Monday, September 3, 2012

Bartram Trail-- Winding Stair to Nantahala Lake

For the Labor Day weekend, I did a two night solo trip on the Bartram Trail between "Bateman's Store" near Nantahala Lake and Winding Stairs Bridge trailhead (i.e. mostly section 6).   I parked roughly in the middle of this section, and did out-and-backs in each direction.  That gave me the luxury of stopping at my car to resupply on the middle of my second day.

From Appletree group campground, I started north on the Bartram Trail, passing all the Labor Day car-campers.  With all those people, I expected to see someone on the trail, but (you guessed it), it was just me and the flowers that first day.  However, I did see two couples on the second day both near the trailheads.  Still, the Bartram deserves it's reputation as the trail for solitude.
Grass of Parnassus on the banks of Piercy Creek
And, once again, wildflowers were splendid along the Bartram Trail.  Stunning grass of Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia) have a ring of infertile stamens, which function to attract in pollinators since they look like nectaries.  Also enchanting were yellow buckeye fruits broken open on the trail.  The beautiful dark chocolate seeds have whitish scars (the "buck eye" that botanist called a hilum) at the former point of attachment to the ovary wall, sort of like a belly button.
Yellow buckeye fruit and seeds (with the "buck eye" unfortunately not showing)
My plan was to camp my first night at the "surge tank" campsite indicated on my map after climbing over Rattlesnake Knob.  When I arrived the sun was setting but the view was spectacular.
View from the "surge tank" on the side of Rattlesnake Knob
However, to my disappointment, the nice grassy area around the tank had no trees for my hammock.  Even more alarming was that the map showed no other campsites ahead.  In fading light, I raced down the switchbacks, as the trail joined the gravel road.   How could I be in the forest with no hangable trees?  But there were steep banks and drop-offs on both sides-- nothing even remotely do-able.  Finally a little after 8:00 PM, I turned down a side road with a few trees.  I set up camp by the glow of my headlamp in what I hoped was a spot out of view of the trail/ road.  It was weedy overgrown, and poison ivy-infested, but it was too dark and I was too tired to hike on.  I could see outlines of buildings down my side road, but I just crossed my fingers no one would "come home."   Daylight revealed the buildings to be abandoned, thank goodness.  Another mile down trail, I saw the road was gated-- I had been safe after all!  And there were no other sites past mine that would have been better which reassured me that I'd made a good call.
Morning light reveals this to be just an old outhouse near my campsite on day 1.
The next morning I descended into the valley, and stopped a while to pick red raspberries at Duke Power Station parking area, where the Bartram joins the paved Mountain to Sea Trail.  The path follows along the Nantahala River before reaching Winding Stairs Bridge Parking area, which was my turn-around spot.
Following the Nantahala River.
Hot and dripping with sweat from the climb back up and over Rattlesnake Bald, I took a dip in a stream in the early afternoon.  At my car at Appletree, I grabbed food and water, and started south along the Bartram.  The 2-mile gravel roadwalk was not kind to my feet.  How could walking along a road seem much more tiring than switchbacking up a steep mountain on a regular trail?

I arrived at a campsite with a few hours of daylight left, so I decided to keep hiking to see if I could reach the end of the section (i.e. Nantahala Lake and Bateman's store).  But after a hour I reached a gravel road.  Fed up with roadwalking and not finding another suitable camping spot, I turning around and returned to the site I'd seen.  The campsite turned out to be absolutely fantastic and I was glad to have come back to it.
Running ground pine and mountain laurel surround my campsite on day 2.
Across the trail from the campsite, a side trail led to a promontory perched up up above Nantahala Lake and Dam.  I relaxed at this overlook and watched thunderclouds rolling in and then lightening flashes reflecting off the lake.  It was so beautiful!  In the morning, I returned to eat breakfast while gazing at the fog over the lake, feeling happy.   
Evening thunder clouds over Nantahala Lake.
Morning fog over Nantahala Lake and Dam.
In the morning, I hiked back to my car, and then I drove to "Bateman's store" and the Phillips 66 gas station to complete the part of the trail I hadn't the day before.  I hiked north on the Bartram to where I'd turned around the previous night, and then hiked back out again.  Section complete,well, sort of...

For the record, I did not hike the 0.7 miles (i.e. 1.4 miles out and back) between the "Phillips 66" and Nantahala Lake trailhead along the paved road.  I started to, but I didn't like having to jump into the overgrown ditch every time a car zoomed by.  I'd done enough road-walking on this trip.  If I ever feel like I need to do every inch of the Bartram trail, then I'll figure out someone to shuttle me and bring along a reflective vest so I don't get hit by a car.  Funny how I can be perfectly at home for two days by myself out in forest, but traffic makes me too uncomfortable.

Gas station and store where the Bartram leaves the paved road.
All in all it was another great trip on the Bartram!

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