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Only in Asheville January 19, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, memoir.
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Today I went on a short hike on the Mountains-to-Sea trail. I’ve been recovering from flu and needed something to get back into gear. I started at Ox Creek Road, went to Rattlesnake Lodge, then took the steep route up to the upper spring and looped back down. This is a very popular hike with Ashevilleans, at least as far as Rattlesnake Lodge. It offers all the basic ingredients: views, historic interest (remains of the old lodge buildings from the early 1900s), distance suitable for a stretch-your-legs sort of outing.

It becomes even more heavily used when the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed north of Bull Gap, because that cuts off several other good hiking options close to town. Right now the BRP is closed all the way from Bull Gap to NC 80 because that section goes through a 5000’+ elevation zone from the Craggies to Mt. Mitchell. I wouldn’t guess there’s much ice on it at the moment, but we’ve gotten to the time of year when it just stays shut so that the Park Service doesn’t have to bother with it.

Blue Ridge Parkway sign

I’ve discovered with this MST section that a lot of people like to hit it in the early afternoon, after they’ve gotten some work done (like me) or gone to classes and just need a break. This time I got there before peak hiking traffic hit, and I made it all the way up to the spring before I started seeing people—lots of people—all kinds of people. Today it seemed that the variety of humanity was particularly entertaining.

My first encounter was startling for both of us. I was pushing up to the spring and emerged abruptly onto the upper trail, only to find myself practically on top of a refined-looking man with a silver beard who’d been peacefully eating his sandwich. He looked at me as if I’d come from outer space, but in a moment recovered himself enough to greet me politely.

Next I encountered two women with a large dog, a configuration frequently encountered in Asheville. They were not dressed like the women in the Wikimedia photo below, but it’s such a great photo that I include it just for fun.

Note the guy on the park bench

Next I encountered a playful young couple. He was picking her up and carrying her down the trail—her legs were around his hips and her arms encircled his neck. Not flustered at all by my appearance on the scene, they had just reached a large grapevine hanging from a tree, and it looked like he was going to try to swing on the vine with her hanging onto him!

Next, a mismatched pair: a short middle-aged woman in a pink parka, carrying no pack, with a young man carrying a very large overnight backpack. She looked like she might be his mother. I greeted them, and the young man spontaneously explained that he was training for doing some hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Whether or not it was his mother, I thought it was wonderful that this unathletic-looking woman was giving him companionship and support!

Map of A.T.

Next, a 50-ish woman who looked like a practitioner of yoga (at any rate, there was a car in the trailhead parking area with a bumper sticker for a yoga studio, and she seemed like the most likely match).

Next, father and daughter who looked maybe six. She was explaining to him, “Daddy, water is good for you. Can I have some water?”

Finally—best of all—two guys carrying skateboards. It took me a moment to figure it out. “You’re going on the Parkway!” I exclaimed. They laughed at my momentary confusion. What a great idea: with the section of Parkway closed that runs very close to and parallel to the trail, they were hiking up to the Tanbark tunnel connector, where they’d head down to the BRP and have a beautiful cruise down several miles of empty pavement!

Rich Knob November 20, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Mountains to Sea Trail.
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The fearsome summit pitch

Note to Lincoln Highway followers: Pennsylvania coming soon!

I was in the mood for a severe mountaineering challenge—but it had to be close to Asheville. Lane Pinnacle came to mind. Off I drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway, only to find it was gated! A strange thing on this afternoon of temperatures in the 60s. There must have been ice in the Craggies left over from Thursday’s cold snap.

Reluctantly I turned around and drove the short distance down the Ox Creek Road to a trailhead I’d visited only two days before with my friend Beth. It’s the most popular approach to Rattlesnake Lodge. I would push through the Lodge area and make an assault on Rich Knob. At just shy of 4900′, it would at least give me 1700′ of elevation gain and six miles total.

Twenty minutes into the hike, the roar of motorcycles told me the gate had just been opened. Oh well! I was committed to my quest.

I sped along past the remains of the old lodge buildings from the early 1900s, owned by Chase P. Ambler, a very snooty-looking gentleman with a high starched collar, to judge by the picture on the informational sign. Beth and I had arbitrarily decided that the middle initial “P” stood for Pinkerton and that he was known to one and all as “Pinky.”

I climbed the steeper of the two paths up to the spring, then continued to the gap that I will always think of as the “white beebalm gap.” That got me up to 4400′. Then came the moderately steep switchbacking section that leads to Rich Knob.

I passed under the overhanging boulder—covered with rock tripe—that shelters a permanent campfire ring.

The fire ring is tucked under the tilted rock

At last I reached the summit area. The MST trail doesn’t go over the true summit, and I knew that this time I must face up to it. I tackled a forbidding cliff that towered over me, striking fear deep into my heart (see photo at top). Above this obstacle, I discovered that the summit was surprisingly ornery.

The summit had its claws out

As a result, I have to admit there might have been a lump or a bump slightly higher than where I was standing, but I decided not to fight through the briers.

This is November, when you have to look for small things. The fall leaves have turned brittle and brown, the bright frosts of winter have yet to come, spring hides around the other side of the circle (I think of the calendar year as a giant circle, with winter at the bottom), and summer is but the faintest glimmer. I discovered a geranium that I will have to check up on next June.

I'll look for this next June

I always like Christmas ferns with their persistent green and their tidily stenciled shapes.

Christmas ferns and oak leaves

The forest here leans heavily to oak.  I could smell oak in the air (which got my allergies going), and I slipped and slithered on the leathery oak leaves going down the ankle-deep trail.

More small things to enjoy in November

As I headed back down, things already looked dark. Time to enjoy the twinkling of holiday lights!

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November sky