From the Standing Indian Backcountry Information parking area, I started up the 3.7 mile Kimsey Creek Trail towards Deep Gap on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Not five minutes into the hike, I was already oooing and ahhing and stopping to take photos every few steps. The stream valley was carpeted in trout lily, hepatica, and spring beauties.
|Trout lily and bloodroot at lower elevation.|
|Mayapple in its awkward early stage; bloodroot with leaves still clasped around their stalk.|
|Ice at high elevation along the AT|
When I reached the famous oak tree at Bly Gap, I met Splitter, another awesome solo female hiker. When I asked her how her hike was going, she talked about not fitting in, being between the two big groups of hikers- the college kids and the retirees. She observed how it seems like everyone our age (i.e. 30's) is married, has a house, and is starting a family, not out on the trail. It was such a moment of connection for me-- here we were not even talking for five minutes, and we were having a real conversation. It felt so good to share this frustration of always feeling older or younger than everyone else. I was also happy to know there are other 30 year olds out there who are hikers and who are choosing our own path, even though we are very few and far between. (Note to my hiking friends: please don't take this to mean that I don't love hiking with all the people who are older than me, or that I don't feel accepted. It's just that sometimes I look around and wonder what is wrong with me that there are very few other people my age.)
I turned around at Bly Gap and headed back north again to look for a place to camp. Muskrat shelter was crowded so I kept moving to find a quiet place. Once I arrived at "White Oak Stamp" which was a high level area with dense rhododendron, I wandered around in the woods for a whole hour trying to figure out where to set up my hammock. The wind was intense and cold, so I needed to find a sheltered place out of the wind and I wanted to be well away from the trail. That was easier said than done-- the wind swept across ridges and swirled into hollows. I watched carefully to see how the wind moved across the landscape, and I finally found a spot halfway down the valley, protected by a rhododendron thicket. I was thankful that I carefully selected my site, because the wind howled fiercely. I crawled into my sleeping bag even before the sun went down because it was so cold out, but I left my tarp off for a view of my surroundings. I listened to a good episode of "This American Life" as I watched the tallest trees dancing against the starry-sky, the rhododendrons around me barely stirring. It was pure bliss to be toasty warm and comfortable in my hammock, breathing the crisp air and feeling my heavily-used muscles relaxing. I felt so grateful to my friends Kellye and Sweet Pea for introducing me to hammock camping. I used to toss and turn all night sleeping on the ground, but in my hammock, I sleep soundly.
|Hanging in comfort.|
The view from Standing Indian was breathtaking, and I was delighted to run into Weaver for the second time, and we chatted with some other weekenders who were just waking up and emerging from their tents on the summit.
|On Standing Indian, 5499 feet.|
|Hillside of wildflowers|
On the drive home just before the NC/GA boarder, I stopped at one of the only local dairy's I know about around here, called Spring Ridge Creamery, and got a sweet treat to end the day. YUM!