Spring Break — Dixie Cat scouts some peaks

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.

weekend of planning…

March 5th, 2009:

Mama Cat and Bohima-Lion visited Dixie at the “Cat Kennel” during the weekend of February 28th and 29th.  The snow hit hard and cut their weekend short but they were able to accomplish several things.  First, the WildCats were able to scout out the Roans.  Though many colorful people were met during this scouting adventure, the discovery that Broad Branch Road is most likely going ot be the most direct route proved to be extremely valuable information.   Additionally, the cats learned their compass skills from our cat family friend Dwight who is a local adventure racer.  Mama Cat and Bohi scouted out Dixie’s backyard territory and ran some miles on the Mountains to Sea trail since the snow storm kept them from their original goal of checking out the Black Crest Trail from Mt. Mitchell to Celo Knob.  Lastly, Mama and Bohi had the great opportunity to see Dixie win the Marathon race up Mt. Mitchell.  Mama Cat and Bohima-Lion made it home before the big snow hit.   What a great weekend. 

Next, the cats are going to schedule a weekend to run the first day route which will be approximately 48 miles.  This will include about 11 peaks of which more than half will require bushwhacking.  The goal is to see where the cats can realistically make it before camping.  Day one will surely be one of the toughest of the week. 

Check back later to hear more news and preparation.