Monday, October 21, 2013

So Green They're Black.

The reason the Black Mountains got their name is because of the cloak of balsam trees (Fraser firs) that clothed their bulk in the days before Europeans arrived on the scene and scoured the peaks clear of the timber. The trees were so green and so lush on the ridges that from a distance these greatest of eastern summits appeared to be black.

Some two decades ago, the Black Mountains were in the worst phase of a double curse of acid rain and an invasive pest, the Balsam wooly adelgid. The pollution and the insect coupled to all but denude the Black Mountains of the balsam forests that had pretty much recovered from the late 19th and early 20th century timber operations (another story of wanton destruction). On my first visit to Mount Mitchell and the Blacks, I was greeted by scenes of devastation with no forests and only small trees struggling amid vast stands of bleached snags standing on the slopes and peaks.

These days, the balsam trees seem to be recovering well. There is not as much acid rain because of industrial regulations. And the wooly adelgid could be gone, having exhausted the source of food that had fed them. However, we probably won't know if the pest is truly gone for a while. Unlike the hemlock wooly adelgid which can attack any hemlock tree, young or old, the balsam wooly adelgid is dependent on gaining access via troughs that appear in the bark of older balsam trees. Thus, younger trees are immune to the depredations of the insect and only mature trees fall. We have some years more to wait to see if they're still lying dormant, lurking to wreck the forests again.

Going through my photos of the hike, I am reminded of the toughness and diversity of the route. If you're in decent shape, you should really tackle this trail!

Big Tom is a peak that is named for a particularly rapacious bear hunter who, in his lifetime, killed over 100 black bears in the Black Mountains. Fortunately, he's good and dead now.

Looking down into lower elevations that have hardwoods instead of fir trees.

The farther away from the parking lot, the less engineering there is to the trail. This far in, there are still stairs in spots, even if they're of available timber instead of rock.

In a few spots the park service has installed bolts and durable ropes to negotiate what would otherwise be Class II and Class III scrambling. The last time I hiked this trail, these ropes were not in place.

Red spruce trees all around.

A gnarly old tree along the trail.

As you can see, the balsam trees have recovered well. Walking along you are immersed in the scent of Christmas trees!

Sign along the trail as it passes over Cattail Peak.

This is the spot where I had my lunch. A nice log to lean back on while I had my sandwich, and water, and cookies. It was very peaceful and quiet, except for a brief moment when four other hikers passed by, one of them a babbling fool who would not shut the fuck up.

The place is green, and I was reminded of how much moisture these peaks get.

So green that mosses grow almost everywhere. When it isn't actually raining or snowing here, then the peaks are drenched in the dew from the vast clouds that pass over the tops of these highest mountains in the East.

Here, on Potato Hill, I took a video from the high point. You can hear the blathering hiker in the background. This group had decided to stop and eat lunch right in the middle of the freaking trail. We're talking about a very steep and very narrow trail and it was exceedingly difficult to get past these rude assholes. I grinned through it all, but was very happy when I encountered them one final time and they were gone from my life for-fucking-ever.

Continued tomorrow....

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