Sunday, April 3, 2011

Standing Indian Overnight

The Lower Ridge Trail in the Nantahala Wilderness of North Carolina is described by Tim Homan as having more "ferns and herbaceous wildflower species than any other trail under 7 miles" in his whole guidebook to the Southern Nantahala Wilderness.  After I read this, I knew I had to do this trail, and I figured out an overnight backpacking trip that would feature this trail as the grand finale. 

From the Standing Indian Backcountry Information parking area, I started up the 3.7 mile Kimsey Creek Trail towards Deep Gap on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Not five minutes into the hike, I was already oooing and ahhing and stopping to take photos every few steps.  The stream valley was carpeted in trout lily, hepatica, and spring beauties.
Going up in elevation along a trail like the Kimsey Creek trail allows you to step back in time.  Early spring is in full swing down in the valley-  the forest floor is awash in bright green and the early ephemerals wave their bright heads.
Trout lily and bloodroot at lower elevation.
Climb higher and the same plants are at earlier stages of development with blossoms not yet open.  Higher still, and they are like little wrinkly babies.  The youngest sprouts look strange and at first it's difficult to tell what they will become.  By observing the sequence up the hillside, it's possible in just one morning to see the stages of spring that take place over the course of several weeks at a single location.  The tinniest sprout, the folded-up shoot, the partially open bud, the fully spread bright wildflower-- this whole dramatic series unfolds like in one of a timelapse nature movies, by simply walking up along this trail and back in time from spring to late winter.
Mayapple in its awkward early stage; bloodroot with leaves still clasped around their stalk.
When I reached Deep Gap and the AT, I turned south and began hiking the 6.8 miles to Bly Gap, where I had finished off my section hike last time.  After the spring wonderland of the Kimsey Creek trail, the AT was a brown, windy, cold contrast.  I even found traces of the ice that a thru hiker said fell the previous night.  I put on my mittens and kept moving to stay warm.
Ice at high elevation along the AT
There was a steady stream of thru hikers headed in the other direction on their way to Maine.  I stopped and talked to all the other solo women (not that there were very many!).  I met Weaver from Baltimore.  She was really nice and we admired each other's skirts, and I found out she also is on the Women Hikers Listserv, and is a member of the Maryland Trail Dames.  What a small world!

When I reached the famous oak tree at Bly Gap, I met Splitter, another awesome solo female hiker.  When I asked her how her hike was going, she talked about not fitting in, being between the two big groups of hikers- the college kids and the retirees.  She observed how it seems like everyone our age (i.e. 30's) is married, has a house, and is starting a family, not out on the trail.  It was such a moment of connection for me-- here we were not even talking for five minutes, and we were having a real conversation.  It felt so good to share this frustration of always feeling older or younger than everyone else.  I was also happy to know there are other 30 year olds out there who are hikers and who are choosing our own path, even though we are very few and far between. (Note to my hiking friends: please don't take this to mean that I don't love hiking with all the people who are older than me, or that I don't feel accepted. It's just that sometimes I look around and wonder what is wrong with me that there are very few other people my age.)

I turned around at Bly Gap and headed back north again to look for a place to camp.  Muskrat shelter was crowded so I kept moving to find a quiet place.  Once I arrived at "White Oak Stamp" which was a high level area with dense rhododendron, I wandered around in the woods for a whole hour trying to figure out where to set up my hammock.  The wind was intense and cold, so I needed to find a sheltered place out of the wind and I wanted to be well away from the trail.  That was easier said than done--   the wind swept across ridges and swirled into hollows.  I watched carefully to see how the wind moved across the landscape, and I finally found a spot halfway down the valley, protected by a rhododendron thicket.  I was thankful that I carefully selected my site, because the wind howled fiercely.  I crawled into my sleeping bag even before the sun went down because it was so cold out, but I left my tarp off for a view of my surroundings.  I listened to a good episode of "This American Life" as I watched the tallest trees dancing against the starry-sky, the rhododendrons around me barely stirring.  It was pure bliss to be toasty warm and comfortable in my hammock, breathing the crisp air and feeling my heavily-used muscles relaxing.  I felt so grateful to my friends Kellye and Sweet Pea for introducing me to hammock camping.  I used to toss and turn all night sleeping on the ground, but in my hammock, I sleep soundly.
Hanging in comfort.
The next morning, I got an early start, and watched the sun rise as I hiked towards Standing Indian, the tallest peak in the Nantahala Wilderness. The sun's rays lit up the mountains, and I had incredible views through the bare trees of the surrounding valleys.  One thing I really appreciated was that even though I had never done this section of trail, I knew the mountains and valleys around me from hiking other trails in the area.  I looked down into the Upper Tallulah River valley, and thought about the wonderful swimming holes, butterflies, and rare plants I'd seen hiking the Deep Gap trail.  I love having that sense of perspective.

The view from Standing Indian was breathtaking, and I was delighted to run into Weaver for the second time, and we chatted with some other weekenders who were just waking up and emerging from their tents on the summit.
On Standing Indian, 5499 feet.
I returned down the steep but scenic Lower Ridge Trail.  The wildflowers along the lower half of the trail lived up to the guidebook's description, both in diversity and abundance, and I lingered along the path as I made my way back to my car.
Spring beauties
Hillside of wildflowers

On the drive home just before the NC/GA boarder, I stopped at one of the only local dairy's I know about around here, called Spring Ridge Creamery, and got a sweet treat to end the day.  YUM!


  1. Awesome post!! Perfect weekend for this trip! Can't believe it was COLD! You are so brave.
    I truly am going to have to TRY the hammock, thinking of actually SLEEPING soundly is so tempting...I could always return the Exped and get a hammock.....

  2. With this 80 degree weather today, it sure is hard to imagine being cold and shivering with fingers so numb I could barely tie the knot for my bear rope. But I guess that's the difference being up in the mountain makes. We'll have to remember this for later in the heat of the Georgia summer, since I'll bet it will still be nice and cool up there... And definitely try out a hammock to see if it works for you! :)

  3. What a great trip report! If you ever get a chance, try and camp on top of Standing Indian. Shoe and I did this and it was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. OH... and welcome to the AT in NC! :)

  4. I can hardly wait to get back to the AT in NC!!! I'll have to plan the overnight on Standing Indian next time as you suggest-- that would be awesome.

  5. Hemlock- I enjoyed your trip report and great photos that's a great section of trail. and I'll have to find the creamery, I love ice cream

  6. Thanks! Hope you enjoy the creamery! :)