Yeah, so I went for a hike today. It's been a while since I've gone on one of my patented death marches that are the reason people don't want to hike with me (so I've been told), so I picked myself out a nice 33-mile loop and got out the door this morning at 6:30.
Problem is, it gets dark at 5:30. It doesn't matter how many wheelies I pop; I can't walk 33 miles in 10 hours (it took an hour to get there.) So I'd have to stumble the last few hours in the dark, no biggie. That's why I carry a flashlight.
It didn't really work out that way, though. These things rarely do. I had to abort the mission at around the half way point because it was already 4 p.m. Luckily, half way on this hike was Newfound Gap, where Hwy 441 crosses the Smokies. I threw up my thumb and hitched back down.
Ahh, but there is so much more to this story, and if you guessed that I'm going to share it, with photos, then you deserve a Bluth Frozen Banana, because you are absolutely correct.
I hit the woods at 7:30 in the a.m., trekking poles a-blazin'. The first leg of my trip was cross-country, as I parked at the end of the trail I intended to finish on and had to bushwack at the start until I hit the trail I needed. I dropped down off the roadway and, after finding a spot I could safely rock hop, crossed the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. From there I just had to contour at one elevation until I hit the trail. In theory.
In practice, once I hit the trail, a former road bed that couldn't have been more obvious, and took the prescribed right-turn, I was going the wrong way. I failed to account for trails that aren't on the map. I followed the unknown trail for maybe a mile before it ran into a stream at what was formerly a bridge and came to an end. The misdirection wasn't for nothing, however, because right after I turned and started heading back, I came over a rise and saw Ursus americanus coming my way, about 50 yards off. She had a cub with her and we both froze, regarding each other with that mixture of suspicion and respect that all interactions between two animals should probably begin with.
I think I need to have a run-in with an aggressive bear one of these days, just to keep me on my toes. Every bear I've ever encountered has done exactly what I expected. I fear I'm becoming complacent. Today's bear kept the streak alive by changing course and, cub in tow, headed up and away from the trail. It occurred to me that maybe the best offense is a good defense, but the best defense is total avoidance. The natural world appears to bear this out. Oh, shit! Did you catch that! Bear this out! I didn't even see that coming, honest.
After seeing the bears on their way, I backtracked until I found the right trail and was on my way. My little wrong turn cost most of an hour. On the right path, I started putting some vertical feet beneath me, heading for the summit of Mt. LeConte at 6,593 feet. At this point in the story, I'd like to take a moment to ask Bob Becker, Matt Hinkin and the other two local weather people what exactly they mean when they say "some snow for the higher elevations." I knew I'd see "some snow" as I went higher up, but I figured that meant just enough to make things pretty.
Then again, Bob Becker doesn't strike me as a guy who laces up a pair of running shoes for a thirty mile hike. Maybe that's why nobody told me there was close to a foot of snow up there.
At first, the snow made me giddy. I'm one of those people who gets excited about frozen precipitation, but that's easy when you live somewhere that doesn't see a whole lot of it. Eventually, though, the extra effort required to move through it started adding up, and yet more time was slipping by.
I stopped for lunch just after noon at the LeConte shelter, but had to rush through my PB and J (I'd like to lie and say I had a PB and B, but I won't, though I do prefer them) because my hands were exhibiting a numbness that I've never quite experienced before. It was really, really cold. And windy, to boot. Speaking of boots, I wasn't wearing any. It is an indication of how cold it was that after many hours of slogging through snow in light-weight running shoes, my feet never got wet. The snow caking them wasn't melting at all.
I put on all my layers and left the shelter in a power-walk, trying to regenerate some body heat. I crossed the summit and headed across the Boulevard trail, my new favorite in the park. Lots of views. And today, lots of snow.
By that time I was already thinking of bailing on the second half of the loop, the mathematical contest of miles remaining vs. hours of daylight becoming ever more lopsided. I passed four guys, all dressed in Carhart and construction boots, heading for the LeConte Lodge, the highest inn in the eastern US and only accessible on foot. Miles later I finally intersected the Appalachian Trail and hung a right to Newfound Gap.
Looks like the kind of trail that would be on a map, right? That's what I thought, too.
I promise that black thing is a bear.
Looking up to the peak of LeConte before I really got into it.
Why didn't you warn me about this, Bob and Matt?
You can tell I'm a sensitive person because I take close-up pictures of nature. None of those flower thingys on this trip. They're out of season.
You can't see it in the photo, but along with my breath condensing on my beard my snot was frozen to my 'stache. Apparently the snow had an affinity for my hat, as well.
Looking south from the AT into North Carolina. Didn't they end up for Obama? Goddamn right they did.
Looking back at the Le Conte massif, biggest mountain in the east from bottom to top.
Newfound Gap. Incidentally, what you see is the spot where FDR gave a speech upon the dedication of the park.
And no (for those still reading for some inexplicable reason), I have not forgotten today's banana song. This one is not funny. Or about bananas. But it comes from an iconic album that features a rendering of a banana by Andy Warhol on the cover, and that's good enough for me. Also, it's about something that could do more for my sore legs than those wussy ibuprofen tablets I took tonight, if I was into that sort of thing.