Sunday, March 11, 2012

Quest for Shortia (Part 4): Found it!

I finally found Shortial!  They were blooming along the bank of a small stream, about four hours after from the Bad Creek Trailhead on the Foothills Trail.  I was doing an overnight solo backpacking trip, hoping to find the plants, and pleasantly surprised they were already blooming, since they are not reported to flower until late March and early April.
Stunningly beautiful Shortia.
Glimmering along the stream bank.
The density of the Oconee Bells increased as I moved east.  The section near the Horsepasture River was like a magical fairy wonderland, with huge masses of Oconee Bells.  How could a remarkable places like this not only provide exceptional beauty but also miles and miles of solitude?  Where were the flocks and flocks of other people crowding around these famed Oconee Bells?  Weren't there a ton of other people who had spent long winter nights reading about these fascinating flowers, eagerly anticipating their unfolding?

Dense patches of Oconee Bells along the Foothills Trail
I flew along the trail, enjoying the peace and quiet, checking out the flowers, grinning ear to ear.  The guidebook says this section of the Foothills Trail (from Bad Creek to Canebreak) is "strenuous" but I didn't notice any steep climbs. (Perhaps I was distracted?)

Stairs?  What stairs?  All I see is shortia!

 When I reached the shore of Lake Jocassee at Canebreak by mid-afternoon, I considered setting up camp.  But seeing the stumps from trees killed during the construction of this reservoir gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The shores were littered with trash, and I could see a few houses on the hillside.  Back in the early 1970's, 4,500 acres of land had been flooded by building a dam to form Lake Jocassee.  This was prime habitat for the Oconee Bell, and it's estimated that 50% of the habitat was lost (Zahner and Jones 1983), and many more populations are threatened by erosion along the shoreline of the lake (Lackey 2004).   Oconee Bells do grow in dense colonies and appears vigorous and hardy, but habitat destruction and population fragmentation are serious threats to this species.

Lake Jocassee
I turned my back on Lake Jocassee, and headed back towards the forest.  The climb out up back into the mountains energized me, and I just kept going and going. I was still smiling from seeing Shortia.

Finally, it started to get really dark, and I found a place midway up a ridge that was tucked out of the wind that I hoped would stay warmer.  After doing some stretching, I went to bed early and I slept soundly, like I usually do in my hammock.

I made a point on this trip to focus on hiking my own pace.  Rather than some arbitrary goal to hike a certain number of miles, I purposefully did NOT calculate my mileage, or my miles per hour like I normally do.  Last year I made it my New Years resolution to hike 20 miles, and I trained hard and felt good about achieving that goal.  Since then, I'd been trying to focus more on enjoying myself, and less on achieving goals.  So, I paid attention to my body, my energy levels, and stopped when I needed to rest, and hiked when I needed to move.  I was tired when I got to my car, but it was that pleasant and contented soreness.  Only when I got home did I calculate that I'd actually hiked a little over 22 miles the first day out-- two miles more than I'd ever hiked before, and I was even carrying a winter-weight backpack.  Ah, such is the inspiring power of Shortia!
Stretched out on a log, taking a rest break with a view of Hilliard Falls.
References:


Lackey, C.E. 2004. The fragmented habitat of Michaux's beautiful discovery: Shortia galacifolia

Zahner, R. and S.M. Jones. 1983. Resolving the type location for Shortia galacifolia T.&G. Castanea 48: 163-173. T.&G. (Diapensiaceae). Castanea 174-177.

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