Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hump Mountain From A Different Direction

Appalachian Trail – 5/11/13 - Southbound Hwy 19E to Hump Mountain – 10 Miles

About two years ago I hiked on the AT with the Carolina Berg Wanderers from Carvers Gap to the summit of Hump Mountain…and turned around and hiked back.  Now looking for a moderate hike to put on the Berg calendar and invite some guests, I decided to conquer Hump Mountain from the other direction.  Ten miles round trip, all the way up and all the way down.

Joining me and five Berg members were my friend and book club buddy, Leida, who is hooked on hiking and has indoctrinated her husband, Carlos.  

The Appalachian Trail wanders back and forth across and sometimes straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.  Our hike started at Highway 19E in Tennessee and headed southbound.   Hump Mountain is located in North Carolina at the northern end of the Roan Mountains, the longest stretch of grassy bald (highland meadows covered in thick grass and sparse trees) in the Appalachian range and considered one of the most scenic sections of the AT. 

Weather forecast?  Terrible, of course, 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms.  So we’re goin’. 

Spring flowers continue to thrill:  fringed white phacelia

Can’t find this one in my flower book

I’m pretty sure Carlos was taking a flower photo here

Large-flowered bellwort

Purple wakerobin

Wood-betony – one of my favorites

A steady climb on a winding, rocky trail.  Overcast but no rain yet.

Three miles into the hike we arrived at Doll Flats, where the AT crosses back into NC south- bound, for some “smoky” views down into the valley.  For northbounders this is the last location for camping on the AT in North Carolina.  Leida, Carlos and I were enjoying a leisurely walk and the rest of the group had passed us; however, now the skies were looking a little more serious so we picked up the pace bit.

Coming out of the woods for the final time to approach Hump Mountain, clouds were gathering fast, the wind was picking up, and the rest of our group was coming down from the summit.  Carlos and Leida opted to turn around then.  I went for my goal of reaching the top. 

Thar she blows – Hump Mountain - Objects in photo are farther away than they appear

The rain hit me about halfway to the top.  There was no thunder or lightning, just wind and stinging rain, and I struggled to pull my rain jacket out of my pack and get it zipped on.  Cloud cover enveloped the mountain and sight distance was very limited.  Are we having fun yet?  Out of the clouds a couple of hikers appeared, heading for lower ground.  I kept climbing, repeating a few favorite vulgarities with each step.  If only I had hiked faster earlier…but who knows whether or when bad weather will finally strike?

The Stan Murray plaque near (but not yet at) the summit of Hump Mountain.

I confess I don’t know exactly where the summit of Hump Mountain is.  I couldn’t see very far in any direction.  I know I kept walking on the trail until it began to descend and then I turned around and hustled my booty back the way I had come. 

And wouldn’t you know, I outran the clouds as they chased me back down.

Once back in the trees I caught up with Barbara, one of the Bergs, and we stopped in the now drizzling rain to catch our breath, eat a bite and laugh at the absurdity of crazy people who hike in the rain.  The remainder of the hike down to the trailhead was sloppy and slippery with no stopping.  So the weather forecast was a little bit right, but even a wet day on the trail is better than sitting at home, right?

Dry clothes and a barbecue restaurant – what a great way to end the day!

“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.”  ~Rachel Carson

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

AT Project in VA - Hello Rockfish Gap

AT-VA Backpack – Day 3 – 5/5/13 - Paul Wolfe Shelter to Rockfish Gap – 5.2 Miles

Around 40 degrees, still felt warmer in the shelter than in my tent the previous night.  As long as the mice don’t make themselves known I could get used to this.  The only thing that disrupted my sleep was a slow leak in my sleeping pad that I had to blow up twice during the night.

Mill Creek flowing in front of Paul C. Wolfe Shelter

The local AT main- tainers’ club has installed a convenient bear pole near the shelter.  It’s a tall metal pole with several small hooks, about 15 feet high.  You hang your food bags using a detached long pole that also features a short hook.  I had some trouble hanging my bag – the weight of the bag and pole together were too much for me – so Waldo did it for me, but I was able to retrieve it myself.

We had a very short hike out, five miles.  Cathy made a plan for us to shuttle Waldo and Paranoid into Waynesboro and drop them at a motel.  Since I was a little slower and still sore, I left a few minutes earlier than the rest.  My lead was erased, though, when I headed down a side trail rather than northbound on the AT.  I realized my mistake after just a few minutes of steep downhill, but that meant a few more minutes of steep…uphill back to square one. 


May apple

The AT Guide to Central Virginia gave me a heads-up to look for the Lowe family cemetery on an unmarked side trail.  The Shenandoahs are much like the Great Smoky Mountains where people were bought out to make way for the Park.

Remnants of the Mayo cabin and homestead

So I arrived last at the car parked at Rockfish Gap where the others were waiting with chattering teeth – the thermometer was barely at 40 degrees.  We waved goodbye to the entrance to Shenandoah National Park (see you soon!)  Dropped the guys off in town, drove a long way home, took a full week to walk normally again.  Gee, I love backpacking.  When can we go again?

I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.  ~G.M. Trevelyan

Sunday, August 11, 2013

AT Project in VA - Walking Meditations

AT-VA Backpack – Day 2 – 5/4/13 - Maupin Field Shelter to Paul Wolfe Shelter   15.8 Miles

Sometime after midnight I heard the unmistakable sounds of someone vomiting.  Cow Girl and Cover Girl were tenting close to me so it had to be one (both?) of them.  The misery continued through the night.  At first light I peeked out and saw the two of them sitting at their tents and went to see if I could help.  Cow Girl was the sick one, still feeling too weak to move around much.  Bad food?  The norovirus that was making sick hiker headlines up and down the AT?  Cover Girl was packing up to walk to the nearest road for help.  They were supposed to hike a few more days so their car was not nearby, but perhaps they could get someone to pick them up. 

Cathy and I pulled our gear together and left soon after Cover Girl, with an understanding that we would see Waldo again at the Paul Wolfe Shelter at the end of the day.  My legs and knees were very sore but my feet had benefited from a good night’s rest.  As we walked, a light early morning fog drifted through the trees, muffling sounds.  I spooked a deer ahead of me (he spooked me too) and he leaped along the trail for a few beats before turning left into the mist. 

Cathy pulled a bit ahead as we began the descent to Reeds Gap.  Soon a man walking uphill met me and asked if I was the sick hiker.  I said no and directed him on to the shelter.  At the gap I caught up with Cathy and we learned that the local trail maintainer club had arrived for  a scheduled work day.  One had driven Cover Girl to pick up her car while the man I had met was hiking in to assist Cow Girl and carry out her pack.  What good luck! But that is what trail angels do.  As we chatted with a couple of the group members, we learned that Ned (trail name Typhoon) was a good friend of Lenny Bernstein’s and would be attending the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial event down in North Carolina in July.   The hiking world is filled with connections. 

Cathy and I split up for the next five miles as the AT wandered across the Blue Ridge Parkway and back again, out of sight but often within earshot of the cars.  An abundance of trilliums flourished like weeds all up and down the mountainsides. 

Trillium portrait

Trilliums galore

There were several side trails to overlooks along this section between Reeds Gap and Dripping Rock; I confess I didn't stop at all of them.   At Cedar Cliffs, though, I met a dad with his middle school age son and daughter so I nabbed a photo opportunity.  A glorious day to be outside with family.

 Looking at Wintergreen ski slopes

 Another shout-out to those wonderful trail maintainers

Cathy was patiently waiting to check in with me where the AT crossesd the BRP at Dripping Springs.  After determining that I had enough water, we parted ways for the remainder of the day.  Nine miles to go to our shelter, one step at a time.

Rock walls appeared from time to time, remains of homesteads from another era

The Humpback Mountain area is a very popular stop along the BRP, featuring a visitor center, a picnic area and several hiking trails, including the trail to Humpback Rocks.  I remember well as a child visiting Humpback Rocks with my Uncle Joe, Aunt Mattie and cousins Vicki and Jeff.  Funny, I don’t remember hiking up it at all, just the exhilarating view from the top.

The AT northbound passes first over the top of Humpback Mountain.  It was here that Waldo caught up with me.  I asked if he was going to take the blue-blaze side trail to the Rocks; he wanted to know if it was worth the time.  Oh yes!   Even though it was Saturday and the place was swarming with people waiting to take a picture, it is an awesome place.

At Humpback Rocks

Waldo pulled on ahead of me and for the rest of the day I walked with my thoughts.  True, my body was hurting and anyone who saw me may have noticed a grimace on my face, but I tried walking meditation and humming in time with my steps.  One of my favorites is a Taize chant of “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Amazing how you can give yourself over to a song and move along the trail.

Finally, finally, finally I looked across Mill Creek and saw the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter. 

Waldo and Cathy had unpacked and made themselves comfortable.  This shelter was quite luxurious, room on the ground floor for at least six and a sleeping loft built around the three sides that could accommodate four or more.  Cathy and I sorta took over the upstairs, no tent for me tonight.  During the dwindling time until nightfall a young couple arrived to sleep in the shelter plus two thru-hikers.  One set up his tent by the creek and I never saw him.  The other one spread his sleeping bag out on the shelter floor and introduced himself as Paranoid.  I asked him what was the story behind his name and he said, “I don’t tell it very often” and then…didn’t tell me.  

We were greatly entertained with stories from Waldo and Paranoid.  Waldo, a young man from Germany, was section hiking for a specific period of time, going however far he happened to go each day.  Paranoid had developed a cartoon story for which he drew one frame in the journal of each shelter that he passed, whether he stayed there or not.  The story involved bears outsmarting backpackers. 

Waldo reading “A Walk In The Woods”

A chilly night, a quiet night, by hiker midnight (9 p.m.) everyone was snoozing.

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.  ~George Washington Carver