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The Bald Mountains in dense fog December 23, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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Seth gives helpful info to guys holed up at Jerry Cabin

I’d told Seth O’Shields that I was interested in exploring the area around Hot Springs. He’s done a lot of interesting hikes in the area. So we set December 22 as the day to have an adventure in the Bald Mountains along the A.T. northeast of Hot Springs. We’d talked about a fairly high-mileage option, so I chirped up and suggested a 7:00 a.m. meeting time in downtown Hot Springs.

At 7:00 I arrived in drizzle and dense fog, and it was about as dark as the hind end of a black cow in a coal mine. It seemed absolutely insane to be setting off on a hike. It had been hard enough just seeing the edge of the road along the twists and turns of Hwy. 25/70 past Marshall and Hurricane and Tanyard Gap. So we took the only sensible option and went down to the diner for a breakfast of delicious sweet potato pancakes. By the time we got done with that, it was light enough that hiking seemed almost reasonable. But we opted for a shorter route, going up the Jerry Miller trail to the A.T. and then past Fox Cabin Gap and Bald Mountain to the Fork Ridge trail with a short roadwalk at the end to bring us in a triangular route back to the car. We needed Seth’s good knowledge of the roads and his 4-Runner to get up the last icy unpaved section with a stream ford.

The Jerry Miller trail has a nice cascade along it. I was conducting an unsuccessful experiment with using something called Cat Crap to keep my glasses from fogging up. (I’m going to have to go back to using contacts for winter hiking, even though the prescription is pretty out of date since I never use them for anything else.) So we stopped, I wiped off my glasses, and then I could see the cascade.

Jerry Miller cascade

A bit higher, the trail followed an old road through a pleasant forest with quite a bit of Virginia pine. The slushy snow got steadily deeper, maybe 4 or 5 inches on this section, just enough to make it a bit of a slog. We reached the junction with the A.T. and contemplated a sign there that is so weathered that the letters have become literally invisible.

Seth contemplates the blank sign

We decided to make the short side trip to Blackstack Cliffs. Seth claimed that on other trips to that spot, clouds lower down had opened up, due to some specific meteorological condition that seemed to occur there. Unfortunately, the condition was not occurring that day.

View of the interior of a large, dense cloud at Blackstack Cliffs

We ate lunch nearby, thinking optimistically the clouds might dissipate during that time. Nope.

Back to the A.T. Our next section had two route options, an open semi-bald ridgetop section exposed to bad weather, and a more sheltered sidehilling section. Since we would have no views, and it was quite windy—real hypothermia weather with the dampness—we opted for the sheltered route.

Two options

The wording seemed funny to me: it sounded as if BOTH trails gave you bad weather, though the intended message was obviously¬† “Take the Bad Weather trail to AVOID bad weather.”

As we climbed over Bald Mountain, we kept running into patches of windblown slushy drifts where we were postholing up to a foot or more in depth, which made it a bit of a grunt. We were amazed to see ATV tracks in the snow where some moron had come up the Fork Ridge trail, knocked down one trail sign and stolen another. They, and others, had left quite a bit of trash along the way as well. I dedicated one large pocket of my parka to crushed beer cans, while Seth took charge of the candy wrappers and cigarette boxes.

Seth wanted to check out the Jerry Cabin, one of the oldest shelters on that stretch of the A.T. So we continued a bit past the Fork Ridge junction and were much surprised to discover five jolly hikers inside. They had decided to give themselves a break on their multi-day trip and hole up in the cabin and, basically, drink whiskey. Actually, they were surprisingly sober considering the very large bottles of Southern Comfort and other similar poisons out on the table. We had a very entertaining conversation about the working telephone that used to be mounted on the wall of the shelter, imagining various scenarios of it ringing and some cheery stranger calling just to say hello. Those guys were really lucky, because Seth was able to offer them some good detailed advice about the different options for daily objectives between there and Hot Springs.

We descended Fork Ridge and had a fast icy roadwalk (no problem—we both wore microspikes on the whole trip). There were two fords of Big Creek that involved wading in fairly fast current, but no one got swept away. As soon as we reached the car, the clouds started to break, and we experienced some beautiful shifting crepuscular rays and changing windows of blue sky as we drove back to Hot Springs.


Another view of the Jerry Miller cascade