Today’s the final day of my spring break and I’ve put the week to good use, scouting out several of the areas we’ll be covering in June. On Tuesday I ran my favorite section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail, from Bull Gap (outside of Asheville) to Craggy Dome. It was a sunny day and the bird songs and blue skies gave me a taste of the spring to come. The woods were still barren but the lack of leaves on the trees made for gorgeous views of the mountains and valleys below. I had a little difficulty following the “faint trail” up to Craggy Dome, instead crawling and clawing my way through rhododendron thickets. I reached the top with lots of scratches but not too much blood lost and dreamed of the day in June we’ll summit this peak, which by that time will be a pink cloud of blossoms.
Thursday took me south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Richland Balsam and Reinhart Knob. The Carolina Mtn Club describes Richland as one of the easiest peaks of the SB6K and Reinhart as one of the toughest. I accessed Richland via a rock and dirt chute off the parkway; it was a short run to the summit from there on a well-maintained trail.
Reinhart was a different story. There are several ways to access this peak — a long bushwhack from the MST, a shorter bushwhack from a parkway overlook, or an even shorter bushwhack from another rock chute. I opted for the latter, which nearly scared the pants off me. The “official” chute was covered with snow and ice, so I opted for one nearby, which turned out to be one of the scariest climbs I’ve ever done without a rope. Not being a geologist, I couldn’t tell you what kind of rock it was but it reminded me of climbing the sandstone at the Garden of the Gods, chunks of rock crumbling in my hands and under my feet. Midway up I began to think that climbing it alone on an deserted parkway was a mistake but the prospect of down climbing was even scarier. I can get a bit melodramatic at times and I found myself imagining comments like, “At least she died doing what she loved.” Turns out that when you think you’re actually facing death, it doesn’t really matter that you’re doing something you love. After a brief episode of sewing machine legs, I pulled myself together and reached the top only to begin the real fun — a serious bushwhack through a maze of blackberry thickets and blow downs. This peak will not be fun in June, when the undergrowth will be that much thicker. I returned from this outing with more scrapes and bruises but a soaring spirt.
On Friday I conned Mark into taking the day off work and attacking the Blacks with me. We began at Mt. Mitchell and ran the 7 mile Black Mountain Crest Trail, knocking off Craig, Balsam Cone, Potato Hill, Winter Star, Gibbs Mtn, and Celo Knob. It was a long day (6 hours round trip), with some serious climbing and large sections of trail that were nowhere near runable. The trail was fairly well maintained and the only bushwhack was Gibbs, but again I was struck by how much more challenging all sections of this trail will be in the summertime. The Crest Trail is beautiful, running along a ridge from summit to summit, with 360 degree views of nothing but mountains.
Overall, spring break was a success, as I was able to scout out almost a quarter of the forty peaks we will summit in a few months. Gaining experience route-finding, using a GPS, and running with a pack has been interesting as well. After years of competitive running, frequently on the roads, I am finding it a joy to run without the burden of pace, splits, workouts and upcoming races, instead focusing on the beauty of the moment and the incredible sense of freedom and wonder that comes from the trails.