Wednesday, December 26, 2007

AT, Watauga Dam Rd to Watauga Lake Shelter

I actually missed the trailhead for this section at first. There is little more than a wide place in the road for parking, and though signed, the trail is a bit difficult to spot, even if you're doing the posted speed limit (which, if I remember correctly was 15mph). So on my first attempt, I wound up at the end of the road at the visitor's center, where I got out to take in this magnificent view.

After returning to where I suspected the trailhead might be, I got out and scouted a bit, and sure enough spotted the white blazes and slightly concealed steps leading from roadway to trail. After returning to my car and gearing up, I was off! There was a relatively mild uphill right out of the box, with a nice switchbacked ascent. Next came a rocky clamber over the ridgecrest, then down the other side, which was a bit more steep. I kept smelling burned wood throughout this entire first section, and figured it was from a recent campfire. When I read the AT book, it told me that the area had burned in the 1970s, but I find it hard to believe that I was still smelling that same burn. Still, I saw no fire rings from which the smoky scent might have emanated. After coming down off the ridge, hit a boring half-mile segment of paved road that led to the dam. Approaching from this direction, one of the first views you get is across the gorge, at the myriad striations exposed on the opposite side. I'm sure this is a geologist's dream. Although it's significance it is admittedly somewhat lost on me, I still find it fascinating to see the aeons-old evidence of the violence that shaped these beautiful mountains.

As I crossed the dam (only AT hikers are allowed to cross the dam, teehee!), I noticed this odd structure. I later found out that it is an emergency spillway. As you can see by the water lines, it has never been challenged, and by the looks of the current levels, probably never will.

On the other side of the dam, the trail ascends again, past a couple of camp sites and along a pleasantly shaded trail to the Watauga Lake AT Shelter.

On the way back toward the dam, I noticed the color of the lake water in a little inlet was eerily similar to the "glacial green" of which I had seen so much in the fjords of Norway. So naturally, I had to try to capture it with a picture! I'm not sure how well I did, but you can at least see the contrast between the leafy green of the trees and the tranquil blue-green of the lake.

Here's the view from atop the dam, looking out across the lake. It was a gorgeous sunny day, yet fairly cool and with a very light breeze ruffling the water. Note that I kindly included the plaque with all the dam's stats (remember you can always click a photo and see it full size) so that I don't have to bore the uninterested by typing them out here :).

This is an edge-on view of the back side of the dam. I found its construction method interesting, given that all of my previous dam experience has been with either huge concrete monstrosities like the Hoover Dam, or ugly utilitarian metal construction like the gates damming Lake Manatee in my home state of Florida.

This was probably the most startling view of all, though. The guidebooks had warned me about it, but nothing really prepared me for it. This is the view from the dam looking away from the lake. Not a drop of water visible anywhere. In fact, even the (surprisingly narrow) pipe that takes the water from the dam to the hydroelectric plant was very difficult to see (don't bother looking for it in this pic, it isn't there). I found this especially puzzling considering the graphic on the sign close to the entrance of the park, which shows a definite ribbon of water extending down from the dam on this side (you can see it here, not my photo).

Despite my puzzlement, I managed to complete my hike. The boring stretch of road between dam and trail was just as boring uphill, with only its cardiovascular benefits to recommend it. As for my usual stats, I found it a little difficult to calculate the length of my hike; according to the AT Guide, it was 3.8 miles. According to another guide, Exploring the Appalachian Trail: Hikes in the Southern Appalachians by Doris Gove, it was 4.4 miles. Finally, my trusty GPS reported that I had walked 4.66 miles. In this case, I'm going with the GPS, because I did do quite a bit of wandering hither and yon on and around the dam.

Date: 10/10/07
AT Miles covered: 2.33 (x2 = 4.66)
Altitude gain: roughly 480 feet from dam level to top of beginning ridge.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

US 321 to Horseridge Gap. Or thereabouts.

On this trip, I started once again at the Laurel Falls access trail, this time picking up the AT heading northbound instead of southbound. This was a really tough hike, with its difficulty compounded by the fact that I ran out of energy about ¾ of the way to the “end.” End is a rather nebulous term in itself. My intent had been to hike to where the Hazelwood Hollow trail meets the AT, but never quite figured out where the side trail was. According to my GPS, it seemed to be about 23 feet left of the trail, but when I hit what I thought was the side trail and started hiking in the seemingly appropriate direction, the GPS told me I was getting further away. So I eventually gave up, and just hiked as far as I could manage, and then recorded the spot with a waypoint in the GPS so that I'd know where to end a future hike from the opposite direction.

Not very far up the trail from the Laurel Fork access was a dead doe. I was actually startled when it suddenly dawned to me what was laying right at trailside. Aparently I had approached from upwind, so the only clue was the cloud of flies, which I didn't notice until I was close enough to hear them. I spent a lot of time pondering what had killed the deer, as its neck appeared untouched, and only its belly and chest were ripped open. Even then, a great deal of deer was left, as though it had been taken down by a lone, inexperienced (or just small) predator. I took a few pictures of this on the way back in the hopes of finding someone who could tell me what killed it. In fact, I think this is the only thing I photographed on this outing. Since I try to keep this a relatively family-oriented blog, I don't want to plaster the photos here. They could be quite upsetting. However, if you think you could offer some insight into what killed this poor creature (or if you're just curious and have a strong stomach), the photos can be found here.

The hike itself was a long and somewhat arduous one. There were many, many switchbacks to get up to the ridge overlooking the Laurel Fork gorge. Once there, the trail more or less leveled out for a while, then began to climb again. And again. One piece of trail was so steep, and so absurdly covered with loose gravel and nuts (acorns, I suppose) that had dropped off of the surrounding trees that I thanked my lucky stars I was only carrying a little light daypack. It was as if someone had strewn the embankment with marbles. It was treacherous enough just trying to get my own self up and down (especially down) it safely; I'd hate to have to try it with 40 pounds of crap to throw me off balance.

I saw loads of turkeys near Horseridge Gap. Actually, I heard them long before I saw them. All I heard was their rustling through the leaves, though, so for quite a while I was half holding my breath, hoping it wasn't a bear making all the noise. When they finally came into sight, they were running frantically, a rather comic sight. Eventually they seemed to come to their senses and realize that the best way to escape a scary earthbound mammal like me was to take off into the trees. This they did, almost en masse, and it was actually quite a sight to see. They did seem a little on the scrawny side, though, for it being so close to wintertime. I realize that wild turkeys don't get fattened up in time for Thanksgiving the way the poor critters on farms do, but I would still expect them to be a bit bigger than these, given that the pickins were presumably about to get a lot slimmer.

I was extremely fatigued on the way back. Several times as I made my way down the switchbacks into Laurel Fork gorge, I almost thought I was back in New Mexico, although this wasn't due to delirium. It was a hot day (even starting out), and a searing, dry breeze was blowing up my side of the gorge, carrying a pine-y scent that I distinctly recall from my hikes in NM.

Date: 10/8/07
AT Miles covered: 2.0 (x2 = 4)
Other miles covered: 1 (x2 = 2)
Altitude gain: roughly 1,900 feet from access trail to top of highest ridge.
Other notes: Take a lot of water if you're tackling this in the dry months.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Laurel Falls, from a new perspective

I took 10/3 off, hoping to complete the healing of my unhappy tendon. On the 5th I was back on the trail, making an approach to Laurel Falls from the opposite direction. This required traversing a mile or so of access trail between US 321 and the AT in addition to 1.5 miles of AT. I also discovered that the access trail actually has two routes; at one point you come to a fork in the trail, where you can go either up or down. The lower route is more picturesque, and leads you with blazes past Buckled Rock. The upper route is, I believe, a bit shorter and appears to follow an old road bed. Both dump you out at the river's edge, shortly before the access trail hooks up with the AT.

After the two access trails re-merge, there is some scrambling to be done over rocks protruding out over the river, and at first I thought I'd lost the trail, as there were no blazes along that section. This was actually how I discovered the upper route of the access trail; thinking the rocks couldn't possibly be trail (and having this thought heartily reinforced by a turned ankle that hurt like the dickens at first), I turned left on to the upper part of the access trail, and followed it all the way back to where it met up with the blazed trail, thereby adding a bit of excess non-AT hiking to my effort.

Once I returned to my point of confusion, I clambered over the rocks (NOT twisting my ankle this time) and eventually found a trail of the wide and level sort to which I'd become accustomed. I imagine when this was a rail route there had been a trestle over the section that is now little more than a rock ledge. A little while after rejoining the wide trail, it becomes AT rather than access trail. Actually, it can be quite easy to miss the point at which the access trail ends and the AT begins, if you're not paying close attention to the blazes. The place where this occurs is marked by an easily missed side trail (which is actually the AT taking off up a mountainside) and a change in blazes, but the trail is so wide and easy to follow, I noticed neither when I first passed through. I made a point of locating the merge on the way back, though, as it was my intent to come back another day and use the access trail to reach the section of AT that heads away from Laurel Falls.

After a couple of river crossings and some nice damp rhododendron/forest hiking (including the unremarkable Waycaster Spring right at trailside), the trail ascends a section where the rocky substrate is often exposed. Trail bed there ranges from tangly exposed roots to pebbly scrabble to open swaths of rock. Near the high point there is a bit of a view:

though I suspect this view might be a bit more striking in wintertime, given that you might actually be able to see the river bed of the Laurel Fork through leafless trees. Still, it was pretty enough when I was there, while the first hints of autumn color were beginning to assert themselves at random intervals.

After descending over more pebbly and rocky terrain, the trail makes another traverse of rocks overhanging the river, though this one is considerably larger and better marked. Still, be prepared for a bit of four-limbed clambering, especially if you're wearing a heavy pack. After that little rough patch, the trail again becomes easily passable, and it's only another two tenths of a mile or so to the falls. Lovely, aren't they?
Admittedly, the wide-angle view detracts a bit, making it look almost vertiginous, to my eye. The last time I had been here, I had approached from the other direction, and had been there no more than a minute before a huge group of 20 or more high school age boys approached, disrobed, and waded into the scene. This quickly spoiled our enjoyment of the natural beauty, and also put the kibosh on our (Jeff was with me) plans to skinny dip a bit. Instead, we waded upstream a bit, put the noisy crows out of earshot, and got a little sun by ourselves. Here's the view downstream, toward where we finally wound up trying to make the best of our rudely interrupted trip.
Not quite so picturesque, but...c'est la vie. I should note here that that group of boys, and their companion group of girls (who arrived perhaps a half hour later) were actually, technically, operating outside of the law. You see, this falls is located within the Pond Mountain Wilderness, and in said Wilderness area, hiking groups are limited to 10 in number in order to reduce impact. Doesn't seem likely that the noisy youngsters in question would have read that part of the sign, though.

At any rate, although I did not continue further along the AT from this point, I can tell you from previous experience that it next takes a long, steep climb over very tall stone "steps." I was in no mood to repeat that experience, so after nibbling on some snacks and staring at the fall for a bit (and being joined by a small family), I departed back the way I came. I also took the shorter high road of the access trail on my way back, and so unfortunately missed my photo op for Buckled Rock, since I figured, on the way to the falls, that I'd stop for a photo on the way back. Silly me.

Date: 10/5/07
AT Miles covered: 3.0
Other miles covered: 2.?
Altitude gain: roughly 250 from access trail to top of ridge.
Time: no clue. I'm really bad about this :)
Other notes: probably the easier of the two approaches to the falls, though a bit longer.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A bit of a rest, and then a fumble

After determining that the huge, bruised-feeling area on the side of my foot was more than just, well, a bruise, I took a couple of days off. By October 1st, I was feeling ready to test my (foot's) mettle again, but not comfortable doing so at an AT workday, since I had no idea what that might entail. So instead I made an effort to hike a little section of AT down near Erwin. From what my Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer showed, there appeared to be an old forest road that intersected with the AT. This was also confirmed by my (admittedly out-of-date) AT guide. When I got there, however, I was to learn that this would be no easy intersection to find.

I braved a narrow, winding, unpaved Forest Road 230, and had to yield to a convoy of dumptrucks before I found its intersection with the older Forest Road. The older Forest Road (235, if you're curious) was, as I expected, gated near its intersection with 230. There was ample room to park a car or two there, so I pulled off and gathered up my gear. There was a cute, tinkly little stream running along 230 here, which I had to cross to walk up 235. Nothing worth going out of your way for, but I suppose if you're in the neighborhood...nah, don't bother, even then.

After one or two tenths of a mile, the graveled and graded portion of 235 peters out into a little open field. Beyond that point, the old roadtrack continues, but as one might expect of such a disused thoroughfare, gets progressively more difficult to follow as it goes. At one point I found myself in what looked to be someone's back 40, where an old, old barn or shed stored some very modern-looking building supplies. Deciding that I had somehow managed to leave the road I was trying to follow, I backtracked a bit, and sure enough saw, from this different angle, the roadway I sought. So I continued along it until I finally ran up against a large rockslide that had covered it, probably many, many years ago, judging by the moss growth over the rocks. Feeling discouraged, and not having seen any sign of the AT's friendly white blazes, I decided to give up rather than attempt to cross the rocky, slippery obstacle. I had probably covered roughly five or six tenths of a mile at that point (I had not yet started using a GPS on my hikes), and my foot was still not entirely pleased with me, so I turned around and hacked my way back to the car.

When I got home I looked to the interweb to try to find out what had gone wrong. Via a combination of Google Maps' satellite photos and a slightly closer measurement of my Atlas's depiction, I determined that I likely gave up just one or two tenths of a mile too soon. On the upside, even if I had been able to safely cross the rock fall, it probably would not have made my foot any happier to then continue on and hike the AT section I originally had planned.

So it was back to the drawing board, trying to find more easily accessible segments, and also another day off to let my injury heal.

Date: 10/1/07
AT Miles covered: 0 :(
Other miles covered: 1-ish
Altitude gain: unknown feet
Time: too long, due to bushwhacking and such
Other notes: don't bother trying to retrace this route.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

AT, Carver's Gap to Cloudland Hotel Site

After my last two victories over short segments of the AT, I had to make sure I finished out the entire segment, which, in my AT book was called Carvers Gap to Hughes Gap. Piecing together the three short segments that comprised this one longer section made me realize that it just may be possible to cover the entire AT via a combination of short day hikes and weekend-length backpacking outings. So began my obsession with hiking the AT. Twice. You see, since I don't have anyone with whom to hike, I also lack anyone with whom to arrange a shuttle. So I not only have to break down the AT into bite-size pieces; I must also always return to the point from which I started (if I want to drive my car home, anyway, an activity of which I'm rather fond). The good news is that the cost of my new "collection" is limited to gas, maps, and incidentals, and storage space is almost entirely unnecessary. Unless you count the hard drive space it's going to cost me to keep all of the photos I take along the way. Which I don't. So there.

It was along this stretch that I began to notice just how different each of the AT segments I had hiked actually were. The first one I had experienced was just a little jaunt I took out of Nolichucky Gorge Campground, back when I was staying there and trying to find a place to live in this area. It was narrow, almost all rock, and with a steep dropoff to one side and a steep incline on the other. I later came to learn that it had actually been carved from the mountainside by jackhammers.

The next section I tackled was right after I arrived, while my friend Jeff (who so incredibly kindly helped us move) was still in town, and wanted to see a waterfall. We found one called Laurel Fork, and it just so happened that to reach it we needed to traverse a bit of AT through the Pond Mountain Wilderness. That section was partly rhododendron-filled forest, and partly rocky gorge, with some interesting geologic features.

The following two segments are the ones I've just posted about (here and here), and they definitely had different characteristics. Then I reach this next segment, and it is, once again, totally different. I mean, sure, they've all involved trees, ferns, rocks and fungi, but that's pretty much where the similarities end.

This segment took me back to my favored uphill-then-down pattern, although honestly, I could probably have done this one either way, happily, as the grades are almost all very gentle. The primary exception was the side trail up to the shelter, but even that was blessedly short, and so quite tolerable.

It started out in a sparsely wooded area, which struck me as being surprisingly level. Sure enough, someone else, long ago, had thought it a nicely level area as well, because I soon happened upon this fallen chimney right beside the trail:

I traveled a little further on through these sparse woods, and then began my ascent of Roan Mountain via an old carriage road. As mentioned, this made for a very gentle ascent, although switchbacks are sometimes a bit maddening to me. Back and forth, back and forth, it seems like I'm covering the same ground over and over, doing something that would be much more expediently accomplished by a more direct route. Of course, that would also make for a hellacious climb in this case, so I just settled in for a nice, calm walk through the woods. And what woods they were! This section was very heavy on the evergreens, and on many occasions the piney scents that filled the air took me back to a time when I would wander through densely-packed Christmas tree lots in Chicago, just to smell the wonderful aroma.

I knew I was nearing the top when I encountered this still-standing fireplace and chimney, labeled in my AT book as "old cabin site." Actually, when stood in front of this thing and turned in a 360, I could hardly believe there had ever been room for an entire cabin here. Of course, cabins were often quite small in those days, and the surrounding flora has probably had something close to 140 years to recuperate.

After finding myself once again at the Cloudland Hotel Site (and NOT having to pay the $3 parking fee! See what being willing to walk a bit can do for the wallet?), I availed myself of the facilities, and then began my return trek. Interestingly, on my way back, I noticed something I had not seen on the way up; this bunch of old cans and bottles:

It was probably 20 feet or so below the trail, and I did not want to leave the trail in order to investigate further. Still, for some reason, finding things like this excites me more than almost anything else I do when exploring. Signs of previous human habitation, especially ones which may be decades or even century-plus old, are among my favorite finds. Judging by the design of the bottle (since I'm as yet unfamiliar with the decay rates for cans), I'd say this is a genuinely old collection. The bottle didn't look like anything you'd find on modern store shelves (the glass was much too thick, for one thing). Of course, I had to wander off wanting for the details about my find, but perhaps someday I'll be the one examining them and explaining them to others. All part of my master plan...

But for now, back to the details of the hike! On my way up, I had passed by the side trail to the Roan High Knob shelter. I had made the mistake of wasting energy on the side trail to a spring on my last hike, so I decided that in the future I would do side trails on my return trip, just to make sure that I feel completely up to them. Since I still had plenty of energy (and had only downward to travel) this time, I went ahead and scrambled up to this shelter. The story here is that this is the highest shelter on the entire AT (6,285 feet), and was originally built as a fire warden's cabin back in 1933. It was built by the CCC, and used by the warden who manned a nearby tower (which was dismantled in 1940). It was abandoned for at least 20 years before being renovated in 1980 (by the Cherokee National Forest and a Boy Scout Troop) for use as an AT shelter. It was renovated again in 2003 by TEHC. Visiting this shelter was special not only because it was the highest on the AT, but also because it was my first AT shelter ever! I know, not too many people can get excited about such petty things, but humour me, OK?

After my little side jaunt, most of the rest of my hike was easy, gentle downhill. There are a few sections of the old road grade that have gotten narrow, rocky, or otherwise difficult, but for the most part it's some of the easiest uphill/downhill I've encountered on the AT. Near the bottom of the switchbacks I noticed this colorful arrangement of moss and other little plants growing on a rocky outcrop, and couldn't resist the urge to snap a photo of it. I really like the variety, as well as the artful way in which nature has arranged them all. :)

Date: 9/24/07
AT Miles covered: 1.9 (x2; out-and-back = 3.8)
Altitude gain:773 feet (including side trail)
Time: no clue
Other notes: Started out the day with pain in left foot believed to be a cramp. Pain did not abate, and later self-diagnosed with peroneal insertional tendonitis. Ouch.

Land of Clouds

My next hike was the aforementioned out and back from the Cloudland Hotel Site to the summit of Bear Mountain, where I had ended my previous trek. When I started out it was quite chilly at the top of Roan Mountain, where the Cloudland site lies. And as you can see from the photo below, there is no question as to how the site came by its name.

This wasn't "just" fog. As I was driving to the site it was very evident that I was ascending into the clouds. Watching them roll past never ceases to fascinate me, but I knew I had to get on with my hike before my energy ebbed, as I was going to have a nasty descent, followed by an even nastier ascent.

The top part of the trail was beautiful, and much of it looked similar to this. Rocky trail, with either trees like these, or bushy evergreens all around. Moss was everywhere, and on this particular day, everything was drippy. It wasn't really raining, it was just a matter of condensation from the clouds gathering on every limb and leaf. I actually recall thinking how, closer to dark, or on the right day (such as Halloween) this scene might even appear spooky. So, if you're looking for a creepy place to go come the end of the month, keep this one in mind. Of course, you can't park here after the parking area closes (and there is a $3 fee to park here when it's open), but there are other ways to reach this place, as you'll learn in an upcoming post.

The photo below is just a really neat-looking moss-mottled exposed tree root. I imagine it might look even cooler in black and white, but I haven't gotten around to converting it yet. The splash of red at the top left is undoubtedly better in color, though.

So, about the hike itself...essentially, it is down, down, down, and then a wee bit of up to come back up to the summit of Beartown Mountain. There is one very wide, pine needle-carpeted area at Ash Gap that is clearly used by AT backpackers for camping. There is also a blue-blazed trail there that leads to a spring, but the spring wasn't all that exciting to look at, so I'll spare you the photo. What was exciting to look at, for me, was a huge bird of prey I rousted on my way down to the spring. It was so silent about gliding from limb to limb that I never heard it at all. It was by sheer luck that I happened to glimpse its movement out of the corner of my eye. I never got close enough that I could actually identify it, but my guess, from what I could see of the pattern on its wings, was that it was a hawk of some sort. Perhaps red-tailed.

After visiting the spring I returned to the trail and continued on to Beartown Mountain. Right near the summit I encountered a fellow dayhiker and his faithful companion, a cute fuzzy puppy. Probably a German Shepherd mix of some sort, very alert and energetic. We passed with a friendly hello, and shortly thereafter I saw that I'd passed that way before, so I could turn around, happy that I had completed another tiny segment of AT.

Then the real work began. Or at least, it began once I re-crossed Ash Gap. The ascent from there back up to the top of Roan Mountain was steep, and I had run myself very nearly out of metaphorical gas. So, I did what I always do when I wind up with my energy ebbing and a hard climb ahead of me: put one foot in front of the other as fast as I could. Which is to say, not very fast. Still, as long as I'm moving forward, I know I'll eventually reach my goal, and sure enough, I eventually re-emerged from the woods, which had grown slightly less spooky as the sun warmed the clouds away. Back at the actual grassy knob where the Cloudland Hotel had been, I photographed the board that told about that fascinating venue.

Since it was located on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, and since, during its years of operation, North Carolina had been a dry state while Tennessee was not, there was a line painted down the center of the dining hall. On the Tennessee side of the line, drinking was of course permitted. On the North Carolina side, it is rumoured that certain members of the North Carolina constabulary liked to hang out, just waiting for an inebriated patron to cross the line with a drink in his hand. Ah, the good old days. Here's an excerpt from the informational board at the hotel site, showing an advertisement for the venerated inn. I found it interesting, and hopefully you will too. Remember that you can click on it to view a larger version. Some of the claims seem a bit of a stretch...but that's all part of it's charm. ;)

Date: 9/21/07
AT Miles covered: 1.2 (x2; out-and-back = 2.4)
Altitude gain: 810 feet
Time: no clue
Other notes: $3 parking fee

Friday, October 12, 2007

Trying Out Trekking Poles

One of the things the Old Timers finished talking me into that day that I met them, was a pair of trekking poles. I had long been considering them, although when I first learned of them, they were exorbitantly expensive. They have since come down considerably in price, and because my broke ass couldn't afford anything better, I bought a pair at Walmoo.

Yes, I'm still "just" a dayhiker, carrying a light little pack. And yes, I'm really only 32 years old, so my knees aren't shot yet. But man, have they made a difference! Essentially, they are 4wd for my hiking. At first I couldn't stand to use them on the uphills, so I just strapped them onto my pack for long climbs. But oh, what a change they made in my downhills! I feel as swift and sure-footed as a billygoat. OK, make that a nanny goat. Some stubborn, cloven-hooved critter, anyway.

In truth, I probably look far more like a truncated giraffe as I make my way down the trail, as my "forelegs," being my arms equipped with the poles, are twice as long as my "hind" legs. Appearances be damned, though, as I've long had the motto, "if it works, do it!" This goes double out on the trail, where I hardly see anyone anyway, and anyone I do see has likely seen far more bizarre things than I can muster.

On my last couple of hikes, I've worked up to using them on the majority of my uphills as well. Now I can feel not only the muscles in my shoulder and neck having growing pains, but also my forearms, wrists and biceps. Woohoo! After a recent near-blister incident, I've also repurposed my cycling gloves into hiking gloves, and they work beautifully. The gel padding on the heel of my hand is just what I needed for the downhills, where I turn the poles around and lean on them, instead of trying to use them at the more awkward angle of a pistol grip. This, too, undoubtedly looks weird, but, see motto above.

The first time I took these out for a spin was on the section of the AT between Hughes Gap and the summit of Beartown Mountain. As mentioned, I quickly tired of hassling with them when climbing up the steep ascent. Near the summit was a side trail to an overlook, with some absolutely stunning views. This is only a tiny slice of the vista, but hopefully the seemingly endless layers of mountains in the distance will help you understand just how thrilling a place this was to be.

I met three other hikers this day, and all were backpacking. Didn't stop to query whether or not they were genuine thru-hikers, though they didn't look quite scruffy enough to be such. This was a very challenging climb. In fact, one source, which may be viewed here (search for "possibly the"), believes it to be the most strenuous climb in the entire AT, with the trail climbing over 800 feet per mile. Truthfully, the citation in that link covers the AT all the way up to the Cloudland Hotel site, and I think the segment between where I stopped this day and the Cloudland site is even more steep. I later did that remaining section, from Bear Mountain on up to Cloudland, in reverse; down first, then up. A very bad plan for someone like me, who has most of their energy early in the day. However, to hike the entire AT, I'm sure I will run into this more than just this once, so I suppose I'd better get used to it (or at least resign myself to it) sooner rather than later. But more on that hike later (hopefully).

On the way back down I collected quite a few buckeyes. I'm not sure why, as I was pretty sure about what they were, having eaten the eponymous candy many times. And of course, having had Ohioan parentage, I already knew that buckeyes were "just useless nuts." :) I guess I hoped they were something more useful, like chestnuts. If there's one thing of which I cannot be accused, it is being a botanist. Not even an amateur one. I can tell the difference between a pine tree and a birch, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Although if I ever manage to drag myself out of bed in time to go hiking with the Old Timers again, that may change a little, as Bill was quite instructive about trailside plants (it was via his tutelage that I came to identify the rattlesnake plantain in this earlier entry).

Date: 9/19/07
Miles covered: 1.4 (x2; out-and-back = 2.8)
Altitude gain:1,441 feet
Time: no clue
Other notes: Filled up with gas on the way home for $2.50 per gallon

It's like he's making a point of making a point

Found recently in an Amazon book review:

"This book is very repititive [sic]. If you like books in which things are repeated, this is the book for you because things are repeated in it. This book says the same thing in different ways. Similar ideas are stated in different ways many times in the book. Although stated differently, many times, a sentence states the same idea that was stated previously. This happens many times. Many many ideas are repeated many many times. It gets redundant."

The original context may be found here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I've been kinda quiet these past couple of weeks, and there's more than one reason for it.

For one thing, I injured my left peroneal tendon a couple of weeks ago. It irked me, because I had intended to go join the Old Timers for their AT workday on October 1st, but wasn't sure it would be a good idea on an injury, since I really have no clue what a workday entails. It also irked me because it kept me off the trail for several days, and this right after I had developed an obsession with day- and section-hiking the AT. Twice. More on that in a bit, though.

The other reason is that, well, writing long, detailed posts about every hike I took became a bit...boring. And I figure if it's boring for me to write, it has to be at least a little boring for y'all to read, right? Probably even more boring, considering I get to relive it while I write, and you just, well, read.

I'm still trying to decide what to do to liven things up around here. For one thing, I don't think I'll be writing such long posts about each and every hike I take. Probably more likely I'll do brief entries unless for some reason I get excited and have a lot to say about a particular route. Also, I'm going to start keeping track of, and posting, my miles hiked. I've begun using a GPS, which makes this much easier. I may even keep a running tally of pounds lost, since I now seem to once again be headed in that direction (finally!). It's as if I've had a standoff with my weight for about a year now, and it has been very annoying. I know, hardcore dieters call this a "plateau." I just call it irritating. Especially that it lasted so long, and was so resistant to weight training, which I didn't expect. I suspect that the weight training simply traded fat for muscle, and given the reaction of Jeff's Aunt Jannie when she saw me after about 7 months of weight training, ("You've lost weight!"), I think I'm probably right. I'll probably also start tossing in a bit more about my non-hiking life as well, just to keep you on your toes.

So, what would you like to see? Blogs are supposed to be at least somewhat interactive, so I'd love your input!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Rock Creek Falls Trail

This hike began with an unexpected surprise: a fee. Generally speaking, I don't like to pay just to go wander around on public lands (I tend to feel my wandering rights are secured by my tax dollars. I'd rather believe that than face the idea that they're funding this godforsaken war). However, since I had driven quite a distance to reach this place, and had not brought the necessary guidebooks with me to decide upon another trail, I paid up. It was only two bucks, and for once in my life I actually had cash on me. Yay!

I decided to do a waterfall hike because I had not seen a fall since the week I moved up here. This one sounded mostly easy, and it was. This was actually a refreshing change. The first segment of the trail was actually wide, level, and graveled, allowing me to take in my surroundings instead of focusing 90% of my attention on the trail. Even after the gravelling ended, the trail followed an old road bed, and remained wide and fairly flat for some time. Eventually it got rocky and I had to begin paying more attention to where I placed my feet, but I had looked around so much during the first portion of the hike that my neck actually started to ache!

There wasn't much of an incline to the trail, so I was fairly sprinting along when I came across this spot:

It doesn't look like much in this photo, I realize, but when I first happened across it it was hosting a couple of gentlemen who went by the names of Bill and "Mump." We got to talking, and it turns out they are members of the Johnson City Old Timers Hiking Club. Once we got done jawing, we continued on together, and I got to be an honorary Old Timer for the day. :) The trail increased in steepness just a bit as it continued, and after a couple more rest stops, and a pause to chat with some other Old Timers who had already made the falls and were on their way back, we ended up there ourselves. Here's a shot of Mump (left), Bill (middle) and CB (right, who we "picked up" close to the falls) taking in the well-earned view.

And here's my blurry shot of the falls themselves. I had recently taken to carrying only my small camera as it was much less heavy, but after reviewing my photos from several hikes, I was unimpressed with the quality. I hate using flash on outdoor shots, so I turn it off. The little camera, however, doesn't do so well with compensating for that fact (much smaller lens aperture, lets in less light, yada yada yada), so then I almost invariably wind up with blurry pictures. I've since broken down and started carrying my heavy DSLR again. *sigh* Oh well, I bought the thing for a reason, didn't I?

The Old Timers tell me that this falls is much more spectacular at certain times of the year, especially after we've had some considerable rain. They also said that it is beautiful in the wintertime when it freezes.

After meandering around near the base of the falls for a while, and nibbling on a granola bar, I took my leave of these amiable gentlemen. It was, after all, a Monday, and I had many packages yet to prepare and ship. And quite a drive home to boot.

On my way back I was able to hustle quite effectively, although once I hit the flatter, easier portion of the trail again I slowed down to look around me some more. It was then that I noticed a squirming, buzzing mass on the ground just ahead of me. Upon closer inspection, it seemed several yellowjackets were fighting intently over something. Or killing it. Or eating it. Or something. Aw, here's the photo; decide for yourselves:

I honestly couldn't see what it was that they were clustered around, and I wasn't about to disturb them to try and find out. I contented myself with a few quick (flash) pictures, and scooted out of their field of vision as quickly as possible. I've never been stung by anything but one bee, and I don't plan on changing that record any sooner than necessary!

Finishing up the hike, I noted that they were revamping one of the park's structures. I'd guess it's a visitor center or something of that ilk, although there were no signs around identifying it. If nothing else it contained a bathroom or bath house, as I heard the workmen discussing ADA grab bar requirements as I packed myself and my stuff into the car. I guess that's where my tax dollars really go. Or was it paid for by my fee? Meh, whatever. It was an enjoyable hike, and I even met my first hiking friends!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Roan Mountain's Chestnut Ridge Trail, In the Rain

Still feeling kinda crummy after Tuesday's salt overdose recovery, I decided not to go for a hike on the 12th. So when Friday dawned cloudy and damp, I felt I didn't dare skip two hikes in a row, and headed out toward Roan Mountain. I had decided that my next hike would be Roan Mountain State Park's Chestnut Ridge trail, and no little bit of rain was going to stop me! I packed up my lighter Gore-Tex, pulled the raincoat out and over my backpack, and hit the road.

Here, once again, is my photo of the Roan Mountain trails map. What you can't see is the reverse side, which, it just so happens, describes the Chestnut Ridge Trail as "the most challenging trail in the park" (emphasis theirs).

They. Were. Not. Kidding.

In fact, I'd say it was the most challenging trail I've hiked to date. But more on that later. I was heartened, after parking my car and suiting up in my waterproof duds, to find someone else was crazy enough to be out playing in the rain; As I crossed the road to enter the woods, a soaking wet cyclist whizzed by me and waved.

After crossing the road I traveled uphill a bit on a segment of the Forst Road Trail that had me worried -- it was nearly overgrown with underbrush -- and I reached the point where the Chestnut Ridge Trail departed. By that point the trail had become easily passable, and I read the sign saying "for experienced hikers only" with glee. Of course, I quickly warmed up and had to pull down the hood on my Gore-Tex for ventilation. And pull up the sleeves. And zip the front down a bit. Yup, this was uphill all the way, and pretty long, too -- 2.3 miles just to reach the homestead, and then I had the trip back via road yet to make. Actually, the trail does eventually level out and follow a ridgeline for a while. Of course by this point I'm soaked all the way through to my socks, and have to zip and cover everything up in order to stay warm, since my speed along the muddy trail isn't exactly hasty. But prior to reaching that pleasant little stretch, it climbs (assuming the topo lines on the park-provided map are correct) roughly 600 feet in the first half mile or so.

After bumping along the ridgeline for a while, we do some more climbing, albeit in slightly shorter bursts. Still, the overall effect keeps my level of exertion plenty high. In fact, some of the climbs near or just past the halfway point were absurdly steep. Had I been wearing proper boots, I would likely have had to dig in to manage them. Since I was wearing flexy shoes that didn't restrict my ankles, I instead subjected my muscles and tendons to some pretty extreme flexion. Probably not especially good, but I came out of it unscathed. I think.

Also somewhere near the halfway point was an absolutely huge downed tree that completely blocked the trail. I finally found a way around it on the uphill side (I would've had to go faaaar to get around it on the downhill side, a prospect which did not thrill me, especially given the slippery aspect imparted by the rain), thinking that the only other way would have been to essentially throw myself over. That is, sort of lay down hugging the tree's huge bole, and hope that I could push myself over the apex without falling in the mud on the other side. An unappealing idea, to say the least.

As I approached the Miller Homestead, I had the rare experience of spotting a group of deer -- three does and a fawn -- before they spotted me. I stopped dead in my tracks, hoping that they would stay longer that way. They did see me, though, shortly after I saw them, and eyed me warily. So long as I stayed still, they stayed put. This didn't work for very long, however, since I soon became aware of my body temperature plummeting (it was probably 55 out at most, and when you're soaked and immobile...that's not very warm). Resignedly I began moving again, and they predictably made their frightened deer noise and took off into the woods.

Coming in from the trail, I approached the Miller Homestead from above. Unsurprisingly for a cold, rainy day, there were no cars in this upper parking lot, nor did I see any activity down below at the farmhouse and outbuildings. Undeterred, I headed down the hill to the farmhouse. Not only did the sign at the upper parking area say "The farmhouse is open, come on down!" but I also had seen the signs along the roadway indicating that the Miller Homestead was open 9am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday. This being Friday, I should be in luck.

Wrong answer. Apparently their hours change to weekends only at some point around the end of summer, and they're just really slow at changing their signs. Or perhaps they don't even bother with the signs. Whatever the case, the entire homestead was utterly deserted, leaving me on my own for toilet facilities (I was sorely tempted to put the "old" outhouse to its "intended" use, but decided that might be unwise. My one act of revenge was to swipe a leaf of one of the ornamental mint plants lining the road in to the homestead, and munch on it as I hiked back down the road.

And a long hike that was, given that I'm used to less, ah, refined surroundings. But it made for an easy-on-the-legs descent (there was no way in the world that I was going to try to go down that trail, and that went double in the slippery rain), and I believe it was actually a little shorter than the trail as well.

Seeing the gate that barred the road up to the Miller Homestead at the bottom, my suspicions about it being closed for more reasons than just rain were confirmed. From there I turned left and made my way back to my car, where a nice heater kept me warm all the way home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Buffalo Mountain? Again? *whine*

Nah, it wasn't really all that bad. I hit the Buffalo trail again because it was close by and, on a Monday, timing is important. I usually have many packages to ship (all my eBay auctions end on Sunday nights), so being home in time to make it to the post office before it closes will likely often keep me close to home. Since I had already covered most of this park, and didn't mind a little extra workout since I had so little travel time, I took a bit longer path this time. Before I go into details, you might want to have another peek at the trail map; here's the link.

In truth, my intent had been to do an out-and-back to Tip Top, via the Fork Knob Trail. I got cocky, though, and did not carry my handy printout of the abovementioned map, so instead I missed my turn and wound up taking the longer way around via the Cascade Trail. Once I realized this, I laughed at myself. So many times before on trails I had found myself stressing out over the possibility of missing a turn. Often so much so that it actually ate into my enjoyment of my hike. Now that I finally had missed a turn, although I knew it meant I was in for a longer time out than I had planned, I realized just how silly it had been to stress. Put simply, no matter whether or not I miss a turn, I'm going to get a nice hike either way. And it's not as if I could get lost in this place. Truly, you'd be hard pressed to lose me anywhere, because I do so much pre-work before heading out, and also because I always carry some sort of map or guide the first time (or two) over a given trail. So I laughed at myself both for my previous stress experiences, and for being so silly as to miss a turn on a trail I knew.

The extra steps were by no means wasted, either. As I approached the cascade, I saw many pretty little yellow-breasted birds. There were probably close to a dozen of them sitting drinking from the cascade itself as I approached, but my footfalls frightened them all off into the surrounding bushes, and it seemed no matter how long I stood stock-still waiting for them to return, they would not be fooled into coming back to pose for my photos. So instead I settled for photos of a pretty plant I noticed at several places along the trail. The name of this plant, I would later learn, was Rattlesnake Plantain. How I learned that is a story unto itself, however, so I shall save it for another entry.

After taking the long way around and reaching the side trail up to Tip Top, I still wanted to follow through with my plan to make it up there; after all, what fun would the hike be if I didn't at least cover some new ground? Besides, it would only add another four tenths of a mile to my hike; certainly not enough to prevent me from making it home in a timely manner. So I headed up the side trail, and began to feel the familiar pains of hunger as I did. When I reached the top, appropriately enough, there was this picnic area.

There were also some pretty nice views, although they were somewhat obscured by foliage, especially from the point of view of my camera lens, so I won't bore you with my photos. What I will bore you with is the story of how I think I poisoned myself with salt. You see, I have a tendency, when on the trail, to obey my hunger and thirst. Just seems like a bright idea, really, when working out, to do so. So as I began my descent from Tip Top, I pulled out my bag of trail mix. Now, this was a big bag of el-cheapo Wal-Mart grade trail mix, and while tasty, is very heavy on the salt content to begin with. And this particular bag was very nearly empty when I pulled it out of my pack; I really should have re-loaded or added something more. But, woulda, coulda, shoulda, right? So I eat through all the peanut-sized and larger pieces, and am left with the dregs of the bag, which are really salty. Having been raised by depression-era parents, I am decidedly loath to waste food of any sort, even the unhealthy kind (sometimes especially the unhealthy kind). So I munch on the dregs for quite some time. Thirst of course sets in, and I drink, figuring that, if anything, the salt will help me retain water, thus aiding me in avoiding a trailside pee on the way back to the car (yes, I can, yes, I do, and yes, I pack it all out. So there). Eventually I realize that this salt load is too much for even me to finish (and I'm actually a pretty big fan of the ol' NaCl), and put the trail mix bag away, still with an ounce or two of dregs in the bottom. No worry, though, the damage had already been done.

I should mention that, along the way I ran across the above shelf fungi. They were beautiful and flower-like from a distance, though a bit gritty and sandy in appearance when you got too close. I didn't recall having seen them on my previous trip past (this was back on the Fork Ridge Trail segment between the side trail to Tip Top and Fork Knob), yet couldn't believe that they might have grown so quickly (it had only been a couple of weeks since I'd last been by). Whatever the case, though, I stopped to photograph them, so here they are.

I returned to my car, and proceeded happily home to pack up and mail all of my shipments. As the day wore on I felt less and less like myself, and at first attributed it to the slightly longer-than-usual hike. Eventually I developed a pounding headache, and had to lay down for a very long nap. The nap didn't cure the headache (even though I took two Tylenol before laying down), so I followed the nap with a couple of ibuprofen for good measure. Even the next morning I felt crummy, and the headache followed me well into Tuesday. Looking it up online, I learned that apparently it is possible to kill yourself with salt, although you'd have to consume far more than I did. Much more common (because of the lower dosage necessary) is the pounding headache to which I'd treated myself. I threw away the remaining trail mix dregs. Sometimes food really is trash. Lesson learned.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Butterflies, Butterflies, and more...

SPIDERS!!! That pretty much sums up my hike at Warrior's Path State Park on September 7th.

I had wanted to go back to Roan Mountain as soon as possible, but I was also aware that there was a big naturalist gathering going on the 7th through the 9th. Fearing a lack of solitude on the trails there, I fled north to explore Warrior's Path instead. Lucky for me, Warrior's Path does offer an online trail map, and with it I was able to decide in advance that I wanted to check out the Sinking Waters Trail. This is actually a series of loop trails that supposedly totals about 3 miles in length. Perhaps these trails were just too easy for me, or perhaps I'm getting used to walking more and more, but I would swear that these trails amounted to far less than three miles. And I even walked a little more than what is shown on the map, as I'll explain later!

Of course, my misunderestimation of the trail length could also be due to the level of my distraction along much of it. It seemed as though as soon as I would put my camera away, more photo-worthy moments would present themselves. So much so that I resorted to carrying my camera (my heavy DSLR, even) in hand for long stretches at a time; not a practice to which I am usually given, as it tends to throw off my gait, having 2.5 extra pounds swinging about out there at the end of my arm.

Actually, the first leg or so of the hike was somewhat uneventful. In order to ensure that I didn't miss any nooks or crannies of the trails, I systematically worked my way around them, taking every right turn that presented itself to me. The first thing this took me to was a little shelter over a rocky, wet area that looked like a spring, but there didn't seem to be much water flowing from it, and I haven't checked my maps yet to be sure. It was quaint, but it was also a dead end, so I retraced my path and continued on to the next right, which turned out to be the beginning of the first loop on the map.

This was probably the most challenging loop of the trail, and not only because of the, ahem, local wildlife. Shortly after making my right onto the loop, I began encountering spiders webs, and plenty of them. Most of the spiders I saw in/on them were of the smaller variety, though there was one quarter-sized one that I stopped to watch for some time; he was in the process of taking up his web, I guess getting ready to re-build it. I lamented at the time that I had to break his web and disrupt him from the process. Now I'm lamenting that I didn't dig out my camera and take a bunch of photos.

The other challenge of this loop lay in its terrain; it ascended to a ridgeline, followed it for a bit, and then dropped back down. There was also an informative sign along the ridge, about how it serves as a dividing line between types of habitat. Actually, I think this would make a great family hike, as there are several very informative interpretive signs, and they're all written in easy-to-understand language and leave the reader with questions to think about as they walk through the area. In addition, although there is some climbing to be done, it is moderate, and of course could be taken slowly if need be. Just make sure one of the big people walks in front and swings a big stick. This is what I eventually had to resort to, similar to my escapades in Winged Deer Park, in order to avoid being covered in sticky webs.

Just out of curiosity, is there any skin or other health benefit to be derived from the proteins and other compounds in spider silk?

But I digress. As I emerged from the first loop, and made my way into the second one, the hike got a bit more claustrophobic, but in a good way. Instead of open, tree-canopied trail, I was hemmed in on both sides by tall-growing flowering plants, which of course attracted many, many butterflies (and had a pleasant aroma, as well). The trail itself was often carpeted in grass, and as seen here, butterflies:

The flowers also attracted various buzzing insects, but these were of little bother to me. Perhaps I was just too busy paying attention to (and taking photographs of) the butterflies. Or maybe this is a moth.

One of the interpretive signs, I believe, made mention of how this trail had once been a major highway through the region. Although there was nothing that I noticed to specifically explain this little marker, judging by what I've seen in other countries and regions, I'm guessing it's an approximation of what the original "King's Highway" distance markers looked like.

Just for your edification, this is what most of the spiders I encountered looked like. My apologies for the blurriness, but this little guy was moving fast, and he's barely as big as my fingernail. Kudos for my camera for getting anything in focus, the way I was swinging this stick around.

After polishing off the first and second loops, the trail descends into a marshy wetland area, but the park service has thoughtfully built a boardwalk through it so that a. we humans needn't get our feet muddy and b. the animal inhabitants needn't have their habitat destroyed by our tromping feet. This "boardwalk" is actually made of plastic. A combination of plastic lumber made out of recycled bottles, and a gridwork walking path that looks (and feels) considerably more brittle (though I hope I'm wrong). Somehow the presence of plastics didn't spoil the effect of the nature walk, though.

The boardwalk had its fair share of spideriffic inhabitants as well, so there was no opportunity to stop swinging my stick. It also had a few other inhabitants, most of them looking like this furry fellow:

According to the map, the boardwalk makes a loop that ends the trail. In reality, however, there is yet another connector trail. This was broad and flat and tree-lined, and for a very short distance reminded me of the sections of the Ice Age Trail I had hiked near the Dells of Eau Claire in Wisconsin. I should've known it was landscaped. Yes, literally, mowed. You see, at the other end of this little connector trail was the park's golf course. The saving graces of this let down were the wildflowers that lined the course edge, and of course the butterflies that inhabited them (though I couldn't seem to get any "on film").

I saw the golfers, but I doubt they noticed me, as I was on the far side of one of the course's bumps. Or whatever they're called. After taking in the, ahem, scenery, I retreated, and continuing to take the right-hand options, covered the remainder of the trail system in what seemed like record time.

In addition to encountering this thistle-loving butterfly, there was also some farmland off to the right of the trail. Interestingly I noted that they appeared to be growing grapes there. I'm guessing there might be wineries hereabouts, but not being much of a connoisseur myself, I probably won't be doing any research on the matter. I ambled back to my car, and the day had warmed rapidly, so emerging from the cool shelter of the woods into my portable blue oven was a bit of a shock, but there was a cool shower awaiting me at home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Roan Mountain, At last

I finally made it to Roan Mountain on September 5th, a lovely day. Unfortunately, it was also a day that the Visitor's Center was slated to be closed. So I at first worried that I would not be able to get a good hike in. You see, although the State Park web site mentions that there are roughly 12 miles of hiking trails, they made no trail map available online. And since my copy of Hiking Tennessee only mentions the park, and doesn't go into detail about any of its trails, I had planned to make my decision on the fly once I arrived. Fortunately, the park Headquarters was open, and was well stocked with trail maps. I decided to try the Fred Behrend Trail, because, according to the trail map, it is 2.3-mile loop trail that "climbs and descends steeply in places." Right up my alley!

Since there is no map of Roan Mountain State Park's hiking trails published online, at least none that I could find on their web site, I have photographed my own, already well-worn hard copy. Note that you can click on it, and even download it, to obtain a full-resolution version (this is also true of any of my other photos, in case you are just so enamored of them that you want to use them as your wallpaper :).

The first section of the trail, along the Doe River, doesn't do much climbing or descending, at least not until you eventually hit a switchback that takes you up, away from the river. The foliage on this side was heavy on the rhododendrons, and they all looked healthy and happy. Eventually the trail pulls away from the river, and heads up over a hilltop, and then makes an occasionally steep descent down the back side. For some reason the rhododendron and other plant life on the back side of the hill did not look like it was doing very well. I'm not sure if perhaps less rain falls on this side or what (or perhaps there are just some amazing tap roots on the other side that run to the river?), but the leaves were limp and curled and just generally looking unloved.

At the bottom of this descent is a little creek that is unnamed on the map. Here's what the creek looked like:

What I really wish I could convey to you about this creek, though, were the sounds I heard. The gentle burbling of the water, the light breeze through the leaves over my head, and yes, even the omnipresent buzzing of insects. This was the symphony of the forest, and rare were the intrusions of outside noises, such as big rigs moving around the campground. This despite the fact that a connector trail to the campground essentially followed this creekbed (in the direction opposite this photo) no more than .3 miles to the camping loops. Gotta love the acoustics of the forest!

After a wistful pause at this creek, I continued along the trail, crossed another, even less well fed creek (and its accompanying connector trail), and continued on up to the high point of the trail (about 3200 feet above sea level). Somewhere around that point, or a little before, if I remember correctly, I actually stopped in my tracks and gasped at the beauty of these shelf fungi when I came up on them. They were just so brilliant, and so perfect in their soft fuzziness, I had to take a ton of photos (of course I will only subject you to the cream of the crop here).

After topping out, the trail again descended to follow along the Doe River, at which point it was also directly across the river from part of the camping area. I almost felt sorry for the people I saw on the opposite bank, as they had only asphalt to walk on (unless they were occupying a riverside camp site). For some reason, my own feet, legs and knees vastly prefer pounding uneven trail to flat, hard pavement. They seemed blissfully unaware, though, walking their dogs or just themselves, and, like me, occasionally came down to visit the riverbank. I paid special attention as I walked, trying to determine which campsite would be best, should I decide to make a weekend retreat here some time. When I came upon this little cascade, I knew I had found it. There was a camp site right next to it, and though I walked back up the pavement once I crossed the river and noted its number, I have now forgotten it. :( I would have no trouble locating it, though, so no worries. The rushing sound of the cascades just below would offer excellent white noise, so if you happen to be planning to stop in this area, and camp in a tent like I do, you just might want to look for the site nearest this spot.

Alas, from another angle, it's not quite so pretty. A harsh reminder to me of why I actually prefer NOT to have natural beauty so accessible. If people can drive their cars to it, they're all too often the sort of people who don't mind throwing their trash any old where as well. And what a shame that is.

After my little hike and my small detour through the campground, I returned to the Visitor's Center, since, despite the fact that it was closed, I had noticed that two trails left from there, and my legs still had a good bit left in them. Also promising was the interpretational signage at the center. I LOVE old mines, and anything else ghost-town-esque, so this trail to a mine was just my kind of thing.

The trail was mostly wide and clear of debris, and surprisingly cool and shady considering it was, by now, after noon. I even startled a deer, which made its unhappy-deer-noise and bolted off into the brush. Of course, when I got to the actual mine, it was a little less than inspiring.

Essentially, it was an old hole in the ground. :) It was also a bit drippy inside, as I learned when my flash revealed what my eyes could not see in the dimness. I was a bit surprised by how abruptly it ended, but it is entirely possible that the parks department filled it in to comply with insurance guidelines.

This trail, though essentially an out-and-back, does have a tiny loop at the far end. As you return from the mine, make sure you take the high route out, rather than retracing your steps, as there is a raised viewing platform off to the left, offering you an even more commanding view of the surrounding area.

Once I returned to the visitor's center, I had another look at their diagram of what the site had looked like back when it was an operating mine. I noticed a clearing across the road, about where the drawing indicated the smeltry had been, so I took a little wander over there, too, just to see what I could see. Which was essentially nothing. So, don't waste your own tracks on it, unless you're especially fond of taking in views of tractor-tracked clay and grass bald spots.

Next up: Butterflies, Butterflies and more...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Finishing Off Buffalo Mountain

On Monday I revisited Buffalo Mountain once more, to try to cover what I hadn't already. I'm still missing a couple of little stretches of trail, but, everything in time... Once again, here's a link to the map, so you can see what I'm talking about.

I had intended to depart from the trailhead (as opposed to the alternate trailhead), but since I arrived shortly after 7am, the gate was not yet open. Although I have seen no posted opening hours for this park, I'm guessing it doesn't open until 8am, like some others owned by the city. So I instead parked at the alternate trailhead, and hoofed it up to the original, via the roadway. Given that my legs and feet do not especially appreciate pounding pavement, this was a bit of a bummer, but it was definitely a good workout, as there was a steep grade most of the way. Funny how we're less likely to notice these things when driving a car!

After reaching the trailhead, I took the white blazed route toward Huckleberry Knob, and then bore left onto the Fork Knob Trail. You may recall that this is the route by which I returned a week or so ago, and found it to be rather a steep descent in some places. Oddly, when reversing the route and climbing, I didn't find it as strenuous as I expected. But the fact that uphills are easier on my knees than downhills is well known to me at this point.

About halfway up, I heard a gentle rain approaching, and really enjoyed listening to it falling on the canopy. It lasted quite a while, but as before, I felt almost no raindrops making it down to my skin. Eventually, the rain got a bit harder, and I began debating about putting my backpack's raincoat on to protect my beloved camera (for which, sadly, I had no use during this visit). Right as I stopped to put the raincoat on, in a very well protected area, I heard the rain became considerably harder -- perfect timing! As I left my shelter I finally began to get wet, and felt very fortunate to have chosen that exact time to cover my pack. The rain felt wonderful, and had a fantastic cooling effect. It did eventually slacken, of course, but the cooling remained, to say nothing of the amazing scents it left behind. Truly, every forest has its own unique blend of smells, and a light soaking of rain has the amazing effect of bringing them all out in all their delicious pungency!

I continued on up the hill, delighting in the new scents and the light breezes the rain had effected, and eventually reached the bench at Fork Knob. There I turned left, and explored the Fork Ridge Trail. Since I had already been to the south end of the Tower Ridge trail, and I knew that it was pretty high, I expected to climb to get there from Fork Knob. Climb I did, though not before descending a considerable way. I'm not sure if there was any net gain, but no matter, it was a pretty walk nonetheless, and with my freshly dampened skin and clothing, quite a refreshing one as well.

Upon reaching the blue-blazed connector trail, I hunted my way through to the service road. I had determined that I was going to make my descent via this road because I expected it to have a gentle, even grade, rather than some of the steeper ones I've been encountering on the trails. Although this surmisal was correct, it had a downside. A gentler grade meant a steadier one as well, which turned out to be just as hard on my knees, if not harder, than the steep downhills punctuated by relative flats that were found in the trail system.

I also determined that this would be a good uphill climb, especially if I were to make it at a slightly higher speed than that to which I generally push myself over uneven trails. So, my learning curve continues.

I only encountered two other humans on this trip, a couple of ladies walking their somewhat overweight daschunds up the service road. The ladies didn't look like they were in grave need of the exercise, but the poor little wiener dogs sure did! So now, the only trails in Buffalo Mountain I haven't covered are the Hartsell Hollow trail and the High Ridge trail to Tip Top. Both of these being dead-end trails (and you probably already have a feel for how much I hate covering the same ground twice!), it may be a while before I muster the gumption to traverse them.

As previously noted, I didn't encounter any things that were so spectacular that I felt the need to whip out my camera on this trip, but stay tuned, as on Wednesday I FINALLY made it to Roan Mountain, and there I found some stuff that was really worth photographing!

And now for something completely different...

What the heck is happening to me? After running across a copy of The China Study at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago (and buying it, and compulsively reading it, of course), I decided to make the switch to a vegan diet. And today, as I was browsing through The Accidental Vegan, I was looking for a new and exciting main dish to try. The very first recipe offered in the Main Dishes chapter was Pasta Primavera. It sounded pretty standard, so I almost flipped past it. But just to make sure Ms. Gartenstein hadn't added some new twist, I skimmed down the ingredient onion...garlic...fresh bell pepper...snap peas...waitaminit...this was sounding delicious! I'm not sure what it is about having adopted this way of eating for such a short time that has changed my tastes (and my taste buds! -- I made a tofu-based version of mousse today (recipe here) that I found quite tasty, but my mom tasted it and pronounced it inedible because it wasn't sweet enough) so drastically, but it truly is an amazing transformation! Whatever the case, though, I'm exceedingly thankful that I decided to make this healthy switch now, rather than waiting until something drastic such as diabetes came along and forced the healthy lifestyle upon me. I realize that evangelizing the vegan diet is probably pointless, but, like most new converts to any drastic life change, I feel compelled to pass along my own excitement to anyone who will listen. So, thanks for "listening!" :)