The weather and trail conditions were nearly perfect - clear, sunny, moderately warm and dry. This combination is quite a rare circumstance in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The four part set of ladders leading up the south side of McRae peak is the most dangerous part of the trail. Perched on a little rock ledge between two of the ladders I found a nice, older middle aged woman who pleasantly greeted me and asked if her husband was on the trail above? She commented that the top ladder was a little too exposed for her. I was coming down, and answered that yes, he was above, and he had asked me to tell her that he was coming back down in a few minutes. Thanks, Ranger Bob.
I find that my mental and emotional state varies from trip to trip, even on the same trail, and even in similar conditions. I had just been on this same trail in about the same weather just three weeks earlier. Yet today I felt strangely more cautious - not scared, but just more aware of the exposure, especially since much of the time I was by myself. When I was younger, if such a feeling came over me, I would have felt guilty for not being braver. But today, I remembered a trip about five years ago on the Boone Scout Trail up the northeast side of Calloway Peak. That was another solo hike. It was late in the fall, cloudy, dark and drizzly, cold and there may have been some ice on the slick trail. I came to a fairly exposed section and a feeling apprehension came over me. I simply turned around and headed back down. At that time, I had some concern that I was losing my nerve and perhaps being untrue to my manhood. But in hindsight, it was probably a smart move. My self-preservation instincts, correctly, overcame my ego. Turning around may have saved me from an accident and a life-threatening night on the trail with a lonely injury. Today, remembering that self-preservation instinct, I did not feel guilty, but carefully watched my steps heading back down the mountain. It was enough to enjoy being at a great height in the bright sunshine and fresh air.