On a sunny and beautifully clear day in early February, 2008, I decided to go hiking on a section of the Tanawha Trail which I had not traversed before. The trail runs on the west side of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Price Park south to Grandfather Mountain. The section I took today is from Cold Prong Pond north to Holloway Mountain Road, about 3 miles one way. I went out and back for a 6 mile round trip.
Good old Moses (my nickname for my Bronco) got me to the trail head at the Cold Prong Pond parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I often go on outdoor trips alone, and so occasionally I will arrive at a trail head in some kind of intimidating circumstances. It may be late at night, dark and lonely, remote, a long way from civilization, cold, windy, or whatever. Today the weather was furiously windy. The report was gusts up to 60 miles per hour. As I drove up the Parkway, I had to dodge large tree limbs and occasionally whole trees blocking the road. When I parked, I actually looked around to see if somebody jumped on my bumper. Moses was shaking like it was being nudged by another vehicle. The air was full of leaves, twigs and other woodsy detritus as thick as snow. As I stood in the door to get my daypack, with the wind pressing the door shut against my back, it reminded me of the implacable force one time when a Hereford bull was pushing me against a corral. Loud cracking and rumbling noises emanated from the woods where tree limbs were breaking and trees were falling.
On top of that, the air temperature was about 25 degrees. The wind chill was somewhere below 0 degrees. I will admit that nature seemed to be angry that day, and for a few minutes I was afraid.
What really got my attention was that I took out my camera to take a photo and set my gloves UNDER the windshield wipers to hold them. When I looked up from the camera, they were gone! A shot of adrenaline ran through me and I shouted an epithet. Without gloves, I could not complete the trip in those conditions, and I would have wasted the drive to the mountains. I ran around the truck and saw the gloves lying in the parking lot. As I bent over to pick them up, another gust blew them a few feet away. And then the same thing a second time. It was like a Charlie Chaplin movie…each time I bent over the gloves, they kicked a few feet further away. I was concerned that if they blew into the woods, being dirty brown and gray, they would be too camouflaged for me to find them. As I finally was in reach of one glove, I saw its mate sail past me into the woods. I skipped the closer glove and ran into the woods. As I stooped to pick it up, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the other glove shoot deeper into the woods. So, I again abandoned the closer glove and scampered further into the woods.
Eventually, with both gloves covering my numb digits, I commenced the hike proper. It took about half an hour to get acclimated to the cold and wind, without keeping too bundled up and getting sweaty. The views were sunny, clear and gorgeous. There was some hoar frost on the trail, but no solid ice. The main danger, besides the cold, was occasionally falling tree limbs. Even though I had plenty of water in my canteens, at a pretty stream crossing just below a spring, I stooped to take a drink, just to feel more connected to nature.
After awhile I came to an open field and got a great view of Grandfather Mountain to the south. In the photo captions above, I mentioned several inviting camp spots. Even though there are fire pits and evidence of prior campers, it is against the Park Service regulations to camp beside this trail, or any where in the larger Price Park and Grandfather Mountain boundaries, other than the designated camp sites.
I saw very little wild life. Besides what I think was a coyote foot print, and pellets of fur and bones left by owls, there was almost none.
Around noon I crossed Holloway Mountain Road and entered Price Park. An inviting sunny spot beside the trail with a convenient bank for a seat convinced me to stop for lunch.
Heading back to the trail head, I was surprised to feel my legs were quickly tired and sore. I had not hiked hard at all up to that point. What was wrong? Eventually it became clear that the trail from Cold Prong Pond to Holloway Mountain Road was mostly downhill. Not so steeply that I had noticed, but going back was mostly uphill. So, what I had expected it to be an equally casual stroll as my morning hike became somewhat more work. It was no big deal – just a surprise. If I had known the slope, I would have parked at Holloway Mountain Road and hiked out and back the other way. It is a general principle of outdoor travel to start the trip going against the prevailing natural forces – wind, tide, waves, uphill, gravity, whatever – so that we are not lulled into a false sense of ease of travel, and go too far from where we need to return. Then when turning around to head back to the beginning, the natural force is working with us and makes the second half of the trip more manageable.
I hope that I can find some partners to enjoy this kind of natural adventure the next time that the opportunity presents itself.