Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

It was about time for a good adventure and the weekend didn’t fail us. Leslie, Still Waters, April and myself rolled on down the highway at high noon on Friday, heading toward the big town of Erwin, Tennessee. The plan was to spend the night and get up early to meet at the trailhead Saturday. I have to say the drive was absolutely a blast. We all talked nearly non-stop and laughed equally as much. At some point the words “fried fish” came out of someone’s mouth and a quest to find a littleElsies...Eternal lunch.... café with fried anything began. It ended at Elsie’s Steak and Seafood,home of “All You Can Eat Fried Catfish” and the local Optimist club. Obviously we all had been on some kind of fried food fast because everything that landed on the table had seen Crisco and was not long for this world. Stuffed and satisfied, we over tipped Elsie and headed toward the great town of Erwin and the Holiday Inn Express.
A friendly check-in, settling into our clean room, a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart, (Always interesting,)dinner at Clarence’s Drive In and we turned in early. There was little movement and no snoring as we all dreamed of the trail ahead.
After a fascinating breakfast at the Holiday Inn, (Who knew there was an automatic conveyer belt pancake maker?!!!) we packed up at sunrise and headed toward the Hostel to meet our group.

The Mountain Harbor Hostel /Bed and Breakfast was delightful!IMG_2857IMG_2886

For $15.00 a night, hikers can stay in a clean bed, have access to a shower, stocked frig and small kitchen. There was a small General Store that operates on the honor system and for $9.00 a full breakfast at the main house can be had. A member new to our group had stayed the night and greeted us with enthusiasm. Patty aka Dream Believer would prove to be a tireless hiker and cheerleader sharing her wisdom and love of nature.
Soon we were joined by Hemlock, Cindy, and Sweet Pea and were IMG_2891shuttled up a bumpy, curvy route to the trailhead atCarvers Gap.The hike began on a beautiful, blue sky, 80 degree treasure of a day, and slipping through the gate we began our hike. Almost immediately we were embraced by a Balsam Fir forest that can only grow at 5000 feet.( I looked around for Ewoks, but saw none…..) Delighted, we wandered along and soon began our ascent up Round Bald, picking our way past a mile long bucket brigade of young people restoring the trail with rocks. (One of the girls commented as we went by, that we were the pretty hikers!) highres_50264351
The climb continued up, as we topped Round Bald passing masses of Rhododendron bushes with the wind whipping around us. We stop periodically to spin 365 degrees and burst into the Sound of Music ,which will be our theme song for most of the trip! On we go over and up Jane Bald surrounded by magnificent mountains and valleys, numerous plants and flowers and goats grazing beside the trail, guarded by a ferocious “goat”dog.
Jane Bald proves to be the perfect lunch spot to languish in the warm sun and chat with other hikers as they pass through this intersection. Nourished, hydrated and rested we head down the AT back into the forest. Our hard work rewarded by an amazing sea of wildflowers blooming all around us. Much of the trail barely wide enough for our feet, it is like we are walking through a carpet of colors. The surprising and pleasing display included Yarrow, Daisy’s, Bee Balm, Echinacea, Dodder, Turtlehead, Phlox, Gentian, yellow and purple touch me nots, Beech Drop, Queen Anne Lace and Angelica. I can hear Joan swooning in the distance……

We pass the Stan Murray shelter, do a quick Keen Hiking boot commercial….IMG_2977and follow the rolling trail down to the Overmountain Shelter, a two story red barn structure housing several college students. This proves to be a good place to regroup and watch the clouds rolling over the valley like waves in the ocean…We made the decision not to camp here, but to press on UP and over Little Hump Bald.
and this……is where we lost Shemeah……….
Almost everyone needed to replenish their water and this was IMG_2933the last source before we would camp. Still Waters and Hemlock had filled up while the rest of us were airing out our toes at the barn. Hemlock waited with April while the water bearers loaded up and Still Waters decided to head on to scout out a site.

The mighty climb up Little Hump began…..Hemlock, with her long legs and natural gait soon became a distant pinhead as I followed, Fabs and Leslie not far behind and April and Patty bringing up the rear. To an overhead observer, I think we might have looked like one of those slinky caterpillar toys, starting and stopping, getting closer together and stretching back out, as we made our way, our breathing heavy and labored up, up and more up.

The views are breathtaking as we go, making the pain worthwhile, majestic mountains with tufts of white clouds rising out of them, waving grasses along the trail, rocky outcrops and the sun breaking the clouds providing us with “God Rays” and more layers of blue mountain ridges.
Catching up with a waiting Joan, Leslie, Fabs and myself reach the top and go up and over trying to outrun a rain cloud with April and Patty being pursued by a rolling fog beneath us. Confident that Shemeah is ahead of us, we laugh that she has already started a fire….. Just as we hit the shelter of the scrubby trees, it starts to rain and we quickly cover out packs and put on our jackets, all the while looking along the narrow grown up trail for a place to hang four hammocks and place three tents.

Not far into the woods, I manage to once again step in a yellow jackets home and feel stinging on the back of my leg. Tearing down the trail with Leslie right on my heels feels all too familiar! Sprays and cream is applied and Joan and Fabs meet up with us after waiting for the nest to die down and suddenly we spy the perfect campsite!!! The heavens openmusic plays and we are practically delirious with joy……until we realize…..there is no Shemeah……….

Warbonnet VillageWe are joined by April and Patty and begin the work of setting up camp before darkness falls, all the while worrying about our hiking partner. A cell call is placed with a single bar and a message is left. There is discussion about sending Hemlock out to look for her but it is decided that we will all stay put, that Still Waters is a competent hiker and will be fine. We speculate that she might be eating Spam with the Boy Scouts when suddenly we hear her entering camp with a shout!
IMG_2869She receives a heroes welcome and we are all relieved that our group is once again complete. Apparently, she hiked an additional 4 miles, while exploring a new trail and making a wrong turn headed back toward the Stan Murray shelter . She did indeed meet up with the Boy Scouts, but they did not have Spam. ….
Relieved, our dinners are prepared, bear bags hung, business is done and we all retire early, exhausted from the days adventures. Thankfully, I sink into my hammock, cocooned by my borrowed Yeti, (thank you KP) andfaithful Ethel, slipping off to sleep to the night chorus of critters and campmates….
to be cont.

Stone Mountain

From the North Carolina Trail Dames….

The views were stunning. We spent a while just sitting, chatting, contemplating, relaxing, and enjoying the view. After 30 minutes, we decided to push on and continue down the relatively flat trail to another outstanding view. After another quick break, we continued on, going down hill to hike along a stream that soon became a huge waterfall. When we got to the bottom of the falls, we took a snack an water break and indulged our feet by taking a dip in the cool refreshing water. It was perfect. We continued on to finish up with an amazing view of the mountain we had just climbed. By this point we were all hot and sweaty and ready for our reward. ICE CREAM!!! We all headed for the local general store for some home made ice cream and cold drinks. This was an awesome ending to a beautiful, warm day.

Posted at 08:12 PM in Appalachian



Guest post by Sandi Adams

Not a single day goes by that my attention is not caught by some amazingly beautiful sight outside. It appears that the older I get the more deeply I cherish what is around me. When hiking, I like to touch the bark on the trees, the moss on the rocks, dip my fingers into the creeks. I love to lie on the ground and listen to the earths heart beat and look at the tree branch silhouettes against the sky…. REALLY notice the little details. Every season offers treasures to be enjoyed if we just take the time to notice.

I read somewhere that the average person has 32,850 mornings, (assuming you live to be 90 which I am planning on) That means I have approximately 14,550 or so more to go. I don’t want to waste a single day.


Recently my son shared a DVD by Louis Giglio called“Indescribable” (You can watch the series on you tube in Five Parts)
It was a message inspired by Chris Tomlin’s song with the same title. I marveled at what a tiny speck we are in the universe and how everything we can see, smell, touch and taste is so intricately designed. It inspired me to look even deeper at my surroundings and consider our place in this world. Click here for some gorgeous images and video with the ChrisTomlin song.
The heavens declare the glory of God; 
the skies proclaim the work of his hands psalm 19:1

How I want to be when I grow up…

This is a seriously AWESOME post by Dame Sandi Adams!!

Inspiring Aging or How I Want to Be When I Grow Up…

I’ve thought a lot about getting older lately… Probably because I am older. This birthday, I finally conceded to being middle aged…, considering 106 to be a respectable run. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am surprised. In my head, I don’t feel different and my body is still strong. ( though a few chinks in the armor are beginning..)
That is why I adore reading about people, who challenge themselves and are still moving, dancing, hiking, playing and living out dreams.

Last week I came across a blog post on Hiker to Hiker, that reallycarolina mt club made me smile. It was titled “Taking Care of the Elderly on the AT” The Carolina Mountain Club had planned a 9 mile hike led by an 81 year old. They all are over 50, as they point out, some way over 50. (These are my people)
Even thought it was hot, (we are southerners and it is hot here in the summer….) and the weather man kept telling them to “be careful and check on the elderly,” they still kept it moving and had a splendid day on the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve also been following Cimarron, an 88 year old man who has been THRU HIKINGthe Appalachian Trail since February and has completed 914.5 miles as of today.

His quote before starting says it all, “If you never try to do it. You will never know you could do it.” You can read his trail journal HERE

This week Diana Nyed attempted to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida at the age of 61. Moments before slipping into the water, Ms. Nyad, clad in a black swimsuit and a blue swim cap, played reveille on a bugle. “I’m almost 62 years old,” she declared. “I’m standing here at the prime of my life; I think this is the prime, when one reaches this age. You still have a body that’s strong, but now you have a better mind.”

While her journey was cut short, she still managed to swim for 29 hours, t1larg_diana_swimming_day1suffering through an asthma attack, shoulder pain, in cold. shark and jellyfish infested waters and finally abandoning her quest after becoming violently ill. Her comments following the experience were inspiring. She said that her goal had been to demonstrate to people in their 60s that “life is not over” and that the age of “60 is the new 40.” “I wasn’t the best swimmer I could be — the asthma and the shoulder made sure of that,” she said. “I was my most courageous self.”

Life goes by so quickly and, at my age, you really feel the passage of time,” she said. “People my age must try to live vital, energetic lives. We’re still young. We’re not our mothers’ generation at 60.” For people over 60, she said, the goal should be “to live a life with no regrets and no worries about what you are going to do with your time. Fill it with passion. Be your best self.”
I think these are words that are worth living by no matter your age. So if you are sitting around on your hiney feeling sorry for yourself, put one foot in front of the other and you never know where you might end up.
We should all try to be our most courageous selves…

Backpacking Solo

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Backpacking solo

When Still Waters first asked me to help her with her first solo backpacking experience, I was eager to share what I’ve learned the last 3 years going solo. But there are also risks to backpacking by yourself. So we came up with a plan to do a two night trip- we’d backpack together the first night, and then the second night we’d each go solo on the same trail, and meet back up again afterwards. She’d have a chance to double check her gear on the first night (as the temps got down into the 20’s- burr!) before her first night out on her own.

Still Water, Solo Backpacker.
First night: comfortable into the 20’s
We set off on the Chattooga Cliffs Trail in North Carolina from the Bull Pen Bridge Trailhead (10.2 miles total out and back). This trail was really beautiful back in July, though I’d recalled it was also technically challenging- several rock scrambles and butt-scoots. As part of my preparations for the PCT, I was carrying a bear canister for the first time with enough food for several days. And if that wasn’t enough, the trail was icy so those were ice-encrusted rock scrambles, with the extra 10 lbs in my pack. This was NOT something I’d do solo, but it was a good challenge with Still Waters. One of the important things about choosing to go solo is deciding when to take risks and when to play it safe. When I go solo, I know where my limits are and where I can push things.

Icy and challenging Chattooga Cliffs Trail.

It was great practice carrying the bear canister, seeing how well it fit in my pack, and opening it in the cold with this method.
Selecting a solo campsite
We talked a lot the first night about differences between backpacking with a friend and going solo. For me the biggest difference is in choosing a campsite. When we camp with a group, campsite selection is often dictated by space or aesthetics, and is restricted (usually) to established sites. Going solo, I camp far from trailheads, and I make make myself either highly visible or highly invisible. If I use an established campsite, if anyone is camped nearby, I’ll be assertive and talk to the other campers and see if I get a good feeling, all before I set up. Otherwise, I stealth camp. On our first night, we camped at a stealth site that is typical for me when I go solo- we “went high”, halfway up the hillside where it is warmer, and hidden from view of the trail.

The Chattooga is gorgeous, but we didn’t camp near it cause it would have been even more cold down along it’s banks.
Why go solo?
Everyone has their own motivation for going solo. Still Waters was interested in having a quiet, peaceful experience. I went solo backpacking at first because I wanted the confidence boost and because I though it would prepare me for a thru hike, but then because I found it made me a more competent backpacker. It allowed me to do more miles than I would with friends or groups. As I experimented with pace, nutrition, and techniques, my backpacking skills improved by leaps and bounds as I learned to listen to my body and develop my own style that was in tune with what worked for me. Things I hadn’t learned when surrounded by other people when decisions are made for the benefit of the group. Guess the important thing is to keep in mind why you want to go solo.

Second night: going solo
The next morning, Still Waters dropped me off at the Bad Creek Trail, which led to the start of my Chattooga River Trail thru hike, while she set off on her solo from the Nicholson Ford Trailhead. I’ve section hiked the entire Chattooga River Trail multiple times, but this was my first time going in one continuous trip- 40.5 miles in 2 days. With the bear canister. With another 20-degree night. I’m not gonna lie- this trip reminded me about the best and worst of hiking solo. I hit a low point on the last day when I could tell I was pushing too fast. My feet were not used to carrying that much weight. I knew I needed take a break and not get so *freaking obsessed* with my miles per hour, and also not to worry so much about how many extra minutes it took me to get packed up in the morning fumbling around with my gloves on. When I’m solo, I see more clearly how I can be my own worst enemy.

At low points, it always helps to take dorky self-portraits, get email messages from friends, and write to-do lists.
But then, soloing has it’s high points too. One neat thing was seeing a bear as I hiked the last mile to my car in the dusk/dark. This was cool because not only wasn’t I scared of the bear like I used to be, but it was actually enjoyable seeing this wild creature- yay! I’ve seen enough bears now that I know what to expect from the bears around here. The other thing I like about going solo is that it makes me feel like I can take on anything I set my mind to. For example, I DIDN’T GET COLD HANDS despite the temps dipping into the 20’s. I also felt like I was in good shape, doing these back to back 20 mile days carrying extra weight with really short hours of daylight. So, happy overall.

After the trip, I met up with Still Waters to hear about her successful solo night on the trail. She’d found an awesome stealth site and stayed warm. Way to go Still Waters! Hope you have many safe and enjoyable nights out on the trail!

Here are some other tIps for going solo that we discussed:

-When first going solo, start small. I’d go to places where I was very comfortable- state parks where I could sign in at the park office, or the Appalachian Trail where there is a trail culture that I trust. Start with solo day hikes.

-Take care of yourself- this is your number one priority- don’t mess around. Listen to your body, adjust your pace, and be mindful.

-Be aware. Pay attention to everyone you see on the trail. Listen to your gut. Know your strengths and be prepared. I also took wilderness first aid and self-defense courses.

-Enjoy yourself. Do exactly what you want, when you want. Linger at waterfalls. Go swimming. Take a nap. Eat dinner at 3 PM. Savor every moment. Remember the distinction between being alone and being lonely.

Giving my feet a break and having an early dinner (dehydrated roasted veggies & sweet potato soup).
-Create a safety net. I tell two people where I’m going, where I’m parking, and when I’ll be back. I stick to the plan. I carry a cell phone and a SPOT. I check back in after I return, so my friends always expect my follow up text. My friends also have gotten in the habit of sending me foul weather alerts (thunderstorms, ice storms), and this has proved VERY helpful several times.

-Know where you can get cell signal. I don’t normally advocate relying on cell phones in the backcountry, but I have found it very helpful to know the locations of cell service on various ridges or gaps on some of my favorite trails. Where reception is faint, text messages are more reliable than calling or email.

-Don’t get lost. Until I was very comfortable going solo, I’d stick to routes I knew. I always pay constant attention to my location and where I am going. I take extra time at all trail junctions, I backtrack if I have any doubt, I take photos of signs and trail junctions (with time stamps so I keep track of my pace so I can calculate expected travel times to various places). I bring multiple maps and trail guides. I research my trips throughougly, calling the local ranger station a few days before, reading blogs, forums, and websites. I have backup plans and I know alternate routes.

-Bring music or podcasts to listen to before you go to sleep. Or bring earplugs. Helps keep away the sounds of night-time monsters. This doesn’t creep me out anymore (much) but it used to.

-Take advantage of the extra time and freedom to cultivate your backpacking skills. For example, spending extra time exploring when looking for campsites has provided me with a better understanding of how the wind moves over gaps and ridges and which plant communities are found on warmer vs. wetter slopes. I also spend more time taking photos and looking at plants when I’m by myself- all things I enjoy.

Still Waters