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.

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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

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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…)
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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……

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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……….
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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.
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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.

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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…

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