Entries For: March 2010
Starting with 158.5 miles, 20,750 ft. ascent
Blackwater United Methodist Church to Mountain View Restaurant
12.2 miles, 600 ft. ascent - 5:13 hours
Sharon and I had placed a car at the Mountain View Restaurant in the town of Pilot Mountain.
Starting at the church in Blackwater, we walked through the town of Ararat and stopped at the post office, a very small building. We introduced ourselves to the postmaster who was delighted to see us. As we walked on the road, we kept taking pictures of the wedding cake top of Pilot Mountain. The mountain popped up at every turn. No wonder, it was considered a sentinel by the Sauratown Indians.
We were going through pleasant, bucolic landscape that reminded me of walking in England - cows, goats, lots of barns and abandoned buildings. We were in rolling hills with church steeples sticking out of trees among a cluster of houses.
Yes, we had to deal with more furious dogs, sometimes on both sides of the road but I'm not going to belabor the point.
We talked to everyone who showed any interest in us and told them about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Sharon petted an old dog under the watchful eyes of his owners.
This is to prove that we're not afraid of all dogs, just the ones that bark and run after us - more about a good, friendly dog later. We met a couple in the church graveyard changing out their plastic flowers.
This was a more rural area than yesterday with some stands of trees where we could take comfortable breaks. We passed several poor trailers with just dirt in the front yard and no grass or bushes. But we also passed fancy homes.
Walking on NC 268 was not as bad as I thought. We kept waving at trucks and cars. We crossed over US 52 and walked back to our car that we had left at the restaurant in Pilot Mountain.
We needed to find tomorrow's destination but the map wasn't clear. We turned into NC 66 and took Taylor Road. I got out my map and the North Carolina Gazetter. A car with two women and a child in back stopped. We told them what we were looking for. The driver took us to the parking area for the Sauratown Trail off Rock House Road. That's where we'll end tomorrow. Then when I thanked her, I noticed that she was a rural mail carrier. No wonder she knew these exotic places.
We continued to Hanging Rock State Park where we had reserved a cabin. It started raining and we had tea and a snack in the cabin.
It's not easy to do this kind of hiking. Planning food, mileage, where to park how to get back to the car... So how did we know where to go? As I say probably once per section, this ain't the Appalachian Trail.
There are no white circles on the road because it is not officially the MST - only the trail portions are. So how did we know where to go?
Scot "TABA" Ward, who has hiked the MST three times, has written The Thru-Hiker's Manual for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail of North Carolina. The book is a step by step turn right, turn left set of instructions for the trail. It's the only current guide and the only one easy enough to use on the road. Based on four days of following the guide, we found it accurate. And that's the most important thing.
Cumulative after day 13 - 170.7 miles, 21,350 ft. ascent
Starting with 151.2 miles, 20,300 ft. ascent
Dobson Library to Blackwater United Methodist Church
7.3 miles, 450 ft. ascent - 3:10 hours
Sharon and I are back on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
We left the Dobson library after we introduced ourselves to the librarian. She had faintly heard of the MST because Scot Ward came in to sell her books. She took our picture in front of the library.
Dobson, NC? Where are we? We're in between Stone Mountain State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park, roughly north of Winston-Salem, in Surry County and in the middle of the beautiful Yadkin Valley according to the visitor center. We walked through Dobson, the biggest town on this section.
I wanted to see North Carolina and I'm seeing it - the courthouses, the fast food joints and an impromptu flea market.
We crossed US-601 and were now walking on the side of the road, designated as a bike path. And this is where I started to learn road manners and challenges.
We wore an orange vest that Lenny had bought us from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. On the back, it said "Don't Shoot We're Hikers". I also found North Carolina flags on a pole that we stuck in the side pouch along with our water bottles. I learned how to take that whole contraption (daypack, vest and flat) on and off in one piece. Sharon pointed out that you put the vest on the backpack and hoist it up on your back together. But she had to check that I had my vest on the right way and that the flag was flying and not stuck and trapped inside. I missed all these flag rules in grade school and had to read about them as an adult.
Other changes from trail walking.
It's hard to find places to sit and have a snack or to go to the bathroom. Drivers honked at us and we replied by waving or raising our sticks. But it was the dogs that were the big problems. When we passed a house, a dog (or three) ran out barking furiously.
The poorer the house, the larger and more ferocious sounding the dog. We crossed the road immediately but many dogs crossed with us. I held my stick out perpendicular to my body and waved it around, showing that I meant business. Jeff Brewer of the Friends of the MST warned me about the dog problem and suggested pepper spray. I bought some but stupidly kept it in my pack for a time. Neither of us got bitten on this trip but I found it nerve racking.
But, to use my favorite expression, I "got over it". Dogs were going to be the dangerous animals on this stretch and I had to deal with them.
We were walking in bucolic farm landscape. Look at those beautiful horses. Where could we see that in the woods?
The walking was very easy. Even with dealing with dogs, waving to cars and talking to people in front of their houses, we were walking way over two miles an hour.
Cumulative after day 12 - 158.5 miles, 20,750 ft. ascent
Another trip to Stone Mountain State Park to check out a mileage.
I received an email several months ago from a careful reader and hiker who said that my driving distance in Stone Mountain State Park was incorrect. I paid attention since his message was carefully written. I told him that I would check it out.
Now that my book Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage will be reprinted soon, I went back to Stone Mountain and checked it out. He was right.
I had measured the mileage from the park entrance to the turn for the trailhead but I said that the mileage was from the Visitor Center. So thank you!
After that, I drove to Blackwater in the Piedmonts to meet Sharon and start on a four-day walk on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Lots of adventures. Stay tuned.
OK. I wasn't really on my own but I was no longer under Florie's tutelage.
Ranger Florie is in charge of volunteers at the desk but she doesn't work on Mondays. Instead, Dan, a seasonal ranger pictured above, opens the building at 8:30 now. An intern and several Great Smoky Mountains Association employees were also there. Rose, pictured above with Dan, is a Monday regular.
It was extremely quiet when I arrived at 10 A.M. and I thought, foolishly, that it would be boring. When there's no one around, there's plenty of material to read. The most fascinating is the "Info book", also called the "Answer book". It's organized in alphabetic tabs so we can find answers to esoteric questions. Even more fascinating to me are answers to questions I never thought to ask.
So I got to "F". Why is there no fee entrance in the Smokies?
We're one of the few National Parks without an entrance fee. The common belief is that because the land was bought from the settlers and the park was supposedly for the people, a promise was made that there would never be an entrance fee. A nice story but with no legal standing.
The real answer is the following - When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Rd., it stipulated that "no toll or license fee shall be imposed ... to travel the road." At the time, Newfound Gap Rd. was the major route crossing the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Let's remember this last fact for a minute.
No such problem on the North Carolina side. North Carolina transferred its road through abandonment so there are no restrictions there.
At about 11 A.M., it started snowing. No construction work today.
Snow wasn't sticking but the white stuff was coming down steadily so the Park closed Newfound Gap Rd. Visitors starting coming in steadily as well, asking how to get to Gatlinburg. I pulled out the map that the Park had devised to show the I-40 closure and showed them that they had to go to Asheville and around the mountain through Hot Springs and Newport.
"Asheville?" some fumed. "We just came from Asheville." I sympathized and added that this was one of the challenges of living in the mountains. From then, it was very busy as people wanted to find some secret back road so they wouldn't have to do the drive-around. There is none. It's three hours around the Park to get back to Gatlinburg.
"Maybe you can stay in Cherokee," I suggested. "It looks pretty good for tomorrow and you can enjoy the attractions in Cherokee." Almost no one took me up on the idea.
At 2 P.M., the snow was still coming down and I decided that it was silly to roam the trails today since no one was going to be there so I headed home. I took the back road around the Cherokee Hospital to US 441. It seems that everyone gives me suggestions on how to avoid driving in Cherokee.
Hopefully, the weather will be better next Monday.
Now in its 60th year, it's the largest Wildflower Pilgrimage in the country. Over 1,000 attendees, called pilgrims, will descend on Gatlinburg, Tennessee for wildflower and bird walks, lectures on composting and on attracting insect-eating birds and strenuous hikes. This five-day program was started by the Gatlinburg Garden club, the University of Tennessee, and the City of Gatlinburg; it is now managed by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
This year, the headliner is “A Theodore Roosevelt Salute to the Great Smoky Mountains”. Joe Wiegand, who calls himself a reprisor and not an impersonator, is TR, known as our best conservation president. He'll tell stories of the early conservation movement and the growth of our national parks. Wiegand (TR) has even performed at the White House.
Don't wait too long to sign up! All the classes are limited.
Yesterday was my second day of training at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
When I arrived, I noticed two school busses in the parking lot. These were fourth graders who were studying North Carolina History and were visiting the Mountain Farm Museum - part of Parks as Classroom Program. This is a national program, which in the Smokies, focuses on K-8 grades and uses the resources of the park for learning. I was sent down to the museum to observe.
A group were discussing farm chores that children had to do when they lived in what is now the Park. Another group were watching a blacksmith shaping a piece of metal. All the children had heavy, thick gloves ready to pick up a red-hot poker. A third group were going to bake sugar cookies, the old-fashioned way. The pupils were dressed in old-fashioned costumes - girls in long, cotton dresses and boys with suspensers and hats.
Then I started my shift behind the desk and it was busy. Since it was a beautiful day, visitors' concern were not about the weather. Instead it was all about the road closures. Some visitors just didn't know where they were in relation to the world, or more specifically, in relation to the I-40 closure. I have to learn how to read a map upside down as I explain where they are and where they want to go.
Visitors wanted to "hike". I sent one couple to the Bradley Cemetery on the Bradley Fork Loop clockwise, so it's only two miles roundtrip. Some came as late as 1 P.M. asking for some hiking suggestions. At that point, the only thing I can encourage folks to do is walk the Oconaluftee River Trail. The trail is flat, wide and by the river the whole way.
After my 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. stint, I had a long talk with Florie. She's very experienced and really understand the visitor and the job. She pointed out that right now, I can spend time with each visitor group to describe a hike in detail, but what about in the summer?
Also most visitors want a short walk to a destination. Not easy to find but I'm going to try to document several places, so I can easily recall them and be able to talk about them.
We talked about programs that I might want to design. Frankly, I just want people to set foot on a trail and so many just drive through the park. But it's not that simple. A program, even an hour walk on the Oconaluftee River Trail, must have goals, objectives, methods... like a lesson plan. Mmm, got to think about that...
I finally got out to walk the River Trail (3.2 miles round trip) into Cherokee. I found the bench and tree where groups meet just outside the Museum.
Then I spotted spring beauties, the first spring flower. The picture below is not that great but the flowers certainly were.
People were walking, jogging, pushing strollers and teaching the Cherokee language.
On the way out, I saw two Cherokee women with about six pre-schoolers by the river. They were scooping up water and chanting in Cherokee. I stopped to look when the older woman motioned me to go away in Cherokee - no translation was needed. On the way back, I met the group on the trail - two adults in front and all the children behind gigglind and shouting. When the adults turned around, all the children froze.
"Do you see any children here?" She asked me in both languages. "No", I answered. "So the sound must come from the trees and sky," she continued. The children thought this was hilarious.
Fishing is very popular but you must have a Cherokee Tribal fishing license. The man in the picture above was having a good time.
I obviously passed my training and now I'm a full-fledged OVC volunteer. Come and ask me a difficult question.
At 4 p.m. Thursday March 18, join me at the Kaplan Auditorium of the Henderson County Public Library.
I will show slides of my book, Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage and talk about my experience with the Elk Bugle Corp in the Smokies.
The library is located at 301 N. Washington St. (828-697-4725). This program is free and open to the public.
Books will be available for purchase. For every book bought during this event, Diamond Brand Outdoors will donate two dollars to Muddy Sneakers, a local organization dedicated to encouraging children to enjoy the outdoors.
My book, Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage, is being reprinted. I went through it to find typos and errors. But it was a good chance to update information, as well. This is a new reprint, not a new edition. For a new edition, I would hike all the trails again.
When I wrote the book in 2007 and 2008, Dry Falls in Highlands was closed. The U.S. Forest Service was going to repair the parking area. It reopened a while back but I had to see it for myself before I put it in my book.
So I drove 175 miles (roundtrip) with my hiking friend, Dave, to check it out. There's now a new parking area, restrooms, wheel-chair accessible ramp and a lovely paved walkway down to the falls. On the way, we passed Bridal Veil falls (right), not as impressive.
It was a long way to check out one fall, so we did a little walking. On the way here, we had tried to go up to Whiteside Mountain. We started up the trail but it was covered with a sheet of ice; we could have ice skated up. So we gave up on that and turned around.
Instead I took Dave to Glen Falls (on the right). No snow on that trail. The one-mile road on NC 106 was being repaved but we dodged the construction trucks. The falls were really flowing - I had never seen it this full. We went down to the end of the trail and continued until the stream crossing and came back up (2.8 miles round trip and a climb of 800 ft.) On the way, we met a couple from Ontario on their spring break. They were staying in Dillard, GA and just hiking around.
On the way up the trail, we had lunch at the view (left) into Georgia.
We headed home and stopped at Gorges State Park. We drove around the new road into the park but had no desire to get out of the car. No real views and almost no hiking on the western end of the park. You can walk to Rainbow Falls on Horsepasture River into Nantahala National Forest, but other than that, the hikes are quite short.
I've been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the last two days and I haven't stepped on a trail. Not really even outside. What's wrong with this picture?
Yesterday, I drove back to the Park and headed to Gatlinburg for a board meeting of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Thanks to the I-40 road closure, I'll be doing that a lot.
Dan Pierce, history professor at UNC at Asheville and author of Real Nascar, was with me. Dan is also a Great Smoky Mountains Association board member. We stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, where I took a picture of the new, temporary entrance. A new visitor center is being built and until then, visitors are going to have to negotiate a construction site.
Newfound Gap Rd. was foggy on top with beautiful ice sculptures. See above. It took almost two and a half hours to get to Gatlinburg. The meeting was at Park Headquarters, close to Sugarlands Visitor Center.
So what is Great Smoky Mountains Association? They are a cooperating association, charged with publishing educational material about the park and running the bookstores. For more of an explanation, see the article I wrote for National Parks Travelers.
This year, I decided to volunteer at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center (OVC) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you were looking forward to pretty pictures of elk, you'll be disappointed. Hopefully the experience and stories will be just as good.
To volunteer to work behind the desk, Florie, the ranger in charge of volunteers, required two to three days of training. So I showed up today in my brown pants, expecting to get a regulation beige short-sleeve shirt. Instead I was given a long-sleeve shirt. I looked around and sure enough, all the rangers had on long-sleeve shirts - their winter uniform. No hats, inside.
This is a more formal volunteer job than last year's starting with lots of forms to fill out. Then a discussion on how volunteers in the park are treated as unpaid staff. That may sound harsh as you read it but I interpreted it as I can work up to any responsibility I can handle.
I have to be at the desk from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. So I learned how to behave at the desk. First, you stand - no sitting, no leaning, no hands in pockets ... ready to greet visitors as they come in the door. And even with rain and the construction, there were visitors.
The joke is that the most asked question is "Where's the bathroom?" but not today.
Two Japanese couples were upset to learn that they couldn't buy a meal in the park. There isn't even a covered picnic shelter. They would have to eat in Cherokee or Gatlinburg. Of course, we, at the desk, couldn't recommend a restaurant. I would have loved to tell them about Tribal Grounds, a fantastic coffee shop in Cherokee. I got a cup of coffee on the way in and they are going to be a regular stop on the way to OVC.
A British couple wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap. I discouraged that since there's still ice and snow up there and they didn't have hiking boots. Instead I suggested the Smokemont Loop and they seemed happy with that.
But mostly visitors wanted to know the weather in great detail. 70% chance of rain just wasn't enough.
While I talked to visitors, other staff and Great Smoky Mountains Association folks, we were being fenced in. When I arrived at OVC, I was able to go in the front entrance. But the construction for the new visitor center has started. They fenced in a much larger area than just the footprint of the new building because they were going to change the pattern of the walkways. Now the main entrance will be on the side of the building.
While all this construction is going on, visitors will still be able to go to the Mountain Farm Museum; they're just going to have to walk through the field and come around. The same to go on the Oconaluftee River Trail. I'm glad because my goal is to take visitors hiking and show them that it's OK to get off the pavement.
And I left with homework - a book to read and a whole folder of maps and pamphlets to go through. This volunteer work is serious business.
Finally some warm weather.
I went on the Carolina Mountain Club Sunday hike on the Foothills Trail. This 77-mile trail follows the Blue Ridge Escarpment on the North Carolina-South Carolina line.
This nine-mile hike started with views of Lake Jocassee and Bad Creek Reservoir. The picture above is of Lake Jocassee, considered a lovely view now. I wonder what arguments and protests there were, if any, when the lake was created. Lake Jocassee was created by Duke Power, They dammed the tributaries of the Keowee River in the early 1970s.
The trail was slushy and icy in places. I didn't want to stop to put on my yak-traks, boot stabilizers that keep you from sliding. Silly, I know, but the trail was narrow and everyone was moving, so I kept moving as well.
We crossed into South Carolina and ended up at the Walhalla Fish Hatchery - the start of the trail to Ellicott Rock.
After we got back to our cars, we drove to Whitewater Falls, considered the highest falls in North Carolina. It's a paved half-mile to the lookout to the falls.
For a good read on what life was like in the 1950s before the lake flooded out many communities, read Ron Rash's One Foot in Eden. Yes the same Ron Rash whose book Serena may be made into a movie. I wrote about that in my last posting.