Sunday, April 25, 2010

First solo backpacking trip

Where better to do my first solo backpacking trip than the Chattooga River, the river from the movie "Deliverance"? How better to conquer a fear than facing it head on? And why not do it when the forecast called for lots of rain? As I always say, more chance to see salamanders!

My plan was to hike north from the 28 bridge along the Chattooga River trail, enjoy a leisurely day along the river, spend one night out alone, and then meet up with the Trail Dames early the next morning, and hike back with them to my car. It seemed like a great plan: this is one of my favorite stretches of trail, my friends would be meeting me and knew where I'd be. I wanted to find out if I'd enjoy backpacking solo, since after all, I'm planning to hike for months on end by myself next year, so I want to at least have tried it for ONE night!

The trip started out well.  I enjoyed hiking at my own pace, soaring down the trail feeling swing of my legs and the flow of the trail. When it started raining, I put on my raingear, and inhaled the sweet smells of wet forest and fresh air. I met one other hiker all day, another woman out with her dog. I was enjoying the solitude, and all of my senses felt enhanced. I was totally in the moment.
Lady slipper orchids
As it got later, I found a perfect campsite under a grove of hemlocks right on the river with a pink lady slipper orchid. Perfect-- it felt very safe and I was reassured by the presence of my favorite plants. Except it was only 4 PM and still raining, so I didn't want to set up camp and have to crawl into my tent so early. I decided to keep walking for a short while, then turn around and come back. About half an hour later, the rain started to pick up and the trail got narrow, muddy, and veered away from the water up the hillside. Out of the mist (I'm not kidding here!), emerged an older man who looked like he did not belong on the trail-- he had on jeans (totally soaked), crocs (not boots!), and a thin short poncho that was not keeping him dry. I asked him all the usual questions about where he was going, and he asked me about my hiking poles, which he could see were really useful on the slick, steep trail. Then, I proceeded along, feeling wary. If this guy had been the usual hiker-type, I would have felt fine walking for a bit, and then turning around and heading back to that nice campsite by the river. But I knew I was not comfortable having this guy know where I was camped, and I figured I'd probably run into him if I went back there. So I decided I'd need to find a "stealth" campsite, one that was off the trail and out of sight. How hard could that be?

As I continued walking, the trail kept along a hillside, and there were no flat places in sight. The rain was coming down even harder, soaking through my rain coat and rain pants. I was still warm from the activity, but I knew I'd be cold when I'd stop. I needed to find a site soon. I kept walking and walking. Steep hillsides all around. I started getting cold and I needed to eat. At that point, I decided I didn't want to go any further down the trail, because it would put me too far away for the hike back to meet my friends the next day, so I turned around and headed back down the trail. I kept looking at the hillside, trying to figure out where to set up my camp, and just decided to head uphill.  At that point, I knew I wasn't thinking too clearly because I was getting cold.  I focused on staying calm and tried to think.  I climbed for 40 minutes, straight up, scanning for something that was relatively flat. Eventually, I found a place and set up my tent, ate a quick dinner, and hung my bearbag. By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag, I was exhausted and the thunder and lightening really started going, the wind was picking up, and the rain kept pounding. Would I stay dry? Would a tree fall on me? Thunder was crashing around me, the wind howled. But at least I knew with certainty that no humans would find me and I didn't think any animals would be crazy enough to bother me in this weather. I counted the seconds between lightening and thunder claps for a few hours.  Finally, I fell asleep.

I woke up dry, and by the time I was packed up, the rain had finally stopped. My hiking clothes were drenched and it was too cold to put them on. I took out my black plastic garbage bag, tore a hole in the bottom, and fashioned it into a dress, smiling gleefully at my ingenuity.

It usually takes me much less time to going down a hill than coming up, but I spent over an hour working my way down that hill! It was so steep, I crawled down much of the way, scooting down on my butt, and in a few places, it was just a wall, and I had to take off my pack and push it down in front of me, grabbing onto mountain laurel branches to ease myself down. How I made it up, I have no idea.
The sun was peaking out from the clouds and the mist was rising up off the river when I finally reached the trail. Flying once more along the trail in my black plastic dress, I felt totally free. I found I could take care of myself and problem solve on my own. I conquered my fear of spending the night by myself. I survived and enjoyed it! I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment.

I had to hurry down the trail to meet the Trail Dames, and enjoyed hiking with them for the rest of the day. It was surreal to have so much socializing after such intense time by myself. But the whole experience was pure joy.
The Chattooga River

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nature Notes: Irises

Two kinds of native irises can be found in Georgia, and we saw both of these on our hike on the Bear Creek trail near Ellijay.  The "dwarf crested iris" (Iris cristata) has fuzzy crests (a lot more going on in terms of flower ruffles!) while the "dwarf iris" (Iris verna) has more simple lines.  They are also somewhat different shades of blueish purple.  I think it really helps to figure out the differences between these two species when you can compare them on the same hike.
  Here is a link to more information about irises:

Don't miss the Gennett Poplar on this hike-- it's the second largest tree in Georgia.
Dwarf crested iris
dwarf iris