On July 2, 2005, I took a hike on my favorite mountain, as training for my trip next month to hike in Grand Tetons National Park. I went from US 221 on the Daniel Boone Scout trail to Calloway Peak and back down. I have been on Grandfather Mountain hundreds of times. I thought that I had seen every kind of meteorological condition. I thought wrong. This expected simple hike turned into a little bit of adventure. I saw three superlatives in one day – conditions with more of something than I had ever seen before.
Basically, a thunderstorm chose to sit on top of the mountain all day. It was astoundingly dark. Not just cloudy and foggy in the distance. This fog was in among the trees. It was so thick that at times I could hardly see the trail. There was almost no light. It reminded me of TV shows about tornadoes when the sky goes almost black. The whole day was as opaque as if it were right at sunset. I have never seen an entire day in the middle of summer stay that dark.
The next superlative was the water. Wet is nothing new on Grandfather. Almost every day is soon after, during, or before some kind of soggy condition - rain, snow, fog, ice, mist or dew. But today the rain was so insistent that the trails became running creeks. Long stretches of the path had miniature whitewater rapids, waterfalls and pools shin deep. This was more running water than I had seen in my 53 years of outdoor experience. I wanted to take a photo to record this extraordinary condition, but I was afraid that all the gear in my pack would get wet, as well as the camera, when I dug it out. And, it was so dark, I doubted that the scene would show up in the picture.
It was also the first time I could remember that my high quality, waxed leather, essentially waterproof boots leaked through before the end of the trip.
The last extraordinary condition was slickness. What? Yes, slickness. Many stretches of the trail are granite bedrock. Depending on a number of conditions, like steepness and wetness, the rock may offer more or less degrees of friction. But it always has enough grip to allow hiking over it. Not today. For some reason unknown to me, some of the rocky areas seemed to have some kind of algae growing on it. Those places were as slick as if covered with slime at the bottom of a river. A couple times I had to get a few feet off the trail into the woods and climb through the trees, to make it uphill.
The few things that did work included my fitness – my conditioning seemed to be progressing nicely. I had no trouble with the effort to hike up and down the whole mountain in a few hours. Another lucky choice was wearing contacts lenses. The persons on the crew hired by Hugh Morton to maintain the trails must all be less than 6 feet tall. I was frequently whapped in the face by a wet tree branch. If I had worn my glasses, this may have been the first trip in my life that I had to abort due to blindness – my inability to see through the water and fog on my glasses.
My system of packing all my items in water proof stuff sacks, inside my larger water day pack, got a good workout. It seemed to be up to the task.
This was probably the wettest trip of my life – not counting scuba diving. But what the heck! A bad day outdoors is better than a good day indoors!