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 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.
We catch up to Mike (but how did he get behind us??)
Lunch at the Yellow Mountain Fire Tower is all blue skies and happiness
View from the tower
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.”
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!
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)