8/3 - 8/4/16
2016 bag nights: 17
Beech Gap trailhead (off the Cherohala Skyway)
I have been trying to get my wife to give backpacking a try for a couple years. She has been car camping, but the lack of "facilities" was an issue for backpacking. As our kids have got older and gone backpacking with me, the fear of being left behind began to dominate the lack of facilities. Then, it was just a matter of lining up childcare so we could go off into the woods for a couple of days without any kid distractions.
I wanted to go somewhere with a nice payoff and something that would be difficult to do on a dayhike. I decided that a trip to Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock would work, specifically a couple nights on Bob Stratton Bald. Hopefully, we would get killer sunsets, lots of stars, and a little bit of dayhiking to finish it off.
My mother was in town to see the kids and the weather looked reasonable for the Southern Appalachians this time of year, so we left for a two night trip to Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. We had a short hike in from Beech Gap on the TN/NC state line (roughly 3.5 miles), so we each carried a beer for happy hour and she had a couple cans of wine while I had some bourbon.
It was an easy start to the day. The thermometer in my car read 75 and there were some dark clouds, but it did not look like it was going to rain.
The trail is an old forest road for the first 1 - 2 miles and was lined with wildflowers.
A hint of wildlife :)
And then a tiny snake in the middle of the trail.
The bald looked very different from the last time I was here (March).
The trees had leaves, all of the blackberry brambles had filled in and the grasses were knee to waist high, but we found a great campsite and enjoyed our happy hour beers surrounded by wildflowers, with a view of the mountains to the south.
There was not a great sunset view because the sun was dropping behind the trees, but the clouds to the east were very pretty.
I started a fire on the early side because we were going to have "pizza rolls" based on a recipe in the new Backpacker magazine. I don't know why I trusted the recipe, since I don't trust Backpacker for anything else. This recipe proved to be a bit of a problem. I think it would have worked with a huge bed of coals, but we would have had to gathered three times the amount of wood and burned it all before we started cooking dinner. A small fire and a bit of coals, meant that dinner took about 1.5 hours and it was almost 9 when we finished eating. I dumped the rest of the wood on the fire as we ate and we enjoyed the fire while the stars came out.
There was some lightning on the horizon that was lighting up the clouds, it made for an interesting view. Unfortunately, all of my photos that captured the lightning also captured passing planes.
And then we headed off towards Naked Ground and the Hangover. The trail was very overgrown (completely different from March) and the grass and plants were covered in dew. My wife referred to it as "the carwash"
We enjoyed the view at Naked Ground for a bit ...
...before moving on to the Hangover. Unfortunately, the clouds had moved in and there was not much of a view. It also turned out that the lens on my cell phone camera was smudged, so this picture looks way worse than reality.
After about 30 minutes, we headed back to Naked Ground. We sat under the trees and avoided most of the drizzle that had begun.
The drizzle did not last long and did not really matter since the carwash had us pretty wet already. We got back to camp and I spent some time chasing the butterflies around...
... and then had an early dinner before the rain came again (a lot harder this time). Thankfully, it did not last long and we crawled out of the tent to see a sky with lots of dark clouds. About this time the thunder started up and my wife spent some time inspecting the clouds trying to figure out if we were about to get hit by lightning.
While she was thinking, I tried to capture a rainbow.
We had not seen any lightning and I thought that the thunder was moving away from us, but my wife had visions of dying in the middle of the night. It was about 7pm so there was about 2 hours of daylight left (enough to get to the car without too much trouble). I told her that she should decide if she wanted to stay or go and I would do whatever made her happy. About that point, there was a loud crack of thunder that seemed to be a sign. So we packed up and headed down the trail.
In less than 2 hours we were at the trailhead.
We found a hotel since it was too late to think about driving home. It is hard to say what would have happened on the bald, but there was rain (and lightning in the distance) on the drive down to Tellico Plains and then it poured at the hotel by I-75 all through the night. I suspect we made the right decision and hopefully my wife will join me again.