AT – VA Dripping Rock to Rockfish Gap

Backpacking with my gal pals last weekend! How is it to know these women, these outrageous trail bitches who understand this is not a frivolous hobby? We understand each other in a deep way even our life partners don’t get. We see the desire burning in each other’s heart for the outdoors, for the forest, for walking in and not having to walk out right away. Hiking and backpacking is something we do because it is what makes us whole! and it is what makes us reasonable human beings in all the other areas of our lives.

With that in mind, we all piled into Akela’s minivan, WHICH HOLDS ALL SEVEN OF US AND OUR GEAR!! Headed south to Dripping Rock, one of us has forgotten her cell phone…turn around, back to Rockfish Gap…OKAY, now we headed for Dripping Rock … for real! 😀

A sunny, but very chilly morning, at 20 degrees! Thankfully, climbing first thing. It is a lovely stretch of trail up the mountain. Some of us hike a little faster, some a little slower, … all of us hike with optimism, smiles, and support for one another.

The views at the top were amazing, of course! We stopped for lunch at the highest point of our hike. A nice break on the sun splashed rocks until the sun went on hiatus and the wind decided to pick up and play chicken with us. Okay, okay, we are going, seriously! Gloves and hats back on! Ladies, someone has an issue with letting us soak in the sun!

We felt good as we started down towards Paul C. Wolfe Shelter. Golden leaves covered our path in spots as we hiked one way, then the next, zigzagging down the mountain on a kazillion switchbacks. A big nice trail for the most part!

It was a great day filled late Autumn forest magic. A gust of wind showered us with leaves, a beam of sunlight warmed us for a few minutes, a deer silently sneaked a peek at us, and birds called out to each other as we passed. I arrived at the shelter free of all regular life stuff. No place but here, no time but now.

I got my tent up and had dinner as the forest went dark. The moon was almost full giving me all the happy vibes. 🙂

A couple of dads and their sons were camped at the shelter. “NO worries about bears tonight”, I thought, as those boys ran up and down each side of the creek having the time of their lives.

I crawled into my tent, broke open some ‘hothands’ to warm up my tootsies and my sleeping bag, then fell promptly to sleep…at 7:00 pm. Woohoo! Hiker midnight!

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Morning now nigh…Dang, it is always a tough time getting out of the bag on a cold morning!! Deep breath and up I was. Packing up warms you up, so move, move, move! And, oh crap, I have to filter water…oh, but what a nice view I had!!

Hot oatmeal warmed my insides and coffee made me a little more coherent, then it was down the trail we went. It was much warmer on Sunday morning and with temps climbing we were soon plenty warm. The trail had some disaster blow downs which gave us an aerobic edge to our hike. We were shedding layers like crazy! “Lost&Found” had to do an extensive striptease on the trail since she needed to get her long johns off…if that would have been me, I know a fricken entire boy scout group would have appeared! Luckily, she got it done without any such embarrassment!

We spent several minutes at the Lowe cemetery. Akela suggested that it would be a good cleanup project. I have to agree. A tree had fallen over a few graves in the back of the cemetery.

Next stop was Mayo Homestead…a very nice place it must have been with that big fireplace! I can imagine riding a horse up to the cabin and seeing smoke drifting up out of the chimney. A promise of freshly baked bread or other delight waiting for me!

Along the last stretch we met ‘Walking Spirit’, a south bound thru hiker. He was sitting by a nicely flowing spring, enjoying his break. That is what is great about solo hiking. You hike, you break, you eat, you sleep, all without needing to check in with anyone. On the flip side, you get to an amazing view or beautiful tree and you want to share the awe with someone, but all you have is you.

I love solo, but my trail gals…awwwww yeah… that’s my heart!

Hike on!

I Think It May Be Spring!

Thank goodness, right? If your winter was anything like my winter…ugh.

Father Winter was a big tease with lots of potential, but no big exciting events. In Maryland, we would get icy mix, a little snow, then it would melt and we were left with a few damp, chilly days in the mid-40s. Brrr…rrr

Thank you Goddess of Spring for finally taking control!

Last weekend, I led a “newbie backpacker” trip. We had 4 new and 5 experienced backpackers. The newbies had completed two shakedown hikes prior and felt somewhat prepared.

We began our adventure at Shippensburg Road trailhead on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. Saturday started as winter…very cold and windy! We got moving!

As we hiked the seasons turned. A lovely day indeed!

In general, we took this stretch slower, and with more breaks than I would take if I were going alone. Which makes perfect sense for new backpackers. They had plenty of time for adjusting the pack, stretching, resting, and enjoying the woods!

We rolled into Tom’s Run Shelter mid-afternoon, plenty of time for the newbies to set up.

It was a cold night and one newbie had not brought the recommended 20 degree bag. She learned and will pack accordingly next time. Sometimes, we have to learn the hard way. 🙂

Spring rebounded on Sunday! The trail was a slight disaster with tons of water flowing down it and many blowdowns that had to be climbed over, under, or around! Our newbie, who hadn’t slept much due to being cold the night before, just about petered out on the last hill of the day. We got some extra food in her and took it slow…she was determined to finish! She dug deep and conquered the last hill!

Everyone finished sucessfully at Pine Grove Furnace State Park with smiles (and a few emotional tears). I am so proud of these women! We stick together, push through our fears, learn from our miscalculations, and always Hike On!

AT-VA Loft Mountain to Turk Gap…completing Shenandoah!

I ended the AT through Shenandoah where I began it long ago. Several years back my sweetie and I backpacked the Moorman River Loop which traversed the AT from Turk Gap to Blackrock Gap…loved that trip!

Anyway, here I was with the Dames at Loft Mountain pulling out my gear for a quick overnight on the AT. It was going to be a hot one!

Shorts? Check!

Prehydrate with Gatorade? Check!

Backpack packed light? OMG OMG OMG OMG 21 POUNDS!!!!! WHAAAAAT?

That has never happened…are you kidding me? 21 pounds?!! I’m so proud of myself 😂

Okay, let me collect myself, whew…

The first day was sweet! Gorgeous trail, interesting rocks, and tremendous views from Blackrock Summit.

Pulling down into Blackrock Hut, we got set up quickly. I decided that I was going to have a lazy weekend and took advantage of a mostly empty shelter! The ridgerunner, Papa Bear, showed up, in addition to a slew of thruhikers and weekend warriors.

Papa Bear was a great conversationalist and I soon found out we knew some of the same trail folk. This type of encounter is what I truly love about the AT. The trail connects us in ways we cannot possibly understand or anticipate; it is almost magical. 😊

A few of the guys tenting down the hill spotted a mama bear and cub on the opposite side of the ravine! We all ran down to watch them until they ambled off. Then it was to bed for me! Next morning I heard that the bears came back…the guys down the hill had to come out of their tent, yell a bit, made a bunch of noise until the bears again left. 😲

I heard nothing from the bears, but oh! The whipporwills! A lovely serenade long into the night.

The following day I treated the dames to slackpacking the last 8.5 miles. I would say it was a treat for me too, but recall my pack was ONLY 21 POUNDS!! 😄😄😄

It was a great decision. Four good climbs, temps climbing into mid-80s, and a delightful mugginess moved in. Yummy.

It was one of those days. Climb up 100 yards, stop to rest, up, rest, up, rest…

The wildflowers along the way made it bearable!

Turk Gap was a welcome sight! A few of us capped off the weekend at Loft Wayside before dragging ourselves back to the real world. Here’s to good friends, the trail community, and whipperwills…hike on!

AT-VA Turk Gap to Beagle Gap

I left off telling the story of our hiking weekend back in March to attend my dad’s funeral.  It has been hard getting back to writing on the blog since then.  I wasn’t particularly close to my dad, but he was an enigmatic force and all things “Albert” could have a lasting affect on all who knew him. Alzheimer’s paired with old age got him in the end…but what a life he led!

One thing I had in common with him was his love for the woods.  So it is back to the woods we go!

Earlier in the weekend, Shenandoah National Park had been closed due to snow and ice.  It had opened AFTER we had started hiking on the previous day hiking AT – VA Rockfish Gap to Beagle Gap .  What a difference a day made!

Driving to Turk Gap we dodged an army of squirrels intent on licking up something that was on the road, possibly salt.  The road was clear, the sky was blue, and the snow was still pristine in many spots.  Evidence of other hikers was there, but still lovely!

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Capital Cheezy Shot at the Trail Head 😀

This section took us down, down, down to a lovely stream valley, then up, up, up Calf Mountain.  In the snow.  Trudge, trudge, trudge…it was kicking my butt!  I was making my best effort to love winter, but honestly, after this weekend I didn’t care to see another flake of snow for a looooonnnnnnggg time!!

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This gorgeous view was the first road crossing at an overlook.  Regardless of how I feel hiking in snow today, I absolutely go all gaga for this kind of view!

I waited so long to write up this section on the blog that is is now long past winter and warm weather has arrived.  And I use the definition of warm from the Mid-Atlantic weather dictionary…hot, muggy, and what the hell happened to Spring???

So, it is with a bit wistful yearning that I revisit this section. 😀

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Climbing Calf Mountain … hiking friends helpful on this snowy climb! However, the snow had been melting all day. Out in the distance there are snow free mountains!

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After that climb I AM NOT hiking down 0.3 miles to take a gander at the Calf Mountain Shelter. Just no.

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Hallefrickenlujah!!!!! The summit of Calf Mountain! YES, YES, YES!!! Now where is my damn sticker?

After the Summit of Calf Mountain, it was pretty smooth sailing, thankfully!  One more lesser summit on Little Calf Mountain, then down the field to the cars closing out out our hiking weekend.

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Summit of LIttle Calf Mountain-JUST LOOK AT THE SKY!!!

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View from Little Calf Summit – A very nice closer! Well done Appalachian Trail, well done indeed!

Three great hikes with four great gals! Hike On!

 

 

 

AT – NC Wayah Bald to Winding Stair Gap

Day 6: June 29, 2017

A quiet morning to hike.  Ten miles, then boom, my trip to North Carolina would be over. Back to Maryland, back to everyday life.  I was looking forward to getting back home even though the mountains in NC have been delightful to hike.

This hike had Momma Puma shuttling me to a trail head for the last time.  Afterwards, she would be off on her own adventure and we planned on meeting up at Google’s cabin in the evening.

A quiet morning with sounds of grass brushing against my hiking pants broken by the occasional cry of a bird or crunch of tires on the fire road.  I watched as the sky clouded up, to the point I thought rain was imminent, then, in a blink, the sun would break through and make the forest glow.

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The trail passed by a campsite before the Bartram trail diverged to the right.  I took a little break there.  I sat back against a tree and thought about the week I’d had hiking here in NC.  The mountains are just so darn dramatic!

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Rounding a corner near Wilson Lick trail, I heard a crash and looked up to see a bear butt running up hill! How exciting!

I moved on down the trail with a smile…yes, wildlife, finally!

The AT crossed the fire road a few times before reaching the paved road at Wayah Gap.

Now, I was going to be headed uphill for awhile and hopefully, hopefully I wouldn’t miss the turn-off for Siler Bald!  More people, actually a lot of people were on this stretch of trail.  That made the trip up seem shorter and the variety of body types made me think this “up” wouldn’t be too bad.  The uphill did go up for a good ways, though! Definitely break worthy, so I found a nice log and had a snack.  It was getting humid, whew!

And I missed the turn-off for Siler Bald!!!  Unbelievable. I saw the sign for the shelter, but nothing for the bald.  So I backtracked. ugh! But I knew I would regret not going to the bald!

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This is why I missed the turn-off. So overgrown! It got worse, before better…and I was separating grasses with my hiking poles to check for snakes before plowing through!

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Once climbing to the top of Siler Bald, I was happy I had backtracked! What a view! I didn’t stay long because it was unbearably HOT in that field!

Having had my most excellent view from Siler Bald, I was ready to hoof it down to Winding Stair Gap.  However, I had to cross through Panther Gap first…and I was in a silly mood by then as I was on a very warm and humid mile 8.  Coming down into Panther Gap, I thought, “why do they have to call it Panther Gap?  Why not kitty cat gap? or Hello Kitty gap?…what if there really are panthers in Panther Gap? Wait, is a panther the same as a cougar? a mountain lion? I wonder if they are black?…”

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Then I stopped to stretch my neck…too much looking at the ground.

OH. MY. GAWD.  I looked hard, not believing what I was seeing.  Tan color…Is that a bobcat?  No, that is a long droopy swinging tail!!!  The cat, kitty, panther, cougar, mountain lion, whatever you want to call it was about 25 yards in front of me casually walking down the AT away from me!!! Holy moly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  He paused for a moment to look over its shoulder at me.  A sweet little head with rounded ears, no tufts, definitely NOT a bobcat,…I quickly inhaled then clicked my hiking poles together.  (No need for him to get too curious.)  He turned back around and began to trot down the trail.  I waited, gave him time to find a safe spot before I walked on.

He was no where to be seen when I passed through.

I felt so blessed, wow, so, so blessed to have this cat make his presence known.  exhale. We all share this one world.  All creatures great and small.

Hike on.

AT – NC Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap

Day 5: Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap, June 28, 2017

“I’ll just hike a little ways with you”

Words from Momma Puma as we pulled into the Wayah Bald parking area.  I barely heard her as my senses were overtaken by the sheer jaw-dropping vista this morning at Wayah Bald.

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The Wayah Bald fire tower, substantial as it is, sustained a clear amount of damage from the fires.  It’s majestic nature has not been affected in the slightest, I am happy to report!  The interior chamber of the fire tower on the ground level would be a great hiding place in a storm.

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Done exploring at the fire tower, we headed north on the AT and downhill.  We passed the sign for the shelter, then promptly, went the wrong way!  I figured the sign for the shelter meant it was a blue blaze, twenty minutes later I am shaking my head as it seemed we were headed around the mountain and below the fire tower.  The one time I have used technology on the trail to actually check my location…and a good call!  Guthook’s guide app showed that we were indeed off the Appalachian Trail…it didn’t show what trail we WERE on (a drawback to the app is that it doesn’t show all the intersecting trails) but we knew we were on the Bartram Trail.  It was encouraging to see that I was correct in where I thought I was…anyway, we backtracked…ugh.

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You know some people get off trail because there is no signage…me…sign right in front of me, but I assumed it meant a blue blaze to the shelter. 😀 Extra credit miles today.

Once back at the intersection, Mama Puma, decided she didn’t want to climb back up the hill to her car.  Too funny! So she joined me, for better or worse, to Tellico Gap.

The woodsy trail was a delightful change from the rugged, eroded trail into the NOC I’d hiked the day before.  Lush green engulfed us all of the way to Tellico Gap.

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It was a long hike with my pesky blisters making themselves heard with every step after four miles.  At the shelter I sat down for a break…a real break…and changed the bandages on the blisters.  After about 25 minutes, Momma Puma indicated we needed to get moving, so I regretfully pulled on my boots.

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Momma Puma

The new bandages were helpful, but as we neared Tellico Gap I was singing “Tellico, Oh Tellico, these old boots have got to go” as my feet screamed for freedom.  You do whatever gets you down the trail!

Yes! The light at the end of the tunnel was NOT an oncoming train!!! After being teased with peeks at the fire road for a mile or so, we reached the parking area at Tellico Gap.  Flip flops here I come!

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In my trusty RAV4 once again, we drove down the not scary side of the mountain, then made two more stops: 1) back to Momma Puma’s truck at Wayah Bald, then 2) repark my car at Winding Stair in preparation for my last hike for this trip…Wayah Bald to Winding Stair.

Blisters be quiet because I am hiking on!

 

AT – NC Tellico Gap to NOC

Day 4: Tellico Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center 6/27/2017

Backpack between Deep Gap and Winding Stair complete, Momma Puma let me know that she could not continue hike due to the knee injury she acquired climbing up Albert Mountain.

hmmm…

hmmm…

You know that sound a video game (and I am so dating myself right now), the sound right before the end, 

Insert deep foreboding voice, GAME OVER!

Anyway, that was what played in my head as Momma Puma told me this news.

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Then I started planning for how I could continue the trek.  I came down to NC to complete the section from Deep Gap to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or NOC, and gosh darn it, I would find a way!  Momma Puma graciously extended the offer to shuttle (thank you, thank you).

I was willing to backpack it alone, but needed more information on the trail.  I sent out feelers to hiker friends in the area.  Ann L. texted back, stating there wasn’t anything harder ahead than I had already encountered and no more Albert Mountain-like stuff.  My hiker friend Google (remember her from my GA, MD, and PA sections?) got back to me with a sweeter offer.  Stay at her cabin in Hiawassee and day hike from Winding Stair to the NOC.  She had split it up into three sections that would make the shuttling easier: 1. Tellico Gap to NOC (leaving my car at Tellico Gap), Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap (pick up my car at Tellico Gap and repark at Winding Stair Gap), then the last section would be Wayah Bald to Winding Stair.

Great plan, Google!

So here we were climbing the fire road (Tellico Road) to Tellico Gap, me in my RAV4, and Momma Puma in her big ass truck.  Holy Moly, people…that road is ridiculous!  I kept thinking “jees, this should be a one-way stretch. God forbid, I meet someone coming the other way!”  It was one lane, dirt/gravel, with a massive drop off that became visible at every hairpin turn.  Momma Puma had to actually back up to maneuver around one particularly tight turn in the road. Pretty sure she was holding her breath!

At the top, we parked the cars, exited our respective vehicles and silently (well, almost silently) mouthed “Holy shiiiiiiiiiit” to each other. That was crazy!

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Look! Another RAV4 🙂 🙂 🙂 Great little mountain climbers

Gathering my day hiking gear, I set off headed north to Wesser Bald Fire Tower.  It was a gorgeous day, sunny with a temperatures that were going to climb no higher than the mid-70s. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Lucky me!

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And off I go!

The climb was a long one, but not especially strenuous.  The trail was flat, not a lot of rocks, and it moderately climbed to the fire tower.  I pulled over for a break under the fire tower.  The fire towers I passed in this section of North Carolina are so cool.  I love climbing up and taking in the view from the top.

However, something weird happened on this trip that is new to me…vertigo on the fire tower steps.  Never had that happened before.  At Albert Mountain, I got to the second platform and stopped.  Here at Wesser Bald, I made it half way up the second flight of steps, then had to sit down. I could of butt climbed the rest of the way to the top, but since I had a good view where I sat, I decided to stop there.

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Wesser Bald Fire Tower

After my break I headed down towards the shelter.  The trail started to narrow dramatically after passing the shelter.  Fire damage and erosion has taken an immense toll on this section of trail.  Most of the day I was on a narrow strip of trail, the sides of the mountain falling off on either side of me.  I watched my step!

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Skinny trail just past the shelter

The damage to the trail came to a head at the “jump-off”.  I was flabbergasted at the condition.  I had thoughts running through my head like, “I shouldn’t even be walking on this.” and “Holy mother of God, is this the trail???”  Just below the jump-off, the trail was about 10 inches wide on an otherwise precariously steep slope that had seen some slide damage due to erosion.  There was a place where a tree had fallen or shifted, leaving a gaping hole in the trail that needed to be stepped over.

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I was happy to leave that part of the trail behind as I continued steeply downhill!  I found a nice log to sit on down the trail a bit and had some lunch, while texting Momma Puma my approximate time of arrival to the NOC.  The rest of the trail down to the NOC was steep in places, and there were signs of erosion, but nothing like what I experienced at the top.  I was soon down and headed across the Nantahala River to don my flip flops and relax in an Adirondack chair while waiting for Momma Puma to show up. Bliss, I tell you!

The NOC has free Wifi, so I tapped into it.  After sending another message to Momma Puma, I checked out Facebook.  and there I saw it…Momma Puma was having a beer somewhere here at the NOC! What???? Beer??!!

Apparently, even though I had Wifi, my text messages weren’t reaching her…travesty when there is celebratory beverages concerned!  …oh, I found her pretty quickly after that… 😀

Grab a cold one and Hike on!