Yesterday was lovely and long, with many miles covered, mostly above 5500’. As the weather looked clear, meaning zero chance ( well, there’s always a chance when it comes to storms and mountain weather) – let me begin again. The weather looked promising with low humidity and the chance of thunderstorms not that great, so I decided to knock two more peaks off my hiking challenge. Plus, with some extra rest under my belt and sinus pressure relieved, I felt like a new person. Not only did a day in the mountains seem feasible, but once I hit the trail towards my first peak, I realized it was totally necessary.
Quickly: The South By 6000’ (SB6K) is a program for encouraging hikers to climb the 40 6000 foot peaks in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, per the Carolina Mountain Club, and was inspired in the late 1960s, in part by similar peak lists from the White Mountains of New Hampshire and New England. Anyway, I’ve participated in peak bagging lists/challenges before, specifically with Christine when we both lived in SoCal and worked on (she completed!) the HPS Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, 270+ peak list. For the record, I made it to 125 peaks before moving away. But I’ve always loved climbing mountains, in addition to spending time on trail & backpacking; having a physical list to check off summits just makes it that much more exciting, for some odd reason. And for the record, should I complete this list, I’ll earn a patch and certificate.
Anyway, I had a slightly later start than planned, the consequence of unforeseen GI issues. I’m not sure what it was, the coffee, creamer, milk or cereal, but something had me making a beeline for the bathroom multiple times. Thankfully, things eventually, er, sorted themselves out and I was in my car and drove the (Blue Ridge) parkway towards Craggy Gardens.
The plan was to park at Blackstone Gap/Walkers Knob Overlook and hike east on the Mountains-To-Sea (MTS) Trail towards Blackstock Knob (6359’), tag the summit and return via the same route, wave to my car and head west on the MTS towards Craggy Dome (6080’). And that’s exactly what I did, my hike totaling 12-ish miles with 3500+ feet of gain over 6-ish hours.
Some parts of the trail were great, clear of rocks and roots, the soft pine needles masking my footfall in the silent woods. I especially loved gaining the spruce pine forested ridge above 6K feet, just before Blackstock Knob.
Other parts were more technical, rocky and slippery and I had to pay attention to every step. The PUDS – Pointless Ups and Downs – to Craggy Dome were mentally just as exhausting as they were physically, so I took my time, noting beauty in small things. I also reminded myself that technical trails with a lot of gain are good for me and will build strength. And that at 7+ months post transplant, I’m incredibly fortunate to be here and able to do this in the first place.
In the end, I really enjoyed my day! And I was extra lucky and saw three bears and a bear tush. First, the Momma with Cubs while headed out towards Craggy Dome. I was coming around a corner and so was she – from the opposite direction- and we just surprised each other. It happens – but all was well and they ran into the woods before I could properly say hello. Also, within my final mile of the car, I heard a bear in the thick underbrush next to the trail, and not wanting to startle them, quietly spoke, hello bear. I was greeted by an explosion of twigs and branches as the poor thing scattered in the opposite direction, my only glimpse a sturdy bears’ bottom: I’m not sure if I should have just hiked by, or if it was better to give warning. For my own safety, I think it’s good to alert bears to my presence; to be honest, I was surprised that I didn’t see them (bears) in the open fields of rhododendrons.
After finishing up, I sent Andy a text that I would be home in 60-ish minutes, changed clothes, opened the sunroof and enjoyed the beautiful drive down the parkway and into Asheville.
Physically I felt good, although at first my lungs seemed to be working extra hard. I figured it was a combination of recovering from sinusitis, altitude and a bit of fatigue while hiking uphill. I was thankful for no GI issues on trail. I slathered on plenty of sunscreen, wore a baseball cap and put on my technical shirts’ hood while in the sun. My skin felt just fine afterwards. Otherwise, my body felt strong and I just kept my pace steady. Sinuses didn’t seem any worse for wear, and after my 60 minute drive home, unfolding myself from the car was comical, meaning I felt a bit stiff. Dinner was inhaled, as were my lemon bar(s). I slept so-so and dreamt of technical trails.
Today is low key; I’m planning on returning to HEW and possibly heading to Bent Creek for an easy hike. My stomach is – eehhh – after my coffee + creamer, so I suspect the GI culprit has been found. There’s a few appointments that need to be rescheduled, dinner with Andy’s mom and I’m cracking open one of the books on my graduate advisor’s reading list. Life isn’t so bad!
Thank you for reading & your support! Cheers & Mazel!