The pointless hobby of peak bagging: Mount Mitchell and 11 other peaks.

Friday August 25th 2017: Mileage – not too many (?)

We definitely knew better than to blindly follow our GPS to the trail head, but for some reason we did it anyway.  A 45 minute drive turned into a nearly 2 hour expedition on a windy unpaved road that our GPS claimed had a speed limit of 55 mph.  The number of times you need to make a mistake in order to learn from it is yet to be determined.

The trail head was well concealed.  After searching up and down the road, we finally resorted to asking a local who pointed us down a small road (Watershed Road) marked “private”.  We parked the car in the mud and started up the Crest Trail, starting at around 3000ft in elevation and climbing steadily up to nearly 6000ft.  If you’d like to feel out of shape, this trail is for you.

For some reason, I decided to start at a fast pace, and quickly wore myself out.  About half way up I saw a bear moving among the trees and shouted at it:

“Hey Bear!!”

I banged my poles together to get his attention.

“I’m not a bear,” replied the bear.  That’s exactly the sort of thing a bear would say, I thought to myself.

We approached, and saw a man dressed mostly in black hunched over collecting firewood near his campsite with his wife.  They shared information with us about upcoming water sources.

We made it up to the ridge and started on our peak bagging mission.  Our first peak was Celo Knob, which had a nice trail from the south side which wasn’t too hard to find.

Next, we attempted to climb Horse Rock.  We succeeded, but certainly not in a graceful fashion.  We didn’t find a trail, and bushwhacked through horrible blackberry bushes as tall as John to reach the summit, covered in blood.  The lack of trail should have been a clue that this peak was not one of the official 6000ft peaks on the peak bagging list of “South Beyond 6000ft challenge”.  Who checks these things before heading out anyway?

Then we hit Gibbs Mountain, which had somewhat of a trail to the top.  The top was sort of lumpy so it was hard to tell which point the actual top was.  We put our little tootsies on all of them just to be sure.

Then the Crest Trail continues up and over Winter Star, but we weren’t sure if the peak was on the trail or not, and so we kept scrambling to the top of random things just in case.  Which was dumb.  None of them were Winter Star.

As darkness fell, we managed to find a campsite and ate our lovely Ramen dinner.  As we sat there, we noticed that there was a salamander on a tree next to us.  Upon further inspection, there were salamanders everywhere.  On almost every tree.  Poking their little heads out of holes at the base of trees.  We spent some time taking pictures and baby-talking to our new neighbors.

Our favorite little neighbor salamander


 

Saturday August 26th: Mileage – vaguely doable amount (?)

We got up and immediately investigated whether our friends, the salamanders, where still around, and mostly they had retreated into their holes, but we saw our one friend still poking his head out looking at us with curiosity.   We bid him farewell and hiked out.

Not long after we started hiking, we hit the summit of Winter Star.  There was a bench mark there to prove it.

We passed some folks camping near Deep Gap who were impressed that we had come up from Watershed Road.  I was impressed too.  My legs, however, were less impressed.

We hiked on to the top of Mt Mitchell and spent $5 on some soda, some fudge rounds and a bottle of Gatorade because I had forgotten to bring my pee bottle, and had to begrudgingly get out of the tent the night before to relieve myself.  Yes, I know, I’m lazy.

We got one of the many tourists at the summit to take our picture.


We continued on the Old Mount Mitchell Trail so as to hit Hallback Mt, which had a pretty well defined trail to the top along with a freaking sign post once we hit the summit!  I would have never guessed.

A sign on top of a mountain! Wow.


We collected water at the Ranger Station and walked across the road to a gravel road to try to get to Mount Gibbs.  We left the gravel road and followed a questionable utility line up the mountain until we hit a strange house and from there easily found the top of the mountain.  Back from the house we easily followed the overhead power line trail back to the road, which would have been the more obvious way up to the top (oh well, again, no research).

We then thought we’d hit Clingman Peak, but there was a giant fence around it, so that peak was a no-go.  I’m guessing it’s not on the official list.  I still haven’t checked.

To the right of the peak, the gravel road continued and was marked “private trail” with another sign reading “no trespassing”.  This road lead us to a very fancy house, which we tiptoed up to, looking for a trail.  The trail happened to be right in front of it.  Nobody seemed to be home, thankfully.  We traveled swiftly into the forest to follow the Boundary “Trail” to Potato Knob.   We lost the “trail” many times, but always somehow found it again.

We followed these for way too long

After we hit the peak, the trail was steep, hard to follow and overgrown.  This is probably understatement.  I couldn’t have been happier to have an altimeter.  Upon further investigation, Potato Knob is also not on the official list.  Don’t ask me why we checked.

Rock outcropping near the top of Potato Knob


We finally hit the MST and there was a simultaneous sigh of relief.  Heading away from Mt. Mitchell, we hiked the MST in order to bag our final peak, Blackstock Knob.  Since dark was falling, we decided to camp somewhere near Rainbow Gap.

Sunday August 27th: Mileage – waaaay too many (?)

Sunday: the day of rest; so we slept in an extra 10 minutes and headed in the direction of Blackstock Knob, probably the most unremarkable peak of our trip.  We hit it fairly quickly, but to be sure, hiked down the other side to find the “overhanging rock” as written in the CMC MST data book as being on the other side of the peak.  Mind you, there’s nothing but rocks in this section, so who knows.

Not the “overhanging rock” but one of many rocks near the trail

We turned around to hike the MST in the other direction to the Buncome Horse Trail all the way to Big Tom Spur which got us past the summit of Mt. Mitchell.  It was flat and wet, but our feet were already soaking wet from the rain which had only started to subside since dawn, so it didn’t matter much.  Big Tom Spur was steep, but by this point “steep” had kind of lost its meaning.  The rain subsided, and we reached the beloved Crest Trail once more.

We found these beautiful grass-of-parnassus on the Buncombe Horse Trail

I was feeling fairly tired, but as usual, my mind was doing little mileage calculations and I realized that we could potentially make it down to the car instead of camping another night.  I gobbled some swedish fish gummies and hiked on.  We hiked up and down and up and down and the trail was just as hard as it was two days ago.  We passed several perfectly good camping spots, and each time I looked at my watch and said to John “want to keep going?”

Wondering if we should move on along the Crest Trail

Soon the trail left the crest and started to head down.  Again, thank god I have an altimeter, because my feet and my knees were so sore that every 100 ft felt like 500 ft.  I groaned practically every other step.  We heard a bear, but it ran away before I could introduce myself, so we kept hiking some more.  Darkness was falling, and I started walking like a penguin.  Hiker hobble, they call it.  Too many miles.

Just after 8pm we got down to the car, and we started dreaming of all the things we would eat and drink once we got home.

Afterthought:

Upon returning home, we looked up the “official rules” of the South Beyond 6000ft (SB6K) challenge, and they seem arbitrary and, frankly, too complicated.  Plus on the official CMC rules page, it says “under construction”, so who knows what that means.  I realize that peak bagging, like many other hiking and running pursuits (like being a white blaze purist on the AT, which, of course we were to a stupid degree during our thru-hike), is by its nature a completely frivolous sport.  So, who knows, we probably won’t actually apply as official challenge finishers, even if we do wind up completing the list (and then some). The biggest reason being that it would mean keeping track of all the random details they want you to keep track of.  Plus, who wants to pay $10 for a patch that’ll just weigh us down in the future?  Thoughts about the SB6k challenge welcome!

Starting the New Year hiking!

It’s good to start the New Year by doing what you love, so just like last year, we decided to go for a hike on New Year’s Day.

If you’ve been following me, you’ll know that this hike, like last year’s was probably on crutches.  I’m now 10 weeks post-op since getting my other hip reconstructed, and I’d say I’m doing pretty well at this point.  It’s been rough having to go through two such surgeries one year apart, but now I know that I’m finally on the mend for good and it’s only going to get better from here.

I hiked less than 2 miles on New Year’s day, but it felt good.  The very next day I went out and hiked about 2 miles again but this time occasionally switched out my crutches for hiking poles.  That felt even better.

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One of many crutch walks

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New Year’s Crutch-Hike

Hiking with poles!

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Happy!

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Moore Cove Falls.

I plan on increasing my hiking distance slowly, adding maybe half a mile or so a week, and by March or April I should be able to start guiding hikes again.

This experience has been humbling and I think I’ve grown in ways I don’t even know yet.  I’ve learned to be dependent on other people, to be patient with healing, and to appreciate the little moments of independence and improvement.

I hope that 2017 will be an exciting year.  We have applied to Leave No Trace for a Traveling Trainer’s position which we think we are the perfect fit for, and if we don’t get that position, we will try to finish the 100 mile section of the PCT that we haven’t hiked due to wildfires back in 2014.

I’m sure there will be many other hiking adventures this year regardless of where we end up.  In just a few weeks we have a short trip to Florida planned where we’ll be able to enjoy some warmth while canoeing and hiking in the Everglades.  I can’t wait to put my backpack on again and crawl into our tent for the night.  There’s no place like home.

Why I Hike (Dormouse’s perspective)

Any long distance hiker faces this question at some point along the way.  “You’re going to hike 2650 miles… Ok… but… why?”

It is hard for me to explain why.  Especially when I say “I enjoy doing it,” but then I go on to explain about the chronic foot pain, the fear of getting lost, and the predicaments that weather can put us in.  So why do I enjoy doing it?  It’s because hiking allows me to appreciate the little things in life.  Hiking also gives me purpose and goals, makes me feel alive, and allows me to live outdoors in nature, where I feel I belong best. Hiking long distances just amplifies these even more.

In “normal life,” things become so very mundane.  Taking a shower, eating, sleeping, going to work, making dinner, cleaning up, etc.  We appreciate luxuries less and less the more we have them.  Every day life forces us to upgrade our life-style in order to feel the appreciation of a new luxury.  Let’s get a hot tub.  Let’s get a bigger car.  Let’s go to a fancy restaurant.  As if the food at home isn’t good any more, our car is too old and small and taking a shower is just an every day chore barely worth getting wet for.

We always need to seek more in life to satisfy our needs.  I believe human needs exist on a sort of pyramid with the basic needs of air, water, food and shelter on the bottom. Our basic needs are almost always met, and the next level of needs are complex.  The need for companionship, the need for entertainment.  Because we do not need to waste mental energy on the basic ones anymore, we start to work our way up the ladder of needs until the needs we are after are so complex that they are very difficult to satisfy.  Example: I wish my husband would just take me out to a nice meal without me having to tell him to.  How on earth am I going to fix that need?

What if we could go back and appreciate indoor plumbing, a warm meal, and a soft bed?  What if I could give you a pizza that tasted like the best thing that you have ever tasted?  What if, besides all this, you are walking through some of the most beautiful country-side in all of the United States of America?

And there are other serious benefits besides: you can eat all you want and not gain weight, and you never have to worry about what you look like, nor what other people think of you.

I was recently told a great quote: “hunger is the best sauce.”

I could not agree more.  When you expend several thousand calories, pretty much anything tastes good.

Best pizza ever.

Best pizza ever.

You may be saying to yourself: well, you’ve tooted obvious benefits of hiking long distances, but how do you cope with the not-so-pleasant side of thru-hiking a long trail?  What about the blisters, the long, long miles that leave your feet feeling like pulp and your legs feeling like jello?  What about when you’ve been wet for days, and you’ve got to keep pushing more long, long miles every day to keep on schedule?

Yes, there are times when it can suck.  But there is something else about completing a long distance trail that is a bit addictive.  It is the sense of accomplishment.  Every day you have a real goal.  A REAL, tangible, achievable goal!!  How many people can say that about any other day of their lives?  I don’t know what it is about achieving even the most meaningless of goals that strangely gives people a sense of purpose.  But it’s true.   It does.  We love to accomplish things.  We write lists just to cross things off of them; we make deadlines so that we get things done in a timely manner; and we create goals so that we can achieve them.  Everyone has some sort of goal.   And the more milestones, the better:  to lose weight, to run a marathon, to get a promotion, to juggle 5 balls…  Everyone is different.  I have to say that watching our progress as we walk across a continent is probably one of the most satisfying achievements I’ve ever come across.

The more milestones the better

The more milestones the better

It also helps that I really like being outside.  I really love nature; I love the woods; I love the sun; I love the wind; I like the feeling of standing on dirt or rocks; and the smell of grass, or the ocean, or flowers (even though I’m sometimes allergic… ahchoo!!).  I feel more comfortable in the ‘wilderness’ than anywhere civilized.  Nature is so beautiful, so peaceful and welcoming.  Even though sometimes it can seem like the opposite when you’re stuck in a thunderstorm on top of a ridge.  But civilization almost never feels welcoming.  Cars and guns kill more people than anything nature could ever throw at you.

So why hike?  Because it brings me back down the ladder of needs and allows me to really enjoy the small comforts in life: hot greasy food, a shower, and a soft bed.  Because it gives me a tangible goal every day and every week, and because I really enjoy being in nature surrounded by natural beauty and all things wild.