Category Archives: Life

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

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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?)
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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?!)

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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

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

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.

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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…

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

The Reality of Naked Ground

THE PLAN:
9 women meet on a gorgeous Friday in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest for a three day backpacking adventure. We will hike the two mile Joyce Kilmer Memorial Loop and then Load two cars up and head to Wolf Laurel Trail, (4,590 ft. elevation), where we will take a leisurely one and a half mile hike to Bob Stratton Bald, (5,261ft. elevation) and set up a base camp for the three day trip. Day hikes will include, The Hangover and Naked Ground .


THE REALITY:
9 women meet on a gorgeous Friday in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest for a three day adventure, hike the two mile Joyce Memorial Forest Loop and find out the road to Wolf Laurel Trail is closed….meaning we will hike from the Joyce Kilmer parking lot (2,240 ft. elevation) to The Naked Ground Trail midway, set up camp for Friday Night, break camp Saturday morning and hike the remaining three miles to Naked Ground, (4,860 ft.) and then another one and a half to Bob Stratton Bald, (5,261 feet elevation).
note: If all those references to elevation mean nothing to you as it did to me, let me just tell you that hiking from 2,240 ft. to 5,261 feet in four miles is STEEP…ignorance is bliss for a while

DAY ONE:
Once the decision is made to alter the plan, I quickly scan my bag and toss out my extra pair of socks, pants, shirt, trail chair, several energy bars and miscellaneous items in an effort to lighten my pack. Like lemmings we file off behind our fearless leader, Joan, aka as Hemlock,
oblivious to what would lie ahead… The Naked Ground trail begins innocently enough. We pass a few green moss covered logs, cross a small bridge over the bubbling Santeetlah Creek, but quickly began a never ending ascent upward, becoming narrower with each step. We stop and marvel at the size of the trees and the beauty of the Creek that rarely leaves our sight. We travel along, rejecting a couple campsites until finding the perfect place to spend our first night.

We spread out like a small army, each woman carefully selecting a place to put her tent (or hammock). The busyness of setting up camp began. I love this ritual that goes along with camping. Unrolling my backpack, setting up my tent, inflating my sleeping pad, arranging my sleeping bag, organizing my space and filtering my water. It has such a rhythm and satisfaction to it that I will never tire of.

Gradually we congregate around the fire pit, where Shemeah, our resident fire builder, is honing her craft. A variety of stoves are lit and meals ranging from dehydrated okra, potatoes, chicken and rice to sushi are prepared. Conversation centers on meal resources and our gear. (We so love to talk about our gear, mentally making notes of things to put on our wish list!) We are a diverse group of women. All from different backgrounds and professions. Drawn together by this LOVE of nature and exploration. As we talk and laugh, night falls and we wait for the first peek at the near full moon. We are blessed with a clear evening and are rewarded with a beautiful bright moon shining through the Tim Burtonish tree branches. It is bright enough to walk to hang our food bags without our headlamps. Soon our talk is punctuated with yawns and we make our way to our evening shelter.

I snuggle into my sleeping bag and quickly fall asleep to the sound of rushing water from the Creek with a smile on my face. (Again oblivious to what would lie ahead….)

DAY TWO: Dawn breaks and one by one we crawl from our tents. Stretching our muscles, wiping sleepy eyes and patting down wild hair are the norm. Again, a quiet ritual, all at our own pace. I deflate my pad, stuff my bag into its sack, and quickly change shirts putting a couple of wet wipes to good use. I retrieve my food bag from its tree and enjoy a moment with my Freshette. My tent is taken down and loaded in my pack. Sleeping bag, tent, poles to the side, pad, and clothes go into the pack. I make my way to the fire pit and share breakfast and coffee laughing and talking about stiff joints and tent face. Quickly everything is packed away and it is time to move up the trail to our destination. I hoist my pack to my shoulders and make adjustments to the belts. As we climb the hill to the trail, I look back and can’t even tell we had been there.

The march, which will rise to a level of 5,692 feet, begins. We spread out from a tight group, to one or two hiking at a similar pace. Immediately the trail is steep with seventeen water crossings and several blown down trees requiring removal of our packs. It is a grueling slow pace. We are rewarded with tiny patches of wildflowers, hepatica, anemone, yellow violets and trillium. The rushing sound of the creek is rarely far. At times the trail takes on the form of the creek ending in a tight turn up, up and around the mountain. At times it appears to disappear into the forest. But it never stops going UP! And neither do we. We all manage one by one, step by step, over one creek crossing and tree at a time to reach the top of Naked Ground.

By the time I reach the top, my arms and legs are trembling and I think I made a statement similar to “If the end of this trail is not over that hill, I am stopping right here… “And after one humongous tree straddle, there it was…..
Denise and I reached the top together and were faced with what would be our ever changing living room window for the rest of the day. A beautiful wide view of the valley overlooking Lake Santeetlah, the Joyce Kilmer forest and ridges upon ridges of mountains all in shades of blue. We did a happy dance, dropped our packs and ate our lunches like we had been starved for days. This was followed by a pleasant stretch on a sunny grassy patch.

One by one our group arrived, doing the same happy whoop of joy, pack drop and crash into the grassy patch. On a note of hilarity, Leslie arrives, making the announcement that there is a new trail rating. (In hiking there is Easy, Moderate and Strenuous) The new rating is called “Are You Out Of Your Mind?!”(This is repeated to falling down laughter, over and over throughout the rest of the trip.)

The decision is made to spend the night here and the community ritual begins again.
We are fortunate to find a great water supply at Slickrock Creek and plentiful tree branches to hang our bear bags. Hydrated, refueled, rested and camp set up, a few of us decide to hike to Bob Stratton Bald. Happily we find this trail to be a gentle climb with amazing rock formations and ridge views from both sides in spots. The bald is huge, ancient and wild. A stark contrast to the green mossy forest with the creek. We lean on a downed log enjoying the view and munch happily on trail mix, the grueling climb up Naked Ground fading from our memory. Not wanting to hike back in the dark we grudgingly leave this beautiful place and zip down the path which is of course downhill!

Again, a fire has been started and meals are in progress. I quickly start my stove and add boiling water to a mix of red potato flakes, chicken and cream cheese. While it hydrated, I added cold water to a jello mix of cheesecake pudding. A cup of hot orange spice tea rounded out the meal. One of the best I have ever had. We all laughed about how we would never eat these things at home but out here they were AMAZING!

Again, darkness begins to surround us and we are rewarded with the reflection of the sunset in pink clouds floating above our valley. Our living room was lit up with color as day fades into night.
 The evening was the occasion of the official “Super Moon.”, a full Moon of rare size and beauty rising in the east at sunset. A super “perigee moon”–the biggest in almost 20 years. We sit together, as the temperature drops, a cool wind blowing over, us waiting for the first peek. Patchy clouds move apart and there it is…the Super Moon. As the moon rises, we see the reflection in the lake below. Our reward, Indescribable….
DAY THREE:
I wake to my tent neighbor Kristen whispering that the sun was coming up and quickly grab my jacket, stick my feet in my boots, pick up my camera and crawl out of my beloved Ethel. We walk back to our living room window and watch as the pink morning rolls in. Reluctant to leave the view and begin the breakdown of camp, we linger as long as possible. One by one we return to our morning routines.
I don’t know what happens to my belongings when I backpack. Perhaps they are like those little capsules you add to water and then they expand…. I struggle to cram everything back into its space, wrestling my tent, bag, clothes and gear back into place. Warm up some coffee and oatmeal and prepare for the day.

A quick stop for a photo and then just like that, we leave our temporary home and start back DOWN, over the log, through the switchbacks, over the water. We are practically flying and are giddy as we move down the mountain… The struggle of the day before a distant memory! After three of us take spills, we come to our senses, and carefully pick our way down like mountain goats. Still, the trip down was MUCH easier than the trip up!


We stop to rest and catch the group up at intervals, squeeze through fallen trees, identify more wildflowers and wonder if the fur we found was from a bear. We fit five women INSIDE of a dead tree, rock hop over the creek and marvel at how the same trail can look so different in reverse. The chatter centers on reviewing all the high points and favorite moments of the journey punctuated by laughter and moments of silence as we each soak up as much of the trail to take home with us as possible.
All too soon, the trail nears its end and the parking lot is viewed. Cars are retrieved and a lunch formed from anything that might have survived the weekend is shared. We laugh and talk, each hating for it to end. We all agree, as we all agree on each trip. This was the best trip ever!
Until we meet again girls!!