A couple of weeks ago, while hiking in towards Sam’s Gap on the Appalachian Trail in the late afternoon, I ran across a fellow walking the opposite way. At first glance, I thought that it was somewhat odd that he wasn’t carrying a backpack, not even a daypack. And, as our paths inevitably crossed as we approached each other from opposite directions, he asked me “How far does this trail go?” I told him that “This trail goes all the way to Maine.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, right…”, then mumbled something and kept on walking. I didn’t have the time or the inspiration to explain Benton MacKaye’s amazing vision, so I let him pass and walk on into the bliss of the unknown trail; perhaps he will figure it out some day–perhaps not. Either way, I have decided that I have no inclination to be a public relations representative, or spokesperson, for the Appalachian Trail. I just like to hike.
With that in mind, I actually got to do a little bit of camping recently, hiking in on the Appalachian Trail from Spivey Gap and climbing over High Rocks and Little Bald to the camp spot at Big Stamp–about 6 1/2 miles. It had threatened rain most of the afternoon, and there were even a couple of passing showers, so I found myself walking up the mountain hills faster than I would have liked, with a 45-pound pack, hoping to set up my tent in the meadow on top of the mountain before any really bad weather struck.
In retrospect, I suppose I should have conceded to the weather, and set up my tent at the nice camp spot about a mile before the meadow, before the big deluge commenced, but being too stubborn for my own good, continued on to the meadow, only to attempt to set up the tent there at the worst possible of times. The rain poured down upon me, like water from a bucket, and then I was pummeled with pea-sized hail.
By the time I finally had the tent assembled, I was soaked to the bone, and there was a small pond inside the tent itself. I had to mop up, and wring out, what I could with my already wet trail clothes, but there wasn’t any way to get it completely dry. I must say, I was very disappointed with my pack-cover, as well; it had leaked and allowed most everything I had in my backpack to get wet also, including my sleeping bag. To make things even worse, after the rain/hail had eventually stopped, and while attempting to dry a few things out on a nearby boulder, I had slipped and fallen off the rock while wearing some flip flops, cutting and bruising my right foot. Yes, it could have been worse, but it still was not good.
I was a bit upset, but did the best I could under the circumstances, cooking up some hot tea and a hot supper with a camp-stove that wasn’t working quite right, either. Thank goodness that my polypropylene long-underwear and long-sleeved warm shirt had somehow remained dry through it all. In the end, I was uncomfortable and even somewhat cold when the dawn approached, being at an elevation close to 5500 feet, but I survived alright.
The next day, I wasn’t in any hurry to go anywhere, and dried some of my wet clothes and such, out on the rocks behind my tent. I felt like I was being stalked by rabbits, however, as it seemed every time I turned around, one would be there, watching me. It seemed rather a novelty at first, but then after awhile, almost irritating, in a Monty Pythonesque way. I am quite sure that if Bear Grylls had been there, there would have been much feasting on grilled rabbit meat, but I was content to drink my coffee and munch on my fresh ‘lembas’ mountain-bread while waiting on the sun to bake my tent and dry my clothes. Every time I thought about leaving my gear and walking up to the summit, a rain-threatening cloud would blow over and spoil my plans.
Eventually, I decided to break down the camp and walk. I wasn’t very ambitious, though, since I didn’t have to be anywhere until the next day, and my foot was quite sore, so I only walked about 3 miles before deciding to set up camp again–this time on the flanks of Little Bald Mountain, at the nice campsite just above ‘Jauna’s Sledged Rock’ (Juana was the woman who sledged the rock there while building the new trail up the mountain with the Konnarock Crew in 1993). There is a small spring just below the now obscure rock that Juana sledged, and I was able to get all the water I needed there. After setting up camp, and cooking an early supper, I decided to build a small fire for to pass the time. It was very comforting and warm.
The firelight flickered for quite awhile after I retired in my tent, hoping to get some better rest than the night before. The campsite, being about 4400-feet in elevation, was much more comfortable than the one on Big Stamp, despite being awakened a couple of times by large animals breaking limbs close by, or ‘trumpeting’ in the darkness. It really does no good to open your eyes in the pitch darkness, or to worry about what the night-animals are doing. Actually, I was more concerned with limbs falling on my tent, as the wind had increased after the night had fallen. The wind sounded nice blowing the leaves in the trees, like a large waterfall, but the creaking and squeaking of the limbs kept me on edge a bit until I could relax and get back to sleep.
The next morning was beautiful; cool and windy. Then a cloud camped out on the ridge with me, and the rain fell for a couple of hours. Luckily, I hadn’t taken down my tent yet, and I crawled back inside and took another nap. By mid-morning, the weather had calmed, and I reluctantly got up, cooked some coffee, and broke down the camp, leaving ‘no trace’ but a few ashes and a couple of partially burned limbs near where the fire-pit had been. My foot felt better, but nevertheless, I wasn’t in any hurry to get back to Spivey Gap, or back to the city, so I took my time walking, even taking a side-trail down to the forest service road, since I had always wondered how far away it was. I also took a long break on top of High Rocks, enjoying the mountain scenery. It rained on me some more on the way back to Spivey Gap, but I didn’t mind at all; it was rather refreshing. I can hardly wait to go camping again.
There were just a few other hikes to mention: There was a 5-mile hike up to the Big Rock above Jones Branch, where good views are available. There was also a trip over Unaka Mountain, a 5-mile hike out to Hogback Ridge Shelter, and a 7 1/2-mile hike on the other side of Big Bald Mountain, where I encountered a ‘gorgeous’ brown and tan mountain snake.
I hope to have more adventures to write about soon…