Friday, July 8, 2016

AT in TN: Beauty Spot & Unaka Mountain

Appalachian Trail in TN – Curly Maple Gap Shelter to Iron Mountain Gap – 15.9 Miles –3/26/16

Sore thighs this morning and the slightly daunting realization that our car was about 16 miles away.  We can hike big mileage in an overnight, right?  Like childbirth, Carol and I had forgotten the pains.  However, we knew an iconic place was coming up:  Beauty Spot, TN

Sunrise fire on the mountain

The chill quickly dissipated as the trail ascended.  I stopped to remove a layer of clothing, grab a little breakfast, heck, might as well take a photo and pee too while the pack is off. 

Beauty Spot is a grassy bald on the shoulder of Unaka Mountain on the NC/TN border.  It is easily accessible with a parking area nearby, but it’s way more impressive to approach it walking northbound on the AT.  

A sweet campsite (not ours)

Relaxing at Beauty Spot, watching clouds and feeling the breeze.  There was a fellow flying a drone, too, but he didn’t overstay his welcome.  Nice day for it, although I’d rather have seen him flying a kite. Le sigh.

Moving on

The AT rubs up against Unaka Mountain Road on its way to Deep Gap (seems there is a Deep Gap in every mountain county).  As I walked alongside, a forest service ranger stopped his truck to say hello and ask how many thru-hikers I’ve seen.  They are gearing up for a busy season. 

As we continued hiking up the side of Unaka Mountain, we passed first through rhododendron tunnels and hardwoods, then into an evergreen forest of spruce and balsam up to the gently rounded summit (no view). 

Looks like a necktie, am I right?

A critter condo constructed by woodpeckers

Next the trail descended steadily down to Low Gap (ditto on that “every mountain county” remark) and then followed a few bumps before our last ascent of the hike, Little Bald Knob.  Although minor in terms of the elevation we had already encountered in two days, this last push seemed difficult, as last pushes usually do.

We were rewarded with a quiet, soothing, tranquil walk through open forest down to Iron Mountain Gap.  Not much green yet, but the stillness held a beauty all its own.  We walked in peaceful silence.

Carol and I agreed that we are good hiking partners with similar paces, habits and temperaments, and we created a “mutual admiration society.”  Looking forward to more adventures!

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~Jawaharial Nehru

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