This entry will give you a notion of where I was when.
July 2, 2004:
I woke up at 4:30 AM on Friday. Tina drove me to the crew of Boy Scouts and dropped me off. We loaded the cars, and got onto the road.
We were driving down to the Tennessee/North Carolina border for a weekend of hiking in the mountains, along the Appalachian Trail (AT). We would cover just over 13 miles on three days, generally a simple, easy walk. I'd done this hike three times before, and I knew this hike well.
We arrived at the trailhead on Rt. 19E in Tennessee at 4 PM. I told the boys to put their pack covers on because I could see the clouds rolling in, but I didn't realize how prophetic that action would be, as the rain began to fall as soon as my foot touched the trail. We made a break for the trees, and got under them quickly.
We figured that the rain would fall slowly for a while, but it didn't. We continued our way up the mountain toward Doll Flats, but the rain became heavier. My pace picked up, and the boys stayed right behind me.
We had walked a quarter mile before we came across the Apple House Shelter. I pulled the troop into the shelter to wait the storm out. A gentleman named Jeff was already in the shelter, and I kept the troop from walking on (and dripping on) half the shelter so that it would be dry for him to sleep there.
After about an hour of fierce rain followed by a short electrical storm followed by more rain, the rest of the crew was tired of waiting. Kathy indicated that she wanted to head up with the boys and the leaders, but said that I could catch up tomorrow if I wanted to stay here.
As I was not carrying a tent, this sounded quite nice to me. I agreed, and watched them hike up the trail in the rain at about 5 PM.
Jeff and I talked for a bit, covering just about everything. He was on his first retirement at the age of 23, having done work with a multi-million dollar company in New York City. He'd decided that he wouldn't be able to do what he wanted when he turned 65, so instead would just take his retirement in short bursts. It seemed to be working out just fine for him.
Around this time, a man and woman came down the path. They introduced themselves as Ed and Judy, saying that they had missed the trail to their car a few miles back. We offered to let them stay with us, and they declined. Ed shouldered his wife's pack and went down to hitch a ride to where his car was, thinking that passers-by would take more pity on an old guy with a pack standing in the rain than they would on someone with no pack. Turns out he was right, as he got back in about an hour and they walked out.
Jeff and I made smalltalk for a while, and I had a dinner of cheese and sausage, with a mango for desert. I gave him some of my sausage, and he gave me some of his tuna mac & cheese. It was remarkably good.
Jeff then asked if I minded whether he had some pot, and I said it was cool with me. He offered me some, which I declined, and we talked for a while about his habits, which were as amusing to him as they were to me: not only did he smoke pot, but he must have had a good two pounds of cigarettes in his pack, along with a flask for whisky (unfortunately all gone). His pack would be lighter, and he'd be healthier, if he stopped with his vices, but then he said, "What fun would that be?"
We talked for a while about how the Trail can put your life in perspective, too. He talked about how he was tied to work for so many months, answering email even when on vacation on the beach, and how suddenly he realized what was really important.
I smiled, because I knew exactly what he meant. "When you meet someone on the trail, you can tell what priorities are," I said. "First you ask what the trail is like ahead. Then you ask where the water is. Then you ask when you'll be able to get food next. Once all that's out of the way, you can make your smalltalk."
"Exactly," was his reply.
We talked a while longer, and I began to think seriously about staying at the shelter that night.
Finally, the rain stopped. I waited a while, wondering if the rain would come back. I didn't want to go up and get drenched on my first night.
It was the sun breaking through the trees that made up my mind. At 7 PM, I left for Doll Flats, after thanking Jeff for his company and shaking his head. I was now hoping to catch up to the boys at Doll Flats before sunset.
I came up the trail, stopping one of my favourite scenic overlooks on the entire trail. It was a beautiful view, and the clouds from the rain had settled into the valleys, leaving the mountaintops clear. I felt as if I were on top of the world.
I also stopped in a rhododendron tunnel to see if they were in bloom yet. A few had begun to bloom, but it wasn't the beautiful flowered tunnels I had encountered here on my first hike, 5 years ago.
The biggest realization, though, was that I was terribly out of shape. Despite this, I walked into Doll Flats singing "When the Saints Come Marching In," my favourite song to sing as I enter camp late. It was 8:30.
I helped the boys get their bear bag up, threw down a tarp and my sleeping bag atop a large rock, and passed out in it no later than 10 PM.
July 3, 2004:
I woke up to a giant raindrop on my neck. The moon still seemed high, but the sky appeared light. I rolled out, putting things away by the light of the full moon. I didn't want to be caught in the rain with a full day of hiking ahead. Finally, I pulled on fresh clothes.
I sat quietly for a time. No noises came to my ears, except the wind in the trees, or the drops of water the wind shook from them.
I got up to check on the progress of the sunrise, and was disappointed to find that the sun was being terribly lazy. The moon was still high and full, but it was getting on toward setting. I stood out in the field and watched the moon set behind a rise on Hump Mountain. During the moonset, I was interested to see lights in the sky, moving slowly and irregularly. These are the third set of unidentified flying objects I've ever seen. Also, in the trees near the tents, I watched fairies dance in the darkness. I've seen them before in this area, but I've never gotten close to them. They appear as tiny lights, moving among the trees, sometimes sitting in the grass.
Finally, the moon set in the clouds just over the mountain. Just after moonset, the sunrise began. I watched this until it became obscured by the clouds and mists.
I heard the first bird that morning, a hawk, and one by one the other birds began to awaken and sing. I pulled down the bear bag and had a light breakfast. The rest of the boys slowly stumbled out of their tents and started breakfast around a quarter to 7. By now I was quite restless.
I lit out of camp around 8:30 AM, after getting water from the stream down from Doll Flats. I hopped out of camp and began the climb up to the top of Hump Mountain.
Not fifteen minutes into the hike, I narrowly averted a serious disaster and injury. As always, I was wearing my fedora on the trail. I was concentrating on covering the rocks at my feet, making sure I didn't fall. As I stepped over them, I chanced to look up.
My eye came perfectly level with a broken off tree branch.
Mid-stride, there was nothing I could do, and I didn't even register it before I hit it hard.
Fortunately, my fedora has a wide brim, and it's made of thick wool. The brim caught the branch, and my eye was impacted with the brim, not the sharp wood. Because of this hat, I walked away with a slightly bruised spot just under my eye, rather than with one eye fewer than I had started with.
I topped the ridge and passed a gate into the pasture. As I did, I heard a noise to my left and saw something I never expected to see on the top of this mountain: a pair of cranes had been in the grass to my left, and had taken off when they heard me. I watched them fly off into the mists until I could no longer see them. About a quarter mile from the gate, I rounded a rock and came face to face with a herd of about 10 cows with calves. They stood in the middle of the trail.
The span of the cows' horns was probably longer than my own outstretched hands, and they were huge. Somewhat unsure what to do, I cautiously approached them. The lead cow watched me for a moment, and then when I stepped one foot too close, she stood up and faced me. I stopped.
For a moment, we looked at each other, her chewing cud and me chewing my lip. She waited for me to make the next move, and finally, I put my hands out to my sides, palms up, and stepped forward.
She lowered her head and stepped toward me.
I stopped again, and backed up slowly, ready to make for the rocks if she decided to chase me, but she too stepped back. Nodding, I went on to plan B.
I struck off downhill, off the trail. I walked until I could no longer see them on the top of the ridge, and then began to cut across. I kept the next fence in my vision, and when I reached it, I headed back up to the trail (stepping in a fresh patty on the way). When I stepped onto the trail after my quarter mile detour, I looked back down the path. There, staring at me, was the lead cow who had threatened me when I stepped close. I quickly went through the gate, and started the rest of the way up the mountain, checking for cows every so often, as their gate was also open.
Eventually, I summitted Hump Mountain (probably around 10:15 AM). I paused for a moment, looking around. Here, I stood in a cloud, and the usually grand views were limited as a result. I quickly started down, and about halfway into Bradley Gap, I met a woman with a German accent. She wasn't very talkative, but I warned her of the cows anyway, and continued on my way. I descended into Bradley Gap, skirting the ridge.
Just before the climb to the top of Little Hump Mountain, I came across a full crew of guys and girls. I figured they were going the other way, and were just resting. I didn't stop to say hi because they were about 50 feet off the trail, and I don't like to stop at the bottom of an ascent. One girl shouted, "Hi!" to me, and I returned that greeting, but that was the closest I got to them.
I worked my way up the mountain, and heard the crew behind me starting up. I wondered if they moved that fast that they'd stayed ahead, or if they were just now starting out. I picked up my pace, because I didn't care to be passed on an ascent.
I summitted Little Hump around 11 AM. Just at the summit, I saw a doe sitting where I was intending to have lunch. I stepped up near her, not frightening her at all, it seems, and she simply wandered away a few moments later. I sat and ate my lunch, a few peanut butter and blackberry jelly tortillas, and the crew I had seen at the bottom of Bradley Gap came up behind me. From the other direction, a couple came up Little Hump. I talked to this couple for a while, describing the trail ahead (and the cows). They had a very poor map that didn't show topography, so I handed them my datasheet for the trail. We shook hands, and they continued on.
I went over then to talk to the crew behind me. I was worried that they were looking to stop at the same shelter, Stan Murray Shelter, that I was. It turned out that they were a church crew out of Georgia, and were headed to Carver's Gap. I told them where I was headed, and then headed back to my pack to put my lunch away.
The church group started out ahead of me, headed down into Yellow Gap. I followed close behind, judging their speed. It was clear that I walked faster than they.
Suddenly, one of the girls shouted, "Hey, look!" Off to the left, there was the same doe I had seen, bounding off into the trees below in fear. The girls were delighted in this, and I couldn't help but feel a bit angry. After all, one cannot be surprised that she doens't see any wildlife when she's shouting and laughing her way down the trail.
I was still close behind, and in front of me, one of the girls fell. She was helped to her feet by her friends, but not three steps later, she fell again, this time flat on her face. I took this chance to slip past the crew, listening to make sure she was okay. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was sure that she was, given her laughter. I pushed hard down the path, making hard for the tree line while they still helped her up.
I descended along the ridgeline into the trees, dropping into Yellow Gap. I kept my speed up, and didn't stop until I reached the bottom, trying to out-distance the church crew behind me. I arrived in Yellow Gap, where the trail diverts to Overmountain Shelter around 11:30 AM. I checked my water supply, and found that I had a quart and a half left, and so decided not to stop for water. As I started back up, I could hear the church group behind me (I could always hear them before I saw them). I increased my pace, looking to lose the church group without question.
I topped the first rise, which has no name, and did not pause long. I began the descent into Buckeye Gap directly. I hit bottom and headed back uphill. Around this time, my hip began to hurt. I pushed through the pain, though, and fought my way up the hill at the same pace. Along the way, I saw a bird land in a tree, very low. I passed very close to it, and it didn't move. It just watched me and sang.
I got near Stan Murray Shelter, and began to recognize the terrain immediately. I came across a group of people with a dog who told me that I was close (about 10 min.) from Stan Murray. I also met a couple coming down the incline who informed me that there were a bunch of annoying kids at Stan Murray that night. When I arrived at around 12:30 PM, I found that it was our second crew who had come out for just a single night that the couple had called "annoying." They had arrived shortly before I did, after starting at Carver's Gap that morning.
Adults and kids started to trickle in from this other hike as I was there. I watched them come in and they seemed surprised to see me.
Around 1:30, the church group finally caught up. They stopped with us for lunch. At this point, I was more able to recognize that the crew was made up of about 11 girls and two guys, and that a few of them were really good looking. I simply lay in the shelter and watched the eye-candy. It was a good way to end the day.
Alex and Chris walked into camp at 2:30 PM, the first of my group to come up with us. I told them that they had just missed the girls, and they seemed slightly put out by this. Thomas went down with the younger kids to get water and filled up my bottles, too.
I passed out on my sleeping bag after they showed up, stretched out in the shelter. I woke up around 6 and finished off most of the food in my pack, with the exception of Sunday's breakfast and my emergency stash of Ramen noodles in case I managed to hurt myself bad enough that I couldn't get off the mountain in one night. Around 7:30 PM, a group of three people came through the shelter and asked if anyone had any athletic tape. He'd twisted his ankle, and it looked pretty bad. I gave him my duct tape and he made due with that. They went down to Overmountain Shelter, which is where the rest of my original crew had apparently stopped for the night.
Around 8 PM, four French hikers came into our camp with a dog, expecting four more of their crew to show up. They were going to stay with us in the shelter, so I kicked three of the kids out and told them to put up their tents. One of the women was really very nice looking, and I was hoping to talk to them all anyway. By the time they came over, though, it was dark. I sat up with them for a while, talking. One of the girls pulled off her boots and found that her feet had become soaked in the rain that afternoon. I offered her my towel to dry them off with, and she accepted that.
Eventually, I crawled into my sleeping bag and passed out.
July 4, 2004:
I woke up the next morning with a stiff knee and painful hip. Obviously, I'd done something stupid to it, and needed to walk it off. I pulled on my dry socks, dropped the bear bag, and had some breakfast. I poured my half-quart into one of my full quarts and secured my pack. I ate granola for breakfast, preferring not to cook. I left camp at 7:45 AM, and began the long ascent to the top of Grassy Ridge. I made it up to a beautiful overlook, looking out over the valley. I'd never had time to stop here before, as it was always raining and miserable on this climb, and I was happy I did stop this time.
I continued up, breaking out of the trees into the rhododendrons and some more beautiful views. It was then that I came across the snake.
Sitting in the center of the trail was a snake, markings similar to those on a copperhead, but of a different colour, more of a reddish brown. We watched each other for a few minutes, and finally he figured the discretion was the better part of valour. He slithered off into the brush to the left.
Not being one to take stupid chances, I stepped as far to the right as possible, and then as far up the trail as possible, hoping to avoid scaring him into striking. I was fortunate this time, he didn't show himself again.
I continued up, finally topping the Grassy Ridge as a cloud rolled in over it.
If you've never stood in a cloud before, I'll describe it for you: it's cool and damp, and has a misty quality. It's not like fog, though, because it has a different feel to it. Instead, it feels like you're in a light rain that you can't get rid of, can't shake off. It's not really wet, though, more like damp. You can see a little ways, but not necessarily far.
In short, it's beautiful.
There are some pictures that I have of this, and I have very few pictures from the Ridge and the balds that show good scenery because of it, but the pictures can give you a good idea of what can being in a cloud is like.
I hiked down into the gap between the Grassy Ridge and Jane Bald. About midway down, I came across a gentleman with a camera looking to take snapshots of the scenery from the top of Grassy Ridge. I wished him luck, and let him know he probably wouldn't see much. He thanked me and said he was getting used to that.
I summitted Jane Bald in the cloud, and stood in the thick of it for a while. It was nice to feel. I only paused for a moment, though, before I descended into Engine Gap to face my final ascent to the top of Round Bald. The way down from Jane Bald is treacherous, though, mostly being rocks that are worn smooth from people walking on them. In the rain and condensation, they had become so wet that I'm surprised that, especially with my hip, I was able to stay up.
I pulled myself up the new trail to the top of Round Bald, knowing that Carver's Gap was just on the other side. I hit the summit, and started the descent very quickly. I rolled into Carver's Gap without incident, and dropped my pack next to the sign. I caught a guy who was unloading his truck and got the time: 9:17 AM.
An hour later, the first boys started to trickle in. We sat around, waiting on adults until about noon when we received a call over the radio the boys carried to keep in touch that one of the adults needed his pack carried down. He'd fallen on the climb up from Stan Murray and couldn't carry his pack anymore because his knee had been bruised up very badly.
What made me proudest of all that weekend was the reaction of the kids. We had one pack that needed to be carried, and four boys and myself all stood at the same time and started up the trail, no questions asked. The boys asked each adult in our crew if they would give us their packs, and only the person who needed it agreed, but the boys didn't complain. They simply walked back down and helped out where they could.
I continued up the path to meet our last hiker. I came across him just about half way up from Engine Gap, and asked if I could take his pack. He didn't let me, but I walked with him back.
As we descended Round Bald, the skies suddenly opened up, and (as I had no raingear on), I was drenched. By the time I'd gotten into Carver's Gap, the troop had already left for basecamp. Fortunately, they sent a car back for the two of us.
On Monday, I came home.
Pictures will follow, but as the developers were on a "holiday delay," I didn't get them back until just recently. Jerks.