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

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