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Boone Fork Hikes

11/1/2004

SHOW ME WHERE THIS IS

Boone Fork – Two Trips

 

Trip One

 

In late November a couple years ago, Will McElwee and I made plans to backpack on the Appalachian Trail across Max Patch Mountain south of Hot Springs, NC.  Due to a conflict Will was not able to join me.   Not wanting to drive to the Tennessee border by myself, I elected to go backpacking closer to home on the Nuwati Trail in the Boone Fork Bowl, Watauga County.  This is the headwaters of Boone Fork Creek on the south-eastern flank of Grandfather Mountain. 

 

I had been checking the Internet weather predictions all week, which called for snow showers ending yesterday, mixed clouds today and sunshine tomorrow, all with no significant wind or rain and temperatures in the 30’s - 50’s.  I packed accordingly for typical mid-fall conditions.

 

As often happens while driving west on US-421, when I reached the top of Deep Gap hill I was in the front edge of a major blizzard.  The mountains were almost totally white.  By the time I parked my Bronco at the Sunshine House trail head on US-221 the wind was whipping clouds of dry, cold snow. 

 

Hiking up the Asutsi trail to the Nuwati trail, I saw no other tracks.  As I gained altitude and time passed, the trail surface of rocks and roots became increasingly covered with hard ice under dry, deepening snow.  The footing was as treacherous as I could remember on these mountains.  Everything was slick, and that was mostly invisible.  At the wide creek crossing among the large boulders just before the Storyteller camp site I had difficulty finding the route and nearly fell in a couple times. 

 

Eventually the hiking brought me to the end of the trail at the Refuge, a designated camp site.  This is my favorite camp site on this trail, has nice privacy and a wonderful water source.  But like a dog that does not understand weather prediction but is instinctively upset by a falling barometer before a tornado, I was antsy about the conditions and my exposure.  Kids, do not try this at home:  I had gone backpacking, in a wilderness area, in winter conditions, alone, while telling nobody my plans and route.  

 

Feeling uneasy, I backtracked to the Creekside designated campsite.  By doing so I would be closer to the trailhead and past the most difficult creek crossings and exposed trail sections, in case the weather or trail conditions happened to be worse in the morning. 

 

I set up camp and erected my tent.  By now the snow was drifting up to a foot deep, the wind was howling and the sky was dark with clouds.  I got in the tent to eat lunch.  I had chosen to bring and wear my 3-season tent, sleeping bag and clothes.  Meaning: they are good for spring / fall but not mid-winter.  While I munched, I watched snow blow under the tent eaves, through the bug screen mesh and settle in my lap.  I put on all my clothes.  Still, my fingers and toes slowly went numb.  I did not have a thermometer, but I have a pretty accurate body thermostat.  I can usually guess the temperature within 5 degrees.  My opinion is that I was sitting in wind chill close to 0 degrees.  And it was still mid-day.  The weather man was about right….NOT.  How cold would it get by mid-night? 

 

Further contemplation told me I had two choices: to crawl in my sleeping bag and sit there for the 18 hours (with nothing to read) until sunrise the next day when I could pack up and hike out; or I could pack up and hike out right now.  For the first time in my outdoor career, I packed it in and left early.  Maybe I am getting softer, or maybe just smarter.  I have reached the age when I no longer feel compelled to prove to myself that I can do things the hard way.  And certainly nobody else cares. 

 

On the way out, my tracks in the snow from just a couple hours earlier were already covered with new drifts.  As usual, I got to play Ranger Bob again….or maybe unusually, given the circumstances.  This event was probably my closest effort to actually saving lives [other than the time when I helped a man who had a prior heart attack hike off the top of Grandfather Mountain, but that is another story…].  About 2 miles from the trailhead, about dusk, I met a group hiking the opposite direction.  It was an elderly man with his granddaughter in a baby pack on his back, and his middle-aged daughter and son-in-law.  Naturally, they had no map.  The two middle-aged adults were wearing tennis shoes!  Astoundingly, the first words out of the woman’s mouth were the same question I am constantly asked on the trails: were they going in the direction towards the parking lot?  Of course, there usually is no correct answer, since if you keep going far enough on any trail in any of about 6 directions, then you will eventually reach a parking lot.  The answer depends on where they parked their car.

 

I answered somewhat slowly and incredulously, yes, it would be feasible to find a parking lot in that direction, but not likely where their car is.   Which parking lot did they want?  After some discussion we established that their vehicle was behind them.  So, I pointed them homeward.  If they had continued in their current direction without my help, then they would be most of the way to the top of the mountain by dark.  I warned them that unless they turned around immediately, then they were in danger of dying that night from hypothermia, or at least losing some fingers and toes to frostbite.  With a stark look of fear the Reebok clad woman spun around and hurried back down the trail with her Nike clad husband. 

 

The older gentleman and I admired the view awhile longer, chatted about the trail directions, figured out where he likely missed the turn and played with the baby.  Then we followed the baby’s parents out to the trail head. 

 

A hot bowl of chili at a small, hippy-type restaurant in Boone was my welcome supper and re-introduction to civilization.

 

Post script: I try to have photos of most of my trips.  After this trip my camera broke and ate the roll of film.  I ultimately tore up the camera getting the film out, but it could not be developed.  Two pictures from this trip are published here from the end of a prior roll.  You will just have to take my word for it that the rest of the pictures were beautiful and dramatic: the snow was deep, the ice was pervasive, the trail was slippery, the air was foggy, the creek water was dark and the peaks above the clouds were shining in the late afternoon sunlight.

 

Trip Two

 

A year or two later, in mid-July, the St. Paul Episcopal Church congregation trekked to Valle Cruces for our annual retreat at the beautiful and bucolic conference center.  As is our wont, we took a long hike from Saturday mid-day through late afternoon.  The trip was in Price Park, along the banks of Boone Fork Creek, a few miles down stream from Boone Fork Bowl, the site of the prior trip.  Hopefully, the rest of the photos speak for themselves.   We had a great time. 


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