Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Glassy Mountains, Goats & Poetry - Where Am I?

Big Glassy Mountain & Carl Sandburg Home – 5/2/14 – 4.5 Miles

Time to do my part for my local hiking club, Carolina Berg Wanderers, and offer to lead an easy hike.  Let’s see, where can I find an interesting attraction, not too far to drive to and from and return home with some afternoon hours left over?  Flipping through Danny Bernstein’s books again, I found just the ticket in Hiking The Carolina Mountains:  The Carl Sandburg Home.

Carl Sandburg was a renowned American author and poet, awarded three Pulitzer Prizes (two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln).  Born in Illinois in 1878, he and his wife Lilian ultimately moved to a rural home property called Connemara in Flat Rock, North Carolina, now known as the Carl Sandburg Home, a National Historic Site.  There they raised their daughters while Carl pursued his writing and Lilian operated a very successful  goat dairy farm.  Shortly after Carl’s death in 1967 Lilian generously gave the property to become a National Park Service unit.  The home is preserved almost exactly as the Sandburgs left it, piles of books on nearly every surface, cigars in the ash tray and Lilian’s purse on a chair.  In addition to a hike on the property, our group toured the house and the still-operating goat farm.

Read more about the Carl Sandburg Home here. 

Our destination was about a two-hour drive, arriving about 10:00 a.m.  From the parking area it’s a short walk to the edge of Front Lake and a first view of the house perched on top of its little mountain.  Disclaimer:  intermittent rain began the moment we got out of the car so I didn’t pull my camera out for key moments such as this.  I scavenged this sunny photo from the website.

We walked around one side of Front Lake and then turned left toward the house.  At the Menninger Loop Trail we turned left again and began the gradual climb around one side of Little Glassy Mountain.  Halfway along this trail we turned right on Little Glassy Mountain Trail to go to the summit (no view).  (Imagine a stretched out oval shape with a line through the middle of it.  Halfway along the middle line is the top of Little Glassy.) 

The big excitement was pink lady slippers, bunches of them, more than I’ve ever seen on one hike.

More pink ladies

We continued on Little Glassy Mountain Trail to the opposite end of Menninger Trail, turning left once again toward our main destination, Big Glassy Mountain.  The rain continued to come in short bursts and leaves were dripping, yet it was too warm to walk with rain gear.  Gonna get wet no matter what. 

New mountain laurel growth – love the bright spring green against the dark green old growth

Another 1.25 miles brought us to the summit of Big Glassy Mountain at a whopping 2,783 feet.  Here we had a view…of the black clouds gathering.  I think it was about this time that we heard thunder.  We edged back into the trees and ate a quick lunch as the rain began to increase.

View from Big Glassy with flowering black cherry tree

Fringe tree blooming

Shortleaf pine, new cones emerging

Time to put the camera away and go tour the house and grounds.  Flip through the photo gallery here on the website to see what we saw.

A baby goat from Connemara Farms Goat Dairy

“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.”  ~Rachel Carson

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Linville Falls Day

Linville Falls Day – 5/2/14 – 4.2 Miles

So I’ve paid good money down for a four-day hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru in early June.  I’ve seen the pictures of the steep stone steps, heard some stories, and I need to do some training.  Being the goal-setter and list-checker-offer that I am, the motivation for me wasn’t just “get on the stairmaster.”  I challenged myself to run/walk/hike 100 miles in May.  That’s only 3 miles a day, right? 

And I’ll choose hiking whenever I can.  Itching to get on a trail somewhere on a Friday, I thumbed through Danny Bernstein’s guidebook, Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and found her writeup of Linville Falls.  Went there years ago with small kids in tow.  Time to go again. 

Linville Falls is accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 316.4 and marks the beginning of the Linville Gorge Wilderness, part of Pisgah National Forest.  The Gorge itself is 12 miles long and 1,400 feet deep with steep cliffs.  There are many hiking trails, most unsigned as per wilderness regulations, and it’s easy to get lost.  I've hiked along its eastern rim on the Mountains-To-Sea Trail and gotten "very confused for a while."  However, the Linville Falls vicinity is well-signed and heavily used. 

From the Visitor Center (closed today – no funding?) the Linville Falls Trail goes right and crosses the Linville River on a wide concrete bridge.  From there three side trails to the left go to different viewpoints.

The Upper Falls View

Chimney View

Painted trilliums along the trail

Erwin’s View.  The calendar says early May but spring hasn’t quite sprung here.  This view during fall color is epic.

Lots of people around today, including two families with a crew of seven very small children.  Home schoolers?   I also passed a busload of Hispanic children and adults.  School field trip?  The kids were full of energy, running up the trail, hiding behind trees.  I hope their adults caught up to them before they reached the overlooks. 

Back at the Visitor Center, the trail to the left leads to the Plunge Basin Overlook and then down to the Linville River’s edge.  I encountered only one person on this section.  The trail to the Plunge Basin is moderate.  Then continuing on the Linville Gorge Trail down to the river, the going is much rougher and steeper with a little bit of rock scrambling, giving an idea of the character of the backcountry trails. 

Plunge Basin Overlook

Zooming in – see how the powerful water has carved into the rock before spilling out into the pool

Ladder on the trail to the river.  Once I reached the water’s edge, I carefully picked my way around and over large boulders to get as close to the waterfall as possible.

Front row seat.  What a wonderful place to be on a warm spring day!

After a lovely day on the trails, driving home was pure punishment, brutal workday afternoon traffic.  Note to self:  never to try to re-enter urban life on a weekday.  Next time I’ll take a tent.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in tune once more.”  ~John Burroughs

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Cascades Waterfall - Go Hokies!

The Cascades With My Daughter, Pembroke, VA – 4/13/14 – 4 miles

An Appalachian Trail hike on Friday, the Virginia Tech 5K with my husband and my daughter on Saturday, and a wonderful Sunday to wrap up my birthday weekend:  a hike with Laura to the Cascades. 

A half-hour drive west of Blacksburg, VA, the Cascades Recreation Area is part of Jefferson National Forest.  It is a very popular picnic area, has a native trout stream, and its star feature is The Cascades, a 69-foot waterfall with a massive plunge pool.  A $3 fee per vehicle is required for this day use area. 

The hike to the falls is an easy-to-moderate 4 mile round trip with a couple of uphills requiring a bit more effort.  A trail map can be downloaded here.  There is also a map board at the parking area but I didn’t see a place to pick up a paper map, so bring your own.   A short distance from the parking lot the trail splits and Laura and I crossed Little Stony Creek on a tall wooden bridge to take the Creekside Trail. 

Little Stony Creek is one of the most beautiful creeks I’ve ever seen, robust with dozens of miniatures cascades and spillways, bubbling at every bend with very few calm spaces.  Since I’m not a good water photographer, I didn’t waste much time trying to capture the flow, just enjoyed the surprises with every step. 

This boiler was used to power a sawmill when the area was heavily logged in the 1920’s and 1930’s.   Aparently Sarah and Noel were here two days ago.  Why do people feel the need to leave their names on things in public spaces?

Following Laura up the trail

Wildflowers emerging:  Dutchman’s breeches




The trail climbs more steeply on masterfully built stone steps, winding in and out of boulders very close to the creek.  At about one mile we crossed Little Stony Creek again on a second wooden bridge.

Laura peeking around a boulder

As we closed in on the second mile, we were teased by the sound of the waterfall long before we could see it.  The Creekside Trail joined the Woodland Trail as we carefully picked our way around more boulders.

And then there it was:  The Cascades

On this chilly day we had no inclination to soak our feet in the water, but during hot weather this is a busy swimming hole.  There were a couple dozen folks there so we all took turns for our photo ops.  A set of steps and a wooden railing climbs up around the left side of the basin to get closer to the top of the falls, although not too close.  

We chose the Woodland Trail for our return to the parking area, an easier grade and a wider track.  The attraction for this trail is the perspective looking down on Little Stony Creek.  Laura and I enjoyed a lovely mother-daughter walk in the woods before we headed our separate ways, me back to Charlotte and her to the great city of Baltimore.  What a gift to get to spend time with her!

Check out this website to see photos and read a story hiking to the frozen Cascades in wintertime.  This is on my list for someday!

Hiking to the Cascades is an activity that nearly every Virginia Tech student experiences during his/her time in Blacksburg.  This link is an inspiring YouTube video of Hokies who made the trip possible for a paraplegic student/friend. This 3:30 video will absolutely make your day!

Ut Prosim:  That I May Serve  ~Virginia Tech motto

Thursday, June 26, 2014

AT Project in VA: Craig Creek Road To A Dead Battery

Appalachian Trail Project in VA – 4/11/14 – Craig Creek Road Northbound to VA 620 - 7.3 Miles

On April 11, 2013 I embarked on a new hiking challenge, to complete the Appalachian Trail section in my home state of Virginia, about 550 miles, for my 55th birthday.  One year later, after an exceptionally tough winter, I am short of my goal but still plugging away.  Today I got on the trail for my 56th birthday, and what could possibly go wrong?

Clue #1:  Why do a simple section when finding a remote trailhead is more fun?  Jim and I drove up from North Carolina, taking 3+ hours to find and drop my car at the hike’s ending point, and I had aspirations of completing the 7.3 miles quickly and driving to a second short section for an out-and-back while Jim enjoyed a long bike ride.  Setting up the route was more involved than it looked on paper, but by late morning I was headed northbound. 

Anticipa- ting today’s unique feature on the trail

After a half-mile crossing multiple footbridges over small creeks that fed into Craig Creek, I began the big climb up Brush Mountain (yes, another one).  Little yellow trout lilies were my first signs of spring on the trail.  I was feeling fine and fresh, switchbacking smoothly, looking for more spring flowers. 

Clue #2:  What I saw was smoke in the valley.  I was not compass oriented.  Is this due northeast, the direction I’m heading?  Is it south?  Is it a controlled burn?  A rampant campfire?  Do I need to think about this some more?  With each switchback the smoky cloud expanded.  Eventually the trail wound around to the other side of the mountain and the suspicious smoke was gone from view.  [Postscript: a controlled burn that I didn't get close to.]

Dog hobble, a shrub, was blooming profusely

Hepatica or wood anemone?

At the crest of Brush Mountain the trail turned left and widened to a broad, dull road bed.  After more than a half-mile the reason for the broad access track appeared:  the Audie Murphy Monument.  Murphy was the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II and went on to become an accomplished film actor.  He died in a plane crash on this mountain in 1971.  His body is interred at Arlington Cemetery and is the second most visited site there – the first is the grave of John F. Kennedy.

The memorial stone

Visitors leave stones, patches and other mementos

From the monument, the AT continues north on a gentle slope and then descends more deliberately toward VA 620, the gravel road where my car was waiting for me.  The day was warm and slightly breezy and I was still feeling light on my feet. The downhill was steep enough to jog/trot and I finished the entire 7.3-mile section in about 2 hours 40 minutes.  Plenty of time to do another short section!

At VA 620 I saw a thru-hiker sitting on a big rock, chatting with a retired-looking couple out walking their dog.  After a few minutes of shared conversation the man and woman continued on their way while the hiker and I exchanged a bit more information.  He was German, used the trail name Farmer, wanted to know what I could share about the trail coming up, places to camp and where to resupply.  I told him to be sure and stop to eat at the Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba if possible.  (That’s where Jim and I are headed for supper tonight – all you can eat!)

As Farmer walked on up the trail, I went to my car, unlocked it, loaded up my backpack and…

Clue #3:  my car battery was dead.  Well, I guess that means I’m not doing any more hiking on the trail today, although I’m going to be doing some fast moving. 

I started trotting after the retired couple, obviously local.  When I caught them I explained my dilemma and asked for help.  Sure!  Introductions all around, Curtis and Diane and their dog Buttercup.  I walked with them the rest of the way to their home.  They lived at the intersection of VA 620 and Craig Creek Road, a very unique property, lovely landscaping, multiple outdoor seating arrangements to focus on Craig Creek flowing past their back yard. There was a life-size stone gorilla protruding from as though breaking through the stone fa├žade.  Curtis is a Vietnam veteran, now retired from a 40+-year career in San Francisco, returned back to his roots.  Diane is his second wife, a feisty woman with short cropped hair dyed purplish blue and an incredibly detailed tattoo on her leg of her African grey parrot.  What great good fortune for me to be rescued by such kind people!

Curtis and Diane with Buttercup and Oliver (Butter- cup’s brother)

After a short visit and a tall glass of water, Curtis drove me back to my car and we jump started her back up.  [Learned later that the sensor for detecting an open door was broken, so it did not sound its normal alarm when I opened the door and still had lights turned on or keys in ignition, etc.] Curtis followed me back to the paved road and waved goodbye.  I was not at all stressed at missing the rest of my hike plan.  Meeting my trail angels was the true highlight of my day.

From there I headed to our pre-arranged meeting point, the hiker parking area for McAfee Knob on VA 311, jam packed with cars and casual “hikers” wearing flip-flops and less than half carrying water bottles.  I was very glad I wasn’t hiking to the Knob today.  Do I sound like a hiking snob?  So be it.  Be prepared, people.

Jim arrived soon after, looking very hot and tired (yet exhilarated) from his 48-mile bike ride with a very strenuous climb at the end.  We changed clothes at the car (when you are that hot and sweaty and dirty, you don’t care who sees what).   Then the real reason for hiking and biking these sections:  The Homeplace.  We had both missed lunch so were ravenous for supper.  Not much conversation as we plowed into fried chicken, country ham, butterbeans, corn, mashed potatoes, cole slaw and cobbler.  Don’t forget the sweet iced tea. 

Tomorrow morning Jim and our daughter Laura and I will run in the Virginia Tech "Run In Remembrance" Memorial 5K.  Life is good.

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”  ~Satchel Paige

“Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again.”  ~Menachem Mendel Schneerson

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”  ~Madeleine L’Engle

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”  ~Robert Browning