It is easy, sometimes, to get too caught up into where you are going, and forget to enjoy the place where you are. When I am out hiking, I try to remind myself that it isn’t always the destination that is the center of attraction, but rather the getting there. Curbing that anxiety to be somewhere else is not always easy for me, and indeed, I see it in the eyes of the ‘thru-hikers’ that I meet sometimes. It is easy to recognize; the robotic voice and faraway stare, as they contemplate how many more miles they have to walk to maintain their unrealistic schedules in the back of their obsessed minds. That is why it is so refreshing, I suppose, when I meet someone who not only doesn’t have a ‘summit date’ for Katahdin planned, but doesn’t give me that look like they expect me to pull out a banjo at any moment and start picking the theme to ‘Deliverance’.
About a week and a half ago, while on a Appalachian Trail Volunteer Maintenance Work Trip near Spivey Gap with the ‘Rat Patrol’s’ trail crew, Rat and I met a fellow hiking the trail that wasn’t in too big of a hurry to get anywhere. In fact, he stopped and told us the story about he had gotten lost a few times, walking off in the wrong direction. I just had to laugh, having done that myself a time or two. By the time Rat had answered all his questions, and it was time to move on, the hiker had a new trail name–‘Wrong Way’. That is how it works sometimes, the inadvertent and unexpected has a way of sticking with you, whether you like it or not. As I recall, I received my trail name by a similar unintended, spontaneous custom.
One of the things that I don’t like about my trail ‘blog’ is that all of my best stories are started out in the ‘past tense’. I don’t like living my life in the ‘past tense’, but rather look forward to the ‘next adventure’, which is why writing a ‘blog’ is so difficult for me, I suppose. But, there have been a couple of people that have told me how they somewhat look forward to my trail stories, because it inspires them to want to get out to the mountains, breath the fresh air, and exercise (whether they read it or not, which I doubt). Anyhow, that is how I look at it, as a justification for staying cooped up in front of a word processor when I would probably rather be out hiking a trail somewhere instead. Of course, right after I wrote that last sentence, I decided to go out to the mountains for awhile.
Anyway, here is what has been happening: The day after Unicoi County reported heavy rains and ‘funnel clouds’, I decided to go back to the Jones Branch Falls area to take photos, since I was so disappointed with the previous photos that I took there. The Nolichucky River was muddy and still swollen with water, covering the boulders that people sit out on near ‘the point’. Hiking up the Appalachian Trail into Jones Branch, I was immediately astonished by how much water was flowing under the first bridge, which is usually nothing but rocks, as the creek flows underground through that stretch. I had to walk across a slippery log at the next creek-crossing to avoid getting my feet wet. Indeed, the entire creek was dynamic and vibrant as far as I could see, and even the meager tributaries, where typically only a trickle of water flows, on this afternoon had sprouted flourishing cascades.
As I said in the opening paragraph, it was difficult to remain focused on the trail ‘where I was’ since I was quite anxious to get to the falls. Eventually, after a 2 ½ mile hike, I was climbing up the boulders of the creek, which is the trail through there at that point, and getting my first glimpse of the marvelous stair-stepping waterfalls. I had never seen so much water flowing from the top of the falls before, and I took several photos with the digital camera ‘Rat Patrol’ has loaned me. I rock-climbed to the top, getting quite wet, and nearly crushing the camera as I maneuvered over slippery logs, hoping to get photos of the incredible ‘chasm’ that is cut into the rock cliff-face that funnels water to the top of the beautiful cascades. The photos cannot do justice to the depth and power of the amazing, intense stream of water that was plunging through the unique chasm, lifting up a spray of mist into the air thick as rain.
Eventually, I climbed back down the falls, as the sky turned dark as night, and the rain began falling again. I was a bit concerned at first, having been caught in a flashflood once with my dog, and was moving a bit faster than I should have been over those slippery boulders, and slipped and fell a couple of times, but was lucky to only bruise my forearm. Completely soaked, I had to stop and pour the water out of my boots and wring out my socks a few times before I made it back to the campground by the river. It was an amazing hike, reminiscent of the ‘old hiking club days’ where all our adventures seemed wild and untamable.
The next trip was with ‘Rat Patrol’ to the rhododendron gardens on top of Roan Mountain. He had been up there a few days earlier during the festival, but a heavy cloud was sitting on top of the mountain that day, obscuring his views, and he wanted to go back. I was happy to ride with him, since it had been several years since I had seen the Catawba blooming there —probably the largest population of Catawba in the world. We had to wait to get into the gardens for about an hour because the Forest Service had them blocked off, as two children had gotten lost the day before and had spent the night out on the Tennessee side of the mountain before searchers could find them (they were still removing communications equipment and such).
Everyone we met, some from as far away as Ohio, were very nice, and I enjoyed our conversations with them all. The Catawba Rhododendron themselves were just a little beyond their ‘peak’, but still quite beautiful. There were still patches of blooms that were exquisite, none-the less. We made a couple of side trips beyond the gardens; one out to the Roan High Bluff, the cliff with the incredible view of the North Carolina mountains, and another to a small overlook on the Tennessee side.
As I briefly mentioned before, I met up with ‘Rat patrol’ and his trail crew at Spivey Gap for a day of volunteer trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail. I didn’t have to ‘whack’ as many weeds as usual, since he had brought along 2 other volunteers, but I did do quite a lot of branch trimming, and also dug out several water trenches designed to divert rain water from the trail and reduce the amount of erosion. Rat, and his crew, had already cut about 2 miles of weeds, from ‘Little Bald’ to the ‘A.T Rock’, a week before (the same day I went to ‘Jones Branch’) so we only had to cut about 3 miles worth of ‘weeds’, which still rather significant when you consider how unpleasant it is to hike through 3 miles of briars and sting-weeds.
A couple of corrections from the previous ‘blog’: I am not sure if any remnants from the old cabin on ‘Mill Creek’ still exist, or not, since I was led to believe that the old cabin was ‘before reaching the falls’, but apparently it is (or was) beyond the waterfalls on a side-trail. Considering that it had been 20 years since my last hike through that area, and the depreciated condition of the trail through there, this may remain a mystery. Speaking of ‘mysteries’, what the deep, rock trench I found was (the one where I inadvertently photographed the pink-winged orb), I have no idea. If anyone knows, I hope they will contact me, as I am very curious about that.
Hopefully, I will have more adventures to write about soon.