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Middle Prong Wilderness revisited October 2, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking.
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Is it really only October 2, down here at 35 degrees latitude?

I took this wintry-looking photo this morning at the Devils Courthouse overlook on the Parkway. Pretty much everything above 5600′ was decorated with frost, which made an interesting contrast with the predominantly green foliage in the valleys.

But regardless of the frosty conditions, my goal was to test out my replacement camera and get in a short hike. This time I traveled along Fork Ridge from the south rather than from the north as I had done in June. Although going in this direction makes it a shorter distance to the major peak of the ridge (Green Knob, 5880′—not to be confused with the one in the Black Mountains), I still didn’t make it to the top of Green Knob. But I did see many wonderful things on my half-day outing.

I approached the area via Canton and Route 215, which climbs up, up, up through the beautiful valley of the West Fork of the Pigeon. I stopped to take a picture where the stream cascades down under the highway.

West Fork

I started to get more and more views of the frost on the heights.

Contrasting elevations

I detoured past the parking area I needed for my starting Mountains-to-Sea segment and drove up to the Parkway to take a look. Conditions were quite brisk up at the Devils Courthouse overlook. I actually thought the wind was going to tear the car door off its hinges when I got out, and I didn’t have the gear necessary for the conditions. My fingers became stingingly cold in just a minute.

Overlook scene

Then back to my parking area on 215. I had assumed that people parking there, just north of the 215/BRP junction, must be heading to the MST. I followed my practice of the June hike of refusing to read any guidebook or written information at all. It took me a while to figure out that the MST does leave from there—just down the road a ways from the parking area. This time I didn’t have a friendly fisherman to give me advice. But no harm done, I just had to put in a short stint crawling through a laurel thicket to find the trail. Once again, the Middle Prong lives up to its reputation of spurning trail signs.

The woods here were far more hospitable than the Devils Courthouse overlook. I saw beautiful purple asters in sunny glades.

I've noticed there are even several different kinds of purple asters!

I saw the most plush, luxurious moss you can imagine. (People who follow this blog know that I am obsessed with moss.)

This made a nice place to sit while I had a bite to eat

Little rectangles of ice kept dropping out of the evergreens as the temperature rose.

Fallen ice chunks with neatly squared-off corners

Colorful trees were in the minority, but the ones that did have color absolutely  glowed in the light.

Gold and blue

I found the color contrast between ferns and blackberries to be interesting. Some types of ferns had instantly crumpled in the frost, while others stayed bright green.

Green and brown

I liked these beech leaves.

Nice warm browns and golds

I reached my turnaround time and headed back. As I have noticed before, on days of intense sunlight, a trail can look entirely different going in the two directions. It was almost blinding as I headed south, and I use the light conditions as my excuse for not recognizing the unmarked junction of the Fork Ridge trail and the MST when I returned to it. I made a turn to the left, thinking I was just following the somewhat tortuous windings of the trail, when in fact I was leaving Fork Ridge and turning east on the MST. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to figure things out, and I was back to my car without any trouble.

Bathed in light