Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Two Days of Total Solitude.

Some time back I had reserved two days to myself for an overnight backpacking trip. When the two days approached the weather report was for vile, lousy weather. Since I was going mainly to enjoy some leisure time and find some solitude this weather report actually looked better to me. If it was going to rain--and the forecast was for not just rain, but heavy rain--then there was the likelihood that few, if any other hikers would be on the loop I was going to hike.

The route I had set aside was similar to one I had hiked with other people some years back. My plan was to park at the fish hatchery near Looking Glass Rock and take the Cat Gap Trail to the Art Loeb Trail. Originally I had figured on taking an unmarked side trail to the summit of Cedar Rock Knob from Sand Gap and camp on the summit. But since I knew the weather could possibly suck mightily I had a backup plan to skip the summit and push on to the Butter Gap shelter where I would have a wooden roof over my head.

By the time I reached Sand Gap and began to climb the 300 or so vertical feet to the top of Cedar Rock the rain was coming down heavily and the atmosphere was like pea soup and the wind was gusting. I could hear the odd limbs crashing down to the forest floor here and there in the forest. So I decided that I should bypass the summit as my alternate plans indicated and instead I pushed on the couple of miles or so to Butter Gap where the shelter waited.

Once at the shelter the rain began to come down even harder. And by that time--despite my excellent rain gear--I was pretty much soaked. So I rigged some clothesline and changed into my long underwear (dry in my backpack) and hung my wet clothes on the lines inside the shelter. Then I set up my tent because there were a couple of small leaks in the roof and with the rain coming down as hard as it was I thought that some more leaks could develop and the tent would keep me dry. It was here that I saw the only person I encountered during the two days--a day-hiker doing essentially the same loop I was doing, but without a backpack and in one day instead of two.

After that I did the regular old backpacking deal. I got my tent comfortable, put the things I might need in the night close and handy (such as my headlamp), cooked supper, cleaned up, hung my food bag and then retired to the shelter to meditate. The rain was pouring down and the air was cool. Gusts of heavy wind would routinely blast through the forest. Limbs would hit the ground nearby, a couple of them actually just in front of the shelter. I meditated, thought about things, came close to doing some writing in the journal I'd carried along but ended up not even doing that. I just sat at the front of the structure, then lay in my tent and waited for it to get extraordinarily dark.

And it did. It got so dark that all I could sense was a sheet of purest black before my eyes. The world was essentially invisible to me. I had the sleeping pad under my back, my down bag around my body, the winds roaring outside the shelter, and the rain drumming incessantly on the roof.

It was cool.

As I sometimes do when backpacking I slept off and on, waking from time to time and then dozing off. Finally I was wide awake at a tad after 6:00 am. Even then I wasn't quite ready to fix breakfast and break camp so I waited for the sun to paint the gray skies with some manner of dim light and then finally got my motor running.

After breakfast it only took a few minutes to pack up and be on my way. My pants and rain coat had dried in the night but not my cotton shirt (stupid of me to wear a cotton shirt, but there you go). So I just wore my long underwear top on the final leg of the trip.

As near as I could tell from my map it was somewhere between 3.5 and 4 miles back to the fish hatchery. And almost all downhill. So I knew the miles would vanish, even carrying my backpack. Just past the shelter the Art Loeb Trail intersects with the Butter Gap Trail and I took that back down, intersecting once more the Cat Gap Trail that took me the final half mile or so.

Since it was raining very heavily off and on I had opted to leave my camera stored safe and dry in my backpack. Thus, from the shelter and on to the truck all I had to record the journey was my GoPro camera which I had strapped to my chest.

Despite how steep and slick parts of the trail was on the way out, I made very good time. Even stopping occasionally to view and make video of waterfalls along the way (there are a lot of waterfalls on that stretch of trail) I made extremely good time. By 10:00 am I was back at my truck and storing my backpack and camera gear.

Since the fish hatchery was locked up tight--even the rest rooms--I drove to the single toilet that was unlocked in the entire area at the Sycamore Flats Picnic Area and washed up and changed into clean, dry clothes that I had brought with me. When you've been backpacking in heavy rain and are that wet, there's nothing better than changing into clean, dry clothes and shoes.

After that I killed an hour just walking around, thinking, and then ate at a nearby restaurant that I like and drove back home.

It was a good trip.

The first bridge near the fish hatchery parking lot.

There are a LOT of stream crossings on the web of trails I took. Some have foot bridges. Some do not.

This dead tree had recently fallen across this campsite. I was tired and used the dead tree as a seat to catch my breath after several miles of uninterrupted hiking.

The Butter Gap Shelter. It's in poor repair and needs some fixing up. But it was still a hell of a lot better and drier than pitching my tent in heavy rain and howling winds on a mountaintop.

My tent and stuff inside the shelter.

My truck, waiting safely for me at the end of the trip.


Two days condensed into ten minutes.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Deadfall!

Whenever I talk to people who do not hike and who never backpack they almost always ask me if I'm scared of bears or coyotes or some other horrible animal that will attack me in the night and kill me. And the answer is always, "no".

The odds of being attacked by an animal are slim. Almost to the point of being able to statistically dismiss even the dimmest of possibilities where such things are concerned. Yes, I take certain precautions against even such an outside occurrence by not cooking in the same spot where I'm going to sleep; never taking any food into my tent--not even a snack; and hanging all of my food and heavily scented things (like toothpaste) from a sack high in a tree before I prepare for bed.

But there are a few things that I do worry about when I go backpacking alone. First and foremost is the possibility of being attacked by a human. This does happen to hikers and backpackers and almost always when they are hiking or camping overnight near a trail/road intersection. The kind of person who is going to do such a thing as victimize a backpacker is a lazy sack of shit and will only walk a short distance. Thus, I always try to camp at least several miles from the nearest road.

Then there's lightning. Lightning does kill people. You don't have to be hiking to be killed by lightning, but when you're outside, the great, gray dome of stormy weather overhead can be a threat. Whenever I hear thunder I know the possibility of a lightning strike is there and so I mitigate them by doing my best to stay away from high ground (such as summits) during an electrical storm. I will go down into a cove or gap and wait it out if I can (additionally being sure not to hunker down near a tall tree).

And that brings me to the one thing that I do actively worry about when I backpack. And that thing is deadfall.

When you're in a forest a respectable percentage of the trees are dead, dying, or growing in a place where a stiff gust of wind or saturation by water of the loose soil can bring it down. If you happen to be camped under such a tree it can fall over on you, or it can lose a stout limb overhead. And then it's curtains for you if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The possibility of such a thing is rare, but it is one of the concerns that I seriously take when I am picking out a spot to pitch my tent before nightfall.

On this trip into the Pisgah National Forest I was travelling in mainly heavy rain, and during brief periods of gusty wind as bits of the front passed through. I saw limbs falling, and at one point in the night I heard a very large tree give up the ghost somewhere in the woods and hit the earth. Later, on my way out of Butter Gap I saw what was probably the tree I heard as it fell. It wasn't far from the shelter I used and it had fallen across the trail.

But even that--my main concern when I backpack--is less than the odds of being involved in an automobile accident on my way to or from a trip to the forest.

This tree had very recently fallen at an established campsite along the Cat Gap Loop Trail. Anyone under it would have been crushed like a slug.

I encountered a ridiculous amount of recent deadfall on this trip.

Cautionary information.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Backpacking in Torrential Rain.

I had set aside two days to take a backpacking trip in western North Carolina. After thinking about my options I decided on a loop from the fish hatchery near Looking Glass Rock that would use the Cat Gap Trail to take me past John Rock, near Cedar Rock Mountain, then to the Art Loeb Trail, after which I'd intersect and hike the Butter Gap Trail, meeting again with the Cat Gap Trail and back to the Hatchery.

The forecast called for heavy rain but I decided to go anyway, mainly because I knew that it would make the likelihood of finding some solitude that much more likely. And that is, in fact, what happened. I saw only one other person on the trail for the two days--a day-hiker who passed by the Butter Gap shelter where I spent the night.

I'll post details about the hike later. It has been a while since I've carried a 45-pound backpack over rugged terrain and my muscles are complaining. More after a night's rest.

The point where I caught the Art Loeb Trail. I really appreciate the well-signed trails of the Pisgah National Forest.

Initially I had planned to camp out on the summit of Cedar Rock Mountain. But I had told my wife that if the weather was too horrible (it was) then I would bypass Cedar Rock and head over to the Butter Gap shelter and stay there. It proved to be a wise decision.

Since the old shelter has seen better days, I decided to pitch my tent inside it to avoid the leaks from the decaying roof. This worked out well. If anyone else had arrived I could always take the tent down, but I suspected that wouldn't happen due to the incessant heavy rain.

Accidental selfie. I had set the camera up for self-timed shots, then realized I had forgotten my mini-tripod and put it down on my camera bag. Whereupon it went off, catching this photo. Pretty cool!
This was the second day toward the end of the hike. Cedar Rock Falls. I was so tired at this point that I decided to just take some GoPro video footage and leave my camera in my backpack. I really was just too tired to dig my camera out.

Friday, February 09, 2018

How's This for a Pitch?

"Here's the plan! We get to the Moon, see? And then we make a handful of visits, right?"

"Yeah. And then what? We build bases? Research stations? Colonies, even?"

"No. Then we never come back. Not ever."

"And then we never come back. Not ever! That's the ticket! Yeh."