Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Red Spruce: My Hiking Kryptonite

A couple of years ago I went to hike around Potato Knob, one of North Carolina's 6,000-foot peaks. I always have a great time hiking in what amounts to the South's high country. These mountains are almost high enough to qualify as major mountains, and are plenty rugged and give you a sense of real height. It's just that they take up such a very tiny bit of real estate and one is constantly aware of how fragile and precious the ecosystems that lie upon them.

This mountain is also one of the summits of the Black Mountains, which comprise the highest mountain range in the eastern USA and which include Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig, the number one and number two highest peaks on this side of our nation.

Along this trail I encountered a large expanse of red spruce trees. These trees only grow on North Carolina's highest mountain ranges and they're very beautiful places. However, these forests are my real Kryptonite when it comes to hiking and backpacking. Somehow, I almost always manage to get lost when I hike through these damned forests!

And I know why this is. Most of these stands were logged at around the same time--roughly seventy to one hundred years back. Because of this, the trees in these groves are pretty much all the same age. When you stand in the woods and look around, it all runs together and one spot looks almost exactly like another. If the trail that takes you through these patches runs out or vanishes beneath the rusty old needles of last year's crop, then you can really got lost in a short time.

Well, at least I can get lost in a short time.

And I do.

This trip was no exception. On the way back to my truck I lost the trail in a rough patch of dark, shadowy spruce forest. I not only lost my way, I got turned around and found myself headed away from where I wanted to go! This happened because, as has occurred a couple of other times when I find myself in a spruce forest, I succumb to panic attacks. Now, it's almost impossible to get totally lost in the eastern USA. If I ever did find myself hopelessly off the trail I know enough to find a road. Here in the eastern USA (outside of our swamps) all you have to do to locate a road is walk downhill or follow a creek. Within a mile or so you'll almost certainly find a road.

But damn! Those red spruce forests get me confused!

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