The great unwind: Summertime in southern Appalachia.

I have spent the past 5 weekends back to back in the mountains. The only thing to come out of my pack when I get home on Sunday nights is my quilt, food bag and then my trashed clothes so I can wash the rotting garbage bag smell out of them. I cannot begin to tell you about all of the wonderful people I have met, the endless laughter that has occurred and the sheer beauty of southern Appalachia I have witnessed either by myself or with my best friends, because you have to be there to experience it yourself. I have been lucky enough to watch the forest come to life, have seen all of my favorite trail flowers bloom and grow within the last few months. This summer has been the best one so far, hands down. The best thing yet is that it’s just beginning to unfold!

This past weekend, I had a three day weekend to kill and there is no other place I would rather spend my time than the mountains. I think at this point in my life it’s safe to say that I am wildly in love them, especially western North Carolina. It’s home away from home. Well, Rooster and myself decided to go hike the Standing Indian loop again, but this time we decided to throw in an extra 15 miles into the mix by parking the car at Wayah Gap and heading south on the AT. We left pretty early on Saturday morning but first and foremost, we stashed a cooler full of beers where we would be camping that night. That’s right, we don’t mess around anymore. If there is a chance to snag a cold beer on the trail, then you might as well take advantage of it (10 out of 10 hikers would probably agree).  After stashing the cooler in some bushes near our campsite, we scooted up to Wayah Gap and finally got on the trail around 1 p.m. We had about 7 hours of hiking ahead of us, so we hit the trail pretty fast. When we got to the summit of Siler Bald, we were graced with a cool breeze and a sky full of big summer clouds. There were also a few nice folks up there as well. We got to chatting with an older guy, who highly recommended that we jump off trail at Mooney Gap and go check out the Pickens Nose side Trail. We are always up for any kind of adventure as this point in our hiker trash careers, so why the hell not?

We made note of his directions and then pressed on. Our next stop was Winding Stair Gap, a spot that we have constantly visited over the years. When we arrived, we dropped pack and went to hit up the spring and refill our water jugs. We happened to walk past a black Jeep Wrangler, where an old man stopped us and asked if we needed a ride, but we were hiking on so we respectfully declined his offer. He then went into his car and said, “I’ve got something for you boys!” He seemed really excited as he reached into his car and handed us each an icy cold Coca Cola and an Orange, trail magic to its finest degree! “Compliments of the Nantahala Hiking Club,” he said to us as he smiled and told us to have a great day. I have to say I haven’t had a soda in over 5 years, but at this point I was feeling way too thankful and happy to say no. We enjoyed our cokes and oranges at Winding Stair and then continued down trail. This weekend was starting off perfectly. The rest of the day was an easy cruise down to the Standing Indian Campground where we were happy to discover that our stash of beers were still in their hidden place. We set up camp, ate dinner and made some beers disappear at a picnic table near camp. A Perfect way to end the day.

The next morning we woke up at 6:00 a.m, to tackle a 24 mile day. My alarm goes off, and then I hit snooze. There is no way I am ready to get up and I am too cozy wrapped up in my quilt and could use another 30 minutes of sleep. I hear the Rooster getting up so I decided to get up and tear down my tarp and get a move on. I slammed some iced coffee and chomped on a blueberry Pop-Tart for breakfast and we made our way up the Kimsey Creek trail, towards Standing Indian. Hiking the Kimsey Creek trail in the morning while the sun was rising was probably one of my favorite mornings of summer so far. It was dark, cool and breezy as we followed the creek up to Deep Gap. All of the trail flowers were blooming and at some points you could see the sun making its way through the trees and reflecting on the creek. I could have stayed there all day. We got up to the top of Standing Indian around 9:30, snacked and hung out at our secret spot and soaked in the views. It was rumored that Wisko was going to meet us later that night at camp, so I turned on my phone and got a hold of him. He confirmed he was coming up and bringing some beers. He also said he had a treat for us. This could be anything coming from him, but we were just happy knowing that we were going to have the gang together for some dirt bag shenanigans later on in the evening.

We stopped for lunch at Carter Gap Shelter, where I realized I was running low on food and was starving from not eating enough the day before. I decided to eat pretty much half of my food at this point knowing Wisko would probably roll up with a few bags of Doritos or something. We decided to give him a call to find out when he would be heading up, so we didn’t leave him waiting. He said he would be heading out within the hour and then had a two hour drive ahead of him. That would leave him waiting for us, as we had about 12 miles left in the day. The nearest gap that crosses a road from Carter Gap Shelter was Mooney Gap and we were 4.6 miles away from it, so we told him to meet us there to save us some time. Also, not to mention we really wanted to find Pickens Nose. When we arrived at Mooney Gap, we were informed that Wisko was still a good bit away so we had all of the time to walk up the forest service road to the Pickens Nose trail head, which seemed to take forever. Well, let me tell you, it was worth going out of the way for.  Pickens Nose has a few nice views, but one of them in particular was pretty mind blowing to say the least. It’s a cliff that jets straight out with a pretty nasty drop below, something that would most likely require a helicopter ride to a hospital if you fell and lived to tell the story. What an amazing place to be, and the best part was we only other folks we saw were a family of climbers. No day hikers or other backpackers. We had the entire joint to ourselves.

We headed back down to Mooney Gap only to hear Wisko hauling ass up the forest service road. His car makes a very distinct rattling sound, so he is pretty easy to spot from afar. You know you have a good friend when he pulls up with 30 beers on ice, a grill and the fixings for a low country boil. This day couldn’t get any better at this point. We were deciding on where to post up for the night, and ended up deciding to head back up to Pickens Nose to grill out at the trail head, throw rocks and drink some beers – just some regular Time Wizard activities, no big deal. After an amazing meal and plenty of beers, we headed up trail to set up camp for the rest of the night. We posted up on of outcroppings at the top, watched the sky light up from fireworks in the distance and polished off the rest of the beers before heading back to camp. Sleeping at 4,900 feet on a summer night is always a treat, especially when you have a pretty steady wind blowing throughout the night too, always a good way to cool down.

This past weekend was one of the best by far this summer, and I am excited to see what other kind of adventures I am going to get myself into the rest of the summer and year!

20160702_134031.jpgSiler Bald at 5,216 feet.

20160702_134205.jpgGreetings from Bozo Mountain!

img_20160704_130808.jpgLooking down from Siler Bald! Look at those clouds! 

20160703_072424.jpgKimsey Creek.

20160703_0725540.jpgKimsey Creek in the morning.

20160703_071944.jpgTrail flowers.

20160702_164201.jpgMore trail flowers.

20160703_165440.jpgCloser view from Pickens Nose at 4,900 feet.

img_20160703_180909.jpgStaring at trees, looking for answers.

img_20160704_104102.jpg

Trees, answers, whatever, etc.

wp-1467744643967.jpgA mighty fine dirt bag dinner. 

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