The holidays are over and the New Year has arrived, along with quite a bit of snow, especially in the mountains. Despite several distractions, I finally made it out to visit a couple of wilderness trails.
The first trip was a nice walk to the falls on Jones Branch near the Nolichucky River. Fresh storm damage to the Appalachian Trail was obvious as soon as I entered the woods, with several large branches piled up and blocking the trail. Not only were there large branches, but entire trees had fallen during the recent snow storm, including a 80-foot-tall oak tree that fell right beside the trail, leaving a 15-foot divot where the roots had been, another 60-footer that fell across the trail, and a large pine that fell right in the center, blocking about 50 feet of the trail. There was also laurel thickets pushed over and across the trail, and evidence of recent flooding where the snow-melt waters had eroded certain portions. The water levels were still quite high; the Jones Branch stream was moving briskly, and water was even springing up out of the ground in places. At the second creek crossing, I had to do some slippery log-walking (something I used to enjoy) to avoid getting my feet wet.
The trail was so littered with trees, limbs, and debris, that it took a lot of extra time to maneuver around all of the obstacles and move forward up the valley–so much time that I had doubts whether I would be able to reach the beautiful stair-stepping waterfalls, but I persevered and reached the base of the largest set, leaving boot tracks in the snow. I felt very blessed to be standing at the secluded waterfalls, and to be a creature of this marvelous planet, as I continue to be amazed by the wonders and the beauty of Nature.
Next, there was an ‘extreme hiking’ trip up the very steep ‘Longarm Ridge’ of Rich Mountain, in the Sampson Wilderness, and back. Indeed, it was a monstrous climb to the top of the ‘jump off’—the knife’s edge ridge top with a cluster of white pine trees upon it. I had to pace myself, enduring several scrapes, scratches, and bruises, but managed to reach the top, where I was rewarded with stunning views everywhere I looked.
To one side was the entire Sampson Mountain and the Clarks Creek Valley, while on the other side was the entire Devil’s Fork Valley, The snow-topped Big Pine Ridge, and the entire Longarm Valley. I could also see parts of Embreeville Mountain, the infamous snow-topped ‘meat-grinder ridge’, and parts of Sill Branch. The ‘Volcano’, the knob on the far end of Big Pine Ridge, with cliff faces, ledges, and a massive rock spine was right across the deep valley from my vantage point on the Longarm Ridge.
The Longarm Ridge, a well-named behemoth, continued to snake out, around, and above me to the top of Rich Mountain, much like the Big Pine Ridge, except that the Big Pine Ridge has several ‘fingers’ which spread out as they fall in toward the Clarks Creek Valley, forming the many ‘forks’ of the Devil’s Fork Valley, while the Longarm Ridge is more singular and continuous. The view was amazing.
Also amazing was the extraordinary and surprisingly thunderous echo of the Devil’s Fork Creek. After descending back down from the extremely steep ‘jump-off’ ridge trail to a relatively flat place on the ridge, the cumulative sound of the water flowing across the valley was phenomenal. I had to stop and listen to the sound for a while, despite the growing darkness. The rest of the way down the ridge was relatively non-eventful, considering how intense and invigorating the scenery and the trail were that day.
More adventures soon…