Thursday, June 25, 2015

An unexpected trail encounter

Hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the mountains of North Carolina is a different experience from hiking the Appalachian Trail.  On the latter you're sure to meet other hikers several times every day. As you hike the MST you might come in contact with tourists on or near the Blue Ridge Parkway, but unless you're hiking with friends or family the 'in-the-woods' hiking tends to be a solitary experience.

At least it had been for me ... so far.

Today, as I hiked the section of trail between Balsam Gap and the Nantahala National Forest, the treadway looked to be very seldom used.  There were full grown weeds popping up where feet should have trampled them, yet they were untouched.  There were rocky sections where all the rocks a hiker would step on were moss-covered.

It was early afternoon.  I was meandering among the upright weeds and mossy rocks, pushing my face through plenty of pristine unbroken spider silk, remarking to myself that it had surely been two or three weeks since the last person walked this way when ... voila!  A wonderful apparition appeared (see photo above). 

Not only was it another hiker, it was an MST thru-hiker!  Lorie Hansen was within three days of finishing her cross-state trek.

Of course we had lots to talk about, covering MST topics ranging from the scary 2 1/4 mile Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks to the fresh new piece of trail coming down from Waterrock Knob, which Lorie missed because her trail guide directed her down the Parkway.

We talked about bears and mutual MST acquaintances, and of course we exchanged notes on what each could expect in the next few miles.  Finally we exchanged photos and then headed our separate ways, back into our respective cocoons of solitude.  Here's the photo Lorie took of me.

That was a delightful encounter.  Meeting Lorie made my day.  And that's saying something, because the day was chock full of interesting experiences.  It began with this delightful mountain summer sunrise:

I started the day hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway for six miles, passing through Pinnacle Ridge Tunnel early enough that the tourist traffic was non-existent.

I encountered hillsides covered with blooming mountain laurel and flame azalea,

and came across this remarkable specimen of Bowmans Root, also called Indian Physic and sometimes Fawns Breath - Gillenia trifoliata is the botanical name.

Usually this perennial is much smaller and more spindly.  This plant was like a cloud of five-pointed stars.  At the time I was thinking that it would be the highlight of the day.

Then I walked the MST through the woods for about seven miles back to my starting point.  Before I met Lorie I encountered another rarity.  On the Appalachian Trail maintainers often adorn their work with the "AT" logo.  Here I found my first and only example of such a Maintainer's mark on the ...

At the end of today, when I was back to my van, I explored two access trails.  My 'mission' this summer is to hike this mountain section of the MST via a series of out-and-back day hikes, much the way I did the Appalachian Trail.  And I've made it part of that mission to scout out as many of the access points as I can, so that prospective day hikers who come after me can have as many options as possible.

Along this seven mile stretch of MST I found two access trails.  One follows an old abandoned road that passes under the Parkway.

Parking for this access trail is at Standing Rock Overlook.  Here's the standing rock itself--an impressive natural monument.

The other access point is a less used but clear trail that follows a stream up from the Parkway just below the Village of Saunook Overlook.  In my last report I had mentioned the Hood Road access, which is about a mile east of Balsam Gap, and the actual starting point for today's hiking.  On the other end the MST comes within sight of three Parkway Overlooks--Grassy Ridge Mine, Licklog Gap, and Doubletop Mountain.  The last access point covered in this report is where the MST eastbound enters Nantahala National Forest.  It does so on an old forest road that comes out to the Parkway at this 'T'-shaped barrier.  There is not a paved overlook here, but there is room for a vehicle or two to park.

Before hiking and reporting on more of the MST eastward to Asheville and Mt. Mitchell, I had to return home to take care of personal business including several unexpected twists -- two flat tires (yes, not one but two), a mal-functioning air conditioner in my condo, and an a possible Post Office mail problem.  All the business is taken care of now, so look for more MST reports in the very near future.

Here's a map of the Parkway - MST hiking covered in this report, with the red 'pins' marking places where I took photos.

MST - Balsam Gap to Nantahala National Forest at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina


  1. First of all I should comment on your words. "back into our respective cocoons of solitude.", I liked that line. Second of all the fact that you are a professor impresses me but really that is just to butter you up...for nothing. As well I enjoyed that picture...the one of the hillside with the azalea. Most of all I just find your spirit challenging, in a good way. Someday I hope to be seen in the way that I see you. I see you as vibrant and colorful. Confident. Looking for something by yourself, taking as much of yourself as you can with you. All this praise is coming from a selfish place. I work retail and I am trying to get out and I have spent the last five years writing philosophy by myself, in my room thinking that one of my books was going to make me famous! It is so embarrassing!

    Yet you are a breathe of fresh air. I appreciate your story. Thank you for the pictures. I used to hike the catskills and other places where I live. It was all quite incredible but my allergies seem to have intimidated me into not-hiking anymore. Perhaps I am just making excuses.

    1. You're very generous with your compliments, James. Thank you for reading and taking the time to offer your heartfelt thoughts. I hope one of your books does indeed make you famous :-D