Adventures in Pisgah

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Snow Days

We were supposed to go on a canoe and kayak camping trip but bailed when we got hit with a foot of snow. So instead I spent the weekend playing in the snow. On Sunday everyone met up at the Hub where Zak fed us all the gumbo we would have had on the river. Another excellent weekend in paradise!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Art Loeb Adventure Trail Run

ALTAR. The Art Loeb Adeventure Trail Run. Originally conceived by Matt Kirk in 2001 this traverse of the Art Loeb trail happens on or around the winter solstice and this year was to be my first. I didn't decide to do the run until just two weeks before and as such was thoroughly untrained for it. My longest run since the FAC50k was my 16 mile romp around Pathertown and for ALTAR I would be doubling that mileage. No big deal, right? Just pace myself, enjoy a good day in the woods and surely I'd be able to do it.

I packed early in the week and with the warm temperatures we'd been having I was optimistic and packed very light but after a sudden cold front caught me unprepared on the day before I did a last minute gear swap and ditched the shorts for tights, added sleeves and tossed another layer in the pack, just in case. Not being the brightest bunch, a short bus was the perfect choice for a shuttle mobile and with me being the dimmest of the lot I took off running as soon as I stepped off the bus. It was closer to 8 than 7 and it was cold out and I was eager to get moving.

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I used the first several miles to get my head wrapped around what laid ahead of me. I know the Art Loeb trail well but my only other thru traverse of it had been an overnight backpacking excursion with Duma. That took us 24 hours, at least eight of which had been spent sleeping, so I figured a 3mph pace would be very doable. That would require going faster on the rolling stuff at the beginning as there were bound to be some very slow miles ahead on Pilot Mtn. and beyond. I'd been fighting a had injury as well as some knee pain and made a mental note that my only bail out would be down Little East Fork should I need it.

As I pondered these thoughts and made my plan various runners caught up to me and I would run with them and chat for a little bit until I stuck to my pace and they pulled ahead. By the time I started to circle around Cedar Rock I hadn't seen another runner in a while and assumed I was the last one. It was taking me a long time to get woken up and warmed up. My hand was hurting and it wasn't as much fun as I hoped it was going to be. As I reached the half marathon mark around Glouchester Gap I resolved to stop thinking about it and to just run instead. I stopped for several minutes at the base of the Pilot Mtn. climb to relax and eat lunch. Feeling much better after the break I started running strong up the big climb. I spotted another runner on the switchbacks below me, realized I wasn't last (not that it mattered) and kept ru
Anning.

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Pilot Mtn. came surprisingly easy and gave me my first views of Black Balsam and what lay beyond.

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As well as what lay below.

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After Pilot Mtn. you get a nice downhill and then some rollers to Farlow Gap and Shuck Ridge. This was to be the big climb and for the next many miles it was a long slow climb up to Black Balsam. Up above 5000' it felt a lot more like winter and I enjoyed the scenery as I slogged my way over Silvermine Bald. 

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The same runner I'd seen on Pilot caught me just as I was crossing Black Balsam Rd. And we played a game of leap frog as we worked our way across the balds. It was cold and windy and we were essentially stuck in a rut but the views sure were amazing.

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Just before Ivestor Gap I paused in the trees to dig some food out of my pack and as I ran through the gap I expected to Liz climbing up the next knob on the way to Flower Gap but instead saw nothing. we had been right together and I stopped for less than a minute and as such should have been able to easily see her but didn't. Fuck. That meant I was moving slow and she had taken off. I worked as hard as I could to get to Shining Gap hoping to catch her but never did. Once I hit the gap and started across the Shining Rock ledge I had been hoping to start making some decent time again but found the entire trail covered in a sheet of ice. There would be no easy miles this day.

Once I got to the Narrows I knew I'd be finishing in the dark but was still trying my best to beat the sun down. For whatever reason I had mistakenly remembered the Narrows as having been easy but that is a relative term and this day it was not. If the Art Loeb has enough of any two things it is rocks and mountains.

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The sun started to set somewhere around Stairs Mtn. and I tried my best to outrun it.

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This was a losing battle and at the first big stream crossing on the way down from Deep Gap I stopped for water and to dig my light out of my pack. At this point I was certain I was the last person to be coming down the trail that night and was quite surprised when Liz came up behind me. She stopped and told me how she mistakenly went right on Graveyard Ridge at Ivestor Gap and had been working as hard as she could to catch up to me. She said she was going to keep going and would get out her light soon. I wished her well and said I'd see her at the finish.

After filling my water I went to get out my headlight and it wasn't there. I checked again and it still wasn't there. I had a small led flashlight as a back up light and though it wasn't as bright as I would have liked I was very glad to have it. I still had about three miles to go, which isn't as short as it sounds like, and about halfway down that the battery in the flashlight died. Luckily I had a spare. The last few miles were uneventful and allowed me to contemplate what a good day in the mountains it had been. What an amazing trail through an amazing forest!

Sunday morning coming down and Duma was itching to get out to play and I was still thinking about the previous day's adventure so where else to go except for back where it all began?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

making it through december

Saturday I headed back to Panthertown for a quick run. Starting off Rock Bridge Rd. I did:

Turkey Knob > Blackrock > Overlook > Powerline > Turkey Knob

And it was swell.

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Since I was already out there, or maybe why I was out there, I skipped on up to Wolf Lake and put the boat in the water for a paddle.

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Sunday is to relax and with it still quite warm out, Terri, Duma and I headed back to the woods for a fun little five mile family run followed by a picnic. On a warm and sunny Sunday where else would you go for such a thing?

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Oddly enough there weren't many people on the trail and nobody else picnicking.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hemphill Bald

I did not go back to Panthertown last weekend. I pondered my maps and thought about it but felt like going somewhere completely different and decided to head to Cataloochee in the Great Smokies National Park. Cataloochee is the closest trailhead in the Smokies to my house and I can be there in under an hour but still seem to often neglect it when planning my adventures. I'm not sure why as the valley is one of the most peaceful places I know of.

I pulled up and was greeted by the Elk who were hanging out right where I wanted to park.

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My route for the day was to take me on several trails I had not done yet and up to Hemphill Bald.

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Rough Fork > Caldwell Fork  >  Hemphill Bald > Cataloochee Divide > McKee Branch > Big Fork Ridge

Rough Fork started out as a pleasant stream side stroll that took me across several excellent bridges over the pristine mountain stream that had me wishing I had brought my fishing pole along.

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I was expecting the entire stretch of the trail I was taking to remain next to the stream and gradually climb but instead it left Hurricane Creek and climbed steeply up Little Ridge before reaching the intersection with Caldwell Fork. Along the way were some Big Poplar trees that deserved a slight detour.

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Caldwell Fork took me right back down a different ridge to its namesake stream where Hemphill Bald trail was waiting to take me up to the Catloochee Divide. This was the big climb of the day and even though there was no shortage of physical exertion to keep me warm there was a shortage of  sunshine and the warm temperatures I had been experiencing where nowhere to be found and I was glad I had brought along some layers. As always the climb ended and as I jogged up to Double Gap I saw a large group of people coming down from Hemphill Bald and decided to skip going up to the bald so I could stay in front of them and keep the solitude I had been experiencing intact.

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Cataloochee Divide was a very pleasant trail that offered abundant views but also brought me back to civilization. It was very warm again and as I paused at one of the overlooks I could see Cataloochee Ski area off in the distance and marveled at all the people skiing or tubing or whatever they were doing.  It was an idyllic stretch of trail but I wasn't sad to make the turn down McKee Branch and back into the wilderness of the park.

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McKee Branch was a steep descent that didn't appear to see too much traffic. The trail was completely covered with a layer of knee deep leaves that were  hiding a plethora of jagged rocks and twisted roots. Running was all but impossible. I had gotten a late start and was chasing the sun before it set and was a little worried about what Big Fork Ridge was going to be like. If it was slow going I was going to really be pushing it and so I was relieved when the tread was in good shape and I was actually running again. This was a very nice sidehill bench cut trail that twisted around Rabbit Ridge before taking me back down to a stream and eventually the trail head just as the sun was starting to set.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Panthertown Valley

I have a lot of maps. A lot more than I should. And I spend way too much time looking at them and day dreaming about all the places I can go. But when it comes down to actually picking a place to go I never can decide.

How far do I want to drive? Do I want to run or maybe ride?  I pull out maps and ponder my options. Something new or something I have done before? Perhaps a little fishing thrown in for good measure?

This goes on for hours.

I come up with a handful of options and it takes a lot more work before I can decide on something. Last Sunday it was between the Cataloochee Divide in the Smokies and Panthertown in the
Nantahala. In the end I picked Panthertown and it was perfect.

An awe inspiring run! Just amazing stuff everywhere I went!

Panthertown Valley > Little Green > Macs Gap > Big Green > Great Wall >  Panthertown
Valley > Green Valley > Macs Gap > Greentown Creek 

I had been to Panthertown Valley several times in the past but always with a bike and found the trails more enjoyable on foot. Little Green was the obvious highlight but Great Wall was outstanding as well. Over the course of the 12 mile run I saw no less than four waterfalls, climbed two mountains, forded multiple streams, slayed a dragon and rescued a heroine. Not a bad day in the woods! So good I'll likely go back this weekend and run the other side of the valley...

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

FAC 50k

For the first time in ten years I did not do the Double Dare this year. Instead I joined the Pisgah Nation for a fun little run to the top of Mt. Mitchell. While some chose to tackle the monster Pitchell 100k distance I am not nearly that ambitious yet and instead settled for the second half of the route. Starting from the Folk Art Center the 33 mile point to point would follow the Mountains to Sea trail to the top of Mt. Mitchell with an elevation gain of over 10,000'. One of the most appealing aspects of the run was that I had never been on most of that section of the MST so I was looking forward to seeing new trail.

This wasn't an  event of any sort, just a suggested route and nothing more, so I chose to start my adventure around 7:30 in the morning. Everything started off great. I was running strong, feeling good and looking forward to a great day in the woods. About five miles in a Pitchell runner, Eddie, caught up to me and we chatted for a little bit as we ran along. Then out of nowhere my left shoe caught a rock or something just right and the sole ripped halfway off the shoe. This was bad. It was flopping and catching on everything making running almost impossible and hiking not much easier. I had a little duct tape wrapped around a nail in my pack and thought I could just wrap it in tape and everything would be fine. I hobbled a short ways to the next Blue Ridge Parkway crossing where I stopped to make the repair. Clyde and Jane from Brevard were there providing support for a Pitchell runner and gave me more duct tape and helped me make the repair. We wrapped the shoe in enough duct tape that I had no doubt I would be able to make it to the top of Mitchell.

About 50 feet up the trail the duct tape peeled right off and I once again had a floppy shoe. I stopped for a long while and tried to fix it again. I added more tape, tried to make the tape into a rope and tied that around it. Of course none of that worked and no repair like that was going to work. The road was just right there. I could still see Clyde and Jane standing by their car. I could just turn around and go back down the road and get a ride to my car. I could be home by 9 and make my wife breakfast. I could easily avoid having to fight a floppy shoe for the next 27 or so miles. But I just kept going. I reminded myself I was in it for the adventure and that I had solved bigger problems before. I figured out how I run a little when there weren't obstacles in my way and for the next many miles I crawled steadily forward while I ran through the options in my mind. If I wanted to finish the run I would need to fix the shoe. I knew the terrain ahead would be too challenging for my broken shoe. So as I hobbled along I took a mental inventory of everything I was carrying and how I might use each item to fix my situation. I had to look carefully at my left shoe with each step and pondered how I could reattach the sole. Eventually I realized I could 'sew' the sole back on by making a few holes in both the sole and the upper part of the shoe and then I got to thinking about what I would need to make the repair. I would need something to make the holes and then something to tie the parts together. What I needed was a knife but I had purposely left my knife at home because I had never needed it before. I thought about using the nail to make the holes, which would work, but couldn't figure out the string. I could use the drawstring for my shorts but it would be way too long and I couldn't cut it with a nail. I thought about using the earphone wire for my mp3 player. I could probably use two rocks to cut it into a usable length. Any of those options would take awhile and likely lead to more frustration so I kept going forward.

Having never been on the trail before I had no real idea where I was. I assumed the parkway had to be coming up soon and there would be people there  and those people would have knives and I would be saved. A few more Pitchell runners, Ben and Byron, caught up to me and we chatted some as we passed Rattlesnake Lodge and that area. I had been really looking forward to seeing that stretch of trail but couldn't enjoy it as I was dwelling on the shoe. I passed a few hikers but none of them had a knife. After a seemingly endless unknown number of miles I eventually got spit out onto the BRP. There were some people there supporting runners who greeted me and asked what I needed and started listing everything a runner might need. I told them what I needed was a knife and as they thought about if they had one a runner said she did and pulled out a pocket knife. What a glorious feeling it was to hold that knife! As I sat there making my repair I asked if they said they had beer and they handed me an ice cold PBR. A knife and a beer! Life doesn't get any better than that!

I finished my repair and beer and bid my saviors farewell and continued on up the trail. Unlike the duct tape this repair actually held and I could actually run again. The weather couldn't have been any better and the trail was great. I passed through the Craggies on a very rocky stretch of trail and was very glad that my shoe wasn't tripping me with every step. I had thought Eddie was in front of me but he caught up to me again and I was thankful to have company and we ran together for a long while. After many miles the stitch ripped out of the sole and I told Eddie to go on while I fixed it again. It was much easier this time and I was able to use the nail to make another hole and I continued on. As I ran through Balsam Gap Eddie was there looking a little rattled. Clyde and Jane were there giving him food and encouragement and he looked relieved to see me. He had been assuring me that from Balsam Gap things would be easier we continued on up the trail together. He told me he'd been ready to quit and I told him that wasn't an option and that I would pace him to the finish. We talked as we steadily worked our way ever so closer to our goal.

There weren't many easy miles on the run and when we finally crossed highway 128 Eddie assured me the next three miles would be easy and when they really were I was relieved. 30 miles in and we were actually running at a respectable pace. Those three easy miles came with a toll and that was a very tough final mile. But only one mile. The end was in sight. As we summited the highest mountain in the east the sun was starting to set and it was getting cold fast. The sweat was freezing on my jacket and we each snapped a quick picture and then jogged back down to the waiting cars.

Another excellent adventure! One Nation Under Pisgah!

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