It was several hours drive getting to the Twentymile trailhead in the southwestern Smokies, so we didn't start down the trail until 1PM. The first few miles followed a lovely stream lined with purple asters, blue lobelia, and other fall flowers. All the worries from my week melted away as I settled into the rhythm of the trail.
Wild Bill taught us the 50:10 method of hiking (hike 50 minutes, rest 10 minutes) which we happily followed. Studies show this is very effective for hard exercise requiring endurance-- just the ticket for trip which had a climb of 3,000 feet in the first 5 miles and then another 3 miles after that. Ten minutes sounds like a long time to rest, but it allowed us to chat, snack, stretch, look around and enjoy the view, and talk some more. On the second day, ten minutes stretched into 50 minutes as conversation deepened and we were lost in the moment. We joked that we'd switch to 10 minutes of hiking and 50 of rest and never make it down off the mountain.
|Wild Bill and I taking a rest break. Photo by Dmitry Shishkin.|
The climb continued and I tried to push these fears from my mind. I kept telling myself to focus and look at the flowers. (Don't laugh! This never fails to keep me happy and motivated!) When we finally got to the flat illegal campsite they described, we paused. Dmitry checked to be sure that everyone was feeling OK and had headlamps. I gulped thinking about my very lightweight, but somewhat dim headlamp. Dmitry encouraged us to press on, and we trusted his judgment. And it turned out to be a good thing too!
Because after hiking all day beneath the golden-green canopy, the sky opened up as we emerged onto the bald around dusk. Dense, knee-high blueberry bushes were interspersed with patches of meadow. Gregory Bald was like a large dome, with a 360-degree view of mountains decked out in full fall color as far as you could see. At the top, we met another group of four old friends who were also enjoying the view, and we chatted with them pleasantly. Together, we watched as the last of the sun's rays lit up distant mountains and the sky turned pink-red. The stars slowly appeared, the sliver of moon brightened. It was absolutely breathtaking. I understood the logic of our timing-- to see this spectacle, we needed to night hike. And it also allowed us not to rush the hike, which made the ascent more pleasant for everyone.
|On top of Gregory Bald. Photo by Dmitry Shishkin.|
|Crescent moon from Gregory Bald. Photo by Dmitry Shishkin.|
When we reached camp, Wild Bill put us "ladies" up in front to approach the other campers to find out if there was space to camp and locate the bear cables to hang our food, saying other people would be nicer to us girls. The other campers kindly pointed us towards a free fire ring with level ground around it, and even invited us to join them around their campfire after dinner. I had my tent pitched, gear efficiently put away, and dinner cooked in record time, like to was second nature to me. And I must say I was totally pleased with myself, because once again, I did something that I'd been fearing, and once again, I found out that it was actually fun.
One more thing that I want to add is that this was such a great trip because the group came together so well. It's always amazing how people who are strangers to me in the morning become trusted companions that share conversations about deep things by the time we are sitting round the campfire in the evening. There sure is something wondrous about backpacking.
|What a great group! Photo by Dmitry Shishkin.|