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