Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ridge Ramblin'

This guy has stood silently beside the Appalachian Trail long enough, watching with envy as uncounted humans stroll casually by. And he's had enough! No more stationary, passive existence! No fate as a future stump for him - this guy has decided to sprout legs and do some hiking!

He stands near where the AT finishes its side-hill climb northbound from Iron Mountain Gap to the ridge with the same name. And he's ready for the ridge ramble. This is a very pleasant stretch of trail that meanders along, not gaining or losing much elevation, following the North Carolina-Tennessee boundary for about five miles. It passes through a clearing in a little hollow with an old Apple Orchard. It drops down to Weedy Gap and later Greasy Creek Gap; and it passes the trail to Clyde Smith Shelter where I found this rustic little example of trail art. But mostly it rambles along the broad, loosely defined ridge of Iron Mountain until it reaches the rocky cliff known as Little Rock Knob.

There, suddenly, the trail transforms from a ramble to a scramble - steeply up this face through rhododendron thickets and over uneven bedrock in order to pass three opportunities for good views to the west.

I started today's hike (Day 47, Wednesday February 22nd) in bright sunshine. A morning vista from a clearing about a mile north of Iron Mountain Gap was bright and clear.

But a sudden storm rolled in as I began the scramble up Little Rock Knob, so that my views from there were shrouded by waves of squally snow. (For a crystal clear vista from the same vantage point, check yesterday's entry.) Despite the initial bluster, the weather never got very bad. It settled down to a light rain, and that continued all the way back to my starting point. I might have hiked farther - done a leg to the south - but 14 miles was enough in the rain.

Humans are like that - they don't enjoy hiking in the rain. No such problem for our giant ridge ramblin' wannabe. Sometimes it pays to have deep roots.


Here's the GPS track and a link to more photos:

AT Day 47 - Iron Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clinging to winter on Roan High Knob

New snow over the weekend (while I was off the trail to take care of business) returned the Roan Highlands to winter, and it seems reluctant to let go.

This was the vista from near the site of the old Cloudland Hotel at 6100 feet elevation on Roan High Knob. But on the other end of today's hike (Tuesday, February 21st), the vista from 4900 foot Little Rock Knob shows no trace of snow:

The difference is purely due to elevation. Below 5000 feet much less snow fell in the first place, and there was more melting. Down in the valleys the warm late February sun made for a mild day today - Do I hear murmurs of spring fever?

Roan High Knob is the last super-high peak I'll cross for the next 75 miles or so of trail. Then come the Smokies. I'm optimistic that winter will be seriously retreating by the time I get there.

Between Roan High Knob and Little Rock Knob is Hughes Gap where a road crosses the trail and there is parking access. The ascent northbound from 4040 foot Hughes Gap to 6285 foot Roan High Knob is an interesting piece of trail. Currently it's an ordeal to go either way. It's one of those sections of old, horribly eroded, rutty, rooty, muddy, and very steep trail that has outlived its usefulness.

But here's the latest news: The entire section above 4600 feet is actively being relocated with graded switchbacks replacing the 'Rip straight up the ridge' old trail. Below Ash Gap (a pause in the climb at 5300 feet) I saw two sections of planned relocation marked with flag tape. Above Ash Gap the entire trail to the summit is in various stages of active relocation. A few new sections are already open, and there are a few short bits of old trail, on less-steep sections, that are being retained and upgraded. But new trail is in the works everywhere else. I counted 8 crossings of planned new trail, switching back-and-forth across the grueling old route. Some of these have been partially cleared, others are just flagged.

The current map appears to show the old trail - very straight up the ridge, but the new trail will be quite a bit longer, with a dozen or more switch-backs. Oh, you lucky future hikers!


Here's the GPS recorded track and a link to more photos:

AT Day 46 - Roan High Knob at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond

The Roan High Balds

The Appalachian Trail crosses many 'Balds' - enigmatic treeless peaks that research suggests are tundra remnants from the last ice age that were ecologically 'enforced' (originally by extinct mega-fauna and then by native American burning). These are areas that are mostly grassy and open despite being warm and wet enough to support lush forest. And today (Friday, February 17th) I hiked the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Range. The weather began with biting wind-driven arctic fog but transformed to crystal clear with unlimited visibility by midday. What an honor!

I parked at the USFS paved, privy-equipped parking area at Carver's Gap and hiked north to meet my footsteps from yesterday (in wind and rain) atop Hump Mountain, and then back to the starting point, as usual. It was a long but thoroughly enjoyable twenty miles.

The first bald you cross on this route is Round Bald. The trail over this summit has been constructed to prevent erosion of the sensitive grassland soil. They used landscape fabric covered with gravel, and the footing is excellent. Unfortunately when this section ends after about a mile, you immediately see the contrast: The rutted, deeply eroded alternately rocky and muddy ascent up Jane Bald is as tough as Round Bald is easy.

Beyond Jane Bald, which is rather a small knob relative to the other balds, the trail climbs toward Grassy Ridge. It passes a side trail to the summit of this bald rather than leading you to the summit itself (site of the highest formerly-tilled farm east of the Rockies). From there you begin a wooded section that descends to two shelters and two gaps. This section of trail has relocations with switch-backs that replace 'brain-dead bulldoze-ahead, straight-up-the-slope' sections of former trail that are steep and deeply eroded. Then you follow an old road grade that parallels the Tennessee-North Carolina border and ascends toward the long stretch of bald that includes Little Hump Mountain, Bradley Gap and Hump Mountain itself - miles of glorious open meadow and a true climax to today's experience.

Okay, now that I've used less than a thousand words to summarize the route, I'll let the pictures tell the story in more detail. First comes the precious, ephemeral early morning fog-shrouded vistas from Round Bald, frosted by rime ice:

Moving across to Little Hump Mountain, the rime ice persisted until the sun got to work. Here's the view back toward the SW to Grassy Ridge, the summit in the distance:

And facing the other direction from the summit of Little Hump Mountain, the expansive balds take charge. Here is the view that stretches across Bradley Gap to the long ridge that is Hump Mountain:

At the turn-around point of today's section, I got to see the views that I missed yesterday from the Stan Murray memorial:

And on the way back, with the fog on Round Bald long-ago dissipated, I could soak up the 'big picture'. Here's Jane Bald with Round Bald behind it (and Roan Mountain proper in the background), as viewed from the southern flanks of Grassy Ridge:


Today's hike breaks the record for the number of photos taken and judged to be worthwhile in my usual evening debriefing. For a look at the entire album, click below. Here's the map of the track of today's hike, as recorded by my GPS. And embedded in this track are all the photos, 'geo-located' automatically by my GPS. Each little red 'pin' along the track marks the location of a photo.

AT Day 45 - the Roan High Balds at EveryTrail
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Monday, February 27, 2012

In and out like a bandit

I 'stole' a bit of Appalachian Trail that it didn't want to give me today.

A sane person had no business on top of Hump Mountain at noon today (Feb. 16th). The wind was howling. The steady driving rain was blowing horizontally, penetrating even the most rain-resistant clothing. It was the kind of high mountain weather they warn you about. But there I was, stealing my way across a mile of exposed high bald, making my way to the 5587 foot summit and then retreating back into the stunted, weather-wracked forest - in and out like a bandit.

Still, it was a short day. I wanted to do more, but sanity finally prevailed.

Today's entire out-and-back hike consisted of that 2500 foot ascent to Hump Mountain and the return descent. Down low I passed the Apple House Shelter and adjacent old mines. The shelter was once a dynamite storage hut. Farther up, there's a big rock overhang that could serve as an emergency shelter for a person or two. They you pass a nice vista at a rock outcrop. I stole a view there despite the fog ... in and out like a bandit.

Up at 4400 feet you pass Doll Flats - a great place to camp. There are wooded areas with huge twisted oaks and open grassy meadows. And beyond a fence the pasture falls away in a sudden precipitous drop, affording a view of the valleys below. Stole another view there - everything was totally fogged in on my return.

From Doll Flats the trail ascends steadily on a wooded side-slope that is a difficult walk, particularly in rain, mud and lingering slushy snow. It's very rocky, so picking your footsteps carefully, one after the other, is the order of the day.

Then finally - and very suddenly - you reach the brink of a 'cliff' in a stunted jungle, turn right in knee-deep snow drifts and emerge onto the first of the magnificent high balds of the NC/TN border. Hump Mountain is just the first of five or six in quick succession here in the Roan Highlands, all the way down to the Roan Mountain complex. Here, near the summit of Hump Mountain, stands a memorial plaque to Stan Murray, former ATC chairman who worked to get the AT relocated over these balds. Thank you Stan ... I plan to be back here tomorrow, coming from the other direction, and hope to take in more of the scenery and less of the gnarly wet stuff!


Here's the GPS track. Click the title for full info and more photos:

AT Day 44 - Hump Mountain at EveryTrail
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vitamin I

Okay ... this journal is intended to be about the Appalachian Trail, not about this hiker. It's supposed to emphasize what the trail offers, in all its wild, exuberant variety.

This trail reporter likes to remain part of the background - just another tree in the scenery. Think newspaper reporter: it's about the story, not about the teller. But every now and then a reporter's personal experience makes a good story. This seems to be one of those times.

Now, I'm not one to make heavy use of medication. I remember the shocked, even incredulous reaction from my expedition buddies in Bolivia when I announced, after a week of hard climbing, that I might take an Ibuprofen tonight. Several of them confessed to eating the stuff they call 'Vitamin I' like it was candy.

Well, so far on this AT hiking adventure, after 42 days of long miles, I've managed to avoid the need for any medication, not even a band-aid. But here on day 43 (February 15th), that changed. Overnight my left Achilles tendon swelled up - apparently a delayed reaction to a misstep yesterday. It got so painful that I couldn't sleep - bad as any toothache - pain intense enough that you can't ignore it.

So at 3AM I gave in and took a pill, then continued through the morning taking the dosage recommended on the bottle. But the pain wasn't going away. I could barely walk ten steps - and that with a severe limp. How could I hike the trail today? Is my body giving out? Is this the end of my grand attempt? For the first time I had real doubts.

But I resolved to give it a try. Often the routine morning aches and pains will fade once I get into the rhythm of putting one foot in front of another.

So I headed out at sunrise, as usual, but taking it super-slow, babying the injury, limping like a cripple. It was embarrassing walking up the busy highway from Mountain Harbour B&B to the trail crossing. I could feel the passing drivers staring - I could imagine what they were saying: "Ha Ha! Lookee there, Clem ... a hiker what cain't even walk!"

They shoot lame horses, you know - put them out of their misery.

It was a slow and morose first couple of miles. The scenery seemed colorless - all I could see was the end of my dream. To add to my dour mood, I was passing through a section of trail that is resented by some of the locals - an apparent long-standing feud with big, heavy-handed government. Here I felt like an intruder. Here the trail and its users are not welcome, or so it seemed to me today. There were ATV tracks over the foot trail. There were beer cans strewn about. There was even some vandalism of white blazes (overpainted blue) at a confusing side trail intersection - a clear effort to misdirect the hikers.

But my best hopes were beginning to realize - the tendon was loosening up. The pain was not getting worse but less! And the scenery began to regain some of its color. By the time I topped the rolling open meadow at the high point between Bear Branch Road and Buck Mountain Road, I was actually enjoying myself! How could one not! The temperature was soaring into the 60's, sun blazing, wind calm, spring birds were singing.

Then I left the contentious section of trail and plunged into the deep woods, headed back to the Elk River and a rendezvous with the truly spectacular Jones Falls (at right and in the detail up top). By this time I was free of pain and walking at close to a normal pace. I couldn't believe the change, and how quickly it came. Just in time to fully immerse myself in the beauty of this waterfall. I wished I could stay there forever.

The logistics of the upcoming trail access points dictated that today had to either be a massive 22+ mile day including a huge 3000' climb up Hump Mountain, or an abbreviated 12 mile day. The decision to do the latter had been sealed by my injury. So it was mid-afternoon when I marched triumphantly back down the busy highway to the Mountain Harbour Hostel with nary a trace of a limp. "Lookee now, Clem - a right proper hiker fella!"

Do I have Vitamin I to thank for the transformation? No. Decidedly not. I stopped taking the medication two hours before I finished hiking, and the pain and swelling have not returned. Instead, I have the immeasurable grace of my genetic and spiritual imprint to thank: The Ancestor Gods, if you will - their genes as well as the deep-rooted cultural influence that gave me the trait of dogged perseverance. I am richly blessed.


Here's the GPS track of today's limp/walk. Click on the title for more photos and more detailed GPS information:

AT Day 43 - Jones Falls at EveryTrail
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Friday, February 24, 2012

From Bitter End to sweet beginning

Three miles south of the town or Roan Mountain, Tennessee, and just past Cloudland Elementary School is Buck Mountain Road. Turn left and drive two miles, turn left again at Old Buck Mountain Road, then right after 0.8 miles. This is Howard Harrison Lane, and at its end is a small cluster of homes and a gated Forest Service road. This is the place known as Bitter End. This was the launch point for today's (Valentines Day 2012) out-n-back day hike, number 42 in the series that began January 1st.

At the other end of today's relatively short effort was the southbound hiker's first contact with North Carolina - a sweet beginning to some real mountain hiking.

In between is the cascade called Mountaineer Falls, which is just below the shelter of the same name.

But let's begin at the End.

Gated USFS 293 heads into the woods from Bitter End and goes barely 0.2 miles before intersecting the AT. From there, the southbound hiker travels a half mile more through the 'badlands' I identified yesterday (much more of it northbound from here). I call it 'badlands' because on the smallest scale the landscape looks as if it has been bombed - little humps and depressions are continuous, and the trail winds willy-nilly left and right to avoid them. Most of the time you are in deep Rhododendron cover, so all sense of scale and direction are missing. It makes a half mile of hiking seem like ten miles (in the humble opinion of someone who likes to grasp the bigger picture of his surroundings as he passes through).

But then you begin a serious descent to Laurel Fork. You follow the stream, bathed in the lovely noise of rushing water, for perhaps a quarter mile, cross the footbridge, and then ascend through a bit more badlands until you reach the Ron Frey memorial bench with a glorious man-made view of Hump Mountain and over to the Roan Mountain complex (out of view to the right in this shot):

After another mile, in which you descend and cross some streams then regain all that altitude, you reach Walnut Mountain Road - unimproved, but rather well-used. Today drivers were still using chains, three days after the last snowfall. Immediately south of the road crossing, the trail descends seriously, then levels off until it reaches the beautiful new Mountaineer Falls Shelter - a three-level affair built in 2006, and such a stark contrast to the dilapidated Moreland Gap Shelter I showed you yesterday. Amazingly, I arrived at the shelter just as a semi-serious rain shower passed through - so I stayed dry. The rain lasted 15 minutes, then I was off to view the falls and descend to the beautiful, serene Elk River, a walk through an open meadow on the flood plain, and the first contact with North Carolina:

To sum up, it was a well-rounded day from End to beginning and, of course, back again - coming full-circle as all well-rounded things should do.


Here's the GPS track of today's hike. Click on the title for more photos and additional GPS information, including a plot of the elevation profile and travel speed.

AT Day 42 - Bitter End to Elk River
EveryTrail - Find trail maps for California and beyond

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just sayin' ...

Moreland Gap Shelter was sheltering nothing but 3 inches of snow. Look at that roof. It looks like a third world mule stall. Wouldn't want to have to take refuge there in a storm ... just sayin' ...

Somehow, the highlight of today's long hike (Monday February 13th) was gazing wistfully across 9 miles of crystal air to 5700 foot Hump Mountain, still 25 trail miles away, and wishing I was there. Just sayin' ...

Not that today's 19 mile trek was dull. Far from it. But it was arduous, both mentally and physically. It began at the trailhead on Dennis Cove Road, which rejected me yesterday because of icy road conditions, reminding me of the true weakest link in my method of hiking the AT - the need for frequent road access.

From there the southbound trail ascends to White Rock Mountain -- 1600 feet of climbing, sometimes on trail with slippery roots and leaves buried by the lingering snow, which was 3 inches deep with drifts over the trail piling up to nearly a foot in places -- pretty tough slogging through.

And there was a section of old-style trail that just bulldozes up the slope: 'Cardiac climb' / 'Suicide Slide' depending which way you're going. It really was a 'Suicide Slide' for me on the way back down in the late afternoon, with the snow made slippery by the warm sun. Flag tape clearly indicated that a reroute is in the planning around this old eroded "power straight up the ridge and to hell with erosion control and hikers' knees" section. Great, but too late for me!!

White Rock Mountain offered some nice views of really wild country, like this view to the southwest. It is the first mountain I've crossed on this trek where the main bedrock is granite (my amateur identification).

The AT neatly passes through an introductory portal of two large boulders near the summit. But the rocks are not white. Just sayin' ...

Leaving White Rock Mountain the trail enters a 'badlands' (just sayin ... ) - bombed-out looking forest that's wedged between private high pasture and farm land and the headwaters of Laurel Fork, bound for Dennis Cove and then on down to its impressive Cascade (see yesterday's entry). Here the trail meanders left and right and up and down through the jumble of rough terrain, never seeming to 'settle' into a pattern. It crosses small streams and one larger one at a well-hidden falls that has been proclaimed as 'Hardcore Cascades' according to the sign. My guess is that it was named that because it's so remote that only the most hardcore hikers would have the fortitude and perseverance to reach it ... just sayin'.

A long day alone on the trail ended at dusk with a much smaller than usual harvest of photos. That tells me something. ... Just sayin'.


Here's the route as recorded by my GPS. Click the title for more photos and for more detailed GPS information.

AT Day 41 - White Rock Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spotlight on the trail builders

This is the route of the Appalachian Trail just below Laurel Fork Falls. It's a ledge traversing bedrock barely above water level. It took some concrete work to make this a piece of 'trail'.

But it is worth the effort. This is a popular place for day hikers intent on seeing the impressive cascade, and it was included in my itinerary for today, Day 40, Sunday, February 12:

Most day hikers stop here, but of course the AT goes on. It ascends several hundred feet via 265 stone steps up to the "high water bypass trail" - you saw why such a trail might be necessary.

The High Water Trail and then the AT itself from there to Dennis Cove Road follows a course cut by a much older 'trail builder' - an ambitions railroad line that chose to run its tracks through this gorge. There were several long, high trestles across the stream, long gone, and deep narrow cuts like this through solid bedrock. Here the AT borrows its route from these 19th century trail builders.

The other section of trail I covered today rose 2000 feet from the Laurel Fork to Pond Flats. Yesterday I hiked the north side of this mountain and found the trail to be one of the most user friendly climbs I've encountered -- very smoothly graded with switchbacks and a steady but comfortable rate of ascent. Today, on the south side of the same mountain it was a different story.

Some sections here the trail power straight up a ridge with a "CRASH! POW! WHAM!, straight up the hill and the slope be damned" attitude, replete with erosion right down to bedrock, and places where you needed to grab the resident shrubbery to keep from toppling over.

These sections of trail I would call ‘cardiac climbs’ and, going the other way, ‘suicide slides’, the latter was particularly true today with an inch of snow on the trail. After reaching my turn-around point on this leg I negotiated those ‘suicide slides’ carefully and still slipped a few times. And then I began to notice a couple sections of future relocation flagged with red or orange plastic and wire flags. It became clear that the trail on this side of the mountain was a work in progress. There were already sections of the CRASH BANG trail that had been abandoned and replaced by nice switchbacks, and I documented at least two new relocations not yet officially part of the trail. The one shown here seems nearly finished - the grading and all tell-tale marking stopped just out of sight of the old 'Blast up the hill' trail that I was forced to follow.

Soon the hiker who chooses to go over Pond Mountain will have a pleasant experience all the way up and down both sides - no more heart-pounding cardiac ascents and heart-in-throat suicide descents thanks to the current trail builders, be they the local club (Tennessee Eastman), the 'Hardcore Crew', the Konnarock crews or others.

My hat's off to the trail builders, past and present, for your hard work!


Here's the GPS track of my route today, including the variations I took on the side trail to the trailhead parking. Click the title for further information and to view all the photos:

AT Day 40 - Laurel Fork Falls at EveryTrail
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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Let's talk gear for a minute

... that is, if you trust this guy.

For my friends and family who worry about me on the trail in the midst of winter chill. I have the same gear that people use to climb Mt. Everest and trek across Antarctica. No, I wasn't wearing any of it in this photo - it wasn't cold enough. That was taken two days ago. Today, though, I broke out the Mountain Hardwear Conduit SL SubZero down coat, the crampon-resistant gaiters (but not the crampons nor the double plastic Koflach Degre mountaineering boots), and the thick Balaclava (face mask) I bought in Fairbanks, AK. That keeps all those icicles from forming on my ever-growing beard. I had my Smith Ski Goggles along too, but didn't have to put them on.

I wasn't going to hike today (Saturday Feb. 11th), but it turns out that the snow wasn't as deep as expected. (The weak link in my gear is my vehicle!) I picked a major highway (US 321) to park at, and hiked along Watauga Lake with some great views from the several 'fishing camps' that dot the shore along the AT there.

Then I made the 1800 foot climb up Pond Mountain to Pond Flats. Yes, there actually is a natural pond up there on the top of the mountain - a geological rarity in this non-glacial terrain.

I didn't start hiking until 2PM, waiting for the roads to improve. The winter weather advisory continues until 6AM tomorrow, so we were still getting snow squalls, and the wind was biting at times, but I was glad to be on the trail - and entirely cozy with my gear. On the way up Pond Flats I met a couple guys that didn't seem to need any gear - just looking for a hand-out. Friendliest horse I ever met, and ditto for the goat, who reared up and tried to compete with his bigger buddy for attention. Since I had nothing to feed them, the horse chose to just nibble on my hand every chance he got. What a couple of cuties.

Further up the mountain there was this nice 'retrospective' view of where the AT took me yesterday - across Watauga Dam and then along the left shoreline of the lake.

I only got in 9 miles of hiking today, and the morning off felt like a mini-vacation, but I was glad to have the chance to try out some new gear combinations and 'stretch my legs'. Weather is supposed to improve tomorrow. Winter doesn't seem to have much staying power this year, and soon the sun will be high enough here in the south to begin to beat it back. Any snow that falls now is not likely to last very long - at least that's my theory.


Here's today's GPS track. As always, you can click the title for more detailed tracking data and a slide show and closer look at more photos:

AT Day 39 - Watauga Lake to Pond Flats at EveryTrail
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Marathon day before the bad weather

I may take a day off tomorrow, so I hiked about 23 miles today (February 10th), not finishing until after dark. Today's route took me all along the spine of Iron Mountain on the north side of Watauga Lake, and it seems that every photo worth posting here has some part of the lake in it. This shot is taken from directly behind Vandeventer Shelter. What a spectacular place to spend the night and wake up to a sunrise!

Other than a section with 600 feet of climbing in a mile, it was a fairly comfortable section to hike. It goes arrow-straight. Some sections of the AT seem to meander here and there and never get very far 'as the crow flies'. Not this section. It moved me south and west nearly as many miles as I actually hiked.

The trail took me up over 4000 feet on Iron Mountain and just below 2000 feet at Watauga Dam, with a fair amount of up-and-down 'details' in between. This 63 year old body could probably stand a bit of a break after such a long day, and with tomorrow's weather forecast to be bitter cold, winds gusting to 40, and up to 3 inches of snow, it may be a good day to "take a zero". As always, I'll keep you posted.


Here's the GPS recorded track for today - click the title for more details and lots more photos:

AT Day 38 - Iron Mountain to Watauga Lake at EveryTrail
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

What fog hath wrought ...

... the sun doth bring to life.

The high mountains of Northeast Tennessee were painted with a delicate coating of rime ice over the last 24 hours. The artist works her magic in a dim studio, downright dreary, closed off from the world in a private cocoon of fog - as if afraid to let anyone see lest the work be spoiled.

But when the masterpiece is finished, she throws open the curtains, and ...

It took all morning for the masterpiece to be unveiled. This was Day 37, February 9th, and the forecast was for sunshine. But up here in the mountains, it took its time coming. There was fog and still a little snow falling until after noon. I walked Cross Mountain, aptly named because it creates a connection by which the AT crosses from Holston Mountain, where I hiked yesterday, to Iron Mountain, where the shot above was taken.

On Cross Mountain the AT features a 0.6 mile fully handicapped accessible length of trail that meanders through pastures to this sadly dreary vista of Shady Valley. Oh, how I wish I had been able to return there in the afternoon sun - but alas, a perfect world this is not.

Still, I love the pasture walks. There's something elemental about them ... you sense an equality between earth and sky as you walk that thin boundary that separates them. It doesn't have to be sunny, but it helps that the fog had retreated to the higher ridges.

And it was to one such ridge that I next traveled next - up over 4000 feet again to the spine of Iron Mountain. I've been viewing this very long linear ridge for what seems like weeks, but always from afar - always it was the next ridge over. Now I finally got to walk a bit of it.

Once up top, the southbound traveler comes immediately upon an interesting monument to a lonely man. The embedded stone says "Uncle Nick Grindstaff ... lived alone, suffered alone, and died alone." The story of Nick Grindstaff is that he was orphaned at age 3, drifted out west where he was robbed and beaten, and then returned to live as a hermit atop Iron Mountain. 45 years later he died. It was several days before his body was found, his dog still standing guard over him. There's something about a story like that which touches me. I've always had a latent hermit inside of me - always wondered what it would be like to just go off and live in the wilderness and ...

... wait a minute, that's what AT thru-hikers do!

I was reminded of that as I passed a kid this morning who could have been a distant relative of Nick Grindstaff. He was hiking north, stopped sitting on his pack smoking a cigarette. 'Cody Coyote' had very little to say. I only got his name from the register at Iron Mountain Shelter. But he seemed the quintessential example of a kid who'd rather be out in the wild alone, hiking forever, free of society's burdens.

It was a beautiful setting - this place where I met Cody Coyote. I took a few close ups of the rime-ice artist's work, now just about finished - almost ready to be revealed. Rime ice can take many different forms, depending on the speed of the wind, the degree of 'super-saturation' of the air, and the temperature. Today's rendition is one that temperatures near freezing and light winds produce.

And then the sun came out - literally the 'icing' on the cake that was today's hike. Not only did it bejewel the artist's work, it offered me a chance to climb up to the ridge at a power line clearing and see the wide world. In fact I could see all the way back to Mount Rogers and the high North Carolina peaks of the Blue Ridge - bringing back the wonderful memories of those clear days on high ground from a week ago. What a splendid time that was - and now here's another! There are so many memories being created - ones that I'll carry forever - this is why I'm out here.


Here's the detailed map of today's route built from the GPS data I took. Click on the title for more detailed data and for a bunch of additional photos, each located at one of the red 'pins' on the map.

AT Day 37 - Cross Mtn and Iron Mtn at EveryTrail
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