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.