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.