Flowers and More Flowers

May 28, 2008

On a hike in fog and drizzle with my trusty umbrella for cover, the pleasures are at ground level.

The umbrella leaf plant, Diphylleia cymosa, is a cousin of the more common mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum. It seems to be a southern Appalachian local. Look at how water collects in the center of the leaf.

Lady slippers are always a treat, I saw maybe 8 or 9 of them in five miles of trail north from Wayah Bald.

Built on Top

May 27, 2008

Another variation on the balds - Wayah Bald is another heath bald, with the added feature of a stone tower. The CCC built it during the Depression, twice as tall as it is now - the top story began to crack so it was removed and a new roof put on in the 1940s. From here the Smokies are sometimes visible, 30 miles away. I used the access road for a great 4-mile downhill bike ride and then hiked back up. When I got to the top it was raining and a rainbow hung over the valley to the east.

Albert Mountain has a fire lookout tower, no longer used but preserved. Its view looks over the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River, just starting the trip north to the Mississippi. You can see a white AT blaze painted on the rock up ahead. I stopped for lunch on these rocks but pretty soon I was scared off by a loud thunder clap from the other side of the ridge.

Lunch on a Grass Bald

May 26, 2008

Siler Bald in North Carolina - a terrific meadow at the top where there's a view in all directions. I had lunch up here, admiring the mountain tops to the south that I'd been climbing over the last few days and Wayah Bald, the next mountain northward. I chatted with three guys through-hiking who had been studying landscape architecture and were about to start their work lives.

Then I went by the shelter, it's called "Nantahala Design" - this refers to the roofed porch with a bench and table built in.

Heath Bald - Laurel Slick

May 25, 2008

The top of Standing Indian Mountain is covered by rhododendrons, azaleas, and mountain laurels, taller than a person - it's called a heath bald or a laurel slick.

Here at the top a little view patch has been cut, looking south into Georgia, where I'll be headed soon. It was Memorial Day weekend, and there was quite a crowd up here, maybe a couple of dozen people - what a surprise after walking alone in the woods for a few hours to get here!

Springtime in the Nantahalas

May 24, 2008

I spent the Memorial Day weekend at Standing Indian Campground in North Carolina, in a basin around which the AT makes a giant C-shape, so lots of hiking from one base camp. 

Trilliums are maybe my favorite flower - except for a hundred others that are wonderful too. What a great time of year!

Family Time - California

May 18, 2008

I gave up the pleasures of camping for a week to fly west to California where Abby graduated from her Masters Degree program in Non-profit Administration. Here she is with Dennis on Sweeney Ridge between the San Andreas Fault and the Pacific Ocean - you can see the fog creeping over the ridge top from the ocean side.

A Perfect Day on Roan

May 13, 2008

This day dawned blue-sky as per the weather report - I planned a long day in the warm sun on the grassy balds of Roan Mountain.

It started with a trek Trail-north from Carvers Gap across the Roan and Jane Balds shown here, then a descent to Yellow Mountain Gap where I "tagged up" with my previous endpoint and ate lunch in a meadow with a hummingbird and a crowd of chestnut-sided warblers.
After returning to the starting point, I hiked an extra 2 miles in the opposite direction over forested Roan High Knob (the distant dark one in the photo) to where I had planted my bicycle to ride downhill to the car at day's end.

The famed rhododendron gardens are not in bloom yet - at this 6000 foot altitude, that won't happen until late June. But as the picture shows, the alders are doing their thing. Alders are here as a relict population - a New England plant that spread south during the Ice Age and has remained in the high altitude spots like this.

Can you see the survey benchmark for the AT, hiding under the alder?

The Roan Highlands

May 11, 2008

Now I'm getting up into the highlands. The last two days I've been up over 5500 feet. Saturday I walked up from a trailhead at 2800 feet to the top of Hump Mountain, a beautiful bald (the name for the open grassy tops of these mountains). Sunday I took a short cut, and drove up a little road, on the North Carolina side, to a high parking area for the Overmountain Trail (Revolutionary War history - if you're interested, also look up Sycamore Shoals).

I got up to the Trail just at the end of a storm. Here's the view of Jane Bald and Roan Mountain from Yellow Mt. Gap as the clouds are lifting. Soon after this, another black cloud came along and dropped hail on me!

Rhododendron Jungle

May 9, 2008

This section went down into a river valley instead of up over a mountain.

Here the Trail goes by Jones Falls. The blue blaze means there was a side trail off the AT, which is blazed in white.

Civilized Camping

May 8, 2008

Here's my camp at Carden Bluff on Watauga Lake, Tennessee in the Cherokee National Forest. The wonderful kitchen structure at the left with its roof and counter, makes life so much easier - I even pulled my chair under the roof when it rained. I made fires in the fire pit at night, too. I stayed almost a week while hiking on the Trail north and south of this spot. Once I get settled, I hate to move!

News from Tennessee

May 8, 2008

Greetings from Hampton, Tennessee!

Here is a view from the bike portion of a long but excellent bike-hike on which I circumnavigated Laurel Fork Creek (bike along dirt roads on the north rim, hike along the south rim of its watershed). 

In the front, a Christmas tree farm - they grow Fraser Firs of which the seeds are harvested under supervision of the USFS on a nearby mountain top. In the distance, the Roan massif where I will be going next - the western rim of the Blue Ridge rising up into the 5000-foot plus range.

Where I've been lately is "only" 3-4000 feet, and the trees are just leafing out about half way up the mountains. Today I ran into another couple who I had spent some time with last year camping on Rainbow Lake in the 100-Mile Wilderness of Maine! What a small world the AT is.

Encounter of the hiking kind

May 2, 2008

So I'm tromping along in the woods on Iron Mountain, feeling kind of bored, and someone calls my name - it's Vicky! She was on the guided hike in the Smokies last fall, she said she was going to through-hike, and here she is, 400-plus miles into the trip! Luckily she's walking with a fellow hiker, so he's able to document the meeting.

The energy of the through-hikers is so impressive it made me tired just to see them. So I took the weekend off and went to tour the capital of the State of Franklin and the home of President Andrew Johnson. Driving to Jonesborough and Greeneville I had great views of the wall of mountains that I have ahead of me as I move southbound (SOBO in Trail lingo) - Roan and the Unakas.

Shady Valley

May 1, 2008

Shady Valley, Tennessee has my vote over Burke's Garden for scenic. I did a fabulous bike-hike loop from one rim of the valley, down through the center where I saw one of the cranberry bogs - due to the elevation, they're left from the ice age period - see: 

I also met some cattle. 

I could see the mountain ridges surrounding the valley pastures the whole time I was riding. Then I hiked the ridge encircling the valley back to my starting point. Part of the ridge was open pastures (Osborne Farm, recently purchased and added to the AT lands) and part was woods with spring wildflowers.

Leaving Virginia after only 8 years ...

April 29, 2008
I've been hiking through Virginia on and off since Phoebe and I went to Shenandoah National Park in 2001. Today I finished the last section and stepped into Tennessee. 
At that very moment, I ran into these two guys (also section hikers) who remembered meeting me last year up around Roanoke. Amazing coincidence, not a step north or south but right on the state line!