Friday, May 30, 2014

prime time

Early summer's mild conditions and lush beauty make for one of the best opportunities to go big in the Southern Appalachians. It's really the prime time to be out and about.

I'm thankful to have had the opportunity this week to share some prime time with my dad. Together, dad and I got into backpacking when I was in high school. Then, for better or worse, we got into ultra running when I was in college.

Over the past decade, my adventures became more ambitious and I shared fewer of them with my dad. Wanting to change that, we came up with a 4-day and 110-mile loop that would challenge but not crush us.

The Chunky Gal Special, as it's called, was the ideal adventure for several reasons: a.) it's a loop; b.) nearly half was unexplored; c.) there's midway resupply (NOC); and d.) dogs are allowed. (Unfortunately, Uwharrie sustained an injury on a run leading up to this adventure and couldn't join us.)

We started the loop in the clockwise direction from Deep Gap mid-morning on Memorial Day. I was especially eager to set foot on the 22-mile Chunky Gal Trail, which I recall passing along the AT over the years. There's something about an unexplored path that gets me dreaming and scheming...

The Chunky Gal did not disappoint! For miles we walked along a rolling ridge through ferns and wildflowers with the occasional old growth oak and mossy rock outcrop. The slightly overgrown trail reminded me so much of the under-appreciated Benton MacKaye Trail. From 5010' Boteler Peak, we rested and surveyed the remainder of our first day: a ridge line traverse all the way to camp atop 5240' Tusquitee Bald.

After cooking dinner at Bob Allison Campground and reaching our destination at the northern terminus of Chunky Gal by dusk, we set up the tarp for the night. Come morning, with hot coffee and oatmeal served, we continued on our way via the Rim Trail and down to Old Road Gap. True to its name, this road was built in 1837 by Cherokee laborers, who were forced to march along it to Oklahoma in 1838- a sad chapter in America's history known as the Trail of Tears.

After a couple miles of pavement, things started to get crazy on London Bald Trail. Recent burns had left miles and miles of solid trail bench fully overgrown with prickly successional species. On the plus side, these adverse conditions produced panoramic views back to the Tusquitees.

We were happy to get back into a shaded forest where the contouring trail gradually climbed towards the more familiar Bartram Trail below Rattlesnake Knob. But somewhere along this unexplored trail, we made a mistake and found ourselves descending a gravel road to US-74 a few miles upstream from where the Bartram would have spit us out.

Back on track, we crossed the Nantahala River, which glistened in the hot afternoon sun. After a creekside cool-down session, we began the five mile and 3000' ascent along Ledbetter Creek to the summit of 5062' Cheoah Bald, our destination for day two.

Having reached our campsite with daylight to spare, we set up the tarp, gathered firewood, identified some landmarks, cooked and ate dinner while enjoying the sunset from a rocky perch near the summit.

Day 3: fantasies of coffee, eggs and biscuits pulled us along with gravity for 8 miles down the trail to our midway resupply at NOC. I told dad about my encounter with Kermit and Newton along this stretch last fall, which partly inspired our trek. We fulfilled the aforementioned food fantasies mid-morning at the riverside restaurant and restocked with food at the outfitter and general store before escaping the vortex of civilization.

Once again along the AT super highway for the second half of our loop, we enjoyed the ease of travel and company afforded us by this heavily traveled footpath. We took in a full 360 degree view from the top of 4627' Wesser Bald, snacked and prepared for the push to Wayah Bald for dinner.

Over a dinner of freeze-dried wild rice pilaf atop 5342' Wayah Bald, I broke the news to dad that we may have to bust out the headlamps for some night hiking to make it to Silers Bald. Dad would have none of it! Fair enough, distance was shortened and we made camp before a fierce thunderstorm pounced on us in the dark. Good call!

Come morning on our last day, we set a good pace along the AT back towards the car on the other side of Standing Indian. Arriving by mid-afternoon, once again beating a storm by a hair's breadth, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and grace of this experience, which I was fortunate to share with my dad. You can view all of our pictures from the Chunky Gal Special here.

Back in town today, I packed some left-over pizza and pineapple and zipped out to find Eric to share some miles with him in nearby DuPont Forest as he makes his way on the SALT during prime time. You can follow his progress here.

1 comment:

Scott Brockmeier said...

Wow what a great trip. Wish I could have joined you. I miss the old days of the three of us adventuring. I just finished a 3 day 55 mile fastpack in the San Juans with your sub60 pack and can't say enouh good about it. Comfy, efficient, superlight. It is an "outside the box" design that works. Well done!