Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The End of Hike #5 and the NOC

What self respecting blogger wouldn't sneak a selfie into the blog at some point.  Just be glad that you can only see me and not smell me. After hiking 21.4 miles you tend to get a little ripe.  Anyway, I made it out of the woods around 6:00 p.m. and was glad to see that Lacey and her friend Daniel were waiting for me outside of the NOC. 

I had not been to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) in many years so I was delighted that it had turned into a rather nice tourist area complete with a restaurant.  Luckily Lacey and Daniel were just as hungry as I was so we ate a quick bite before I loaded my very sore body into the back of the car for my shuttle ride home.

My longest single day hike was now behind me (21.4 miles) and I felt pretty good about having accomplished that hike.  I've now officially hiked 135 miles and I only have 2,040 miles left to go. The bad part about stopping at a place that is only at 1,723 ft. elevation is that the next hike is going to be uphill... very uphill.  Oh well, that will be in a few months when the soreness has worn off and the trail will once again be calling my name.  Until then... keeping hiking... I think I hear banjo music.

The Home Stretch

The remaining 6 miles of this hike was fairly easy but not as easy as I anticipated.  On the map, the last part of this hike goes from an elevation of over 4,000 ft. down to the low point of only 1,700 ft. at the Nantahala River.  I figured it was all downhill so how bad could it be?  Here is another thing I've learned about hiking in the mountains... going downhill can be just as tough as going uphill. Put rocks into the equation and it could be tougher than uphill. Going downhill for several miles is hard on the feet and knees, but my energy was up, I was making good time and I knew the end of this 21 mile hike was near.

Wesser Bald Observation Tower and More Views

At about the 15 mile point of my hike I came to the Wesser Bald Observation Tower (elevation 4,627). This tower was slightly more sturdy than the other one I saw on Albert Mountain so I took the time to climb the stairs and hang out at the top.

Funny thing about being scared of heights... it just doesn't make any sense. I know there is no way for me to fall but my brain forced me to stay in the middle of the platform on top and if I ventured towards the sides, I hung on to the railing for all I was worth.  It may have just been the wind playing tricks on me, but I swear I heard my Grandma Deal's voice telling me to "get down right now... you are going to get hurt".  Grandma Deal always warned us grandchildren that "anything can happen at anytime" and who was I to question this logic.  I took a good look around, breathed in the high mountain air that few get to taste and made my way back down to earth.

Just Another Day

For the next 9 miles I hiked through several interesting areas such as Licklog Gap and Burningtown Gap. The elevation changed a lot as usual but typically stayed between 4,000 and 5,000 ft.

One of my most favorite natural features on the trail is when the Rhododendron and mountain brush form a natural tunnel shape that seems to swallow the trail as you hike through it. I took several pictures of this throughout the hike.

I also came across some more shelters including another one that was under repair.  The AT has special Trail Clubs in every state that are dedicated to keeping the trail and the shelters safe and enjoyable.  It takes a special person to hike deep into the woods (typically with heavy equipment) and spend time taking care of the trail that they love.  This is obvious to anyone that spends time out here.

Wayah Bald... What a View!

Saturday, September 15, 2012 - Since I was by myself and had a light pack, I decided to make an effort to take a lot of pictures in this hike.  About 4 miles into the hike, I came across Wayah Bald.  By the way, "Wayah" is a Cherokee word that means "wolf".  

The stone tower on Wayah Bald was originally built in 1937 as a fire tower and later renovated as a memorial to John B. Byrne (former supervisor of Nantahala National Forest). It is a beautiful structure that overlooks one of the most incredible mountain views I have ever seen. Elevation on this point is 5,342.

I stopped here for a short break to take it all in.  It was a gorgeous day and everything in the world seemed to be very still as I marveled at the view.  I was so impressed that I actually took some video footage...

Hike #5 - Wayah Gap to Nantahala River

After reviewing my maps, I decide that for my next hike I am going to attempt to do a solo hike 21.4 miles all in a single day (a personal record). It helps that I won't need a heavy pack on this hike - just a hydration pack and a few other necessities.  This 21 mile hike will take me to elevations as high as 5,342 (Wayah Bald) and finish up at the lowest point of elevation (only 1,723) at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) which is of course on the Nantahala River.  The NOC area has changed quite a bit since I last visited there over 25 years ago on a rafting trip and I figured it would be a great place to finish up a long day hike.

The tricky part of each of these trips is in the planning.  For this trip I enlisted the help of my cousin, +Lacey Deal, to act as my shuttle driver.  Lacey is the younger sister of my cousin, +Grayson Deal (aka Tin Man), whom I hiked with during Hike #2.  My plan was to spend Friday night with Lacey and family at their home near Black Mountain, NC.  The next morning (Saturday, September 15, 2012) Lacey and I would then drive the 1.5 hour drive to Wayah Gap and she would drop me off around 8:00 a.m.  She would then drive back and pick me up at NOC around 6:00 p.m. later that afternoon.  Although Black Mountain, NC is not that close to my destination it is a lot closer than Clemmons, NC and anything that saves me a little bit of time is nice.  It was an added bonus that I got to spend some quality time chatting with Lacey during our drive.  As often happens with relatives, we see each other once or twice during the year on holidays but there is rarely enough time to properly catch up.  Lacey is indeed a remarkable young lady and I'm proud to call her family.  It was nice spending that time with her and she has even promised to join me for one of my hikes someday soon.  I intend to make sure she keeps that promise.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The End of Hike #4

The rest of my hike for the day was fairly nice.  The weather was near perfect as I meandered my way along the trail towards my car which I hoped was still parked at Wayah Gap. I made it back to Wayah Gap with plenty of daylight to spare. I hiked a total of 30.3 miles on this trip which puts my total miles hiked at 113.6. Only 2,061.4 miles to go.

I've said it before... My time alone out on the trail is actually kind of nice.  Lonely... but nice.  It's typically the time away from the "noise" of my daily life that I can truly think about the here and now, reflect on the past and ponder what lies ahead for me.

Life is good.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Trail Magic

Saturday, April 14, 2012 - If I haven't mentioned it before, one of the great things about the AT hiking community is that every once in awhile you come across some "trail magic" during your hikes.  Trail magic is basically random acts of kindness that people do for the hikers which makes their journey a little more enjoyable.

While in the middle of my Saturday hike, I came across an elaborate rope system that hoisted a large container high above the ground... bingo...trail magic.  When the container was lowered to the ground I found small bags of flavored popcorn inside.  What a nice treat in the middle of the woods.  The note that accompanied the container explained how a fellow hiker felt compelled to put this nice little surprise out in the middle of the trail for other hikers to enjoy.  It was a nice treat and made me feel that I was not alone out there on my hike which isn't easy to do when you are really all alone in the woods.

Big Spring Shelter

I was very relieved when I finally arrived at Big Spring Shelter.  There was already several other hikers there which I was glad to see.

I set up my tent, made some dinner and sat around listening to some of the conversations around me. There were people from Canada, Michigan, Lumberton and several other random places.  I really didn't have an opportunity to strike up any in depth conversations with anyone which kind of disappointed me.  After hiking by myself all day, I was eager to meet some new hikers and learn more about them. One guy I do remember reminded me of the actor Tommy Lee Jones (looked just like him). He was telling a story about one of his previous hikes when he was sleeping outside beside a fence and heard loud snorting just on the other side of the fence from his face.  He quickly turned on his flashlight and surprise... a bear.  He said the bear had an ear tag and it didn't seem to care too much about him so he scared it off and went back to sleep.  It was probably that story that caused me to get about 3 hours sleep that night.  That and these two playful squirrels that decided it would be a great idea to play chase around the big oak tree right outside my tent.  Have I mentioned how much I dislike camping out on the trail? I need to remember to bring some sleeping pills.

"King" Albert Mountain and The Fire Tower

When I arrived at the base of Albert Mountain I knew there wasn't much daylight left.  Nothing motivates you better than having no other option to consider. Unless I wanted to hike in the dark or make camp in the middle of the woods with no one around, I needed to get up and over this mountain. What I didn't expect was the strenuous rocks that I had to climb as I began my ascent. I found myself saying a small prayer and giving myself a mini pep-talk in order to muster up the determination to pull myself and my 30 lb. pack up these rock formations.  Failure was not an option.  I finally made it over the rock ledges and headed up the steep trail that would take me to the summit of Albert Mountain.  When I finally arrived at the top I saw the infamous fire tower that so many others had written about.

This was an old steel fire tower that rose about 150 feet up towards the sky.  I didn't have much daylight left, but I was determined to climb the stairs of the fire tower for what would be an incredible view.

About half way up the rusty stairs I suddenly remembered that I was kind of afraid of heights.  I clutched the railing as if I were about to plunge to my death and inched myself up until I got to the top.  While hanging on to the railing I looked down at the marker on the ground and wondered if my ashes would be joining those of  Mary Jo Blake.  I'm not sure if her ashes were scattered here because this is where she spent her last moments on earth or if it were just because of how beautiful it is once you get to the top.

The view was worth it but I was disappointed that I couldn't rest any longer and enjoy the sights.  I had to move forward and get to Big Spring Shelter and set up camp for the night.

Carter Gap Shelter and "Plan B"

My original plan was to only hike about 8.5 miles on Friday and spend Friday night at Carter Gap Shelter. I typically like to give myself room for error in making plans just in case I run into any delays during my trip and this was one of those times.  I finally arrived at Carter Gap Shelter, but there didn't seem to be any room left in the shelter (see pic). Seeing a shelter that looked as if it had collapsed on itself isn't very reassuring just in case I decided to stay inside a shelter on this hike.  Truth be known it wasn't that tough of a call since the mice I had crawling over me at Hawk Mountain Shelter during Hike #1 took all of the thrill out of sleeping in one of these shelters.  And since I know someone will inquire... Yes, I double checked to make sure there weren't any hiking boots sticking out from underneath the rubble.  Apparently the Wicked Witch of the East escaped for now.

Luckily for me the weather was near perfect, the elevation changes weren't too bad and I was feeling good.  Since there was plenty of daylight left I decided to push forward. After looking at my map I decided to try for Big Spring Shelter before nightfall. Big Spring Shelter was about 7 miles further than my original plan for the day. It was on the other side of Albert Mountain (elevation 5,250) but I was feeling good and decided to go for it.