Friday, July 27, 2018

AT in TN: Standing Indian Mountain - Beech Gap to Deep Gap

Appalachian Trail in NC – Standing Indian - Beech Gap Trail/Beech Gap to Deep Gap – 9/16/17 – 8.1 miles

After yesterday’s blowdown bummer hike I was unwilling to risk long mileage, so completing the entire Standing Indian U-section wasn’t going to happen. Mike and I looked at smaller bites and decided to hike up Beech Gap Trail to the AT, then hike southbound on the AT to Deep Gap where we’d left my car yesterday morning. This route totaled about 8 miles, rather than the 16 miles I had originally planned, and we had all day to negotiate whatever conditions. (Mike hiked with me today.) The fine print:  I’ll have to face Beech Gap Trail again someday, either up or down, to connect the dots. 

We followed graveled Upper Nantahala Road past the turnoff to Standing Indian Campground, through Kimsey Creek group camping, on up to the right-hand, two-car pulloff for Beech Gap Trail – can’t miss the sign.  We could hear the crashing headwaters of Nantahala River and were relieved to see a nice bridge to start us off. 

Beech Gap Trail rose steadily but reasonably, and there was little damage other than a lot of green leaves blanketing the ground.  Blue blazes were sparse and the upper half of the trail was on old road bed with blowdowns that likely preceded Tropical Storm Irma’s tantrums.
Trail edges showed a significantly eroded duff layer as a result of a lot of water gushing in a short period of time

Mike passing by charred remains from forest fires in the fall of 2016.  During that season there were 13 significant fires in the areas around Standing Indian.  Trails were closed, including the AT. The wooden structure of the Wayah Bald lookout tower was destroyed (the stone base remains). 

Life begins anew

Fall had arrived – since yesterday!

We sat down at Beech Gap because we could.  There’s a really nice camping area there, large enough for many tents to spread out.  (AWOL’s guidebook says there is water but we didn’t look for it.)

From Beech Gap, our only obstacle today was a steady three-mile climb up Standing Indian Mountain. Surprisingly, this section of the AT didn’t have nearly as much storm damage as the section south of Deep Gap, so our pace was moderate and we had time to look beyond our next footstep.  We enjoyed a warm but lovely early fall flower hike day.  Who’d a thunk?

Some type of coral fungus

Mountain gentian


Pink Turtlehead

Indian cucumber fruit

Any ideas?

 I experience a whorled wood aster obsession every fall!

Another obsession: tree burls

Glorious view of rows upon rows of mountains at the summit of Standing Indian Mountain, with Chatuge Lake shimmering within the layers
More fire damage

Back in the tunnel, our 2.5-mile descent from the summit to Deep Gap blew by in a flash in a couple of long switchbacks.  The closer we approached the gap, though, the more trail debris and blowdowns we encountered.  Looking at a topo map of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness that this part of the AT passes through, it’s clear that the storm winds blew from southeast to northwest and hit yesterday’s section straight on, while today’s section was sheltered.  A map, a cup of coffee and hindsight are great, but we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.

Hanging from a tree near Standing Indian Shelter.  How do I feel about this?  While it is cute and whimsical, it certainly violates leave-no-trace principles and it disrupts the unencumbered feeling of being in nature for nature’s sake. 

End of the trail for us today

We retrieved my car, then Mike’s van back at the Beech Gap trailhead, and camped overnight at Standing Indian Campground – for the convenience, not for the ambience. It’s a busy campground that serves a purpose, but we both prefer more primitive and therefore less populated places. Folks in the site beside us felt the need to crank up their radio for the evening. Lord knows we don’t want to hear crickets and owls! Deep in the nighttime, though, I did hear some hooty-hoots.

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.” ~John Muir

Friday, July 20, 2018

AT in NC: Counting Blowdowns - Crossing the NC/GA State Line

Appalachian Trail in NC – Standing Indian - Deep Gap Southbound to Blue Ridge Gap – 9/15/17 – 10.1 miles

Just two gaps now in my miles on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, the larger one a popular stretch called Standing Indian in Nantahala National Forest, due south of Franklin, NC. I asked my good friend Mike to help me out a little and he responded in character by helping me out a lot.  The goal was tackling 40 miles in three days – of course, it didn’t work out that way.  If I had hired a shuttle and set out to backpack this section without support, I would have been in a pickle. 

Weather is a major factor in hiking, even weather that has already happened.  Hurricane Irma swept across the Caribbean and on to Florida on September 10.  On September 11, downgraded Tropical Storm Irma crashed through upstate Georgia and southwestern North Carolina with damaging high winds and torrential rains.  Four days later, Mike and I arrived in Franklin.  We stopped at the Nantahala Ranger District office to check on the status of the forest roads we wanted to use:  all clear.  Let’s hope the trails are clear, too. 

More know-before-you-go:  The point where the AT crosses the Georgia-North Carolina state line is at Bly Gap, a lovely place deep in the woods with no road access.  The closest access in Georgia is three miles further south at Blue Ridge Gap.  Mike dropped me off at Deep Gap, NC where I would start southbound, then headed to Blue Ridge Gap where he would hike northbound to meet me.

With shivers of anticipation, I stepped onto my old friend, the Appalachian Trail. My brain registered green leaves carpeting the trail – and everything else.  I thought to myself, I’ll have to pay close attention and keep an eye on the white blazes.  I walked about 50 yards and stepped over a branch laying across the path.  I walked around a bend and stepped over a skinny tree trunk.  Ten minutes after that I confronted a massive tree crown obliterating the trail.  And so it began...Hmmm.

This obstacle course distorted my sense of pacing to the point that I couldn’t rely on time to tell me how far I’d gone.  Fortunately, signs helped me track my progress, although I was dismayed to see how slow that progress was. 

At Water Oak Gap, two miles from my start at Deep Gap

 Still enough good humor to chuckle at "Chunky Gal"

Muskrat Creek Shelter looked intact.  What is not shown is the fact that I nearly missed it altogether because there were so many downed trees across the intersection leading to it.  I was very happy to find this shelter so that I could again determine my location. 

At last, a view near Courthouse Bald

I had long ago stopped taking pictures of blowdowns; they just kept coming.  Each new one made my heart sink a little bit lower, a new problem to solve.  Over, under, around, through – or a combination of techniques. Could I be the first person on the trail since the storm?  Not once did I see a path cleared by someone who came before me. The upper parts of trees – the crowns – were the most difficult.  First I looked for a way around; if that didn’t look feasible, I climbed between branches, up over one, down under the next.  Exhausting. I counted 125 significant blowdowns along the 10 miles I hiked. One thing I decided for sure:  I’m not doing this again tomorrow.

At Bly Gap, a venerable old tree that every AT hiker has a photo of.  
Even this old fellow lost a limb to the storm.

About eight miles in, I saw Mike coming up the trail carrying loppers.  He’d been methodically working on the wreckage as he hiked in to meet me, flipping the smaller limbs off the trail and cutting paths through the big branches.  The photo below makes me smile:  David and Goliath.  Mike is clipping the poison ivy on this old sentinel that has laid down its life across the trail. 

It wasn’t all misery, of course.  What were impediments to my progress were merely nature’s prunings, part of the process.  Little miracles were still happening.

So 10 miles covered in 7 hours, and I was about as tired as I’ve ever felt after a hike.  In Mike’s volunteer role as the greatest support person on earth, he had scouted out a comfortable place to camp for the night – Jackrabbit Campground on Lake Chatuge, a couple of miles north of Hiawassee, GA.  A little supper and an adult beverage at Monte Alban Restaurant, a clear night sky and crickets by the water. 

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 
~Matthew 6:34