Monday, July 21, 2014

Third Time's a Charm! A Thunderstorm Free Day Over Big Hump Mountain

The original plan for today was to hike the 13.5 mile stretch from Carvers Gap to 19E. Unfortunately, we didn't make it out of the house in time to make the 9am shuttle from Mountain Harbour Bed & Breakfast, so plans quickly evolved to hiking south from 19E to the summit of Big Hump Mountain. After picking up some pizza from Smoky Mountain Bakers we were at the trailhead by 1pm  (thank goodness the sun sets late). We headed south along the Appalachian Trail, climbing 2,500 ft. over the course of 5.5 miles. I was feeling strong, I was fast, I was unforgiving, and I was feeling great despite the fact that I was on the edge of sucking wind. After the first hour I finally stopped for water, "Thank God!", Cori exclaimed, "I thought you were trying to kill me! What kind of mission are you on right now?" I guess I needed to slow down a little bit. It helped that stretches of the trail between Doll Flats and the bald of Big Hump Mountain were covered in rocks. I hate rocks. They slow me down. They cause me to be meticulous with every little step. They slant in all kinds of weird directions, making every step across the mini boulder line a precarious balancing act, and all I can do is focus on not breaking an ankle or hyper-extending my knees. Terrifying.

I breathed a sign of relief to myself when the stretches of rocks ended, and the thick rhododendron thicket gave way to an open, overgrown meadow. Wildflowers swayed back and forth gently in the wind, and bumble bees buzzed around our legs. They sky was marked with puffy white clouds, just enough to tame down the sun. There was no sign of rain. I guess the third time really is a charm. We would finally make it over this bald in good weather. Thank God, because the first and second times were nearly epic.

We made the final steep ascent up to the top of Big Hump Mountain where we sat on the little bench made from cement slabs, soaked in the view, ate some snacks, and added another top layer to help keep us warm on our long windy descent. Dear lord, we have to go down everything we just hiked up. I hate downhill hiking. It kills my knees, and today I'm carrying a pack which meant extra weight bearing down on me. At least this would give me an opportunity to assess how well my knees would currently handle a tough descent. With our Long Trail hike only two weeks away (yikes!) I needed to know what my body could handle.

We went down, down down, back into the rhodo thicket and hardwood forest. Then down, down, down the 2,500 feet to the road. Some parts of the trail were so steep that I was practically jogging. We reached the road by dinner time and I was feeling surprisingly good. I felt like I could go on for a few more miles. My endurance was great, and my legs didn't hurt; until I sat down and tried to stand back up again. We headed to Bob's Dairy Land for dinner, just a short 5 minute trip down the road, and when I stepped out of the car my knees were throbbing. Uh oh. Tomorrow would require a zero day, and plenty of anti-inflammatories. I'm not sure what this means for the Long Trail, but I do know that everything else about this day was epically perfect.

Sign at Doll Flats

View Heading Toward Big Hump Summit

View of Grandfather Mountain from Doll Flats

Bee Balm

Memorial Sign for Stan Murry near Big Hump Mtn Summit

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Day Along the Parkway: Cascade Falls & Mabry Mill

After two weeks of non-stop work and workouts, we decided to take a leisurely drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. During a last minute decision making process we both realized that we always drive South on the parkway toward Asheville, but we've never driven North. Not sure why that is, but today we headed north, with dogs in tow,  toward Virginia with no particular destination in mind.

Our first spontaneous stop was at E.B. Jeffress Park (mile post 271.9) where we accessed the Cascade Falls Trail. This short, easy, one-mile interpretive trail follows a well-maintained gravel path through a hardwood forest, and down a short series of stone steps to view the falls from both the top (looking down the falls) and the bottom (looking up the falls).

Cascade Falls Trailhead
View of Cascade Falls

On the way back up, we passed a beautiful fire pink and a huge (5ft. tall) Solomon Seal.

Next, we made our way North to Mabry Mils (milepost 176.2) to visit the most photographed site.  This stop is an interpretive site featuring one of the most complex water flumes for its time. The gristmill is in its original location (unlike many structures along the parkway that have been relocated), and also features a blacksmith shop and saw mill. Unfortunately, it's still early in the season and interpretive programs are not yet available during weekdays.

After walking around the mill and relaxing with the dogs, it was nearing dinner time. There is a restaurant located in the Mills visitors shop, but we wanted to venture out to find some local fare. The ladies at the information desk offered up many suggestions for places to eat in Floyd (VA 8, milepost 165.3), 11 miles north along the Parkway, then five miles to Floyd once exiting. We chose to eat at a new restaurant called the The Artist's Table, which serves local, organic food. This place was such a great find and certainly worth the extra 15-mile drive! We got to eat outside on the porch with the dogs, the staff were incredibly nice, and food was amazing! We'll definitely be going back.

(Clockwise: Dudley, Hershey, Jasmine, Dinner, Dessert  Photo courtesy of Cori Holladay)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Art Loeb Trail: Section 1

Trail (Section) Length:  12.3 Miles, Difficult. We hiked a total of 15 miles (approximately), going past the Gloucester Gap and continuing up toward Pilot Mtn. before turning around and coming back to the gap. We split this section into an overnight trip:

Day 1: Davidson Trailhead to Butter Gap shelter (8.8 miles).
Day 2: Butter Gap shelter to Pilot Mtn. (approx 5 miles)

Trail Location: The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1 mile trail located in Pisgah National Forest, and is divided into four sections. We started at the Davidson Campground parking area and headed west. The trailhead is located 0.2 miles south of the Pisgah District Ranger Station of of US 276, outside of Brevard.

Trail Description: The entire Art Loeb Trail is one one of the most difficult yet most popular trails in North Carolina. Each section of the trail offers a unique experience and gorgeous ridge-line views. Section one starts at the Davidson Campground trailhead and heads west, traversing over steep ups and downs over ridges. Views in this section are best seen during the winter when the trees are dormant offering spectacular views of Cedar Mountain and other nearby ridges.

Map Created By Rachel Albritton with data from the U.S. Forest Service & Google Earth

Monday, May 19, 2014

I'm Going on a Hike!

Oh my Godsh I'm going on a hike! You mean the PCT you ask? No! (Well yes, but that's not exactly what I mean at the moment). I mean I'm going on a hike this week! I've done nothing but day hikes in the last four years. FOUR YEARS. Pathetic. What makes this even more exciting? A new backpack...AND a new tent.

Friday, May 16, 2014

When One Door Closes...

Nearly three weeks ago I helped Cori pack up her first three mail drops for her Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hike and shipped them, along with her gear, out to California. Two days later she faced one of her greatest fears, and got on a plane to San Diego, CA. By April 25, she was 1 of 75 people standing at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  That evening she was at Lake Morena celebrating ADZPCTKO (Annual Day Zero PCT Kickoff), feeling ever not so well, and after another two days of trying to overcome suspected jet lag she thankfully found herself back at the home of trail angel Betty Wheeler. An initial visit to urgent care revealed that she had contracted a virus and was instructed to take an additional 7-10 days of rest. At her rate of recovery, she would need at least another week off to recoupe, putting her back on the trail mid May. With a goal to finish by September first, this would mean hiking an average of roughly 25 miles/day with no days off. Doesn't sound like much fun. After three days of sleeping with no sign of recovering, and much discussion about the "right thing to do" she decided to come home, and try again next year. This decision later proved to be invaluable. Later visits and tests to the doctor revealed she had contracted a strain of the flu. She wound up needing a full two weeks of rest before feeling "normal" again.

Although seemingly unfortunate, this series of events has resulted in a new outlook for both of us. Next year, when Cori revisits the trail, I will be with her.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Linville Falls: Basin Plunge & Gorge Trails

Trail Mileage: 1.8 miles total (Gorge Trail + Basin Plunge Trail Combined)

Trail Location: All of the Linville Falls trails can be reached from the Blue Ridge Parkway, mile post 316. From November - April when the parkway tends to be closed, the falls can be reached from an alternate parking area off of NC 183 that remains open year round, however, the forest service roads and parking lot are not plowed in the winter.  From the visitor center, the Gorge and Basin Plunge trails are to the left and are more difficult then the other set of trails that leaves from the visitor center and to the right (Upper Falls, Chimney View, and Erwin View trails).

When we arrived at the visitor center it was nearing the end of the day, and I was hungry for dinner so we kept our time at the falls fairly short, choosing to hike only the Gorge and Basin Plunge overlook trails. As we headed up the trail, the Gorge trail is just past the Duggers Creek loop entrance. We forked left and descended a steep 0.4 miles down to the river where we were rewarded with a river front view of the Falls. 

Crabtree Falls

Trail Mileage: 2.5 miles, loop trail
Elevation Gain: 627 ft.
Elevation Loss: 574 ft.

Location: Crabtree Falls is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 339.5

Crabtree Falls Trail

Crabtree Fall Trail Profile

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Catching Up

It's been to long since I've posted (over a year), and almost as long since I've done any kind of hiking. I've completely starved myself of the things that seem to give meaning to my life; hiking, writing, and photography. Unacceptable. This is in-part due to living in the flatlands of Ft. Benning, Georgia for most of 2013, but mostly due to life in general. I got wrapped up in completing my Masters Degree, working, and roller derby. After some reflection its clear that portions of my life lended themselves to the opportunity to write (i.e my adventures as a rollergirl; my conservation work along the Chattahoochee Fall Line with The Nature Conservancy), but somehow these opportunities fell by the wayside. Luckily, recent life changes have brought me back to the beautiful town of Boone, NC where hiking means stepping out my front door.