Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bartram Trail-- Over Scaly Mountain again

This weekend I took a quick overnight solo trip on the Bartram Trail of NC from Osage Mountain Overlook parking area over Scaly Mountain past Tessentee Camp (and back).   I'd chosen this section to revisit for the second time because I suspected it would offer nice winter views of the surrounding cliff faces.  I also wanted to scout it with an eye for a possible hike with friends or for the Trail Dames-- this trail is too beautiful not to share with others.  While I can recall locations of blueberries precisely (which were delicious in July btw), I can't remember elevation change very well (even though that's something I need to know for leading a hike).  It quickly became clear to me that this section was more difficult than I'd remembered, but it was also just as stunningly beautiful as it had been in summer.

The terrain is what's fondly called "technical."  Loose gravel, boulders, and erosion cut banks were hidden beneath a multi-layered sandwich of leaves, moss, and lichen.  It provided a great core-muscle workout, but I also realized this would be trip best shared with only a select group of friends (though I want to also check out the side trail to Hickory Knut to see if that offers easier access).
Time for some puddle jumping!
The clouds were shifting and I could finally take off my raingear by the time I summited Scaly Mountain.  The boggy seeps, rock gardens and carpets of lichens and spongy sphagnum moss were glowing wet and illuminated with intermittent sunlight.  The weather was delightfully, if unseasonably, warm.
Wet rocks on the trail at the summit of Scaly Mountain.
I swear I didn't even need to photoshop these intense colors.
Plump pink buds of trailing arbutus ready for spring.
The ridge along Scaly Mountain was botanically rich, with heath communities interspersed with various oak forest types.  I was excited to find two types of burrs-- one I recognized as allegheny chinkapin and the other I suspect is chestnut from studying this website.  It was so cool to find both species on the same mountain!
Small, clustered burrs of chinkapin open in two sections.
Larger burrs of the chestnut.
On the slope down Scaly Mountain, the forest type shifted with moss-covered logs lining a pine needle-covered trail.
Tessentee Camp was very different in winter than it had been when I'd camped there in July.   It felt more spacious without all the herbacious plants, and seemed well-suited for a group.  On the other hand, it was perceptibly cooler down in the valley than it had been on the slopes, and even for a warm winter day, I hoped I could find something that wasn't so damp.  I hiked on.

Rising from the low point at Tessentee Camp, the Bartram switchbacks up and then weaves through jagged cliffs with views across valley that I hadn't seen when leaves were out.
Rugged trail traversing steep cliffs.
Jones Knob in the distance.
After about an hour, with it getting darker, I ended up turning around and hiking back to search for a campsite.  I found a spot down an old road. Through the bare trees, I could see the rocky cliffs I'd hiked over to the north.  They towered over a remote valley spotted by a few houses.  It was a pretty spot for sure.   In normal winter weather, I'd never dream of camping in such an exposed site though.  While it was out of the wind, weather can change quickly in the mountains.  But it was warm, and, enchanted by the view, I thought I'd be brave (foolish?) and settled in, orienting my hammock so I could see it all.  I got lucky, it turned out.  Despite some early morning rain and fierce wind gusts, the spectacular sunset view was definitely worth it and I was pleased with my little campsite.
Hanging with a view.
One thing I really enjoy about winter camping is how time seems to stretch out in the evening.   I  watched the sunset for an entire hour.  The clouds drifted across the sky slowing changing colors as the sun set. Then the brightness of the stars came out on a dark new moon sky.  A few lights blinked on below in the valley.  I could watch it all with the awareness of how lucky I was to be witnessing such beauty.

During the work week, when everything moves so fast, I run around, dwell in details and I can get quite self-critical and down on myself.  But when I backpack, there is no to-do list (besides the essentials of food, drink, shelter), no full inbox, no hurrying.   I see more clearly the big and wonderful important things in life.  I am satisfied with my ability to navigate my surrounds with confidence and openness.  I am feel most at home with myself and my surroundings.  I realize this is what keeps me coming back to the woods, and what restores me.


  1. That's one thing I miss about backpacking all the time---the no rush, only hiking and the essentials surrounding it. Perfect!

  2. Backpacking sure does bring you back to the essentials. I always try to take that perspective back with me into the work week, but doesn't always happen.