Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The hike that never happened

The hike that never happened was this past weekend. The plan was to go to the Shining Rock Wilderness and hike in to the rock and take as much time as possible to do it and allow all the sights, sounds and smells of late fall soak into the brain. I have never been to Shining Rock and was pretty excited to go and see this unusual rock formation. Shining Rock is named for the white quartzite rock that forms its summit, Shining Rock's 5940 foot peak is not the highest in the wilderness area. In fact, Shining Rock Ledge, which forms the backbone of the area, boasts three peaks over 6000 feet, the highest being Cold Mountain at 6030 ft. If Cold Mountain sounds familiar, it should. This is the Cold Mountain of Charles Frazier's bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Cold Mountain . The literary types should be aware that the hike to Cold Mountain is no walk in the park. It is a 10.6 mile hike (one way) from the Daniel Boone Camp trailhead via the Art Loeb and Cold Mountain Trails. So needless to say, this trail is not for someone looking for an easy little walk in the woods. This is a serious trail with steep assents. As Frazier recounts in his novel, the Shining Rock area was originally part of the Cherokee Nation. White settlers began pouring in following a land grant from the state of North Carolina in 1796. Champion Fibre Company purchased most of the area between 1906 and 1909 and began logging the area to supply its pulp mill in nearby Canton.In 1911, Champion Fibre decided the area's forests produced better sawtimber than pulp, so the tract was sold to Champion Lumber, which in turn sold it to Suncrest Lumber in 1918.Continuous logging between 1906 and 1926 decimated large stands of red spruce, Frazer fir, hemlock and hardwoods. Remnant stands of isolated spruce and fir survive today on some of the ridge tops, though these stands are threatened by acid precipitation and insects. The Cherokee deliberately used fire to alter the ecology of the region. More recently, in 1925 a locomotive ignited a pile of logging slash that quickly spread and consumed over 25,000 acres before it was extinguished.
We did however, ride back down the mountain and motor over to the Wildlife Education Center on the backside of Looking Glass Rock. This is where another prominent rock feature known as John Rock can be found. There are plenty of trails around this area that has made on my to do list for the near future. But for now they will have to wait.
Anyway….all that having been said, we arrived at the Big East Fork Trail Head around 1:30pm and with 10 miles of hiking ahead of us walking an average of one mile per hour, well………you do the math. So the hike that never happened will happen sameday I hope.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The first sign of winter

The first sign of winter has reared it’s ugly head. As I walked out the door this morning on my way to work I was greeted with small pellets of ice, snow and rain all at the same time. It is going to happen in spite of all our hopes and desires that the weather remain a little more user friendly.
The seasons are all part of a master plan for our lives and for the earth in general. Without the four seasons the balance if nature will be thrown off. Insect would devour the crops, the fields would never have a time of rest.I am thankful for each experience that comes with the seasons and approach winter with as much excitement as I can muster. When I was a child with no cares in the world and no obligations to meet, winter was a welcomed site. No school, days of playing in the snow. I never owned a sled. Money was a little hard to come by. So I didn’t even ask if I could have one.
As an adult I view winter as an obstacle rather than a blessing. I think of myself as a fairly woods smart guy with most of the skills that I would need to make it out in the cold. But I do from time to time question just how long would I survive when faced with the elements. As most of us who are of the outdoorsy type personality will testify to…we take pride in being prepared for anything that nature has to offer. But there can be from time to time something that will put us to the test. Winter seems to be that test for me. This year I will make an effort to enjoy winter as much as I can. I always seem to find beauty in the other seasons, surely there is something just as beautiful in winter.  

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The last vestiges of Fall

The last vestiges of fall are all that remains. The wind and the rain are doing there best to claim our last hopes of this beautiful time of year. Although this is something that has occurred since the dawn of time and is completely out of our control, it still creates an empty space in me that wants very much for this season to last forever. Nothing can ever replace the feeling I have when I know that the world around me is going through such a rapid change. It is a fragile reminder that life also has season’s of it’s own and just like the trees, sometimes we stand alone and endure the weather and sometimes we are surrounded by others who are going through the same change. I wonder…… do the trees know somehow that they will once again be full of life and flowering thousands of little buds that bring back the birds that depend on them for food and shelter? Just think for a minute…..something that appears to be void of life in a few months will become something with the responsibility of protecting other creatures from the same forces that caused such a dramatic change in form, shape and life! We have much to learn from the world we live in. First we must be open to receive this teaching, and then be willing to try something new and go places that most of the population will never. It is not any different when we first set out in life and start down this path of learning in school. As children we are introduced to new things in school every day. This comes from text books (plural, more than one source) and other sources as well. In other words, you can not learn all there is by simply looking at the same bit of information all the time. The greatest discoveries of all time were stumbled upon while searching for something else. In March 1923 in an interview with George Mallory when asked “Why climb Everest” responded with “Because it is there”. And a very simple answer to a very simple question is now recorded in world history forever. And like Mr. Mallory, I agree that is reason enough. The following year Mallory never returned from the summit attempt. In May 1999, 75 years later, the body of George Mallory was found on Everest. Due to his death on the mountain, there is a story that will never be told. There are stories in all of us that will never be told. The mountain will never come to us, we must go to the mountain, and in doing so we just might find a story to share someday.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Leaves hide obstacles

Kim and I have ridden Big Rock/ Cedar Rock trail several times this year, but never during the fall season. So while she is in Gatlinburg on a weekend get away, I feel drawn back to the trails to fill my eyes and ears with all that nature has to offer. It is a rather difficult trail due to the long climb to the top and getting back down is a little tricky as well with the long steep descent to the Little River trail at the bottom. Nonetheless it is worth the effort. The air is thinner this time of year so climbing a mountain in cooler, thinner air can put a strain on the lungs and test your abilities. Never one to back down from a challenge, I thought this would be a good day to go to the top and enjoy the last moments of fall color from a bird’s eye perspective and with any luck at all I'll get there before everyone else comes to the same conclusion.

I was the fourth car in the parking area. Too good to be true. But true it was. So far so good. Unload the bike, get geared up, fill the pack and off I go. The climb to the top takes about thirty minutes. Not a very long climb, but more than makes up for the short distance by being a very steep assent. So after a couple of stops to convince myself that my lungs are not going to explode and to allow my heart to return to a rate somewhere below mach one. I reach the top. The view from the top of Big Rock can be compared to the Crayola Factory after a tornado. Color everywhere. Deep oranges, brilliant reds, bright yellows and scattered through out all this are evergreens that refuse to be part of the change of seasons. It’s probably one of the strangest analogies you will ever hear, but….evergreens and I have a lot in common. They stand in the face of all sorts of weather and temparture and seem to be almost opposed to change while the world around them moves on and goes through this metamorphosis. All to discover that in the end....everything will return to normal and continue as if nothing ever happened. There is one other challenge to riding this time of year and here it is.....Leaves have a tendency to hide obstacles on mountain bike trails. Things like roots, rocks and logs. There is one sure fire way to prove this. And prove it did.

Friday, November 04, 2005


The many wonders of the Appalachian’s will always be something that stops me cold in my tracks. These mountains are covered with the footsteps of our ancestors and while following these footsteps one will come to know where we have been and then have a better understanding of exactly where we are headed. It is at this point we then become responsible for the world around us. One such realization came to me this past weekend while camping on "Tanawha," the Cherokee name for Grandfather Mountain near Linville Nc. At an elevation of 5,964 feet, Grandfather is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge range.

It dropped to 27 degrees on camp night. Most folks are smart enough to stay inside and sleep in a nice warm bed on nights like this. I however do not fit into this category. Tent camping at the base of Grandfather Mountain at the peak of the fall color was just to tempting for me to resist. So the tent was pitched, the wood was gathered and the fire was blazing. This is living in the lap of luxury compared to those who came before us. After all, we don’t have to chase buffalo for food, clothing and shelter. We were about 4 miles from a perfectly well stocked grocery store. Hiking the Profile Trail to the top of GFM was to be the order of the next day. This trail will lead to the best view of the profile of the face in the rock that gives the mountain it’s name. Starting at the base and following the creek for about 10 minutes, the trail starts the accent by climbing log and rock steps. This is a prelude to many more steps to come. So no time is wasted getting the legs burning with this climb. There are only two “overlooks” to speak of on this trail that offer a place to catch your breath and enjoy the view. The first is Foscoe view which directly overlooks the valley. With the colors working overtime this weekend, the view was much more than could ever be imagined. The second is Profile view. Which is the real reason for being on this trail other than making the top after all. By the time we mad it all the way to the profile there was about an inch of snow left on the ground from a few days before. All this walking time does make for plenty of thinking time as well. There is something about thinner air at elevation that really causes the brain to be able to see things that can not ever be seen otherwise. You can find more pics from this expedition at www.onthetrailagin.webhop.net

So after a couple of hours on the trail…... thinking……walking……thinking…..thinking…….we made it to the profile view.I see the face in the rock, I see how it got its name, I see……Grandfather?No……wait a minute.
Maybe that’s what others want me to see. Try as I may….I ‘m not all that sure that I see a grandfathers face in that rock. It’s the same with clouds. Some people see a dog, while others looking at the same cloud see a school bus. I see……God in the rock. After spending a very cold night at the base of the mountain in a tent at 27 degrees, I wake the next morning and climb the mountain to find that God has been watching over us the whole time we were up there. God in the rock! I suppose there is no need to change the name of the mountain or anything like that. I know he’s there. That’s good enough for me.
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