Monday, January 21, 2013

Whatever the Weather, We Hike Together!

On January 2nd, my little group decided to venture the furthest away that we've been on one of our hikes--something that is going to have to be a more regular thing now that we've done such a large percentage of the Smokies hikes closer to home. This particular hike was my idea because I really wanted to spend a couple of days with my parents in Hickory, NC and this trailhead was right on my way. I think it was a year ago that I took a picture of the AT steps that go up the other way toward Hot Springs here where I-40 crosses the Appalachian Trail and said that they were really calling my name. I guess that was a premonition of the intensity of this calling that hiking would place on me in 2012. It has become an addiction, something that makes Saturdays almost unbearable when weather or other circumstances make it impossible to hike.
On this day, the weather was iffy to say the least. That is not what the forecast had said, but we've come to know that weather forecasts in the mountains are far from reliable. Instead of clear skies when we arrived at the trailhead, we found ourselves surrounded by clouds, not above our heads, but literally all around us. The heavy fog felt like rain, but I kept assuring my hiking partners that is was just cloud moisture, (yeah right!) Thankfully we all keep lightweight rain jackets in our packs for just such moments, so we donned them and stepped out onto the Appalachian Trail. For those interested in hiking this trail, we parked one car at the Big Creek Ranger Station and one car in the pullout across from the trailhead to the AT on TN Highway 32 (which, be warned, is really a dirt road--I couldn't believe it, but it was!) I was driving my Mustang convertible so I was a tad nervous about that, but the road is well maintained and my little pony did just fine.
We had not been hiking long when, with the change in elevation, the temperatures began to drop enough to turn the misty "cloud moisture" to snow. Suddenly, our moods, previously somewhat dampened by the rain, began to lighten as the air was transformed by the crystals of snow shimmering in the early morning light. Everything around us became covered in a dusting of snow as we climbed higher up the AT toward Mt. Cammerer.
We stopped short of Cammerer on this day, turning around at the intersection with Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail which we had come up a month or so earlier. It was at this intersection where hiker brain turned Davenport Gap (on the trail sign) to Gavenport Dap. It remains Gavenport Dap in the minds of our group members simply because we laughed so hard about it that day.
Turning around, we made our way back to the trail head of Chestnut Branch Trail and began a not too difficult descent back toward our waiting car. The guide books had me a little worried about the steepness of this trail, but it is fine--nothing to worry about at all. It was a very pleasant trail which came in contact several times (but not with large water crossings) with what I assumed was Chestnut Branch for a truly delightful hike back down.
I had read that we would see large chestnut trees still lying on the forest floor. But I wasn't prepared for the size of these trees nor the good condition in which the old logs were still preserved. My dad, who remembers the chestnuts when they were kings of the forest, said that the moss that grows on them help preserve them from dry rot. The moisture of these woods near the river provide the perfect conditions for them to be preserved long after they were felled by the Chestnut Blight.
As our hike drew to an end, I found myself with a strong urge to turn around and go back up. I have begun to notice that, especially on a hike like this of only about 6 miles, I'm not ready to return to civilization. Subconsciously, I slow my pace on that last half mile or so, delaying the inevitable. I love my family and my job, so it's not that I don't want to go back to them, but that respite that I find in these mountains, that powerful sense of renewal that fills me, is so intense that I simply do not want to leave it. It is this overwhelming feeling that has become like bread and water to me--this that brings me back as often as my schedule allows--the driving force behind why I hike.


  1. You last paragraph says it beautifully and only another hiker can truly understand. I've been in Florida for a couple of weeks and although I'm loving the warm, sunny weather here, I can't wait to get back to my mountains! That short stretch of the AT from Davenport Gap to Chestnut Branch is one of those pieces just kind of hanging out there that I haven't done!

  2. Sharon, let me know when you come back from Florida. We might try to get together for a hike. :-)