Monday, July 4, 2011

Wesser Bald Overnight

Ever notice how sometimes you make a decision and it sets you down a path where everything clicks and good things just keep happening, and everything is beautiful-delicious-wondrous-cool breezes-sparkily?


I decided to hike from Tellico Gap along the Appalachian trail in North Carolina, keeping with my intention to continue section hiking the AT.  I'd though I'd hike this solo, but shifted the plan to hike with Still Waters.  This trip ended up being totally extraordinary.

Rosebay rhododendron were in full splendor all along the trail.  The floral color scheme seemed to be all rosy, with lots of bee balm, the speckled red berries of solomon's plume, purple-flowering raspberry, and firepink.

The botanical highlight of the day for me may have looked really boring to most people-- the seemingly unremarkable flower stalk of a ratty-looking plant.  But I whooped with delight to have finally found the flowers (even though they were only buds) of the wood's bunchflower (Veratrum woodii).  This plant has baffled me for two and a half years-- ever since I moved to Georgia, I've seen its leaves on many hikes, and never knew what the heck it was.  A few months ago, a friend finally identified this plant.  This plant is in the lily family, and the leaves can be confused with those of wild leeks/ ramps but these don't smell.  Non-flowering plants are not uncommon in GA and NC, but this is the first flower stalk I've seen.  One cool thing about this plant is that the flowers at the bottom of the stalk are all male, while the upper flowers are perfect (i.e. have both male and female parts).  I'm tempted to go back and see it in full bloom so I can see them for myself.

Flower stalk of wood's bunchflower
It was only 1.4 miles to the fire tower on Wesser Bald, but we were already drenched in sweat from the heat when we got there.  Several families were enjoying the 360-view already, so we continued north to check out Wesser Bald shelter, which was only another 0.8 miles down the trail.  On the way, we filled up our water containers at the very nice spring.  After reading the shelter registry and looking around, we decided to turn around and climb back up to the bald to camp.  Still Waters had never camped on a bald before, and it seemed like it might be cooler higher up.

By the time we got back, everyone had cleared out.  There was a small shady spot perched on a ridge down from the tower, just wide enough for Still Water's tent and with two trees perfectly spaced for my hammock.  Everywhere were sweet tangy plentiful black raspberries and blackberries.  Mmmmm.

We spent the evening up on the tower, having a leisurely dinner and then relaxing.  It felt like we were floating above the trees.  Mountains stretched out in all directions.  We caught a cool breeze.  Birds swooped, bees hummed.  Thunderheads moved off beyond the horizon.  Clouds slowly transformed to rosy pink.  The sun set.  Stars came out.  Fireworks sparked in a valleys below. 

The next morning, we climbed the firetower again to watch the sunrise and eat breakfast.  Then, we set out in opposite directions--  I headed north towards the NOC so I could finish this section.  Still Waters returned to Tellico Gap to get her truck, and then drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) to park and hiked in to meet me.  We met back up again at a big lunch log-- I had stopped to chat with a woman who led rafting trips for kids.  Still Waters arrived and had been talking to a really nice guy, trail name "The Geek" who does trail maintenance.  We all rested and chatted for a while.

Sunrise from Wesser Bald
Still Waters and I got back to the NOC in time to meet our friends Copper, her daughter, and SHOE for a delicious lunch.  It was so good to hang out with them, and then we all went over to Fontana Dam and finished the day with  ice cream.  What a sweet day!

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