I am not always sure what to write about for these trail-blogs—I am sure, however, I could ramble on for hours about ‘trail magic’, ‘trail maintenance’, ‘waterfalls’, and just ‘trails’ in general, but I don’t like the idea of boring people, including myself. I suppose there is a difference between ‘quality entertainment’ high on a mountain ridge and sitting on the couch at home. Swapping hiker stories just seems more appropriate when conversing with other hikers on the mountain trails; something, I think, is lost in translation when attempting to write it down, and the inspiration for doing so diminishes somewhat when there isn’t any interaction, feedback, or other perspectives to interpret. And while comments and other perspectives are always welcome (providing they aren’t just cleverly disguised ‘spam’, which has been attempted) in the end it always ends up with me talking about myself and places I have hiked, which bores me. Unfortunately, that seems to be the nature of a ‘blog’. I would much rather be out hiking than writing about hiking, which may explain why I am so far behind in this internet-journal. I have been told in the past, however, that reading about some of these adventures has inspired a few people to get out to the woods trails more often, which is why, I suppose, I continue. Anyway, I am boring myself again…
After the excellent camping trip in Georgia and the subsequent wedding party in Virginia, I wasn’t able to get out and hike and camp as much as I would have liked to; I did, however, manage to get to woods on occasion. Because I am still way behind on the trail-blogs, which is a bit embarrassing, I only plan on writing about the more memorable, significant hikes in any depth or detail until I am a bit more caught up. I hope everyone who reads the blog will understand, and also check out the new photos in the gallery, as well, since they tell the story better than I can, in most instances. With all that in mind, because of work and a couple other issues, there really weren’t very many summer hikes to speak of. The most significant and enjoyable hike was the one from Sam’s Gap to Big Bald and back.
It was a last minute decision, going to Sam’s Gap that morning. The clouds were thick and the trail was wet, but I thought that by the time I reached the summit of Big Bald, the sky would have cleared and views would have been possible, if not incredible, but the clouds remained anchored to the mountaintop and it also rained for a while, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds, since the temperature remained on the cool side.
I accidentally caught up to a few section hikers at the campsite/meadow, about two miles in from Sam’s Gap, but I don’t think they saw me, since the clouds were very thick and visibility was very limited, and I was ready for a break. I watched them disappear into the cloud bank, while checking out and photographing some of the beautiful flowers that were blooming in the meadow. I did, however, catch up to the hikers, and even pass them, later on up the trail.
While the rain and clouds obscured the views from the mountain, the trail itself was quite nice, in a subtle, understated sort of way, featuring a lush, green liveliness and occasional pockets of alluring mountain laurel blossoms within the cool fog. The mountain mud of the trail was soft on the feet and the temperature was very agreeable for hiking. The wind was blowing rather vigorously, particularly upon the summit, and despite not getting any views (other than clouds), being summertime, the relative coolness within the cloud was very much appreciated by me.
The section hikers eventually caught up to me on the summit, and seemingly had a difficult time understanding why I would walk so far for a view from the summit when the mountain was obviously entrenched in clouds and rain. None of that bothered me, however, and I was quite happy just to be out on the trail, breathing fresh air and getting some much needed exercise.
The clouds did finally lift from the mountaintop, at least on the lower elevations; the meadow near Street Gap was uncovered when I passed through there on my way back to Sam’s Gap, but apparently the summit of Big Bald, which can be seen from the meadow, remained in the clouds the entire day. All things considered, it was a great afternoon to be out on the trail, and I believe the exercise did me a lot of good.
I met up with my hiking friends, ‘Rat Patrol’, and ‘Fireball’ on a early August morning for a day of hiking on Roan Mountain. I really love Roan Mountain and consider it to be a true wonder of Appalachian Nature. I have been going up there ever since I was a young boy, and have had many adventures there. It is somewhat painful to write anything negative about the mountain, since I do love it so, but to be honest there were some strange things going on there that day.
The parking area at Carver’s Gap was nearly full when we arrived, which was to be expected, since it is such a popular place, and that was no big deal. Once out of the car, noticing the newly constructed bathrooms (something Carver’s Gap has needed for quite some time) we also noticed something rather peculiar clustered to the walls of the new structure—upon closer inspection we discovered that there were thousands of dead flies encrusted on the walls and roof like barnacles. It was a bit eerie and really quite disgusting in appearance. Having an aversion to such creepy weirdness, I think we were all fairly well grossed out by the odd stalactites of dead flies before we ever even got out of the parking lot.
The 1.7 mile hike up to the High Knob Shelter went well enough, but again, similar to the bathroom at the Carver’s Gap, the shelter was obscured by clusters of millions of dead flies; they were hanging thick and heavy from the woodwork, darn near everywhere. There were even dead fly-stalactites hanging in the fir trees around the shelter and also swarms of still living flies, which would buzz around like biblical locusts every time anyone approached the fire pit just in front of the shelter.
Usually I like to go in and check out the shelter, since it is very old and has a history onto itself, but on this day, I didn’t feel the desire to do so, since it appeared rather gruesome. Somewhat nauseated by the scene, we retreated to the High Rock, the summit of Roan Mountain (elevation 6285’), where we felt slightly more at ease and a bit less repulsed. Lunch was consumed in the shade while sitting on the High Rock.
[Note: we later found out from a retired entomologist that this ‘dead fly phenomenon’ is not so unusual after all, and that the flies in question had been afflicted with a ‘summits disease’ caused by a fungus, which causes them to seek the highest elevations available, where the fungus can spread more easily, and the flies subsequently die in large masses.]
There were a lot of other people on the trail this particular day; not only were there large tour bus loads of people hiking up on the balds, but the High Knob Trail was pretty much overrun, as well, with people who had drove up to the gardens, I suppose. It was kind of crowded, considering. Because of this we soon relinquished our seats upon the rocky summit and moved on up the trail, so everyone could have a turn on the summit rocks.
While on the way to the old hotel site, further up the mountain trail, the clouds burst open and the rains came. Although it didn’t rain for very long, it did rain hard enough to soak the forest and leave pools of water in the trail. The clouds remained thick on top of the mountain and the temperature was very comfortable and cool, thanks partly to a marvelous breeze. While we were there, taking a short break, we encountered a fellow who seemingly decided to follow us around for some unknown reason, which was kind of creepy. Maybe he thought he could score some moon pies, I don’t know, and none of us dared to ask. Anyway, feeling somewhat encroached upon, we decided to walk out to the ‘Sunset Rock’, a nice place which overlooks the Tennessee-side of the mountain (which wasn’t very far away) only to discover the view was completely obscured by the thick, rain-induced fog. Despite the beclouded, gray view, I enjoyed the overlook rock, partially because of the surreal-like foggy scene, but mostly because of the marvelously cool breeze. Our friend, ‘Fireball’ actually got cold while we were there.
Other than a brief encounter with a mostly naked day-hiker, the hike back to Carver’s Gap was mostly without incident; the rain had reasonably diminished the number of people out and about on the trail. The other fellow, the day-hiker who we stumbled upon earlier, was nowhere in sight, thankfully, leaving our now diminished snack supply secure from any potential moon pie absconders. Overall, it was nice to be out on the trail getting some much appreciated fresh air and exercise, but could have done without the disgusting diseased flies and other strangeness.
Spruce Thicket Trail…
I went with ‘The ol’ Albatross’, aka ‘Dave, the waterfall guy’ to view the cascades on the Spruce Thicket Trail. Dave, a waterfall aficionado, had not yet visited the Spruce Thickets before and was wanting to do so. It had been over 20 years since my last trip to the Spruce Thicket Cascades; the trail has changed a whole lot since then. Not only has the trail-head been moved (because of private property) so that it now branches off of the Bullen Hollow/Margarette Falls Trail, but the trail itself has been washed away in some places and grown up with trees in others. It wasn’t a very long hike, and although it was just a bit difficult to navigate our way to the cascades, we did manage to get there without getting lost.
Being August, the cascades were probably not as robust as they were in April, but being a fairly moist summer season, by comparison to recent years, the cascades did display a good deal of charm. Dave has taken up photography, to go along with his waterfall devotion (he has viewed waterfalls around the world), and it is fascinating and inspiring to watch the exhaustive perfectionism and effort he puts into his hobbies. It could take him 5 minutes, or longer, just to set up his tripod. I applaud his efforts and have learned a few things from him.
The trail eventually diminished into nothingness not far above the cascades and we turned around–it turned out to be a rather easy hike and a nice day to be in the woods.
A Few More Hikes…
There was a 10-mile hike from Spivey Gap to the summit of Little Bald and back, which was fairly uneventful. I did happen to see a few grouse and experience a summer rain storm along the way, and was also grateful that the weeds had been cut out of the trail on Little Bald (they can get pretty thick there).
There was also a hike up the Longarm Branch Trail to the top of Rich Mountain and back; I decided to walk up there and attempt to find my trail hat that I had inadvertently lost when we had hiked to the Chigger Ridge Overlook in March. While I eventually did find the old hat, which was somewhat miraculous, on the way back down the mountain, the most exciting and memorable part of this hike were the 2 separate bear encounters I had along the trail. One was quite large. I heard a third bear, but didn’t actually see it. Of course, that was the day I forgot to take my camera.
There was another hike out of Sam’s Gap, going south over Hogback Ridge to Rice Gap. The temperature was very suitable for hiking, thanks to the clouds and rain. I met a few friendly section hikers along the trail, and the view from the ‘little rock knob’ was quite scenic, mostly because the clouds were hanging low in the valley, filling in the spaces between the various lower-elevated knobs and ridges.
There was also a hike to the summit of Buffalo Mountain by way of the Lone Oak Trail; the blueberry bushes were ripe with berries, but the trail was very much overgrown on top of the ridge. There were also hikes in Jones Branch, Indian Grave Gap on Unaka Mountain, and 2 more hikes out of Spivey Gap. The most memorable part of these hikes were getting rained on and the spectacular blooming mountain laurels.
Some Other News…
It is regrettable, but there has been another death within the circle of hiker friends. Stevie, aka ‘Hale Hound’, friend and lifetime member of ‘The Boones Creek Bunch’ died last March. While I don’t know all the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, I do know that everyone who knew Stevie are very upset by his passing. I didn’t know Stevie quite as well as some of the other Boones Creek Bunch, possibly because he was kind of quiet, but from my personal observation, he seemed like a really good person who passed away far too young.