AT – NC Fontana Dam to NOC (part 1)

7/15/2018 – 7/17/2018 Stecoah Gap to Fontana Dam

Trail Dame Summit is history! So I rushed to Sylva, North Carolina to meet up with everyone at City Lights Cafe for lunch, then off to the mountains!  Highly recommend City Lights Cafe and may need to go back to check out the book store upstairs.  They had a few wonderful vegan options…which gives them 5 stars in my book! 😀

The weather forecast indicated possible thunderstorms that evening but we stayed dry until we hit Jacobs Ladder after Sweetwater Gap.

“Oh, hello, North Carolina, I see you waited up for me.”

Sweat soaked us as we laboriously lifted one foot over the other to make slow forward progress.  It was up, straight up, and boy, was I glad the rain held off as this was one of THOSE hills! Rain would have felt amazing, but it would have resulted in each step forward being followed by two steps sliding back.  Thankfully, it was a short hill, and we quickly finished our big 2.4 mile day to Brown Fork Shelter.

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Yes! Made it and no rain yet!

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Brown Fork Shelter…The site of the Mice Massacre

Brown Fork Shelter is a nice shelter. It is up off the ground, seems clean enough, sturdy.  In the early morning, I got up and walked toward the privy in the deep fog that had descended on the mountain, beautiful until I almost stepped on a mouse.  Then, *quick inhale*, I saw that it was dead. “Oh my gawd” I had glanced around and could not unsee the littering of dead mice as I arrived back at the shelter.  Creepier still was the trash bugs were crawling under them to make it appear they were still moving and a huge bullfrog sitting on the side of the shelter looking down on the massacre as if he had ordered it.  UGH.

So, I have a question.  Do trail maintainers ever put out mouse poison to cull the herd, so to speak?  We found the powdered stuff under the back of the shelter.  I was livid.  Mice eat the poison, bugs eat the mice, birds eat the bugs…you get it.  Yes, the mice are sometimes the most annoying opportunists, but humans made this problem.  Sloppy humans who left food around.  😦

I took my irritation down the trail with me that day and had to hike it out.

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Tallahassee Tom … did you kill those mice?

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Bully Bullfrog…did you order those mice killed? (oh, and please don’t eat the bugs)

The hike was pleasant as we rolled along the AT to Cable Gap Shelter.   Wildflowers lined the trail in places and after getting to the top of one hill we were blessed with a view of the peaks of distant mountains rising above a sea of valley fog.  With each breeze, spanish moss lifted and swayed, floating with the wind for just a few seconds before falling back to cling to the bark of its tree. And it was quiet, so quiet.  You can hear yourself think up here.

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There were some rocky spots 🙂

 

I was apparently fully recovered from the mice massacre when we arrived at Cable Gap since I decided to again sleep in the shelter.  The threat of rain was imminent…and I wanted to keep my tent dry for at least one more day.  I could feel the stillness, the humidity.  I could see the leaves tipping over.  Yes, it was only matter time.  I got my pad set up just in time to watch the skies open up and dump.  Time for a relaxing afternoon in the shelter!

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Uncle Charlie, brother of Uncle Charlie, and son of brother of Uncle Charlie came trooping into the shelter area from Fontana Dam about then.  These three were a comedy of errors and had us both shaking our heads and laughing.  Uncle Charlie had injured his leg early in the day leaving his nephew, son of brother of Uncle Charlie to carry two packs…his own and Uncle Charlie’s.  The son wore one on his back and one on his front…

Leave no trace was not part of their dinner plans, apparently.  Uncle Charlie dumped his left over stuff on his plate right in front of the shelter… I totally called them out on that!  OMG, dead mice and now this!  As they headed up the hill to their hammocks, the son asked if he could leave his pack at the shelter (he left it outside on the ground).  No problem as long as there is NO FOOD IN IT.  He came back in about 15 minutes, sheepishly, and took out a couple of trail bars to hike down to their “bear bag”.  Good Lord, still shaking my head!

During the night, something…maybe a possum, maybe a raccoon, or maybe an army of mice turned his pack over scaring the living bejeezus out of me.  I turned on my headlamp and shot it out to his pack.  The light met with a wall of fog…I saw nothing, but did not sleep particularly well the rest of the night!

I was one sleepy hiker the next morning! No matter, we were headed to Fontana Dam, then to the Hike Inn for a shower and real bed for tonight…I vowed to pop a benedryl.

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All the things that go bump in the night show in our eyes! *yawn*

It was a gorgeous hike into Fontana, but a little demoralizing after we got to the Marina and found we still had about a mile and a half to go.  It was hot as Hades down around Fontana Dam and that last mile *whew* the cool waters of Fontana Lake mocked me. I just wanted to jump in, but it was so far downhill!

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Lucky for me I had gotten a second wind at the Marina and was charging … well okay, I am not really capable of charging, but anyway, keeping a swift pace to Fontana Dam.  Then came the stairs, and the road walk, and it was hot…I got to the Dam and literally sunk to the ground to feel the cool grass.  I tore my boots off and let my feet go “ahhhhhh”!!!

I wanted to get a good look at the Smoky Mountains just on the other side of the dam.  They were intoxicating and pulled me in.  I got up from my shady spot and with my bare feet started across the parking lot.  In the middle of the sun blasted lot I broke out into a slight jog, then, dang it! a run for the grass on the other side as I felt the asphalt burning into the underside of my feet, hahaha, flashbacks to my wonder years growing up in Texas!

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Fontana Dam

Yeah, and after I gazed at those lovely Smoky Mountains I had to run back to the other side… 😀 ouch, ouch, ouch…Hike on!

 

AT – VA Rockfish Gap to Beagle Gap

March 24, still not spring!

The hiking weekend to kick off my spring break…ha!  The house we rented in Staunton, Virginia is lovely and made a great place to plan out alternative hikes…or as I like to think of them, plan B, C, D…

After the hike at Trimble Mountain, we knew that the chances of Shenandoah National Park being open in the morning were pretty close to ZERO.  Throw the maps out on the table and discuss a few possibilities.  None of them were as appealing as hiking the AT, which was Plan A.  We had already used up Plan B at Trimble Mountain, so we went with Plan C, an out and back on the AT starting at Rockfish Gap.  We would hike to McCormick Gap and back…about 7.5 miles.  In the deep snow that would be enough!

Yes, a plan!  We parked at the old HoJo’s at Rockfish Gap and made our way over to the south entrance and cut-off to the AT where we donned our microspikes and headed up into the woods.  Another gorgeous day!

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We were lucky several had passed this way before us packing down the snow a bit on the trail.  It was still icy, so microspikes had been a good call!  We trudged uphill, taking occasional breaks to catch our breath, let the heart rates return to normal, and to generally take in the quiet, snow-laden forest that surrounded us.  Until the crow saw us…he chattered non-stop, either saying hello or get the heck out of my territory… not sure which, but he was quite animated!

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Then I heard it. The hum, the slap of melted snow runoff on moving tires, Skyline Drive must have been opened.  At first one car, then silence.  As we neared McCormick Gap, the number of cars on the drive had picked up considerably…the word was out!

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We stopped for a break at McCormick Gap and made a decision to continue to Beagle Gap and hitch a ride back to Rockfish for the car.  The Hiking Weekend Adventure was in full throttle!

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I was excited!  Reaching the top of the mountain there are several communication towers and oddly enough, tractor seats.  I had seen them many times in pictures and looked forward to breaking there and having a sit-down before descending to Beagle Gap.  It was everything I expected and we all took a nice rest in those tractor chairs!

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The sun was trying to make its way out of the clouds.  Lola pointed out that a rainbow had formed around it.  I looked up, and up, and back, and up, and then…oh gawd…I was falling out of the chair! All I could think was, not today, please, not today, the ground is wet, the ground is muddy…no, no, no, this would NOT happen to me today!  I struggled to keep myself in the chair by one-arming myself off the ground, believe me, not a particularly ballerina moment in my life! 😀  But ladies and gents, it worked!

I arrived at Beagle Gap, high and dry…AAROOOOO!  Hike On!

 

The Deep Freeze Delights of Winter

Well, happy new year and happy outdoor adventuring to everyone! Here is hoping your toes are warm, your furnace is cranking, and the pipes haven’t burst at your house.

I kicked off the new year with the Trail Dames, heading out on the best possible day last week…yay! Temps rising into the twenties!!  What an absolute delight.

I led the Dames on a 6 mile loop at Catoctin Mountain Park near Thurmont, Maryland.  This is one of my favorite hiking spots and home to Camp David for you political junkies.  Occasionally, the trails are shut down when the President is at Camp David.  This isn’t very often with the current administration.  So stomp on down the trails, no secret service to stop you!

Our route started at the Visitor Center.  We were all giddy with the blue skies and promise of increasing temperatures, despite it being 17 degrees as we pulled into the lot and greeted each other.  The Visitor Center opens at 9 am…important information if you like to hit the bathrooms before heading down the trail.  Dames LOVE bathrooms at the beginning of a hike!!! 😀 😀 😀

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Shedding Some Layers!

We started uphill first heading in the direction of Thurmont Vista.  This warmed us up!  We took our first break at the Vista, then continued around to Wolf Rocks.

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We made a half – ass effort to investigate the top of Wolf Rocks, but with ice and snow covering most of the rocks we retreated without argument and  stomped on to Chimney Rocks.  We took a longer break at Chimney Rocks.  It is a nice spot for a break since there are many rocks to sit upon.

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Retreat from Wolf Rocks

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Winter View from Chimney Rocks

Kudos to the park maintainers because they have now blazed the trails in a variety of happy colors and put in benches for restful contemplation of the universe in many spots along the trails.

Leaving Chimney Rocks, it was all downhill, steeply, to park headquarters, then a rolling mile back to our cars.  It was a beautiful way to kick off 2018!

May all your hiking goals be met this year (in spite of the frigid start).  Hike on!

Camp out with the Dames – New Germany State Park, Maryland

A camp out with the Dames! A new state park to explore! Sidekick Pauli was coming! Triple yay 🙂 🙂 🙂

I love to plan fun stuff for our Trail Dame chapter to do and this was no exception.  A camp out was a great opportunity to chill out on a beautiful Autumn weekend in western Maryland.  I had never been to New Germany State Park and was excited by the prospect of hiking somewhere new.

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The Lake at New Germany State Park

A few of the Dames are beginner backpackers and wanted to try out their gear over the weekend.  This turned out to be a super weekend for that too!

We all started arriving at the park on Friday afternoon.  Tent went up quickly, then I went up to the park office with Queen V to buy firewood…a campfire there would be!

The park office was not hard to find.  The ranger asked us if we wanted to go on a trail run he was going to lead that weekend.  Politely declining, and somewhat flattered that he had asked, we went to grab our firewood and return to camp.  Now, Queen V and I, well, we are lesbians,…but as we left, I leaned over to her and asked, “Was that guy hot?”  because I’m never quite sure, but my temperature was certainly elevated 😀 and she practically cut me off replying “OH MY GOD, he was so hot!!”  Like, so hot, I was ready to attempt trail running…no lie.  He was fondly referred to as Ranger McDreamy (coined by Queen V) for the rest of the weekend! Ha!

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A pay phone? One can make two calls for free from this phone…911 or a number that links you to pastoral counseling…good to know 🙂

Fanning ourselves as we returned to the campground, I found a few more Dames had their tents going up. Oh, what a site! We had taken over the small tenting loop. Our, all ours! Okay, one site wasn’t ours…it had been…then that particular dame decided not to come and gave her site away. 😦   For SHAME!!!

Our first hike was Friday evening, a casual stroll from our tent site to the lake, then along the Orchard Loop and back…maybe 2 miles.  Just enough to start bonding with everyone and make the transition from busy life to restful weekend!

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Heading up the Orchard Loop

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Hemlock Trees!

Afterwards, I built a fire and hung out long into the night (maybe 9:30) with the Dames.  B^2 had brought pie, Roxanne brought home made caramel corn, and Queen V brought sausage for Sidekick Pauli! These women are the best!

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“Is that Queen V making bacon?” ~Sidekick Pauli gazing longingly over to Queen V’s campsite

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Indeed it was, Sidekick Pauli, indeed it was!

The next day we took a longer hike starting down by the lake, circling the other campground, then taking the Cabin Loop to the Turnpike Trail.  The trails are altogether lovely at this park and, in the winter, are groomed for cross-country skiing.

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The New Germany School House

Along the way, a must stop was the old school house.  Yeah, I’m a teacher, so historic places having to do with education are right up my alley! Don’t think I haven’t fantasized about being a teacher in a one-room school house. 😀

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Filtering water

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Follow up Lunch & Backpacking Chat

Later on during the hike, a few of the Dames tried out their water filters.  This was a great experience for these Dames! Do you remember the first time you filtered watered out of a creek and drank it?  The initial hesitation, the wonderment, then the satisfaction of drinking the water that you had filtered?  I saw all of this as I watched from my perch under a shady tree.  So proud of these gals!

We returned to camp for lunch and backpacking chat, which was then followed by a backpacking gear demo by none other than Venture Scout leader extraordinaire, Lola! Wow, her mini-van must have been packed with stuff.  And how absolutely selfless to bring it to our camp out and demo it! The backpackers, new and old, got a lot of great ideas during our day of learning!

Saturday evening the park was providing a “Star Party”.  Most of the Dames chose to walk back down to the lake except for Queen V and me.  I decided to drive because my old Pauli girl was pooped and wanted to sleep in the car.  The Star Party was awesome! We could see the Milky Way without any special telescope and many satellite fly overs (even the Russian satellite passed over).  Clear skies and very little light pollution made for a wonderful night under the stars!

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Looking toward the Lake House

It got a bit chilly as we all made our way back to our campsites in the dark.  We gathered round around a roaring fire and made s’mores to cap off the day.   I was so happy to crawl into the tent with my warm Pauli as the temps kept dropping. 🙂 Happiness is a warm puppy!

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Sunday was a lazy morning.  No hikes planned, just clean up, take down, and drive home.  I was very sad to leave! These Dames…amazing! Hike On!

 

 

 

 

And Then, Out Came The Sun!

Oh boy, to say we’ve had a spell of rain in the Mid-Atlantic would be a half-truth. I feel for all those hikers out there on an AT thru-hike or section hike. They just haven’t had many dry days in the last month.  

When backpacking I seem to be able to dig deep and splash on when inundated with the wet stuff.  Flashing back to my section hike of the Georgia section of the AT…8 out of 10 days it rained. Most memorable rain event was being stuck in the Tray Mountain Shelter during the derecho in June 2013…

As a day hiker, I seem to lack that same willpower to hike when raining.  So I have been literally crawling in my own skin as rain continued to pour down over the last several weeks.  There were windows of opportunity, during which I would hurriedly scamper down a trail to get back to my car before the next sky dump occurred.  Most of the time I’ve been lucky!

And then, out came the sun! We got a bonified reprieve today, huzzah! So even though I’d awakened with a migraine, I remained optimistic, popped some meds and took off for Catoctin Mountain Park. 

I parked at the Visitor Center, then headed off down the trail towards Headquarters. I planned a loop hike to Chimney Rocks and Thurmont  Vista.  

Slightly squishy trail

My feet stumbled a bit on the rocks as my brain still struggled with bad migraine juju. As I rounded the corner at Headquarters and headed uphill my feet got in sync with what my brain was telling them to do and the going got much easier despite going up, up, up! 

Oh, and the Mountain Laurel, wow! It was abundantly flowering. Just lovely!

Once on the ridge, I was able to breathe deeply the scents of a forest made more delightfully pungent after many days of hard rain. Inhale…ahhhhhhhhh!  New blowdowns had exposed bug-ridden interiors and the birds voiced their happiness with delirious abandon. A glorious morning to be alive!

I took a sit down at Chimney Rocks. Shedding my boots, I made myself comfy leaning into the coolness of my stone seat. Getting lost in the blue of the sky while letting my thoughts filter through my head like the parade of puffy, white clouds making their way across the sky was a luxury.  I had no idea how long I sat there, and didn’t care. I got up when I got up!

The time at which I left Chimney Rocks was apparently the perfect time to continue on down the trail as I passed seven hikers headed for the spot I had vacated.  

Sturdy new benches all along the trail, and shiny new trail signs!

Making a quick pass of Wolf Rocks, I headed off in the direction of Thurmont Vista. 

At a fork in the trail, I passed a large group of hikers headed to Wolf Rocks…so glad I was going against traffic!  I had Thurmont Vista all to myself!

Down the hill to the next Trail sign. “Visitor Center 1 mile, Hog Rock 1.5 miles” Decision time. Big Loop (8.5 miles) or Little Loop (5 miles)? I looked at weather app on my phone…hmmm, possible thunderstorms at 2 pm (time was 1:52 pm).  I looked at the sky…some darker clouds over to the west. I looked at the trees, breezes picking up and some trees had flipped their leaves. 

Well, I wasn’t going to push my luck after such a delightful morning! Here’s to getting to the car without having to outrun a thunderstorm! Hike on!

3/24/14 Ahhh…Spring Break! Taking to the Trail at Gambrill SP

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Okay, seriously, Spring?  It was 18 degrees when I left my house at 7:30 AM!  The saving grace was it was bright, sunny and no wind.  Sidekick Pauli was eager to get outside and stretch her four legs. So after a quick stop at 7-Eleven for a block of cheese we headed for Gambrill SP […]