Night Hiking, The Tower of Death and the Eternal Trail

DSC_0185We pack quietly and quickly in the darkness. Using our headlamps to piece together our possessions, we carefully load our packs, hoist them on our backs and off we go. It is very very dark…


BAD JUJUBE SIDEBAR:  The crew who came into camp after midnight are sprawled around the site on the ground in only their sleeping bags. This same crew used bad camper etiquette and while they hung all of their packs and food on the ample bear cables and then TOOK OURS DOWN AND LAID IT ON THE GROUND….. Who does that?!!!! Bad campers do that. Very bad and while it was tempting to take their food and dump it in the creek, we did not. We hoisted our packs and hiked our happy butts up the trail not looking back . . . These things have a way of working themselves out.


Back to the hike. The trail lit only by headlamps,  we make the turn up Swallow Fork Trail and immediately start the climb. It will be 5.5 miles to the Prize~ Mount Sterling. Trees blown down from the night before slow our pace as we climb on, over and through. (did I mention it was DARK) The creek roaring beside us, I made a conscious effort not to fall in.

Our first creek crossing is over a narrow wooden bridge with one slanted rail. Rickety but did the job. Our second creek crossing makes us both stop as there is no bridge, just underwater rocks above a rushing portion of the creek. Envisioning myself swooshing down the creek, I grind my poles in between the rocks and step by step follow Harriett as she leads the way. So much for dry boots and we continue to climb. At some point we realize that it is snowing and have to stop to put on our rain jackets and keep climbing. I discover that night hiking is a lot like day hiking…..

Another wet creek crossing, another painfully slow mile up the traiMaking Coffee...l, night turns to dawn and the snow stops. Finding a spot out of the wind we take a break and have breakfast. Harriett has broccoli and meat and beef jerky and I have beans and rice with half a pro bar. Remnants of last nights meal ,cold but necessary to hoist us the remainder of the climb.

Funny thing about hiking elevation. You simply lose all ability to judge the distance. Surely we are halfway there. The sign must be around the corner or maybe we passed it… Lungs are burning, legs are burning, the trail continues and you just keep moving. Back in the snow again we eventually make Sterling Ridge. BUT there is still 1.5 miles to go. Deep snow, frozen slush, ice covered rocks and steep climbs. The reward, glimpses of the mountain ridge and the sun is out.

Your reward after climbing 6.1 miles....6 storiesFINALLY! After an attempt on Day One and after five hours of climbing on Day Three we reach the top of Mt. Sterling all 5,842 feet of her……. Scanning the small area on top of this mountain where the view is limited , it is obvious that the fire tower is the main feature. This tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. Mt. Sterling lookout has the highest elevation of any true fire tower left in the eastern U.S. 

This is what we came for….the panoramic view of The Great Smoky Mountains. So we started our climb on a structure that has been pounded by wind and weather built in 1935… I climb CLINGING to the metal railing taking one step at a time. Stopping only to control my hyperventilation and trying not to look down, one step at a time, hand over hand, I finally reach the trap door and pull myself up into the tower. (Note to the Park: The floor needs some work)

DSC_0192DSC_0193DSC_0194Inside the Fire Tower of Death....DSC_0196DSC_0198DSC_020010154036_437074776438023_1649213869_n

The view was amazing and we take pictures in all directions all the while never releasing my death grip on the tower . . According to a good post from Hiking in the Smokys Blog, “On a clear day you’ll be able to make out Balsam Mountain and Luftee Knob towards the west, Mount Guyot to the northwest, Max Patch to the east, and the Cataloochee Valley towards the south. If you have a very good eye you may even spot the Mount Cammerer fire tower, which lies due NNW from the mountain”  It was a good day, but after a few pictures the wind picked up and we started DOWN.
Can you spot the campers... we are VERY high up!!!

This is a shot of Campsite 38 from 60 feet up in the top of the tower. Can you spot the campers? eek

Standing in the snow….at the top of Mount Sterling, next to the Fire Tower of Death , next to the marker and the sign we adjust our packs for the long steep trek down. The snow is still deep and it takes  concentration to keep from falling or twisting a knee. Ahead of us is 6.5 miles of steep downhill laced with roots and rocks. After rising at 4:00 am and climbing to the top of the tower we are women on a mission. GET TO THE PARKING LOT. (preferably without a serious injury)

So much like our trip down on Sunday, (remember the whole STRATEGY was to avoid hiking DOWN THIS MOUNTAIN and we did it twice)  I’m not going to lie. This trail seemed ETERNAL. Like FOREVER ETERNAL. It seemed that it would never end. We went DOWN, DOWN and more DOWN. Climbing over fallen trees, snow turned to slush, slush turned to mud and mud turned to dirt, winter turned to spring and miraculously 13 hours and 12 miles after we started our day, we spot the bridge that would take us across Baxter Creek to our car.

Harriet and I take turns changing our clothes behind a big rock in the campground.  (where I am pretty sure I traumatized a couple who happened to walk up on me. ) We toss our packs in the trunk and ease our aching bodies in the car. Recapping the trip we laugh at all of the events from the last three days.

Funny thing about hiking…it is a lot like labor. While you are in the middle of it all you can think of is the pain and that you are never ever going through that again. But then as soon as it is over and you have on a clean t-shirt and dry shoes you start to think about where you will go next…DSC_0233

 

For the rest of the story start here:

Day One: Girls Gone Wild SB2014

Day Two: Redemption, Big Creek Trail and GSMNP Fitness

Day Two: Redemption, Big Creek Trail and GSMNP Fitness

It is absolutely amazing what you can do to your body and how fast it can recover over night. We rise to a beautiful but very cold morning to find our water frozen. We quickly eat our breakfast, pack our gear, fluff the dirt around our site and hit the trail. Today the plan is to hike to Big Creek Campsite 37 where we will spend the night. Warming quickly we shed layers to t-shirt and marvel at the difference a day can make.
Big Creek Trail is a nice wide trail allowing side by side hiking so we happily chatted. About everything. A buddy trail. Nice change from the narrow pass of death we were on yesterday.

1601525_437074786438022_1950286522_n_thumb[1] There is something that happens when you get off the concrete and outside that is hard to describe. The temperature that you can hardly make it in from the car to your front door, you spend three days in. Food that you would NEVER eat, becomes delicious. Dirt, sweat, scratches and bruises are badges of honor. Wearing the same clothes, no makeup, no hair to fuss with, NO mirrors. Apart from the twinges in your back or knees, you become ageless in a way. Priorities are simple. Water, shelter, nutrition. Your mind is clear. The colors, sounds and textures of the outdoors irons out all the stress wrinkles in your head. I love it…I crave it…

Our hike carries us alongside the rushing Baxter Creek past Midnight Falls and soon to Mouse Falls, full and rushing with the snow melting from the mountain top. Continuing on, we spot snow in the shadows and appreciate our sure footing on this glorious blue sky day. A family coming down the mountain gives us some advice on choosing a dry campsite and we enjoy the rest of the five and a half miles to #38.

 

Spotting the shiny new bear cables hanging beside the creek, we know we have reached our destination. Scanning the area and heeding the advice of the family, we cross over the creek via a log and find our spot beside the rushing Big Creek. I find two perfect trees for my hammock and Harriett settles on a sunny little patch and the work of cDSC_0164Harriett's Houseamp begins. Each in our own little world, efficiently we make our home for the evening. Water is gathered and filtered. Lunch is prepared and we sit in the makeshift kitchen for lunch.

DSC_0138_thumb[1]DSC_0141_thumb[2]After a nice break, we head up the trail to explore and come across what I thought looked like treadmills on the side of the trail. The GSMNP Fitness Center… Of course the fitness center back at home doesn’t come equipped with a wheelbarrow and shovel…extra cardio.

Our exploration ends as the trail crosses a deep rapid and we decline crossing and decide to shed our boots and soak feet that have marched close to 18 miles in the clear icy water of Big Creek. What a gift to sit on a rock in the sun surrounded by the Great Smokey Mountains next to a good friend. (are you getting it yet?)
DSC_0146_thumb[3]DSC_0150_thumb[2]DSC_0155_thumb[4]

The sun starts to drop and we head back to our campsite for dinner, a small fire and a strategy for tomorrow begins to form. I want to see the top of Mt. Sterling…..This will require an eleven and a half mile hike. Five and a half strenuous up Swallow Fork Trail to Mt. Sterling Ridge and six and a half miles back down the wickedly steep Baxter Creek Trail that we have already slid, bounced and pounded down once (which we had wanted to avoid all together)… FOLLOWED by a four hour drive home….

Harriet says, “Have you ever hiked in the dark?” I say, “ Not if I can avoid it….” and the decision is made that we will wake at 4:00 am, pack up in the dark and hike up to Mt. Sterling Ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Sterling and the famous Fire Tower. Then we will descend once again 6.5 miles of bone jarring, knee dislocating trail to our car. Sounds like a good plan to me…..

THE STRANGE NIGHT

DSC_0130I am a cold sleeper. I hate being cold. Sleeping next to water is cold. So determined to stay warm for the evening, I climb into my hammock,into the Lost Ranger Big Agnes down bag, with my down under quilt, wearing smart wool long johns, montbell down pants borrowed from Dave, my Arc’teryx down jacket and for good measure stick two hand warmers in the pockets along with a giant big square warmer on my tummy. I lay swaying between the trees imagining a government aircraft flying overhead using heat seeking technology seeing this glowing thermal cocoon, which makes me smile and start to drift off to sleep.

Something wakes me. I see a flash through my sleep  and open my eyes to pitch black. Then SOMETHING BUMPS ME! Under my hammock SOMETHING HAS BUMPED ME! My hammock is moving so it is not imagined. My body flooded with adrenaline lies rigid and frozen. Unable to hear anything next to the loud water I lay and wait. For what? I don’t know.. To be eaten, abducted by aliens or Big Foot?  None of these things occur and eventually my body starts to relax, eyes drift closed and flash…the light again… Strange images fill my head and I consider maybe I need to lay off of Bates Motel when more lights start scanning the campsite.
Grabbing my glasses, I hang off the edge of my hammock and peer beyond my tarp and spot four headlamps across the creek. It is after midnight and four people are attempting to set up camp…. Eventually they settle in but I never quite get back to sleep and soon Harriett calls out and we rise. IN …. THE…. DARK….

DAY THREE: Night Hiking, The Tower of Death and the Eternal Trail

Girls Gone Wild…SB2014

Multi day backpacking trip discussions for Spring Break began in February. Freezing temperatures, multiple cold, gray rainy days, snow and ice storms increased the longing for warmer days on the trail. My friend and outdoor junkie, Harriett of She Moves Jewelry,  came up with a plan to head to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Big Creek Loop via Mount Sterling. Despite a trail description that this was one of the more strenuous hikes in the park, it sounded good to me…

DAY ONE: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Leaving early Sunday morning, while the rest of the world slept, we rolled on to our destination, happily chatting about life, gear, and past and future trips . As we neared the park,  the top of the mountains were dusted with snow. We wondered if we would see any… Checking our weather apps, snow had been forecasted the night before  but the next three days looked warm and sunny.  Perfect.

6.2 miles to go!So it began, once in the parking lot, we loaded, tweaked and adjusted our packs and crossed the bridge to begin our ascent 6.5 miles UP the Baxter Creek Trail toward Mt. Sterling and campsite 38. There are several routes that will take you to the summit of Mt. Sterling; however, the toughest route to the historic fire tower is the Baxter Creek Trail. In fact, the Baxter Creek Trail to Mt. Sterling is one of the toughest day hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains.  The trail climbs roughly 4200 feet in just 6.2 miles. Its important to emphasize our reasoning here. The STRATEGY (a word that should be removed from backpacking vocabulary)was to take on the toughest part of the trail FIRST and CLIMB UP to prevent the pounding our knees would take coming  DOWN such a steep descent.

Silly girls…..

The green mossy beauty so a part of the GSMNP greeted us almost immediately with an early crossing of Baxter Creek. Numerous wildflowers had already braved peeking out of the ground and the trillium were unfolding all around us. We climbed…rewarded early by a view of the layered mountains old as time and serenaded by birds calling back and forth.  Life is good.

TrilliumDSC_0019DSC_0022

About a mile in we saw our first dusting of snow and wondered what would be ahead. We climbed…passing huge rock formations, just soaking in the morning and warming up our legs. More snow…truthfully, I was almost giddy, giggling and laughing at our good fortune to actually get to see snow on the mountain…

As we climbed higher, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up and the amount of snow significantly increased, slowing our pace. Wet snow blowing and falling all around us glistening in the sunlight. Soooo pretty, deceptively beautiful. Did I mention we were CLIMBING? Downed trees and limbs to cross, along with a combination of frozen slush, deep pockets of snow and increasing incline started a number of thoughts running through my mind. Mileage was impossible to calculate but we had been on the trail around three hours when a trio of wild eyed, very wet, snow covered young people came around the bend with their gear haphazardly hanging off of their packs.DSC_0040

As we later reflected on this meeting, they most likely were in shock and possibly early stages of hypothermia (which can KILL you) . Asking about their night, they told us the winds had reached SEVENTY MILES PER HOUR and that there was TWENTY INCHES of snow on top of the mountain…. We wished them well and continued trudging UP the mountain toward the prize. The top of Mount Sterling. (small voice… “are you insane?!)

DSC_0045DSC_0043

Now we were stepping into the trios footprints, several inches deep into the snow piled high on the sides of the trail. Huge wet masses of snow falling off the trees in the wind began to soak us and our packs.  The trail narrowed by the drifts and nowhere to stop, we continued to plod along , alternately amazed by the beauty of the Christmas card scene surrounding us and seriously wondering how much more snow was on TOP of this mountain, how much longer I was going to be CLIMBING this mountain, how WET my feet were, how COLD my feet were, HOW MUCH snow there really was, how COLD would it get, WHY did I swap my beloved 0 degree Ethel for the 15 degree Lost Ranger because it was lighter and if I was going to DIE (okay, so I am dramatic but those were my thoughts)

Climbing around a fallen tree and sliding on my fanny, we spot an abandoned cotton sleeping bag. The kind that would not keep you warm in your friends basement. (NOTE: If you are going to backpack into the mountains, NEVER carry or wear COTTON. It is not your friend. It will kill you.) Tossed to the side of the trail, we figure the trio had dumped it. Following the drag marks in the snow up we continued into the snow bombs and wind. We will never truly know how far we went up the mountain. We have been hiking five and a half hours so our closest guess was five to five and half miles. All I know is we were grinding down to the slowest pace possible trying to keep our footing in the deepening snow and the frozen footprints and ignore the burning, now exhausted muscles in my legs.

DSC_0041After a particularly deep stretch of snow sinking up to our mid calves we stopped to strategize. Neither of us wanted to call it.  AND neither of us wanted to go DOWN that mountain. We tossed out pros and cons, trying to hang on to common sense and let go of pride, trying to determine how far we had to go, when suddenly a huge mass of snow drift drops off of a rhododendron above us and plops right in the middle of my head. It’s a sign….. So reluctantly and relieved the decision has been made, we turn around and even the though the STRATEGY was to AVOID going down this steep mountain…. DOWN we went.

Slipping, sliding, twisting and of course, falling in the SAME SPOT, making our way back toward the parking lot we go. Neither of us talking, focused on one step, one step, one step until we reach the other world of brown trail, slush turned to mud, mud turned to dirt, stones and sticks and normal trail. And after seven hours of hiking, climbing, clinging, slipping, sliding, sinking and falling we finally stop for a break on a rock in the sun. Did this just happen?DSC_0032

We cross the bridge back to the parking lot near five o’clock, the sun dropping behind the mountains as we crank up the car heater attempting to dry our socks and shoes. The nearest open campground is Smokemont over an hour and a half away so we decide to stealth camp in the campground which was still closed for the season. (don’t judge,  a donation to the GSMNP is already on its way and we left no trace. Desperate times call for desperate measures) After a warm dinner, a cup of hot tea, exhausted, I crawl into my hammock, relieved that I did not die, (grateful that I am not 4200 feet above ground surrounded by 20 inches of snow in 20 degrees), nested by down and fall asleep to the sound of the creek rushing beside me.

Day Two: Redemption, Big Creek Trail and GSMNP Fitness

26 Years and Still Getting Lost Together……

DSC_0029January 11th, marked 26 years of marriage for Big Yahmo and I. We celebrated the evening by going to Lowes and looking at a dishwasher and  a garbage disposal to replace the ones that conveniently exploded two days before Christmas.. (Of course, being married 26 years allows those kinds of things to just roll off your back.)

For the weekend, however, I had other plans. Our dear friends, Chris and Patti Leppo, graciously shared their sweet cabin located outside of Blue Ridge on Fighting Town Creek. So, Friday after work, we loaded up and headed to the hills. By sunset, we were sitting in front of the fire, eating tortilla soup, with a glass of wine, listening to the water roar below.

IMG_0232Morning came quickly and after some hot tea  and blueberry buckwheat pancakes , off we went. The plan was to head to Section 5 of the Benton MacKaye Trail. While the temperature was reading around 27, the sky was brilliant blue and cloudless as we neared the pull off. . .Now, this is where the story gets kind of interesting.

According to Tim Homan’s North Georgia Trail Guide, the trail began at an old logging road across from the gravel parking space. Now I have never hiked the Benton MacKaye and really didn’t  know how it was blazed, if it was blazed or anything about it.  Right at the logging road entrance we saw two girls with backpacks getting organized, so we took off ahead of them.

 IMG_0244The trail started as described with a reasonable climb and before long we had glimpses of the mountains beyond and the valley below. Little sparkles of water, assumed to be Lake Blue Ridge mentioned in the trail description were visible. After the first two miles, the trail became rather challenging. Many blow downs, several overgrown patches made us call laughingly call it the “Duck and Bob” trail. (we should have called it the Dumb and Dumber Trail, but more on that later…)

IMG_0235At the 2.5 mile point according to my trusty FitBit,we came to a hard switchback….. just as described in the book….(Due to the overgrown nature of the intersection, we left a couple of good sized sticks to point us home on the way back.) Have I mentioned that we are not known for our navigational skills?
 
We followed this along the ridge wall of the mountain crossing a dry creek bed a couple of times for another mile and suddenly there was nowhere else to go……. We should have been in full view of the fire tower but truly, there was nothing that even resembled a trail…

After scratching our heads, consulting our trail guide, taking a  break, making some tea and eating a bite weIMG_0246 decided to turn around and and call it a day. Seriously, I was wondering who, if anyone, maintained the Benton MacKaye Trail and how was anyone supposed to find their way around…So we made our way back, over and under and through the overgrown trail. Soon we caught sight of the road and as we walked around the gate over the logging road I looked to the right…..

OH, there is the trail!!!The starting blaze...

On a tree…..up the hill….to the right of the road…..in the woods…. was a small brown sign , as I looked up from the sign, I caught a glimpse of a post with a small familiar sign about 20 feet up the TRAIL. Yep, Section 5 of the Benton MacKaye………

We had just spent the last 8 the blazemiles hiking on what is most certainly NOT a trail and who knows where we were heading!!! In disbelief, we hiked up the trail a bit and then saw the prominent white diamond blazes on trees beyond.

Now I am pretty sure that this confession would qualify for being evicted from the Trail Dames, Southeast Women Backpackers and the O.G.G. ! However, this is a pretty typical adventure for David and I. We have a long colorful history of dirt roads, leaking tents, flooded trails and worm attacks. We have stumbled upon cult families in the woods, had equipment malfunctions and have experienced a few “Deliverance” type moments over the 30  plus years we have been exploring life AND the woods together.

Sap-CiclesIMG_0259IMG_0263
But through it all we have persevered, found the humor and leaned on each other to weather each storm and trial. Getting lost on a logging road is not life threatening but could have ruined the weekend for some. After our hike, we retreated to the cabin, showered, gussied up and had a fabulous dinner at Harvest on Main in downtown Blue Ridge. (Thank you Teresa for being an outstanding server) We came back to the nice warm cozy cabin appreciative of the opportunity to spend time together.

Sunday morning, bright, cold and blue came and we headed back once again to the Benton MacKaye Section Five trailhead. IMG_0291Lake Blue RidgeIMG_0311
This time, we chose the right path and enjoyed a spectacular hike. The sky could not have been more blue,  a dusting of snow on mossy green logs, gorgeous sculptures of trees not visible during the summer months and the deep blue reflection of Lake Blue Ridge kept us company as we hiked.

IMG_0304IMG_0316
Fabulous 360 degree views from the top of Tipton Mountain, a mysterious rusted bleacher surrounded field and Brawley’s Mountain  fire tower (in a scene straight out of Lost, complete with mysterious radio transmissions..) made the second attempt more than worth our efforts. It was a perfect winter day, filled with the quietness that comes with the season and we had it all to ourselves..
 
IMG_0338the trashman...
Satisfied that we had finally actually hiked Section Five of the Benton MacKaye , we turned and headed back to the car victorious. We ended our more than fabulous weekend with a stop at the famous Panorama Apple Market, where we picked up a bag of Pink Lady’s and went around the sample table a couple of times before heading back to reality…….…

Happy Twenty Sixth to us!
IMG_0335

Tray Gap to Dicks Creek Gap and Type Two Fun…

The first day of October proved to be perfect for another Trail Dames Adventure! Greeted by temps hovering around fifty with a brisk wind we gathered in the parking lot of Dicks Creek Gap to begin the shuttle. After a few glitches involving lost dames and me leaving my hiking boot insoles at home, we eventually made it to the Tray Gap trailhead by mid morning.

We had three Dames new to backpacking, LaCelle, Jay and Indra,The Trail Dames Crew (who was also trying out a hammock!) so everyone pitched in making sure their gear was secure. With the first freezing temperatures of the year predicted, I was anxious to try out my new full length under-quilt and silently prayed that the wind would subside.

With brilliant blue skies overhead, we all headed down the trail. Finding my hiking rhythm climbing the first mile, my thoughts drifted to just how much I loved Fall. The colors were so vibrant and rich, with leaves already changing in these mountains. Reaching the top of Tray Mountain, we stopped and enjoyed the 360 views before moving on for a short stop at the shelter to readjust equipment.
IMG_3677IMG_3679IMG_3680

Leaving the shelter, we crossed paths with a couple of young guys, one of who was carrying a large wooden SPEAR!! When asked what it was for, he explained “It was for the bears…” We would meet up with “Spear Boy” later at our water hole and again at the end of the trail. The entire time he carried his spear, but apparently had no occasion to use it!
HighLife, 2 time Thru HikerIMG_3726Speer Boy....
Kristen and I then came across “High Life”, a South bounder wrapping up his second Appalachian Trail journey. We had passed him hitching a ride in Hiawassee earlier but had no room in our vehicle for him. He was anxious to finish up and get home to a real bed and refrigerator. I really don’t think I could imagine spending from May to October on the trail… His photos from flickr are located here.

IMG_3738IMG_3745IMG_3746 We continued on, enjoying a good pace, stopping occasionally to take photos, catch our breath or drink a little. Our plan was to get to camp and hike the extra 1/2 mile down and then back up to filter water and gather some wood for the fire that we knew would be needed! Monica and Carrie soon joined us and we stopped for a break at the “Swag of the Blue Ridge”, which amused me for some reason and took a few photos.
My “miracle foot inserts from Rite Aid” were beginning to make my feet feel like they were on FIRE, so I was more than happy when we made it to Addis Gap.  Scouting the site, we were comfortable that it could handle the Hubba City that was on it’s way and we headed into the woods to find a place to hang our hammocks. We selected an area and were hopeful that the trees would break some of the gusts of wind that had persisted all day and seemed to be getting stronger.
Our CampIndra's Flying Squirrel...Aprils Luxury Item...Carrie and her HubbaPlus 1 and JIMG_3766
After filtering the water, the rest of our group began arriving at camp and the work of setting up began. We found trees that would accommodate Indra’s Eno and the “Flying Squirrel” tarp. One more hammock in the north forty, Four Hubba’s, a Big Agnes, Coleman and REI tent later and the Dames had made Addis Gap their home. Kellye, our firemaster, soon had a nice fire going and everyone started gathering with a variety of meals soon in progress.
With darkening skies and the relentless wind, the temperature dropped at a steady pace. I added another layer of fleece and my smart wool long johns and still felt the chill. Hanging bear bags, taking care of business and chatting around the fire filled the rest of the evening.
299292_2417767092374_1497282466_32665823_272504710_n319950_2417764532310_1497282466_32665813_891008285_n315637_2417766052348_1497282466_32665819_781628744_n
After making it to hikers midnight, everyone soon retired to their sleeping quarters. This would be my first real trial for my new Incubator under-quilt, which was hanging beneath my wbbb hammock. I crawled in, pulling my Big Agnes Ethel sleeping bag around me, adjusted the hood and chicken cutlets (LOL), assumed the position and quickly fell asleep.

ONLY to be abruptly awakened around midnight to the sound of freight train winds that were moving the base of my trees back and forth and whipping around my tarp. Laying still, tensely absorbing the power of that wind all around me, I felt a slight chill in an area beneath me. Slapping one of my body warmers in place until it moved to another spot and then moved it again, I played a checkboard game with the cold for the next few hours. Around 3:30 the wind subsided a bit and I drifted back to sleep until daylight. (After consulting with Adam from Hammock Gear, I concluded that I had cinched the ends of my under quilt too tightly, causing an air pocket keeping the UQ away from my body and allowing the cold air in.) Its all on the job training with a hammock!!
The good news was that everyone survived, despite some gear deficiencies. Spirits were high and the day proved to be just as blue sky as the one before it. Breakfast was made, stoves and fuel shared, camp was packed, keys exchanged for vehicle retrieval and we hit the trail heading to Dicks Creek Gap.
IMG_3778IMG_3780IMG_3791IMG_3794IMG_3803IMG_3810

Ratchet, Salt, Carrie and myself kept a brisk pace as we climbed out of the Gap, followed closely by April and Nancy. We stretched out a bit enjoying some quiet hiking time on another beautiful day.
Spotting a IMG_3817Vista” sign, I veered off for the view and it did not disappoint. (Of course, dropping my hiking pole off the ledge gave me a small heart attack…)
I caught up with my hiking buddies a couple of miles out and after shedding my long johns and mooning Kellye, enjoyed the rest of the trail, talking and laughing about our trip. IMG_3845After piling into the parking lot and having a snack, we drove the forty five minutes back to where we started and turned around and brought all the cars back to the Gap.
Our timing was perfect, arriving just as the last of our spear boygroup finished.
(and there was Speer Boy!!)
As usual the Trail Dames with their great camaraderie, giving spirits and encouragement were a joy and special kudos to our new backpackers and to Ratchet and SHOE for leading the trip.
Until next time, Happy Trails……



 

Up the Hill, Bears and Tomatoes……..Oh MY!

Awake before my 4:30 alarm, I slip out of bed, take what will be my last shower for three days, get dressed and make my way downstairs. Last minute additions (and deletions) to my backpack, a quick bite to eat and off I go to meet Salt.

In less than an hour we are speeding toward the Smoky Mountains and another Trail Dames adventure. (For the record, the Ellijay Starbucks doesn’t open until 6:00am) A cup of coffee,  and a beautiful sunrise later we arrive at Fontana Dam Visitor Center to wait for the rest of our party.
IMG_3100IMG_3125

S.H.O.E., Hemlock, Still Waters, Ratchet and Monica soon arrive, gear is consolidated and we pile into cars and head to the Twenty Mile Trailhead to begin our journey. It is warm and sunny when we start but the trail is wide and climbs gently as we all work out the kinks, shifting our packs, tightening straps and stretching our legs.
We soon come to the Wolf Ridge Trail and begin our “have you lost your mind” 3000 foot climb to Gregory Bald. It isn’t long before the heat of the day climbs into the 90’s and the repetitive movement of nothing but up starts to have an effect on all of us. Activity ranging from discarding clothing, laying in the middle of the trail, yoga on our magic silver carpets, cursing, heavy breathing and sheer grit propel us forward.
IMG_3146IMG_3148IMG_3149IMG_3154IMG_3160 IMG_3224highres_53615782IMG_3150
As we press on, we are warned that there is a Mama Bear and two cubs on the trail about a mile from Gregory Bald and sure enough as that point is neared we begin to see evidence. Logs rolled over, dirt pushed around and ginormous piles of bear poo. (this makes me want to poo…)  I check carefully for signs of seeds, berries or …hikers and see none…..
The answer to the question...Does a Bear Poop in the Woods?Still Waters leads with myself, Monica, Hemlock and Salt close behind.. and suddenly we hear, “GET YOUR CAMERA!!”  AND there it is, a real…….live…….BEAR sitting up to the right of the trail…..and she is watching us…. We all stop in a bunch and watch. highres_53615652 As we holler and bang our hiking poles, (in accordance with instruction from the official park service video) she is not impressed and lays back down. Not spotting her cubs, we are unsure whether to take the high road or the low road and stand in the trail waiting for the rest of our group. Thunder begins to rumble in the distance and  alternating between mild panic and the urge to take more pictures and video, we back up as a group,  when she stands up and crosses the trail to scratch her back on another tree. As we look up, the two cubs are spotted high in the foliage!

As SHOE and Ratchet approach, we share the news of the bear and make the easy decision to take the low road , giving wide berth to our bear friends and pick up the trail further down.
IMG_3176IMG_3184IMG_3191
Adrenaline propels us to Parsons Bald, an unmaintained bald taken over by blueberry bushes and bramble and finally we are on flat ground. The unmaintained trail grabs at our legs with thorny bushes and we fly trying to outrun them as well as the thunderstorm on the horizon. Another mile and we make it to Campsite #13.
Exhausted from climbing for over 7 miles in 95 degree heat,highres_53615822  (those little words just do not give it justice!) we empty our packs and set up camp. Our site is visited by a doe and her fawn who are oblivious to our activity and the group camping next to us announce the entrance and unfortunate demise of a large rattlesnake. (I make a mental note, to potty early while I can still see what might be lurking beneath me!) Water is retrieved from a thin trickle a quarter mile away and dinners are picked over as we have little appetite from the days climb and heat.

IMG_3204I barely make it to “hikers midnight” before climbing in my hammock for the night. The wind is brisk and wakes me after midnight as the tree I am attached to is swaying, but my tarp doesn’t budge and my new Incubator under quilt keeps me warm and toasty and soon am drifting back to sleep.
Morning breaks, a bit cloudy and cool and we all go through our routines, some breaking camp, some eating before we all load our packs to begin day two of our three day trip. We start again by going UP heading to Gregory Bald and are rewarded by the sky clearing and views of the mountains and valleys below. IMG_3246There is the usual singing and dancing and a wonderful discovery of magical trees which we all climb. (How sweet to be able to enjoy childhood activities and not be judged. ) We spend a good bit of time on the bald but finally head down the trail. AND just as yesterday was all UP today is ALL DOWN the Long (itchy, scratchy, brambly, briar filled) Hungry Ridge Trail. We pass several backpackers heading up and say silent prayers for the pull that we know is ahead of them!
IMG_3299IMG_3309IMG_3333 Five miles down the trail Campsite 93 is reached. Our swollen blistered feet are dipped in the cool stream,  we watch the blue butterflies dip and twirl, observe a strange little band of campers who thought it was a good idea to set their tents up directly UNDERNEATH the bear bag cables…….and decide to go a little further(3 more miles….) and spend our last night at Campsite 92. Thankfully the trail spreads out and the grade is not so steep. We soon pick up the creek and crisscross  as it switches sides with the trail. 
Campsite 92 sits right on the Creek making for easy water access and soon three hammocks and two Hubbas had made it home. Ratchet and S.H.O.E. soon catch up with us to complete our family. Kellye, a victim of the heat exhaustion from the day before (the one who tore her clothes off) and the weather predicted to become severe was a factor in their decision to continue to the car. We remain….5 crazy women…….
IMG_3342IMG_3345IMG_3359
As the sky darkened and several more hikers passed us due to weather concerns, we tightened our tarps and discussed an action plan in the event of a storm. The safest place for protection was deemed to be the bridge underpinning and a drill to make sure we all knew where to go was practiced. Still Waters was our “emergency management leader” and at some point went to filter water and started yelling “Tomato, Tomato!!” (actually it was tornado tornado but we all missed that!) A slow drizzle began that would alternate between  showers, annoying mist and downpour for most of the evening. In spite of the rain, Still Waters manages a small fire and we gather round enjoying its warmth.
IMG_3356IMG_3366IMG_3373
Around dark we are joined by a lone hiker, exhausted from his 1.5 mile trek from the parking lot, carrying a huge pack. He is beyond thrilled to see us and after setting up his tent joins us at what is left of the fire. We share with him the “emergency “Tomato” plan” and he seems relieved. As the rain picks up we all drift off to our sleeping quarters where I spend a fitful night tossing and turning, checking to make sure water is staying on the outside and contemplating lowering the foot of my hammock…..
IMG_3363As soon as the first light of day is apparent, I see that I am not alone as everyone is crouched beneath their tarps, packing up gear and it is not very long before we are all ready to head back to the car. It is raining but the trail is again, wide and easy and we enjoy the green of the forest accentuated against the dark wetness. We walk along water most of the way back and are grateful for the rain, our trip, the challenge and the experiences shared. I read this quote on the Section Hiker blog this week and thought it very appropriate.

”It’s moments like these that I savor on backpacking trips. When my wonder of the world around me becomes more absorbing than my other thoughts about the past or future, I know I’ve reached my destination……”

IMG_3219IMG_3284IMG_3293highres_53614882IMG_3295IMG_3334
To Learn More About the Trail Dames Click Here
To Learn More About the Southeast Women Backpackers Click Here

Behind the curtain…..

Have you ever stumbled upon some information that you’d rather not known about, seen something that you would be better off not having seen, heard a conversation or pried into something that in retrospect you wish you had left unopened…
Alice_behind_the_curtainMotherhood seems to be fraught with these situations… All in the name of protecting your child, you seek to peek behind the curtain. To know what is really happening in their life. You hope to head off bad jujubes before they happen……
True faith, tells us, to trust, to be confident that all things work to the good of those who know HIM.
That, is a hard reality to grasp when you are a Mother. You feel like you, through your “Mommy Super Powers” can intervene, advise, protect…. when in reality, all the stress, the sleepless nights, the worrying are worth nothing…. They protect nothing….  They do not prevent accidents, or bad decisions or mistakes made…They do not provide a force field or silver bullet…

Free will prevails and some things  must take their course, consequences and all. We are not in control. But I am blessed to know the one who is…..

I will find my rest in God alone.
He is the One who gives me hope.
Psalm 62:5

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:10

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” -Deuteronomy 33:27

Carvers Gap Part Deux: Big Hump, Wild Steer, Busted Humps, Doll Flats and HOME

This is the SECOND PART of the CARVERS GAP TRIP For Part One Click Here

I wake as I usually do in my hammock….    Slowly…. Being comfortable on the trail is still such a novelty to me, and I lay still, savoring the cool air around me and listening as my camp mates start to stir.  Sitting up I look around, see feet dangling from Leslie and Fabs hammocks and grudgingly start to gather my things. Wanting to get an early start, we pack our shelters, gather our bear bags and meet at the unused fire ring for breakfast.

breakfastAs usual discussion about breakfast foods range from, coffee, hot chocolate, my bagel with bacon, oatmeal, cold cereal, protein bars and will a boiled egg survive a backpack. I consider that I could do without a stove in the summer months but my morning coffee is such a joy, the weight is worth it.
Tummies filled,  we tweak our packs and look around our site. No sign that we were there, we move on toward Big Hump.

IMG_3024IMG_3023
Passing the old section of the AT  our steps take us out of the forest and across the base of the Big Hump. We are not alone. Massive, majestic African Long Horn Steer share our trail.  These steer are part of a conservation effort to preserve the balds.

“These grassy balds are rich in botanical goodies. On the Roan balds alone, 27 plant species are recognized as threatened, endangered, or sensitive. Many are normally found in colder, northern climes. You’d have to travel to Ontario, Quebec, or Newfoundland to find significant populations of green alder, bronze sedge, and greenland sandwort, but on the Roan highlands they thrive.” Audubon magazine 2002

 IMG_3039IMG_3040
The steer help to prevent the woody shrub and fast growing briers from taking over the bald. We are fascinated…….they ignore our gaping stares and multiple photographs. As we climb, the fog begins to break and the view surround us , mountains after mountains layered in the distance. Maybe it is because we are rested but spirits are high as Big Hump doesn’t seem as daunting as Little Hump. (April and I break out into a mini chorus of “My Hump My Hump….”)IMG_0872IMG_3050IMG_3052IMG_3058IMG_0883IMG_3071

We sit on the rocks, admiring natures handiwork, the breeze chilly enough for our jackets. The sun comes out as we begin our descent along the ridge and head down toward Doll Flats. Almost immediately after entering the tree zone, we begin to encounter narrow rock fields slowing our pace considerably.

The slick moss covered rocks on the narrow trail with little room for error, demands our full attention, step  by step carefully placing our poles we make our way. Again, we stretch out caterpillar style at our own pace, losing sight of the head and the end. Occasional smooth trail breaks let us look about and we spot immense Christmas tree farms in the distance nestled in the valleys of North Carolina.

At last,  we meet at Doll Flats, a nice IMG_0908large camping area with great sitting rocks and a water source. Boots are removed, the rock damage is assessed and we discuss the usefulness of my silver thermal bubble wrap that I mooched from the World Market. (These include, it was free, weighs near nothing, waterproof, place to sit, place to put your stuff as you unpack, place to lay you stuff under your hammock, insulating layer in your hammock, and creative clothing options…)
IMG_0903600_50225301
Hemlock gets water, we stretch, snack,  compare injuries, curse the rocks and wait for Patty and April. We finally spot them, April limping and Patty continuing to encourage all the way. The rocks have taken there toll on our friends feet and we all spring into what we do best. First aid supplies are offered from each pack, cool water, snacks, duct tape, a place to sit and sympathy abounds.  We wrap her in silver bubble wrap, feed her giant marshmallows and murmur encouragement and sympathy.

This part of the trip stands out to me from all the other IMG_3079moments. This is what we do, we care about our friends, we set aside any selfish desires and take care of our own. We have all had that day, where we hit the wall, twisted our ankle, felt wonky, had no energy and needed that little something extra. I’m grateful that we do not disappoint….

Soon the feet are wrapped, morale is restored and once again we head down toward 19 E and the Hostel. Thinking the rocks were behind us, we are a bit startled to hit more rocky fields, jutting sharply out of the ground with no margin for error.  I fall twice adding to my collection of weekend warrior bruises, my feet betraying me on the slippery surfaces. But onward we press, stopping momentarily at the Apple Shelter to chat with a nice young man, who has thru hiked the AT.
IMG_3083IMG_3089IMG_3090IMG_3092
Knowing we are close quickens our pace and soon we hear the sounds of the road. A third of mile on the pavement and our car is in site. We change to dry clean clothes, hop in the car and hurtle toward home.

What backpacking trip would be complete without a Starbuck's run for our Driver and Navigator???Somewhere around Weaver, Tennessee the urge for caffeine strikes and I am delighted to find an Ingles with a Starbucks. Driver and Navigator hop out leaving the “kids” in the car, entertain a puzzled little barista, get our fix and zoom off.
The trip home is every bit as much fun, as we relive the trip, tell stories and laughter spills out the windows along the highway. Tomorrow we will be back to our normal lives and will smile as we think of our grand adventure. Happy Trails!

For More Photos of the Trip CLICK HERE
IMG_2921IMG_2986IMG_2938IMG_3063600_50226321600_50226011600_50226351

About: The Southeastern Women Backpackers are a meet up group. The members share a love of the outdoors and challenging themselves in the same.

 

 

Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

It was about time for a good adventure and the weekend didn’t fail us. Leslie, Still Waters, April and myself rolled on down the highway at high noon on Friday, heading toward the big town of Erwin, Tennessee.  The plan was to spend the night and get up early to meet at the trailhead Saturday. I have to say the drive was absolutely a blast. We all talked nearly non-stop and laughed equally as much. At some point the words “fried fish” came out of someone’s mouth and a quest to find a littleElsies...Eternal lunch.... café with fried anything began. It ended at Elsie’s Steak and Seafood,  home of “All You Can Eat Fried Catfish” and  the local Optimist club. Obviously we all had been on some kind of fried food fast because everything that landed on the table had seen Crisco and was not long for this world. Stuffed and satisfied, we over tipped Elsie and headed toward the great town of Erwin and the Holiday Inn Express.
A friendly check-in, settling into our clean room, a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart, (Always interesting,) dinner at
Clarence’s Drive In and we turned in early. There was little movement and no snoring as we all dreamed of the trail ahead.
chefstack-pancake-maker-500x342
After a fascinating breakfast at the Holiday Inn, (Who knew there was an automatic conveyer belt pancake maker?!!!) we packed up at sunrise and headed toward the Hostel to meet our group.

The Mountain Harbor Hostel /Bed and Breakfast was delightful!IMG_2857IMG_2886



For $15.00 a  night, hikers can stay in a clean bed, have access to a shower, stocked frig and small kitchen. There was a small General Store that operates on the honor system and for $9.00 a full breakfast at the main house can be had.  A member new to our group had stayed the night and greeted us with enthusiasm. Patty aka Dream Believer would prove to be a tireless hiker and cheerleader sharing her wisdom and love of nature.
Soon we were joined by Hemlock, Cindy, and Sweet Pea and were
IMG_2891shuttled up a bumpy, curvy route to the trailhead at
Carvers Gap.  The hike began on a beautiful, blue sky, 80 degree treasure of a day,  and slipping through the gate we began our hike. Almost immediately we were embraced by a Balsam Fir forest that can only grow at 5000 feet.( I looked around for Ewoks, but saw none…..) Delighted, we wandered along and soon began our ascent up Round Bald, picking our way past a mile long bucket brigade of young people restoring the trail with rocks.(One of the girls commented as we went by, that we were the pretty hikers!) highres_50264351
The climb continued up, as we topped Round Bald passing masses of Rhododendron bushes with the wind whipping around us. We stop periodically to spin 365 degrees and burst into the Sound of Music ,which will be our theme song for most of the trip! On we go over and up Jane Bald surrounded by magnificent mountains and valleys, numerous plants and flowers and goats grazing beside the trail, guarded by a ferocious “goat”dog.
IMG_2944IMG_2956IMG_2957
Jane Bald proves to be the perfect lunch spot to languish in the warm sun and chat with other hikers as they pass through this intersection. Nourished, hydrated and rested we head down the AT back into the forest. Our hard work rewarded by an amazing sea of  wildflowers blooming all around us. Much of the trail barely wide enough for our feet, it is like we are walking through a carpet of colors. The surprising and pleasing display included Yarrow, Daisy’s, Bee Balm, Echinacea, Dodder, Turtlehead, Phlox, Gentian, yellow and purple touch me nots, Beech Drop, Queen Anne Lace and Angelica.
  I can hear Joan swooning in the distance……

IMG_2922IMG_2980IMG_2989
We pass the Stan Murray shelter, do a quick Keen Hiking boot commercial…. IMG_2977and follow the rolling trail down to the Overmountain Shelter, a two story red barn structure housing several college students. This proves to be a good place to regroup and watch the clouds rolling over the valley like waves in the ocean…We made the decision not to camp here, but to press on UP and over Little Hump Bald.
and this……is where we lost Shemeah……….
IMG_2995IMG_2994IMG_3008
Almost everyone needed to replenish their water and this was IMG_2933the last source before we would camp. Still Waters and Hemlock had filled up while the rest of us were airing out our toes at the barn. Hemlock waited with April  while the water bearers loaded up and Still Waters decided to head on to scout out a site.

The mighty climb up Little Hump began…..Hemlock, with her long legs and natural gait soon became a distant pinhead as I followed, Fabs and Leslie not far behind and April and Patty bringing up the rear. To an overhead observer, I think we might have looked like one of those slinky caterpillar toys, starting and stopping, getting closer together and stretching back out, as we made our way, our breathing heavy and labored up, up and more up.

The views are breathtaking as we go, making the pain worthwhile, majestic mountains with tufts of white clouds rising out of them, waving grasses along the trail, rocky outcrops and the sun breaking the clouds providing us with “God Rays” and more layers of blue mountain ridges.
IMG_3009IMG_3013IMG_3016IMG_3017IMG_0834IMG_3018
Catching up with a waiting Joan, Leslie, Fabs and myself reach the top and go up and over trying to outrun a rain cloud with April and Patty being pursued by a rolling fog beneath us. Confident that Shemeah is ahead of us, we laugh that she has already started a fire….. Just as we hit the shelter of the scrubby trees, it starts to rain and we quickly cover out packs and put on our jackets, all the while looking along the narrow grown up trail for a place to hang four hammocks and place three tents.

Not far into the woods, I manage to once again step in a yellow jackets home and feel stinging on the back of my leg. Tearing down the trail with Leslie right on my heels feels all too familiar! Sprays and cream is applied and Joan and Fabs meet up with us after waiting for the nest to die down and suddenly we spy the perfect campsite!!! The heavens open, music plays and we are practically delirious with joy……until we realize…..there is no Shemeah……….

Warbonnet VillageWe are joined by April and Patty and begin the work of setting up camp before darkness falls, all the while worrying about our hiking partner.  A cell call is placed with a single bar and a message is left.  There is discussion about sending Hemlock out to look for her but it is decided that we will all stay put, that Still Waters is a competent hiker and will be fine. We speculate that she might be eating Spam with the Boy Scouts when suddenly we hear her entering camp with a shout!
IMG_2869She receives a heroes welcome and we are all relieved that our group is once again complete. Apparently, she hiked an additional 4 miles, while exploring a new trail and making a wrong turn headed back toward the Stan Murray shelter . She did indeed meet up with the Boy Scouts, but they did not have Spam. ….
Relieved, our dinners are prepared, bear bags hung, business is done and we all retire early, exhausted from the days adventures. Thankfully, I sink into my hammock, cocooned by my borrowed Yeti, (thank you KP) and
faithful Ethel, slipping off to sleep to the night chorus of critters and campmates….
Click Here for Part TWO

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiring Aging or How I Want to Be When I Grow Up…

I’ve thought a lot about getting older lately… Probably because I am older. This birthday, I finally conceded to being middle aged…, considering 106 to be a respectable run.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and am surprised. In my head, I don’t feel different and my body is still strong. ( though a few chinks in the armor are beginning..)
That is why I adore reading about people, who challenge themselves and are still moving, dancing, hiking, playing and living out dreams.

Last week I came across a blog post on Hiker to Hiker, that reallycarolina mt club made me smile. It was titled “Taking Care of the Elderly on the AT”   The Carolina Mountain Club had planned a 9 mile hike led by an 81 year old. They all are over 50, as they point out, some way over 50. (These are my people)
Even thought it was hot, (we are southerners and it is hot here in the summer….) and the weather man kept telling them to “be careful and check on the elderly,” they still kept it moving and had a splendid day on the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve also been following Cimarron, an 88 year old man who has been THRU HIKING the Appalachian Trail since February and has completed 914.5 miles as of today.

cimarrontj11863_060811_183637_617926tj11863_061011_164724_618339
His quote before starting says it all, “If you never try to do it. You will never know you could do it.” You can read his trail journal HERE

This week Diana Nyed attempted to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida at the age of 61. Moments before slipping into the water, Ms. Nyad, clad in a black swimsuit and a blue swim cap, played reveille on a bugle. “I’m almost 62 years old,” she declared. “I’m standing here at the prime of my life; I think this is the prime, when one reaches this age. You still have a body that’s strong, but now you have a better mind.”

While her journey was cut short, she still managed to swim for 29 hours, t1larg_diana_swimming_day1suffering through an asthma attack, shoulder pain,  in cold. shark and jellyfish infested waters and finally abandoning her quest after becoming violently ill. Her comments following the experience were inspiring. She said that her goal had been to demonstrate to people in their 60s that “life is not over” and that the age of “60 is the new 40.” “I wasn’t the best swimmer I could be — the asthma and the shoulder made sure of that,” she said. “I was my most courageous self.”

Life goes by so quickly and, at my age, you really feel the passage of time,” she said. “People my age must try to live vital, energetic lives. We’re still young. We’re not our mothers’ generation at 60.” For people over 60, she said, the goal should be “to live a life with no regrets and no worries about what you are going to do with your time. Fill it with passion. Be your best self.”
I think these are words that are worth living by no matter your age.  So if you are sitting around on your hiney feeling sorry for yourself, put one foot in front of the other and you never know where you might end up.
We should all try to be our most courageous selves…

It May be Hot, but the Trail Still Calls….

It had been a busy week and I just needed to get in the woods. After checking the short list of candidates to go with me, Tanner, nope, going to the gym…..Alyssa, no, having lunch with Lindsey,and David, laying on the bed chillin’ ……I filled my platypus, stuffed my hammock in my day pack, grabbed my sticks and boots and left.
Pointing the car in the general direction of Red Top Mountain State Park, I considered hiking a trail I had recently heard of off Bethany Bridge Rd but as I neared the little log cabin Trading Post at Red Top made a quick decision and turned in.  Quickly gathering my things I head into the woods, anxious to distance myself from the noises from the road.

IMG_2808Just stepping onto the trail immediately affects me in a positive way, the dark shade and shadows of the summer leaves give an illusion of a coolness, (trust me, it was only an illusion!) The sharp staccato sound of katydids  start to muffle any other sounds. Tiny trickles of water slip through the creek crippled by such a dry hot summer.

I enjoy these first steps, familiar as the back of my hand. Having always lived near Lake Allatoona and having walked these well worn trails hundreds of times, it is comforting to see familiar landmarks. The ridge where a gaggle of wild turkeys scared my husband as they took flight, the tree with a hole that Tanner always used to climb in, the part of the creek where you can hear the water on both sides…..  Red Top Mountain State Park has over 12 miles of trails, miles of which hug the lake coves and offers beautiful views much of the year. Only 15 minutes from my home, make it my “go to” spot when  a quick trail fix is needed.
About a mile in I catch some movement out of the corner of my eyeIMG_2807 and spot a handsome Eastern Ribbon snake about 4 feet in length. He stops for a moment seeming to look in my direction as a couple of quick photos are shot. He is swift and graceful as he departs and I marvel at how quickly snakes can move with seemingly little motion.( I am glad he is going in the opposite direction!)

Continuing on, there are no other hikers as the trail climbs the ridge and curves around heading to the beginning of Homestead Trail.  This is a sweet little loop and the decision is made to hike it from the left as opposed to the more popular right route. This lets me see oncoming hikers and while it has a few more climbs, will reward me with a cool green lake cove and fern filled creek ending. (It is also the direction less traveled )IMG_2828
As I climb and dig my poles into the hard thirsty earth, the trail briefly leaves the cover of the trees and I feel every bit of the 95 degrees that the day has delivered. Topping the ridge and starting down toward a cove, the blue green water of the lake is visible with a bright ribbon of red Georgia clay around it. Little horned lizards camouflaged by the leaves rustle on both sides of me and teeny tiny frogs cross the trail.
Butt Crack RockReaching my halfway and favorite point, the lake can be viewed in almost all directions and a slight breeze is detected. This was the perfect time to pull out my hammock and take a break. Stepping off the trail a bit, it only took me a few minutes and there was the perfect place to enjoy a snack and cool my feet. Swaying between two trees with the lake to my side and the trees shading me, a nap was a strong possibility!

IMG_2816After a sweet rest and a pint of Rainier cherries, the hammock stowed and my feet happy, the journey continued. Nearing a piney forest area with soft needles to cushion the trail, five young deer were spotted  searching for food. Four took off, white tails flashing but one just stood and watched me until bored, he took off too.
As anticipated the loop made a nice green and shady end and I crossed the road to pick up Sweetgum Trail to finish up my route.

On the way, I disturbed an immense black racer, saw two more deer and a nice family camping with their kids.  As always, I had to sit a spell on the now lone rocking chair on the front porch of the Trading Post to end my hike.
So, life balanced,(maniacal laughter) worries shed and with a peaceful spirit, I headed back home ready for the week ahead…

My Big Thoughts on Back to School

1995 kindergarten 2ndgradeOnce the back to school sales begin, the remnants of an old melancholy feeling start to bubble up.  Sending my kids back to school was never something that made me happy.  It served as an end to carefree days and late evenings, to swimming, camping and playing but more than anything it served as a marker that another precious year had passed….

It is fitting that I now work in schools and get to experience “The First Day of School” with hundreds of students and parents every year. I love to watch the first kids get off the bus, their backpacks bulging with hand sanitizer, tissues, crayons and pencils. Big sisters helping little brothers find their classes. Moms and Dads struggling to hold back tears as they take their first or last child to school for the first day. The warm welcome that they all receive as they walk through the  halls. Teachers wearing big smiles and sharing hugs in newly decorated rooms. (did you know that EVERY year they have to totally breakdown and rebuild their classrooms?) Sparkling halls buffed to a shine by hardworking custodians. The smell of biscuits from the cafeteria. New pencils and crayons….

Did you ever stop and think that our  public schools take on everyone? The best and the brightest, the physically, emotionally, mentally challenged, students who speak no English, who struggle to sit still or walk. They don’t discriminate. They face shrinking budgets and paychecks. They face ridiculous blanket standards such as “EVERY child will graduate with a College Prep degree,  EVERY school will make sure that EVERY student make 100% on a test. They are constantly criticized and analyzed. But yet THEY still move on….

They move on, because they are filled with people who are passionate about what they do. People who take pride in their shiny floor, the food they prepare, the bus they drive, the lessons that they teach. Each school operating as a small city, presided over by a mayor and staff, who organize and orchestrate educating hundreds of students, prepare balanced healthy meals, safely transport yellow buses filled with noisy wiggly children, manage classroom behavior, continue professional development, supply special services, support classroom management and provide physical education and medical attention. They nurture and nudge, push and pull, listen and love.

For all the criticism that goes on against public schools, they continue their forward motion.  Those that find it necessary to criticize and judge this amazing organization should spend a day, or better than that a week, walking the halls, serving in the cafeteria, riding a bus, sitting in on a meeting where dollars are stretched beyond imagination.  Sit on the back row of any classroom, attend the many classes and meetings that teachers and staff attend to continue to grow and become better at what they do. I think the average person would be astounded at what goes on every single day inside of those big block buildings! The tide would turn, sentiments would change and demands would be made for more support for this incredible institution called “Public Education.”

1995 First Day of SchoolSo if  you read this post and know a teacher, custodian, principal, counselor, administrative professional,  food services employee, maintenance worker, technology specialist or anyone that works in education. Tell them you support and appreciate the important work that they do. Give them a hug, get involved, volunteer or better yet, some new crayons!

If you ARE a teacher, custodian, principal, administrator, maintenance worker, technology specialist, paraprofessional, food services worker or anyone who works in education, THANK YOU. You matter and what you do matters.

Smoky Mountain Backpacking Trip

This three day trip started with a bang, literally, as I was making the trip to Clarkesville to pickup Kellye to head to the Great Smoky Mountains for a three day backpacking trip with SHOE and Turtle. I had to make an emergency pit stop in the dark, under an interstate bridge pylon and  sacrificed my favorite pink bandana…
When I get to Kellye’s I realize my camera is missing and we have to backtrack to the scene of “The Incident” where I find it laying next to my pink banadana…

Hopeful that this was not going to be a theme for this trip, we headed to the hills.
We met our hiking buddies, SHOE, (slowest hiker on Turtle, Sassafras, SHOE and the newly named Ratchet.....earth), and Turtle at the Smokemont campground dropped my car at the Mingus Creek Trailhead and headed to the Thomas Divide Trailhead. Thomas Divide is named for William Holland Thomas (1805-1893,) who gained so much favor with the Cherokees that he became the only white man ever appointed Chief. This self-educated lawyer lived with the Indians, learned their language and ways, and defended their rights in Washington. He helped purchase much of the land known as the Qualla Boundary. He was a Confederate Colonel and the bravery of his Thomas Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders is legendary. (Sorry for the history lesson, but I found this interesting)

IMG_2461The trail was moderate with some decent climbs and rewarded us with the diversity of flora and fauna that makes the Smokey Mountains unique. The rhododendrons were abundant and still in full bloom. Yellowish brown cobs of squawroot poked through the leaves. I couldn’t remember what they were called but found out that this is a favorite food of black bears. (We saw much evidence of bears but figured that four chattering women would be enough to scare any bear off!)
We took our time on this warm, sunny day, catching up and taking turns leading the hike. As elevation changed, so did our surroundings. The ghostly silhouettes of hemlocks ravaged by the woolly adelgid against the sky, numerous coves of hardwoods  and always the forest floor was alive with fungi and wildflowers.
Arriving at Campsite #52, at Newton Bald, we found a solitary camper who had set his five manIMG_2506 tent up in the center of the fire ring area! Kellye scouted the area and found the perfect ridge top spot to spend the night.  While we searched for the perfect hammock trees and Lesly and Melissa looked for a flat spot for their tents and we began the ritual of setting up our temporary home for the night.
Our first “excitement” of the trip occurred when Kellye wandered off to take care of some personal business and interrupted a bear! The bear grunted a warning to let her know he was there and they both took off in opposite directions. She quickly came back to home base, eyes wide and put us all on alert that we were not alone!! Needless to say, I did not wander far to take care of my personal business after that!
IMG_2531Dinner was cooked and we spent an inordinate amount of time coaxing flames out of a stubborn fire, night fell, the temperatures dropped into the upper fifties and we all retired to our sleeping quarters. I listened to a little bit of Pat Conroy’s latest and drifted off to sleep only to be jolted awake by the sound of what I was sure was a BEAR climbing the tree that my hammock was attached to!!! The commotion continued as everyone scrambled out of their tents asking Kellye if she was okay, so I rolled out and found her hammock had “ratcheted” DOWN the tree!! Fortunately, she was fine and we all went back to bed. (We think she might have a trail name, Ratchet!)
Day 2, we took our time with breakfast and breaking camp, enjoying the cool IMG_2497temperatures before beginning our hike. We continued on Thomas Divide heading to Deep Low Gap, again enjoying the diversity of the trail. Excitement came when Lesly and I spotted a small creek off the trail. She needed water and I dropped my pack and went off the trail to capture a photo of some red bee balm.  Immediately what felt like needles on my legs caused me to scream, as the realization that yellow jackets were swarming around us! Needless to say, we both moved quickly but not before  I had at least 12 reminders of why I never want to step in another yellow jacket nest. After retreating a safe distance we took a break where everyone contributed Benadryl cream, anti-itch and Neosporin to ease the sting. (Truth be told I wanted to cry, but satisfied that urge with talking with my trail mate.)
IMG_2585As we began our descent into the lush green forest, crisscrossing small streams, it occurs to me that we have been going down a looooong time and that we will be backtracking up this haul tomorrow morning…….We reach our destination, the very slanted world of campsite #51. Being in the Gap, there is little breeze and the temperature and humidity have increased. Again, we repeat the camp setup ritual spreading out due to an absence of flat areas and spend the rest of the day, chatting, sharing stories, laughing, eating and daydreaming.
As night falls, I gratefully climb into my hammock and quickly fall asleep, only to be awakened around 3:00 am to thunder and rain. After assuring myself that my tarp was secure and all my belongings were underneath and dry, I slipped back to sleep until dawn. Our plan was to leave early, due to the number of miles and difficulty of the trail for the day, so I packed my hammock and gear and sat under the tarp drinking my coffee and eating a builders bar. (a nice perk of having a hammock means you can pack everything up underneath the tarp, leaving it for last)
We all begin the slow tortuous climb in the rain to the intersection that will takeIMG_2610 us to the Mingus Creek Trail and our car. Seriously, even though I have eaten most of my food, my pack feels just as heavy as when I started and it takes me a bit to find my trail rhythm.  Unfortunately a couple more yellow jackets find my rhythm and get between my pack and back delivering more stings!! We space out a bit, each hiking our own hike and meet sweaty and tired at the top of the climb. A downhill stretch follows along the creek and takes us to 90 foot waterfall. It is still IMG_2628raining, so the photo op is cut short as we slip and slide across a narrow bridge crossing and continue down to the trail intersection, where thankfully the rain ends and the sun starts to stream through the trees. After consulting the trail map, we take off on the Mingus Creek Trail. The trail starts innocently enough, absolutely beautiful and follows and crosses the creek for some time. As the temperature and humidity increase, so doesThank the Lord we are at the top! the climb. Kellye and I hike together, stopping periodically to curse the trail and sip some water, even taking a break or two for a gu and bar break. As always, about the time, I think I can’t lift my leg another step, we reach the top and collapse for a well deserved break!  This was a tough trail!  Spotting the trail sign for Newfound Gap Road at 2.9 miles made us very happy!!
However, that happiness was short lived as we began the trek over a jarring, rocky, mossy, slick downhill!! BUT it was sooooo beautiful. If we had more time, I would have loved to linger at the many creek crossings and moss covered logs that called my name! But at that particular moment the lure, of my dry clothes and a burger at the NOC were a motivating factor! As we got closer to our destination the trail widened and we were able to walk side by side, recapping some of the highlights of the trip. The aching shoulders, legs and blistered feet were replaced by the pure joy of spending time outdoors and conquering
YIPPEE!! I MADE IT!any difficulties that came our way.
As we burst into the parking area and into reality, I contemplate offering the nearby picnickers a $10.00 bill for a cold drink.
NOTE: If you ever see dirty, sweaty,  smelly people piling out of the woods with their life on their back, offer them a cold drink, they will never forget you!
The reward for this journey ends at the Nantahalah Outdoor Center or the NOC. I have been hearing about the Flamethrower Burger and the HOMEMADE chips for the entire trip and satisfy this fantasy with my friends. A berry cobbler topped with ice cream is the icing on the cake. Sitting on the river with my feast and friends, I count my many blessings and dream of the next adventure…..
The best burger EVERIMG_2691Berry cobbler....Don't judge we just hauled our life on our backs for three days!!IMG_2698

For more photos from this trip, click HERE

 

Backpacking with the Bieber…

Backpacking was on Tanner’s summer bucket list, so we planned an overnight midweek trip. I chose the Cohutta Wilderness because it is my absolute favorite Georgia spot to backpack.
Meals were planned, maps consulted, the packs were loaded and off we went. The morning was sunny and warm as the Yaris took the rutted labyrinth of forest service roads like a champ and after what seemed like a hundred miles, we came to the Hickory Creek trail parking area. Not one soul to be seen… I checked the board for bear warning and nothing was posted which was a bit of a relief.
Perfect DayHickory Creek Trail HeadTanner and I adjusted our packs, locked the car and took off down the trail. The first part of the Hickory Creek Trail was rocky and weathered with evidence of the spring storms and  all downhill as it wound its way to the creek.  We hear the water before we can see it and soon get glimpses of the creek before our first crossing. Crystal clear, with plenty of water, it keeps us company as we continue down the trail. Soon we hit the intersection of the Conasauga River Trail and Hickory Creek Trail where we turn right and begin looking for the perfect campsite.
Before long we come to the perfect balance of trees for my hammock and a niceIMG_2147 flat spot for the tent. The entire length of the site is situated directly on the Conasauga with a combination of deep pools ,little falls, huge boulders and the constant melody of the river. A covering of hemlocks, a nice big fire pit and a makeshift bench make it the unanimous choice. We go about the business of setting up camp, unpacking, gathering wood and having lunch.

IMG_2123After a short rest, we leave our site and head down the trail to explore.. We pass ginormous boulders, falls and swimming holes, a huge beaver dam which has turned into what must be a diverse mass of frogs, toads and Lord knows what else and come to the opening and intersection known as Bray field. (This used to be an old homestead but is now mainly used by backpackers.) We take off our shoes and wade across the Conasuaga River before I realize, we really don’t want to hike the entire Hickory Creek Trail, so we cross again and travel a bit down Tearbritches Trail, rockhopping the creek and wander along this beautiful easy section of the trail.
As the day turned into late afternoon, we head back to camp and take a swim in the cool clear river . We both enjoy some quiet time, then get to the business of preparing for the evening. We break up our wood, filter our water and settle down to cook dinner. Tanner is a great student of the outdoors, watching my every move and made my day when he tells me, “Mom, I can’t believe you know how to do all this stuff!!” After a satisfying, (although bland) meal of beef stroganoff and pudding, it starts to cool off and we get down to business Tanner and MomAwesome fire!and start the fire. For years, I have watched my best friend, Leslie, THE FIREMASTER, start epic blazes. I have always been content to gather kindling and drag logs to the pile but she was not on this trip! Apparently, I was able to channel her talent and build one big honking fire!
We roasted a small bag of marshmallows, talked and stared into the fire (aka Hikers TV), until it got pretty late.  The moon was new, so the night was DARK.
We made our way to our shelter, Tanner on the ground and me hanging in my hammock nearby and dozed off to the sound of the river. I woke around 7:00, rolled out of my warm bag and started another little fire. (Leslie, are you so proud?!) Sitting and drinking coffee and enjoying the beautiful cool morning, I counted my many blessings, one of which was laying in the tent next to me.
Tanner slept a little longer and finally crawled out, ate his bacon, cream cheese bagel and we reluctantly started to break camp.
IMG_2119Morning firePacked up to head homeDay Two

We climbed out of Hickory Creek around noon as the day warmed, IMG_2222taking our time while I told Tanner funny stories about David and our many adventures in the woods, pre-kids. An occasional stop for water, a view and to admire a little red salamander made for an enjoyable although, hot hike out.
On a funny note, as we reached the trailhead, I  noticed that the BACK side of the information board was COVERED with bear warnings and information underneath the engraved message: WELCOME TO BEAR COUNTRY……LOL THIS was the BACK side of the trail head sign....
We loaded up our gear and took the rutted forest service road back toward 411 and after what seemed like fifty miles bouncing from bump to bump, popped out in the middle of nowhere . After consulting the map, we found our way to 411. A quick stop at a convenience store for icees and beef jerky and made our way back to Woodstock and civilization.
This trip will always have a special place in my heart and I will cherish it’s memory. My son,natural backpacker Tanner, is an incredible young man. He has been through adversity and difficult times but has emerged strong and confident with a natural, loving, unshakeable faith in God. I am proud of him and grateful for the time spent.
For more pictures from this trip CLICK HERE

Pine Log Creek Trail….has it ALL!

Total distance: 4.6 miles
Parking lot Lead Trail: .46
West Loop : 2.12
East Loop: 1.54
Quarry Trail .03

After a friend at work told me about this trail, I put it on my short list for spontaneous hiking.(Also while searching for information about this trail, I read of a stray nude hiker that appears on it but this did not in any way influence my decision….) Friday morning started cool compared to the inferno heat we have been having so David and I packed it up and headed off to try it out.

Pine Log Creek Trail is located in Bartow County only 25 miles from our doorstep. We arrived early to an empty parking area, strapped on the pack and after viewing the faded out map posted, took off to the sounds of birds chattering and a neighboring rooster going crazy. Shortly after crossing a dry creek bed we came to a cool running bend in the creek with a beautifully built wooden bridge crossing. There are actually seven rustic footbridges over Pine Log Creek throughout the well maintained 5 mile hike. The trail includes two loops east and west and a short side trail to an old CCC quarry pond.
We opted to take the east loop first which took us over the creek and through a series of switchbacks to peaks of views of Pine Log Mountain. (Winter will be spectacular!) This trail overlooks a pastoral valley that was once home to the Cherokee village of Pine Log before the native people’s removal west on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. There are numerous large rock croppings and boulders. The black eyed susans, several varieties of fern,( some HUGE), many giant very old trees along with the winding creek made this a very diverse beautiful trail. We saw traces of the stormy Spring in the form of someones chicken house roof scattered throughout the forest and brush.
The jewel of the trip was located a short distance off the trail in the form of an old quarry pond. David quickly identified several large mouth bass, brim and a stray catfish in the clear water vowing to bring a fishing pole the next trip. (NOTE: There is a large sign that prohibits fishing and overnight camping at the trail head) This was a peaceful beautiful treat and great spot for a lunch or a quick swim.
After exploring the quarry we picked the trail back up and came to the west loop junction continuing over the creek and up the ridge for more views. We took a short stop to hang my hammock for David to tryout and discovered a little box turtle who watching our efforts. One thing to be aware of with this trail is someone has removed the trail loop signs. The posts are there but no signs. We found ourselves taking the east loop again before catching our mistake.
We ended our hike by cooling our feet and wading in the creek under the entry bridge. We both commented that it reminded us of childhood locations where we were free to play and explore. The only “excitement” of the trip came while we were drying off and observed a snake drop off the bank and swim right into the area we had been in. Of course I identified it as a copperhead or water moccasin but really think it was a red rat snake…
This trail is most definitely a jewel and will be on our list of backyard favorites.

Difficulty: Moderate-Some parts are listed as strenuous but not really
Directions
from I-575 in Canton: Take Riverstone Pkwy exit 20, head West for about .5 mi. Take right onto Reinhardt College Pkwy and continue until it dead ends into Hwy 140. Take right onto Hwy 140 W (still also Reinhardt College Pkwy) and go approximately 12 miles. Trail head will be on your right.
From I-75 in Cartersville: Take exit 293 and head North on Hwy 411 for about 7.5 mi. Take a right onto Hwy 140 East and go about 3.2 mi, trail head will be on your left.

Overnighter on the Chattooga….aka Hades

Anxious to try out my new warbonnet hammock, I accept an invite from the Southeast Women Backpackers for an overnighter on the Chattooga River. Kellye, who I had met on a previous EXTREME Appalachian Trail hike, where we defied every law of common sense and hiked in some of the worst rain I have ever seen.( see previous post) and KP who I have not met, are my trail mates. (along with their dogs Sammy and Cowgirl)  We meet early morning in Clayton and caravan to the end of the trail. As we pass the bank I notice that the temperature is at 93 on the bank sign and it is not even 11:00…..
We all pile into Kellye’s faithful Honda and bounce down some forest service road. We come to what appears to be a RIVER crossing in the road and Kellye makes us get out, backs it up and guns it through the water!! Woohooo! We wade across and jump in.
IMG_1732We finally locate the start of the trail, make the usual last minute adjustments to our packs and head down the trail. I am excited to hike on the Chattooga River and keep humming dueling banjos as we make our way.

It takes me all of ten minutes to realizeIMG_1748 that it is HOT, not the oh, I need a glass of ice tea hot, but HOLY MOSES, it is flaming inferno hot!! and at the fifteen minute mark, I am drenched from the inside out. KP and Cowgirl lead the way, with Kellye, Sammy and I lagging behind. We drank often in an effort to stay hydrated and stopped periodically to catch up. About three miles in we stopped for lunch and the dogs took a swim…..at this point, I am wishing I was a dog….in a nice air-conditioned house…
IMG_1854With some effort we pack up our lunch and head down the trail another 3 miles. Between the heat and a nagging foot injury, I started to FEEL it!!!  About the time that I was considering falling over into the bushes, we arrive at a nice campsite right on the Chattooga River. (da da dadadadadada da)

IMG_1762We all have been affected by the heat and are a little slow setting up camp. I am soo anxious to hang my hammock that I go and stand in the almost tepid water willing my body to cool itself before beginning.  Interestingly all three of us are in hammocks. Kellye, actually loaned me her Hennessey hammock to try out on a previous trip, (I obviously loved it) and KP and I  have a Warbonnet. I find two trees and with KP’s help, get my Warbonnet Blackbird and Big Mamba Jamba tarp hung.
Everything seems to take twice as long, due to the fact that the air is not moving,IMG_1771 the sun is blazing off the river and the temperature is climbing at 98 according to my iphone and the weather channel (thank you Jim Cantor). But we keep the faith and after a bit, camp is set up and things cools down a little. We sit and share ideas and food, listen to a little Rascal Flatts and friends compliments of KP. Once it cools down enough, KP and Kellye have a fire building contest as I annoyingly hum the banjo theme from Deliverance.

Night falls and we all just enjoy the company of the river and admire KP’s hammock set up complete with sparkly lights, (I am sooo getting some), it finally cools down and not long after dark falls we each retire to hang in our hammocks. I slept great until sometime in the middle of the night when Sammy, (the beautiful German Shepherd) starts barking like a maniac and Cowgirl starts growling….I lay very still waiting as usual to be eaten by a giant bear. This does not happen and I slowly relax and slip  back into a wonderful sleep swaying by the river as the frogs croak on.
Tuesday morning, found me the LAST out of my hammock, (WHAT!!) weIMG_1837 took our time with breakfast and breaking camp. It was around 5 miles to our cars but not an easy journey. We seemed to be going up and down a lot, though none of the climbs was terribly steep, it was still hot as Hades. We had to climb over, around and though many blow downs. (This Spring was tough on all of our southern trails.)  We finally made it to the end by early afternoon and said our goodbyes. My first stop was the Burger King at the corner of 441 in Clayton where I used their bathroom to change into dry clean clothes and had a whopper and an Icee, which I had been fantasizing about since the night before. I made another stop at 23 and 441 at a Burger King and order another, a cherry AND coke icee. When I got to the window, the girl handed me TWO Icees!! LOL, I drank them both!!
IMG_1803One of the things I have loved about my meetup groups, the Trail Dames and Southeast Women Backpackers, has been the amazing people I have met and now consider friends. Women that I would never have encountered, much less spend enough time with to really get to know them. I have met, structural engineers, paralegals, retired military personnel, moms, girl scout directors, scientists, a whole slew of teachers and everything in between! All drawn together by a love of hiking and our gorgeous trails and mountains. I really treasure this special group of friends and always enjoy it when we can get together, (although I doubt any of us would recognize each other if we met dressed, with makeup and out of the woods!)
For more photos of this trip Click Here

Inaugural Hammock Trip: Kimsey Creek, White Oak Stamp, Muskrat Creek, Raven Rock Trail and an aborted trip to Standing Indian…

Whoopeee, the first trip for the Southeast Women’s Backpacker Meet Up group and I was on it!! My hiking buddy, Salt and I met up with Hemlock and Margaret in Clayton for a weekend adventure. The weather was gorgeous with beautiful blue skies as we made our way toward Franklin and the Nantahala forest. We load up and head off into the lush green forest. I am extra excited because this will be the trip that I get to try out sleeping in a hammock!! Kellye, has been so generous to loan me her hammock and tarp, (which is kind of amazing, because to us our gear is like loaning out our Maserati!)

IMG_1349IMG_1380IMG_1337

I always enjoy hiking with Hemlock, as she shares with us all of her wonderful knowledge of all things growing!! We have plenty of flowers to keep her happy as we travel along this trail and wander through a nice field, (which I am sure had IMG_1347some stealth snakes in it) Pretty soon, we come to the creek, which we will follow until we intersect the AT. I love this kind of trail, sometimes the creek was on my right, sometimes the creek was on my left, sometimes the creek was on both sides, (STEREO!!) and often we found ourselves hiking up the creek bed itself!

We all eased into a similar rhythm, of hiking, stopping now and again to take photos of the beauty around us stopping for a short break for a snack and continuing until we came to the Appalachian Trail intersection and headed up to our destination of the Muskrat Creek Shelter. I wandered ahead a bit, savoring the quiet of the forest (Rare, I know, but sometimes I am quiet!!) and enjoying stretching out my legs and thinking, until I come to the perfect lunch spot with a great view and a nice rock formation for us all to sit on. I have found the perfect jack-in-pulpit and pink ladies slipper and can’t wait to show Hemlock my photo!!IMG_1405IMG_1436
IMG_1426

 

 

 

 

We move along and about half a mile before we reach White Oak Stamp, we pass a couple of hikers who tell us that Muskrat Creek Shelter is filled with a Boy Scout group. We easily make the decision to set up camp at White Oak Stamp, which is perfect for the 3 hammockers, (YAY) and Margaret who has a bivy.
Hemlock and Salt, my hammock mentors assist me with my set up,Joan demonstrates the importance of selecting a stable tree  and everyone gets their space set up. 

After scouting for water, we determine we will need to hike on to Muskrat Creek and greet the scouts….We take a side trip down Raven Rock Trail to a beautiful overlook and watch the sun go down. It is a beautiful spot and my only regret is that we can’t sit and watch it until dark.
IMG_1458IMG_1461
We make it back to camp, decide it is too warm and not necessary to have a fire. The highlight of my meal was the dessert. Instant jello SF FF cheesecake pudding with some Nido instant milk with water added. I shared……
As darkness falls, the 12 miles we hiked begins to sink in and we all retire to our sleeping quarters. I enter my hammock, praying that the velcro holds and does not birth me in the middle of the night, wiggle around a little and quickly fall asleep….I have to admit, I did wake a few times but immediately dozed back off and when I woke and it was morning, I was already mentally placing the order for MY OWN hammock!!
The plan for the morning calls for more high mileage as we head back down the AT , climb Standing Indian, descend and then head down the rocky Kimsey Creek Trail. Sometimes plans change, my foot has begun to throb with what will turn out to be a summer long irritation, Kristen is not feeling well, Joan’s knee is bothering her and Margaret is nursing a burn from her stove. We all agree, to skip Standing Indian and enjoy the hike back along the creek.
IMG_1503IMG_1519600_26621661600_26622451
We stop for a leisurely, foot soaking lunch, chat with some students heading to the AT, observe a little mole scurrying about and enjoy what is left of the trail.
We end our trip with a visit to the Spring Ridge Creamery for some guilt free homemade ice cream which we eat while overlooking the river.
Another perfect trip……and I did order the hammock…..

Spontaneous Spring Break

I love spontaneous happenings! Bummed about missing a Trail Dames trip to South Georgia, luck would have it that our friends, David T and Marlene invited us for a visit to a cabin on the Toccoa River. Beautiful spot, beautiful weather…. The boys wet a hook and caught a hornyhead, we grilled bubba burgers and roasted marshmallows the size of my HEAD and made smores under a crystal clear starry night. After a big breakfast, we headed down 60 to part of section 2 of the Benton MacKay trail. A nice walk to a magnificent suspension bridge over the Toccoa River. There were dozens of huge trees that had been up-rooted during the storms the week before. I was glad not to have been sleeping in a tent at that time! We continued across the bridge. The entire trail was UP after that and we all huffed and puffed to its peak! After tromping back down and following along the river for a bit we headed back across the swinging bridge and had a little snack before heading to our next destination.

Dockery Lake trail is located past Woody Gap on hwy 60 down a dirt road. There is a great campground with 11 sites along a lake stocked with trout and brim and the biggest tadpoles I have ever seen! We hiked around the lake and came to the trail. This trail is 3.7 miles in length and goes to Miller Gap on the Appalachian Trail.
(From here you can go left to Blood Mt and right to Woody Gap.) Immediately we found ourselves beside a beautiful waterfall which I believe is Pigeon Roost Falls, that will soon be hidden when all the leaves are on the trees, walk along the ridge with views of Buck Knob, Pigeon Roost, and Columbia Ridge and cross over a little creek which probable will be a trickle in mid-summer. We passed two backpackers on their way out, a dad and his 6 year old daughter! She was precious, had her backpack and hiking poles. They told us about a couple of great camping spots and went on their way. (I know that is one great dad and she is going to have wonderful memories of those times!)
We continued along the water down into a forest filled with red maple, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine and Fraser magnolia. Wildflowers were popping up along the way combined with moss covered rocks and logs.Lunch was spread over some big boulders on the Pigeon Roost creek and my Boy Scout husband was poking around on the other side and interrupted a big black snake’s nap! After that excitement, we all looked a little more closely crossing logs and rocks!
Alongside the creek were some great spots for a future backpacking trip which we plan on returning for. This was a great day hike. We all agreed this would be a great backpacking journey with lots of room to explore by day on the AT. All in all it was a great weekend with good friends and lots of laughs!

Directions to Dockery Creek:
From Dahlonega, GA take GA Highway 60 north approximately 13 miles to Forest Service Road 654 on the right. Turn right, go 1.0 mile to campground.
From Blairsville, GA take U.S. 19/129 south for 10.0 miles, turn right on GA Highway 180. Go approximately 11.0 miles. Turn left on GA Highway 60, go 4.0 miles to Forest Service Road 654 on the left. Turn left, go 1.0 mile to campground.

What’s in Your Pocket? And other tales from a sunny Sunday

Sandwiches? Check… Apples? Check.. Water? Check… Trail bars? Check. Map? (Well technically, we didn’t think about our map and trucked off into the wild blue yonder anyway…)

A picture perfect Georgia Spring day stretched out in front of us as we headed up I-75 North toward Hwy 136 towards Lafayette, A honey hole of hidden trails, waterfalls and other exciting things you might find outdoors. After missing a Dames trip to the Pocket and hearing of the splendiferous display of spring wildflowers, this was our first destination. Having been to the Pocket for an overnight back in the day with my mommy friends in a pop-up camper and as a lunch, stick your feet in the creek stopover with the kids, I knew RIGHT WHERE WE WERE GOING…..
The Pocket
We arrived shortly after 9:00 am and were greeted by several large teams of bicyclist and the entire fleet of police from Lafayette as we made the turn onto Pocket Road. Fortunately when we arrived at the parking area, not a soul or car was in sight. We took off on the short 3 mile trail anxious to spot mounds of wildflowers……There were several trees blown down on the trail, an aquatic viewing area, (which we stood by and viewed only aqua….) some marshy areas but no wildflowers…..hmmmm. We continued up and across a ridge and then down into more seeps, springs and wetlands crossing the creek several times and spotted an occasional stray violet, some budding dogwoods, azaleas, sourwood, and mountain laurel but no massive mounds of wildflowers….

All in all it was a sweet little trail, perfect for warming our legs up and the solitude was magnificent. The unusual limestone made for unusual topography. The trail loops around back into a small recreational camping area along a beautiful bubbling creek. (You cross a little bridge to get back to the parking area, so don’t panic when you can’t find your car.) Still confused over the lack of wildflowers, I concluded that there must be more than one Pocket…(more on that later)
Our next stop was just up the road a piece to a spot called Keown Falls.
Again,
we pull into a parking lot that is totally empty. (I am so excited over this; I have to do a little dance!!) I just can’t believe our good fortune that on this PERFECT SPRING day there are no people in this area! We head up to the trail head which is beautifully lined with decades old rocks along it. Do you ever just think about those people who laid the rocks, or made the bridges or hammered rock and wood steps into the trails for us and if they could imagine that all these years later that we are still thankful for them? The path makes an ascent to Johns Mountain which is part of Georgia’s natural geological rock formation famously known as the Ridge and Valley.
This trail is a loop trail about 2 miles in length; it crosses the Pinhoti Trail in a couple of spots and connects to the Johns Mt. trail. (David and I famous for getting off track and we ended up on all three!!) The trail begins its accent in long wide switchbacks taking us in turn close to the water and then away but inches upward toward a boulder ridge with an amazing vista of the Johns Mountain and mountains of Rome Georgia. You will also get your first glimpses of the falls. As you continue along this rocky, narrow trail, you will approach your first set of rock steps leading to the waterfall. You can continue up to the observation deck at the top of Johns Mt. but it pretty much looked like a death trap for renovation for safety reasons. No worries, the view from the top of the stairs was pretty amazing. We continued down along a rocky path that took us underneath the falls. Fortunately, we have had a good bit of wet weather and the falls were running beautifully. (These falls run dry in the summer and during periods of drought.) Sitting under the cave like rocks looking out through the water you can see the ridge and the valley below. The trail continues across the ridge and there are many dripping flowing mini falls from the unusual rock formations. We sat and had our snack marveling at one. (Of course this appeared to be the graffiti favorite for what I would assume to be locals.)

The trail is pretty rocky and steep in areas, but again wanders down Johns Mountain along streams and through beautiful forest. The dogwoods were just beginning to blossom and I am sure will be beautiful after this week’s rain. The trail ends at a wonderful picnic area with tables tucked in the woods surrounding the stream easily accessed by a small wooden bridge. This is a beautiful area and well worth a day trip just to explore the general area. Directions to The Pocket and Keown Falls:
Take I-75 North to Exit #320/GA 136. Turn left on GA 136 and travel about 14 miles. Turn Left on Pocket Road and go about 4.8 miles. Turn right on Forest Road 702 and go about .6 miles to the dead end at Keown Falls Recreation Area. To get to the Pocket continue on Pocket Road past the falls and watch for the signs on the left
On to ROCKTOWN
I had visited this amazing northwest Georgia gem with the Trail Dames back in December and couldn’t believe we had never even heard of it! The Rocktown trail follows the ridge line to the tallest spot on Pigeon Mountain. Toward the end of the trail is a “rocktown,” rocks of unusual shapes and sizes. More than 200 million years ago this area was once Great Ocean that at one time completely covered both Pigeon and Lookout Mountains. The water washed away the softer limestone while leaving other, more durable rock. In many places the effect of the water is apparent, from curved holes in solid rock to tiny mazes of stone netting. The trail itself is level and wide with the first glimpse of boulders appear about half a mile in.

One mile in, the trail takes you to a strange series of rock formations and boulders with numerous squeezes and caves. Both times I have been there boulderers” have been present. Carrying blocks of pads on their backs, looking like SpongeBob Square pants, they scatter throughout the “town” testing their strength and patience on the rocks. They are a very friendly bunch, eager to share what they do. One young man offered his pad and David tried his hand at lifting himself off the ground and up onto the stone. I was happy just to rock hop and climb over, under and through. We spent some lazy time on top of one formation looking out over the mountain ridge still visible through the budding trees. On a humorous note, we heard quite a commotion down below and crawled over to view a couple of families pulling a cooler on wheels! On the way out we passed two guys with pizza boxes and a dad attempting to push a stroller along the rocky, root lined path. We recommend comfortable shoes and a backpack!! Happy Trails!!
Directions to Rocktown:

About 1/2 way between Atlanta and Chattanooga watch for I-75 exit for Resaca, Lafayette, (HWY 136) – Turn L onto HWY 136 & cross over I-75 stay on HWY 136 to HWY 27/136 (traffic light) – continue straight ahead to HWY 27 in the town of Lafayette, Georgia. Turn Left onto HWY 27/193 and go a short distance. HWY 193 north will turn Right. Go 2.7 miles on HWY 193 to Chamberlain Road and turn Left onto Chamberlain (Fina station on Right)Go 3.3 miles on Chamberlain Rd to Crockford-Pigeon Wildlife Area sign on Right – turn Right onto gravel road. Take this road approximately. 1.8 miles (as the road steepens it gets rougher, and goes up the Mt. via a series of switchbacks) Lost Wall Parking is just past the fourth switchback on the left. Continue past the Lost Wall pullout up the mountain. The road improves again once it levels off near the top of the mountain.When the road splits, take the Right fork (Rocky Road ) 1.3 miles further. Turn Left onto Rocktown Road (sign) dirt road 1/3 mile to parking area. Trailhead is @ the right corner of the parking lot, next to the information kiosk.


Indescribable

Not a single day goes by that my attention is not caught by some amazingly beautiful sight outside. It appears that the older I get the more deeply I cherish what is around me. When hiking, I like to touch the bark on the trees, the moss on the rocks, dip my fingers into the creeks. I love to lie on the ground and listen to the earths heart beat and look at the tree branch silhouettes against the sky…. REALLY notice the little details. Every season offers treasures to be enjoyed if we just take the time to notice.

I read somewhere that the average person has 32,850 mornings, (assuming you live to be 90 which I am planning on) That means I have approximately 14,550 or so more to go. I don’t want to waste a single day.

 

Recently my son shared a DVD by Louis Giglio called “Indescribable” (You can watch the series on you tube in Five Parts)
It was a message inspired by Chris Tomlin’s song with the same title. I marveled at what a tiny speck we are in the universe and how everything we can see, smell, touch and taste is so intricately designed. It inspired me to look even deeper at my surroundings and consider our place in this world. Click here for some gorgeous images and video with the Chris Tomlin song.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands psalm 19:1