Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thrilling botanical update: Pawpaw

After searching for several years, I finally found unripe pawpaw fruit in South Carolina.  Pawpaws were always one of my favorite fall delicacies when I lived near DC, but this is the first time I've found fruits here in the southeast.  These lovely little fruits were along the banks of the Chauga River at Chau Ram County Park, where I led a Trail Dames hike last weekend.  I can hardly wait to go back in a few weeks to find out when these delicious native fruits ripen. 
Unripe pawpaw fruits

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bartram Trail- Wallace Branch to Harrison Gap

My out-and-back section hike of the Bartram Trail between Wallace Branch and Harrison Gap was quite hot, since it was lower elevation and along sunnier slopes.  But the wildflowers were still spectacular enough to keep me happy, and the views of the early morning fog in the valley were lovely.
View from William's Pulpit.
North of William's Pulpit, the trail was peaceful and showed little signs of use.  Brush was overtaking the trail, so I wore my DIY gaiters to protect my legs.
Essential gear for this section: Excellent map + gaiters
I'd read that this section is more difficult (lots of P.U.D.'s) and that distances between water sources were great (both true), so I was glad to be doing this as a dayhike in this oppressive heat.  I went down the side trail at Locus Tree Gap #1 to check out the spring there, and it was still flowing a little, which was a good sign even though I didn't need any.

Once again the Bartram Trail lived up to its name, with abundant and diverse flowers.  I was really excited to find ripe mayapple fruits that hadn't already been eaten!  What a treat! 
Fringed orchid
Carolina lily
Mayapple fruit-- the pulp around the seeds is delicious!
For more information and directions for Section 4 of the Bartram Trail in NC click here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bartram Trail- "The Bus" to Osage

The Bartram Trail in North Carolina between "The Bus" by Doubletop Fields and Osage Mountain Overlook is my new favorite trail section.  The high elevation and ridge with cool breezes provided an ideal summer escape.  I even felt cold enough (in JULY!) in the evening that I hiked wearing my poncho-- I kid you not.  Sheer rockfaces and mountain peaks provided spectacular views.  To top it off, there were abundant blueberries-- life just doesn't get any better!

Filling my belly with blueberries on top of Scaly Mountain
I parked at Osage Mountain Overlook, got shuttled to Jones Gap parking area, and started out northbound on the well-marked Bartram Trail in occasional rain.  After hiking north for 5.5 miles, "The Bus" (old rusted out schoolbus) provided an interesting turn-around point before heading back to Jones Gap, and then continuing on to Osage Overlook.
"The Bus" near Doubletop Fields
 On the way back, there was time to explore side trails, including the stunning Whiterock Mountain Summit (0.5 round trip).

528 feet strait uphill

Most signs along the Bartram Trail gave distances to overlooks in miles (i.e. "0.3 miles").  The sign at the side trail to Fishhawk Mountain says "528 feet." I didn't realize they meant vertical feet, not horizontal, to the rocky outcrop summit (4748 ft) with no view.  Judging from moss in the trail, few others make the journey.  Though pretty much the entire section looked like it sees few visitors- I only saw two dayhikers, and one guy at the trailhead.

The steep technical footing, slippery terrain left me exhausted by the time I reached Tessentee Creek Camp.  I quickly fell asleep in my hammock to the rushing of the water.

Tessentee Creek and blooming rhododendrons
The next morning was only 4.4 miles to Osage Mtn. Overlook, but climbed over 1000 feet up and over Scaly Mountain (4804 feet).  I lingered along this stunningly beautiful section of trail, picking wild blueberries, checking out the plants, and soaking in the extensive views.
 Descending Scaly Mountain, small streams cascaded down the trail in some spots over exposed bedrock, creating deep water in some parts, and very slippery trail in others.  I splashed on through the water right down the middle of the trail to avoid trampling the banks, which would eventually widen the trail and kill sensitive plants. 

Puddle jumping along the trail.
For trail info:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hemphill Bald Loop in the Smokies

My friend suggested the 13 mile Hemphill Bald loop in the Smoky Mountain National Park, and this turned out to be an incredibly fun trip.   A few days before our trip, a big storm hit the western part of the park and caused a lot of damage but I confirmed with the ranger station that this area didn't see any storm damage so we were lucky we didn't have to cancel.  The weekend turned out to be nice and cool up at 5,000 feet, and once again we got lots of solitude-- only two couples out dayhiking the first day, but no one else at camp or the second day.

After a slight detour for filling out a backcountry permit at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, we parked at Polls Gap, and started on the Hemphill Bald Trail.  Wildflowers were gorgeous along the ridge, especially the turk's cap lilies and rhododendrons.
Rhododendron tunnel on the Hemphill Bald Trail
Old fence built by the CCC
Fly poison
The trail near the bald was overgrown with dense, tall brush.  We changed into our long underwear to protect our legs from scratchy briers and itchy plants.
Guess who always packs long underwear even when the forecast is in the 90's?
Hemphill Bald is adjacent to a ranch.  We crossed over the fence, dodged cow patties, and took a rest on a big downed tree.
Backpacking is such hard work.
Campsite #41, which doesn't need a reservation, was large and near a stream lined with wildflowers and blooming rhododendrons.

The next day we passed by the Big Poplars.
The last part was uphill on loose rocks, and this trail was more difficult because it has seen lots of damage from horses.

Overall, it was a great trip and we'll have to go back to the Smokies again soon!

Bartram Trail-- Osage to Rabun Bald

I've been using several tricks to keep me cooler and safer when hiking in the heat of the South.  I just got a new map of the Bartram Trail, so I couldn't bear to stay home despite the record 108 temperatures in town.  I decided to get to high elevation for an out-and-back dayhike from Osage Mountain Overlook parking area south along the Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald. 
The forecast for the nearest mountain town is 95.
I got a very early start in the cool of the morning.  The trail began in the dense shade of rhododendron thickets.
Add caption
Natural air conditioning was plentiful.  I took off my shirt, soaked it in the stream, then put it back on, and dunked my head too. 
The trail south of Osage Overlook had plenty of clear cold water despite the drought.
Staying hydrated requires that I make sure I eat well too.  Many years ago, I got heat exhaustion/ dehydration and ended up with an IV was because I wasn't eating enough salt, electrolytes, and real food.  Now I know that if my lips are chapped, if I have a headache, and if I get nauseous, that means I am dehydrated and need to drink and eat.  Fresh food, peanut butter, and salty snacks work best for me. 
Shrimp, corn, okra, and green bean salad.
I take care to avoid overexerting and getting overheated.  I keep my heat rate lower than I would under normal conditions by going more slowly and taking more frequent breaks.

Temperatures drop about 4-5 degrees for every 1000 feet of elevation gained, so I started high, and went up higher.
Summit of Rabun Bald (4696 feet), the second highest peak in Georgia.
For directions:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ups and Downs on the Bartram Trail

My goal was to complete my last two mile section of the Bartram Trail in Georgia as a dayhike on the Fourth of July holiday.  I've hiked some sections of the Bartram Trail in Georgia dozens of times but I'd never done the remote section between Rainy Gap and Wilson Gap.

Rather than drive to Wilson Gap on a forest service road, I got a very early start at easily accessible Warwoman Dell (1884 feet), and headed north towards Rainy Gap.  

Miles 1-2 =  A promising start.  Sun rising, forest dripping from last night's rain.  Passing Martin Creek Falls, I smiled at happy memories of previous trips and firsts.  

Mile 2 = I felt my spirits start to droop.  Gnats were buzzing in my eyes.  I got tangled in countless spiderweb traps (if there are so many spiders, why are there still gnats?).  Crankiness crept in. 

Mile 3 = Sticky rhododendron petals glomed pounds of crud to my boots.  I tried to pry it off with a stick.  More leaves and sticks accumulated.  Every. Step. Was. Hard. Uphill.  I kept thinking, "I thought I liked uphill?!?!  I thought I loved rhododendrons?!?"

Sticky crud caked to my boots maked walking difficult.
Mile 4 =  Blackberry brambles were overtaking the trail and slicing my legs/ arms.  Hot humid sweaty itchy scratchy.  "Why am I doing this again?" I asked myself every few minutes.

Mile 5/6 = Seriously considered turning around and going home and taking a nap.  Decided instead to have another snack.

Banana waffles with peanut butter.  High point of the day.
Mile 8.5 = Arrived at Wilson Gap (3200 feet) relieved I had reached my destination and it was finally time to turn around.  I had thought I'd been to Wilson Gap when I had dayhiked Wilson Gap to Rabun Bald in Fall 2008.  I looked around expecting to see familiar territory.  I realized that this place was not where I'd started hiking before.  After consulting my maps and guidebook, I figured out where I started last time was 0.5 miles beyond where I was, at another place where the trail crosses the road again.  I fumed.

Where I turned around on this hike.  5.5 miles from Rabun Bald.
Where I ended a previous hike.  5 miles from Rabun Bald.
That meant I needed to keep hiking another 0.5 miles before turning around in order to complete the Bartram Trail in GA.  Dang I did not want to do another freaking mile!  I was out of snacks, I wasn't having fun or seeing anything pretty, and I couldn't see the point.  It might have taken me an extra 20 minutes to do that last mile, and it was taking me a full day (3 hours total driving, plus 7 hours on the trail), so logically, it didn't make sense to not "finish".  But at that moment, completing the GA section seemed like some arbitrary goal that didn't feel right.  I decided to turn around and hike back.   Even though that means I've not done the entire Bartram Trail in GA.

It turned out to be a good decision.  I flew on the return trip.  Bugs, briars, heat-- none of it bothered me.  I freed myself from my arbitrary pointless goal, at least for the day.