of late summer.  Trail tagging is technically a no-no but I’ll never complain.

Jeff found himself an efficient spiderweb catcher (also called a big branch.)  He was so specific about the requirements for a good one that I made a video of his explanation and put it on YouTube - kind of a public service announcement.   I’ve learned to accept spiderwebs in the face, but this hike turned out to have the most spiderwebs I’ve ever encountered so I was glad Jeff was willing to carry his weapon in front of me…I mean him.

Browning Knob was the next bump in the chain of mountains on our route, named for R. Getty Browning, a North Carolina engineer who convinced the powers-that-be to extend the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway through NC, not TN (thanks, R.G.).  Browning Knob is also higher than 6,000 feet but isn’t part of the SB6K challenge (those rules again).  Anyway, been there, tagged that.

The trail was extremely overgrown, crisscrossed with blackberry briers as tall as me, and we often couldn’t see the ground, just going by feel.  Jeff expended some effort breaking back branches to make the return trip back easier.  Me, I just slogged through.  Three summits, three steep ups and downs (four if you count Browning Knob, which I guess I do), and fighting through the overgrowth much of the way – we call that a party.

Jeff on the trail

One of nature’s puzzles:  when this tree blew over did the roots make the rock move?

We walked through a grassy open area, passing close by someone’s home, a reminder that many of the SB6K’s are on private property and we hikers must behave so as not to spoil the fun for others. 

An intriguing structure - a viewing platform with a no trespassing sign and a box to hold information fliers

The second SB6K summit was Mount Lyn Lowry, named for a woman who died of leukemia.  In her memory, her family installed an enormous lighted cross on the summit.  (I read that the Reverend Billy Graham “presided over the dedication ceremony” in 1962.)  I thought I knew what a big cross looked like but I certainly didn’t expect this. 

A good place for a lunch break – I was past hungry by now.  Jeff’s idea of peanut butter and crackers is different than mine.

The descent from Lyn Lowry was steep but I didn’t take much notice – it would be a shock on the return trip.  Next up, the trail morphed into an old road bed with several intersections, no markings, but Jeff knew the combination of right, left, left.  (See why I hike with him?)  Along the road were muddy spots with animal prints, including this bear paw.

Our last summit, Plott Balsam Mountain, had a denser canopy and thus less dense undergrowth, but the manway was barely discernible.  There were still orange tags to follow but they weren’t consistent.  The simple rule to reach the summit is to just keep going up until Jeff’s GPS says we’re there. 

And here I am at the nondescript summit, no view, just a small rock to stand on.  Yay for me!

On the descent of Plott Balsam we played the “let’s see if Sharon can find her way back” game and I struggled a little looking for the faint trail and scattered orange tags.  Jeff had to remind me that “descend” means “walk down.”  Good practice for me.

As I said, that climb back up Lyn Lowry was very tough, no switchbacks, and the same going back up and over Browning Knob.  And the industrious spiders and their offspring hatched since the morning were busily reconstructing their webs that we had destroyed on the first pass.  I thought we’d never get back.  The last couple of miles of the return were just pushing through briers, arms and legs scratched and bleeding.  I like to call it combat hiking.  Not only are you walking on uneven ground, you’re crouching to push through weeds or duckwalking under fallen trees or crawling up over rocks.  What – you don’t think this is fun??

The Lyn Lowry cross from a distance

All total, 8.3 miles, nearly 3,000 feet ascent, 6.5 hours – we decided not to try summiting Yellow Face Mountain (on the opposite side of the Parkway from Waterrock Knob) today.  Much more important was finding supper before my long drive home.  You know you’ve had a tough hike when you have to wash the blood off your arms and legs before ordering a meal in a restaurant.  I recommend Maggie Valley Restaurant (great grilled mountain trout and blackberry cobbler.)

I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.” ~Rosalia de Castro

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