For the 2nd day hike of the New Year, I drove to the Nolichucky Campground and began walking into the ‘Jones Branch’ valley on Unaka Mountain. Being one of the closest access points for the Appalachian Trail, I go there quite a lot. The weather was incredibly warm for January, and the ground was quite wet from an early rain. The clouds were thick and gray. I was happy to see a bit more water in the creek than the last time I had walked up through there (it was nearly dry).
In my mind, I had sort of planned to walk out to the ‘Jones Branch Overlook’ and get a nice visual of the valley and the mountains beyond, but while I was walking up the mountain into ‘Curly Maple Gap’ I realized how unlikely catching any views from the overlook would be, as the clouds were very thick at that time. Visibility was only about a hundred yards, so I decided to stop at the shelter and have a snack break.
The clouds were so thick around the shelter at ‘Curly Maple Gap’ that water was falling from the sky–I would really say that it was ‘raining’, it was more like the clouds were squeezing water out of the air. I thought about the time I had first ‘discovered’ the overlook; I had actually gotten lost after finding a waterfall I had never seen, and (after a steep climb) that was how I happened upon the cliffs.
Hiking is a bit like playing guitar in the sense that if you get lost playing a lead on a song, for instance, you have to find your way back–the sooner the better. It is that kind freedom I enjoy about hiking, along with the exercise, fresh air, and interesting people that you meet occasionally. I used to get lost quite a lot, it seemed. Perhaps that is why my hiking buddy, ‘Rat’ (the web-wizard here) told me I should carry a GPS unit, ‘for body retrieval purposes’ (ha ha). Anyway, I decided to stay on the trail on this trip, for the most part.
On the way back down the mountain, the clouds were breaking up and floating up the mountain valleys. Meanwhile, the entire river valley was still obscured beneath the clouds. In this transition, several mountain ridges rose up out of the fog, resembling islands floating upon the clouds. It was beautiful! I realized then that I should never leave the house without a camera. I made it back to the trail head just about dark, and without injury, though I felt sort of tired–it is a pretty good climb up to ‘Curly Maple Gap’.
Almost forgot to mention the ‘expedition’ to the cliffs above ‘Sill Branch Falls’ that Rat and I are planning. After studying the landscape from the middle-ridgetop a couple of weeks ago, I realized that there is a much easier way to get there than previously thought. I hope to get some good photos from there, and document the view from the cliffs.