Sunday, February 10, 2013


Last Thursday, Elliott and I got together for our annual B-day outing. We decided to keep it a little more local and went for a 2-night backpacking trip in the Middle Prong Wilderness. We started at Sunburst Thursday evening and hiked in a short ways to a chilly camp. We awoke to an inch of new snow and made our way 3000’ higher to the summit of the highest peak in the Pisgah Ranger District. Our ascent to Richland Balsam via Lickstone Ridge was mostly a bushwhack. We utilized the (closed) parkway for part of our return route skipping the treacherously iced over gully up Reinhart.

Atop Richland Balsam

A chilly ford of the Middle Prong
For some strange reason, this regular 5-day workweek seemed rather long. Lily was out of town this weekend with the car, and despite the forecast (lows into the 20's), the dog and I made a last minute decision to leave at 4:20 PM on Friday for a second LGLA 50-mile fastpack loop, this time in a counterclockwise direction. I packed an extra layer of thermals hoping this would be enough protection, but the cold wind atop Black Mtn. where we stopped to eat dinner just after sunset had me questioning the efficacy of my 10 lbs. pack. We made it to Buckhorn Gap Shelter a little after 7 PM and built a fire, hoping to successfully bank the coals for the morning.

Starting out on the LGLA from the house, after work Friday
Buckhorn Gap Shelter, Saturday morning
Sunrise from the Black Mountain Trail
The night was more comfortable than another hypothermic night from recent memory, but neither dog nor human slept well. A little before sunrise, it became apparent that the Most Horrible Thing Ever (a 36-hour bike single-sport adventure race) was happening this weekend as several mountain bikers came riding by and flashing their cameras into the shelter. It was a good excuse to get up, tend to the fire and eat breakfast. Charlie came riding by and we chatted for a few seconds before he rode on to catch up with the top three riders.

Enjoying the sunny leeward side of Green Knob
Descending Green Knob
Icicles above Skinny Dip
Approaching the snowy Great Balsams
The day promised to be sunny, but the cold wind lingered. We had about 36 miles to complete the loop and we got started at 7:15 AM on Saturday. The sun and wind made it near impossible to dial in the correct clothing for the MST along the crest of the Blue Ridge. By noon we were trudging through up to three inches of crusty snow in the highlands of the Great Balsams. The snow was a bit of an energy zapper and a sit down lunch break became mandatory.

Uwharrie playing in the snow
Lunch break below Black Balsam

Approaching FS-816
Spruce forest along the Art Loeb
At the time, the ~2400 calories allotted for the day seemed woefully inadequate, but after consuming a third of them at lunch, starting down the mountain and leaving the snow, all seemed better. Also, after crossing paths with another cyclist in the middle of his 36-hour ordeal, I scored a gummy energy chew laying on the trail glimmering like a ruby atop the dirt… Not sure that the 5-second rule was upheld, oh well.

Atop Cedar Rock, looking back from where we came
U-dog and I made our way up over Cedar Rock and back down into town, arriving to the house by 5:30 PM. The more technical parts of this last climb were made challenging by having to carry a pack, the dog's pack and (non-collapsible) hiking poles, not to mention we were both a tad tired. Despite the difficulties, we were both happy to have gotten out to play in our backyard!


Caleb Boyle said...

Thanks for sharing the adventures w/ photos. Seems like we're all about ready for spring!

I'd be interested in hearing more about the clothing challenges... wondering if wind pants would be useful?

mkirk said...

Caleb, I do carry wind pants and think they're more versatile than tights. My Goodwill pair of nylon pants are nothing fancy and weigh in at 4.5 oz. which is as light or lighter than tights. And there are plenty of nice fabrics to make them even lighter!

Wind jacket and pants come on/off and stow easier on the go, but in colder conditions, a thermal layer underneath is nice and warm. I find myself gravitating toward the wind jacket/pants more and more.

Another advantage of wind pants: You get fewer strange looks when wearing the pants by themselves (while washing hiking shorts) in town.

Caleb Boyle said...

Good stuff Matt. One of the reasons I was asking... I recently got a pair of softshell pants and was really impressed with them when we went up to Mt. Mitchell a few weeks ago. They are very windproof and warm, but also breathable. The downside is that they are 16oz... but they can take the place of thermals and wind pants and/or nylon pants.