Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving in Hot Springs, NC

I spent Thanksgiving weekend section hiking the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, NC, including the spectacular trail across Max Patch.   Max Patch is a grassy bald that was cleared for farming and which is still maintained by the Forest Service.  Its 360-degree views make it one of the most scenic parts of the AT in the Southern Appalachians.

I stayed at the hiker-friendly Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge, right on the AT.   A private, single room was $25/night, and the shared bathrooms, kitchen, and lounge areas were clean and comfortable, everything a hiker could want.  Glenda, the host at the hostel, was very sweet and helpful and I enjoyed my evening conversations with her.  Staying at the hostel provided a great base for three days of hiking along the AT.

Day 1. Lemon Gap to Hot Springs (14.4 miles)
From Lemon Gap (3550 feet), the trail climbed a mile up Walnut Mountain (4280 feet).  I hurried past the summit and took my first snack in the Walnut Mtn. Shelter out of the cold wind.
Open, grassy summit of Walnut Mountain
A few miles later, the wooded summit of Bluff Mountain (4686 feet) featured rock outcrops and good winter views.  The last six miles descended through some pretty pine forest and laurel, then opened into hardwoods on the final switchbacks into town.  It was so convenient to emerge out of the forest into town, and to find the first building I arrived at was my hostel.  What a great way to end a hike!

Day 2. Max Patch to Lemon Gap
In the early morning, it was a frigid 21 degrees and windy as I swooshed in my rainpants up Max Patch.  The wintery precipitation the night before coated the landscape in rime ice, giving everything a magical sparkle.  Dense fog made me grateful to be following the white blazes, otherwise it'd have been easy to get lost.  The place had a desolate feeling, like I was the only one around for miles. 
Lingering to admire ice formations for as long as I could bare the cold.
Bright horsenettle looks beautiful covered in ice.
Poor frozen butterfly.
Icicles dripping from my nose.
 The second time I arrived at Max Patch, the scene couldn't have been more different.  It was around noon, and the skies were blue. 
A few hours later, Max Patch under clear skies.
Climbing Max Patch (again) via the Buckeye Ridge Trail.
Frost still remained on the north slopes of Max Patch.
Gorgeous icy glaze.
I felt so grateful to have experienced this dramatic winter weather and to have seen this incredible place under such different conditions.

To top off my fantastic day, I went for an evening soak in the Hot Springs hot tubs along the French Broad River.  The hot water felt so good on my tired muscles after a long day of hiking.    

Day 3.  Tanyard Gap to Hot Springs (6.2 miles)
On my last day in Hot Springs, I did the short section of the AT north of town.  After crossing over the hiker bridge over the highway, the trail climbed to Mill Ridge, an old tobacco farm that has since been planted with wildlife-friendly plants. 
Pond below Mill Ridge
An informative sign at Pump Gap told how Boys Scouts treated the hemlocks in the grove with insecticides to kill the adelgids, saving the trees there for another few years.  The hemlocks there were especially lush.

The trail climbed again up to a ridge, which it followed for several miles.  The French Broad River could be heard roaring through the valley below.  
View of the French Broad River and town of Hot Springs from Lover's Leap.
From Lover's Leap, it was a steep rocky descent down to the river.  Then the trail passed directly through the center of town.
Fascinating history.
Following the signs for the AT through town and back to the hostel.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Arkaquah Trail

Hiked with my friend JJ to Brasstown Bald via one of my favorite wintertime trails- the Arkaquah Trail from Track Rock Gap.  Calm and clear weather made for a lovely 12 mile round trip hike with exceptional views.
View from the summit of Brasstown Bald, highest point in Georgia.
Warm orange glow of fallen leaves.
Pausing to watch the sunset.
Headlamps supplement the moonlight on the walk down to the trailhead.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

BMT Sections 3, 4, & 5: Gossamer and Winter Views

Late fall is an especially beautiful time to hike in the north Georgia Mountains.  The winter views through mostly-bare trees were exception on this weekend's overnight backpack on the Benton Mackaye Trail sections 3, 4, and 5.

Shadows fall on the forest floor now that most of the leaves are gone.
The end of Section 5 follows the scenic Toccoa River.
Crossing the bridge over Little Skeenah Creek to begin Section 3.  Sporting blaze orange now that it's hunting season.
Lots of shimmering gossamer here.  But gossamer, like bigfoot, is difficult to capture on film, which is part of its magic.
Shimmering silver threads were waving in the gentle breeze.  My friends and I call it "gossamer", and it is seen when hiking into the sun when the low angle of light catches broken spiderwebs streaming from twigs.  To me, it signals the arrival of late fall.  In summer the same spiderwebs tangling my face are a source of frustration, but this time of year they are a source of delight.
The climb up Wallalah Mountain in section 3 was especially steep but the views were worth the effort.
I tucked my hammock into the hillside below a fallen log to stay sheltered from the wind.
Since I camped down the hillside, in the evening, I hiked up to the ridge to watch the sunset.
Shadows advance across the mountaintops as the first golden rays of light hit the peaks.
The route:
Parked at Wilscot Gap (GA 60), and hiked BMT section 5 north to Shallowford Bridge.  Then got shuttled to Little Skeenah Creek (GA 60) and hiked sections 3 and 4 north to Wilscot Gap.  Got water at the signed spring north of Licklog Mountain (flowing very slowly, required going down pretty far), and camped about a half mile down the trail north of the spring.