Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sedum and Sun

I am currently camped on a soft bed of tall grass just off the Douglas Falls trail (which runs along with the MST for about a mile). The sun is just beginning to set and some tweedly little bird is sing-singing. Man, when it's good, it's good. I'll have to remember that next time I drenched to the bone with too many miles ahead of me. Yes, the weather has been warm and sunny and I can hardly believe it, the bugs are out- black flies, gnats, and a few squeeters - but with the cool breeze that's been consistently blowing, none too bad yet.

Today was a bountiful plant day, as I passed through deciduous woods from Ox Creek Gap Road, up to Rattlesnake Lodge, on to high elevation grassy trail around Wolfden Knob and Lane Pinnacle, into the craggy beech and hawthorne woods of the Craggy Gardens area and back into the grassy woods here around Douglas Falls. Lots of new faces too: Sundrops, Pale Corydalis, and Virginia Waterleaf's purple flowers. But, to steal the show, a most unsuspecting little succulent: Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum).

Before I get started, I'd like to give a little "word from our sponsor", and some due appreciation to Johnathan Poston. Johnathan joined me yesterday as I hiked out of town to learn a little about the plants and my hike thus far. He will be offering an article on the Mountain Xpress website/blog about my walk on the MST. Johnathan is affiliated with Jus' Running which was so kind to offer me some Clif Bars, blistercare pads, and a nice pair of quick-dry running socks. A link to this blog as well as some info about the hike will also be found on their website. And I'll be sure to let y'all know as soon as I do when that'll be up there.

...and back to Stonecrop. This is a very small plant, only about 3-8", but often appearing smaller because it creeps along the surface upon which it's growing. It seems to require little soil and can be found along rocks at the base of trees, along the edges of trail, and anywhere it's shaded and somewhat damp and cool. However, this little plant also has the ability to dessicate and just keep on goin', rehydrating once it rains. The lower leaves are in whorls of 3. The flowers have 4-5 white petals and grow in a 3-branched terminal cluster (Newcomb).

Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) - one community

The same plant, but a different community. As you can see, these look a bit different, the leaves more slender and angular, but still whorled in grouping of 3. In the lower right hand corner, you can see the white flowers. 

Notice, some of these flowers have 4 petals, some 5, green sepals, and stamens are rather conspicuous.
I have found this wild edible to be one of the very tastiest yet. I have never tried cooking it up, so I don't know how it would do, but why mess with a plant that is so delcious raw? It is crisp and fresh tasting and does well as a trailside nibble or as part of a gourmet backpacker's lunch... 

Wild Stonecrop with avocado, chedder, sunflower seeds, and a dash of pepper on a whole-wheat wrap
Yes indeed, that lunch rocked my world today. Tomorrow I'll be hiking on, criss-crossing the parkway, and then the next day, onto Mount Mitchell!  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Some Updates/Corrections

Me, my backpack, the trail - one hour from now! But first some quick updates/corrections...

This is Fringed Phacelia (Phacelia fimbriata), not Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii) which is less deeply fringed and has lavender-blue petals.

Trillium vaseyi aka Sweet Wake Robin or Vasey's Trillium (previously labeled "unknown Trillium"). Newcombs has been my primary ID book, but this one, along with P.fimbriata are not listed. Evidence of our unique mountain niches.

Check out that flower!

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) is indeed edible. Native Americans used to consume the flowers as a condiment with wild greens (Wiki). This plant is rather uncommon around here and so, if you do taste, taste in moderation.

See y'all on the trail!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Some fun stuff

Well, Asheville, it's been grand! But time to hit the trail. I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon or Saturday afternoon. My achilles is feeling much better, but I want to make sure I'm in tip-top shape before the upcoming Mt.Mitchell, Grandfather Mtn District, and Linville Gorge. Below I've included some fun pics, but first off I want to say my thank-yous and give props.

Thank you so much Rachel and Jodi for having me as a permanent fixture on the couch for the last so many days, feeding me ice cream, handing me beers, and aiding me in my all around blissful lounge time here in Asheville. Also, thank you to Amanda and Claire for giving me my own room for the night along with the most amazing 3(!) bowls of groundnut stew. And to all my friends there in Asheville who kept my mind off my aching tendon and kept me laughing.

Props to Diamond Brand for rockin' my world with a new pair of shoes, custom-fit insoles, and old lady compression socks. I was stressed and full of a hundred questions and you guys took your time and knew what you were talking about. Excellent service. I've also gotten my backpack from here along with many other random items and always been happy. Thank you, Jennifer Pharr Davis for suggesting I go back to them for my shoes. It was a thrill to run into you- what inspiration!

Now for the pics!

A snake I helped cross the road - I told him, "the Blue Ridge Parkway is no place for sunbathing"

This stern man stood guard at the entrance to the Soco Gap gas-up. There was even a sign on the window beside him that said "Protected by 357 Magnum." I didn't catch  his name but clearly not a fellow to mess around with

Wild Boar Track
Sampling the local foods: Catbrier (Smilax rotundifolia), Chedder, and ketchup wrap ( ketchup courtesy of a nearby Sonic)

Common Blue Violet (Viola soriora) flowers and leaves make a tasty and nutritious addition to a Lipton's Pasta Side

Evergreen woods en route to Silvermine Bald- can you spot the MST white blazes on the trees?
Thank goodness my steps aren't this tiny
the views looked like this for a good couple of days

But then the sun returned

The lovely ladies who came out and brought me good laughs, good food, a warm sleeping bag, and shouldered my pack
Rachel, Jodi, Michelle, Dogs:Harvey and Smokey

These fine folks, section hiking the MST, serenaded me with the song, "Happy Trails", just a few miles into Asheville- what a welcoming!
(Singing Sister, Timber Doodle, and Mr.Blister)

Lookin' forward to my feet looking like this again real soon...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Overview: Clingman's Dome to Folk Art Center (135m)

So for those interested in hiking the trail either in entirety or by section in the future, I thought it might be helpful to see the mileage I did, as well as where I camped, along with some short descriptions of each section, both terrain and plantwise.  (E) refers to edible, (M) for medicinal, and (E/M) means the plant is both edible and medicinal. I have been creating a plant list for each day, making note of what plants I identify and which ones are in abundance. However, these are so lengthy (1-2pages), that I think it may be a bit much for this blog. If anyone is interested in a particular section, I'd be happy to personally email that section's list to you. I apologize to any readers who are not so interested in all the specifics!

Day 1: Clingmans Dome-Poke Patch Campsite (8m)
Terrain- Evergreen forest with various lycopodium and mosses
Plants - Carolina and Eastern Hemlock(E/M), Red Spruce(M), Fraser Fir(M)), Hobble Bush, Creeping Bluets(E), Carolina Spring Beauty(E), Mayapple(E), Trout Lily(E)
Terrain - Grassy deciduous woods
Plants -(Black Cherry (E/M), Yellow Birch (M), Hobble Bush, Rhododendron, Maples, Oaks (E), Blackberry (E/M), Trillium (M), Toothwort (E), Phacelia, Meadow Rue, Indian Cucumber (E), Dutchman's Breeches, Galax (M), Cinquefoil (M), Squaw Root (E), Wild Blue Phlox, Canadian Violet (E/M), Wild Geranium (M), Sassafras (E/M)
Points of Interest: Deep Creek, wild boar, nice open campsite in a gap with bear cables

Day 2: Poke Patch Campsite - Newtown Bald Campsite (11m)
Terrain: Streamside
Plants: Dog Hobble, Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel, Blueberry (E/M), Sweet Wake Robin Trillilum (M), White Clintonia (E), Lettuce Saxifrage (E), Indian Cuke (E), Foam Flower (M), Rattlesnake Weed (M)
Terrain: Deciduous woods
Plants: Maple, Oak (E), Tulip Tree, Black Locust (E), Pedicularis (M)
Terrain: Mixed Woods
Plants: White Pine (E/M), rhododendrons, blueberry (E), various Buttercups, various fleabanes
Points of Interest: Talkative friendly birds, Deep Creek, Pole Creek, and a challenging climb

Day 3: Newtown Bald - Barnett Knob (14m)
Terrain: Deciduous Woods
Plants: Maples, White Ash, Oaks (E), Sourwood (E), Pink Lady's Slipper (M), Smilax (E), Blueberry (E/M)
Terrain: Blue Ridge Parkway
Plants: Fire Pink, Common Plantain (E/M), Common Fleabane (M), English Plantain (E/M), Lyre-leaf Sage (M)
Terrain: Barnett Tower, grassy knob, gravel side road
Plants: Monarda (M), False Solomon's Seal (E), Solomon's Seal (E/M)
Points of Interest: high mountain trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, Observation Tower with awesome views

Day 4: Barnett Knob - Fork Ridge Overlook (14m)
Terrain: Gravel Road
Plants: Indian Paintbrush (E), Pedicularis (M), Purple Dead Nettles (E), Cleavers (E/M), Chickweed (E/M)
Terrain: Incomplete, non-maintained, wooded trail off parkway
Plants: Marsh Blue Violet (E/M), Northern White Violet (E/M), Umbrella Plant, Lettuce Saxifrage (E)
Terrain: Blue Ridge Parkway
Plants: Red Spruce (M), Hemlock (E/M), Fraser Fir (M), Rhododendron
Points of Interest: lush but difficult off-road hike, Water Rock Knob, views off parkway

Day 5: Fork Ridge Overlook - Moonshine Creek Campground (6.5m)
Terrain: Woods trail and gravel road
Plants: Wild Hydrangea (M), Wood Nettle (E), Putty Root, Basswood (E/M)
Points of Interest: campground, easy walking

Day 6: Moonshine Creek Campground - Double Top Mountain Overlook (10m)
Terrain: Unlevel trail (sloping downhill), gradual climbs
Plants: Dutchman's Pipe, Black Cohosh (M), Wild Ginger (E)
Terrain: Craggy, rocky, mountain trail
Plants: Yellow Birch (M), Beech (M), Usnea (M), Toothwort (M)
Terrain: Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook
Plants: Monarda (M), Virginia Waterleaf (E), Common Blue Violet (E/M)
Points of Interest: Views, challenging rocky/overgrown trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 7: Double Top Mtn Overlk- campsite near Bear Pen Gap (14m)
Terrain: Craggy mountain forest
Plants: Hawthorne (E/M), rue anemone, black cohosh (M/E)
Terrain: Dirt road, grassy carriage road
Plants: healthy carolina hemlocks(E/M), oaks (E), monarda (M), blue cohosh (M), blackberries (M)
Points of Interest: wide easy trail, fields, mountain climb, poorly marked intersections

Day 8: Bear Pen Gap campsite - Graveyard Fields campsite (15m)
Terrain: Evergreen forest with lycopodium, moss and lichen
Plants: Hemlock (E/M), Yellow Birch (M), Bluets (E)
Terrain: Grassy Bald
Plants: Blackberry (E/M), Blueberry (E/M)
Points of Interest: gorgeous views, tough climbs, quiet woods, Silvermine bald, rhodendron grove

Day 9: Graveyard Fields - campsite near Pisgah Inn (10m)
Terrain: Rhododendron thickets, waterfalls
Plants: Blueberry(E/M)
Terrain: Grassy wooded hills between Blue Ridge Parkway road crossings
Plants: Pedicularis(M), Painted Trillium(M), Solomon's Seal (E/M), Turk's Cap Lily, Indian Cuke(E), Basswood(E/M), Spicebush(E)
Points of Interest: waterfalls, Skinny Dip Falls, boulders, views of Looking Glass

Day 10: Pisgah Inn campsite - Chestnut Cove Overlook (15m)
Terrain: Deciduous woods between Blue Ridge Parkway road crossings
Plants: Black Locust (E), Spiderwort (E), Showy Skullcap, Milkweed, Bloodroot(M), Rattlesnake Weed (M), Yellow Stargrass (M), Water Willow, Wild Yam (M), Marsh Blue Violet(E/M), Canadian Violet (E/M), Common Blue Violet (E/M), False Indigo, Pedicularis (M)
Points of Interest: easy varied hiking, abundant wildlife: turkeys, snakes, birds, bear, bugs, lowest elevation thus far (2100ft)

Day 11: Chestnut Cove Overlk - Folk Art Center (18m)
Terrain: Deciduous woods with Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron 
Plants: Stoneroot (M), False Goats Beard, Smilax (E/M), Showy Skullcap
Terrain: Grassy wide trail
Plants: Blackberry (E/M), Thimbleberry (E), Spicebush (E), Wild Onion (E)
Terrain: Pine forest
Plants: White Pine (E/M), Hemlock (E/M), Sourwood (E)
Terrain: Mixed Woods with Blue Ridge Parkway Crossings
Plants: Water Pepper (E), Red Clover (M), Yellow Wood Sorrel(E), Small Flowered Cranesbill, Corn Speedwell (E), Bowman's Root (M), Mitchella (M), Pipsissewa (M), Whorled Loosestrife, Fairy Wand, Ginseng (M), Garlic Mustard (E), Pink Lady's Slipper (M)
Points of Interest: Cool dark woods in Bent Creek, easy graded trail with lots of berries, lots of people, considerable traffic on brief road crossings

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Less than 20 miles to Asheville and ain't nothin' gonna stop me now!

So you know that saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," well, I'd just like to say, "When a pair of shotty shoes threatens your hike, make loafers."

This was one of my shining moments today. Thank you, Scott, for the super sharp knife you outfitted me with; it came in handy. My achilles tendon has been continuing to bother me since the day I rolled into the campground. However, finding that it hurts less when I'm in my crocs, have taken to hiking in those on and off the last few days. The problem with hiking in crocs, is that you then end up with blisters from them not fitting very well and sore soles and knees (not enough cushioning). So today, as the trail laid out before me, a track of beautiful flowers, chirping birds, gentle ups and downs and gorgeous views with the sun actually shining, and the only thing holding me back were the darned things on my feet, I said, "to hell with it!" So I pulled out my trusty knife at the top of an overlook and dug in. My feet haven't felt so good in days and the last 4 miles just cruised on by.

So, yes, I am only about 18m from Tunnel Rd right now, and surely camped out somewhere I shouldn't be. I couldn't locate a proper campsite, and was exhausted after hiking even further than I had expected (about 15m) and so said again, "to hell with it!" and here I now sit in my tent on the edge of the parkway somewhere in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest.

But really, exasperated as I may sound, I had an amazing breakfast at the Pisgah Inn and the day was astoundingly beautiful. I feel like I have traveled fast forward through spring. In the Smokies, the spring beauties were still vibrant and the trees were just beginning to leaf out. Now, about 4000ft lower, I'm spying Spiderwort, Showy Skullcap, and blueberry bells (in fact many already on their way to being berries).

Spider Wort (Tradescantia virginiana) - flowers and leaves edible
The woods were alive(!) as I criss-crossed the parkway, ascending and descending through grassy woods and along steep slopes each time. At two separate times I passed a mother turkey leading her young, and followed them squeaking and chirping their way down the trail as they hurried after Mom. I just about stepped upon a snake of some sort, but not seeing a rattle or any copper coloring, I wasn't too concerned. I scared a quail which in turn scared the heck outta me- when they take off in the woods the beating of their wings has such a basslike quality that you think 1)I'm having a heart attack or 2)there is a very large animal charging up behind me. A monarch fluttered by me, as well as some other colorful blue and black butterfly, while the birds sang songs to each other and darted back and forth across the trail and through the trees seeming very busy with their tasks. And I must say I saw the biggest pile of fresh bear scat yet. It was like driving down a wildlife interstate.

However, I suppose all this animal activity makes sense with the enormous variety of plants I saw. Just to rattle off a few: bunches of bloodroot (leaves), Rattlesnake Weed, Yellow Star grass, Water Willow, Tall Meadow Rue, Wild Yam, Turk's Cap Lily (leaves), Marsh Violet, Canadian Violet, Common Blue Violet, Dutchman's Pipe vine (in flower with little "pipes"), false indigo, milkweed, and pedicularis growing tall --these are by no means all medicinal/edible.

When I arrive in Asheville I will be taking a few days off and am looking forward to not only recouping but putting up lots of plant info for y'all to enjoy. If you're cruising down the parkway tomorrow, be sure to say hi if you see a girl with a big ol' pack on her back mowing on some trail mix or wildflowers!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

BRRRR! from the Spruce, Fir, and Hemlock Forest

So what happens when a hiker sends all of her winter gear back home in a cute little box, smirking to herself, "Why did I ever think I'd need a pair of gloves, thermal long johns, and a fleece in May? My pack will be sooo much lighter without these unnecessary items!"

The temps drop about 20-30 degrees, the wind picks up, a front carrying rain the next so many days hits the eastern US and the trail takes her up to about 5000+ feet in elevation, over a bald mind you. That's what happens. So the trail's been a little rough going lately. And I've learned the value of a pair of socks for gloves, a garbage bag over the feet at night, and a 1/2 oz bottle of yarrow tincture (excellent for dilating and increasing bloodflow to the periphery-aka magic warm finger formula).

Despite the frigid wet hiking, the trail has remained beautiful and yesterday, by far the most challenging of the hike, was also one of the most beautiful. And as I type to you from the comforts of my tent- we my newly recovered 15degree sleeping bag - thank you so much Jodi and Rachel and Michelle who not only brought me a warm sleeping bag, needed fuel for my stove, and a ziploc of strawberries and chocolate out to Graveyard Fields, but also shouldered my pack most of the day, and bolstered my spirits!!- an owl hoots in the distance and I am reminded how glad I am to be out here still. (However, if you'd offered me an easy exit at any point yesterday, I'd have been off that mountain faster than you could say "home cooked meal and a hot shower").

The day out of the campground, I hiked down a well-graded trail and then onto a steeply angled and sloping trail, winding around a craggy mountain. Along the way I hopped many a lichen covered rock and enjoyed the crisp cool air, ridgeline views, and the abundance of toothwort (slender, cut-leaf, and simple toothwort), northern white violet, trillium at my feet, and peeling yellow birch and smooth barked beech above and beside me. The fog set in that evening, as I camped at 5100ft just off the parkway, atop a bed of Virginia waterleaf and Monarda.

The second day, I hiked through the mist on a wide grassy old carriage road. Along the way I passed enormous patches of again monarda and VA waterleaf, as well as large leaf water leaf, blue cohosh and black cohosh in flower, as well as the healthiest Carolina hemlocks I've seen yet (small trees yet, but vital as ever). The trail was hugged by blackberry bushes and smilax vines. I made my bed for the night beside a hollowed out tree of some sort and hacked out some blackberries for some much needed space for my tent.

The third day, I hiked through field, deciduous forest, evergreen wood, and bald mountain top in the rain, mist, and wind. Along the way, that which I sticks in my mind the most were the lycopodium, reproducing mosses, lichen, peeling birch trees, dying hemlock, and beech trees with their still fuzzy fresh leaves trembling in the wind, the cases from their long buds still hanging on somehow. Not to mention the rock cliff overlooks, where I looked out to see nothing more than white and the occassional patch of dark green in the distance. I camped admist rhododendron and mountain laurel not far from Graveyard Fields.

And the temps have most wonderfully warmed. I passed large patches of Indian Cucumber, pedicularis (with both maroon and orange flowers), Solomon's Seal, and painted Trillium with views of Looking Glass in the distance. As I have neared Pisgah Inn, the woods are beginning to look like those of Asheville, complete with Sassafras, Spice bush, Fraser Magnolia, Umbrella Magnolia, Basswood, and various Oaks and Maples, oh and of course lots of rhodos and mountain laurel. Oh! And I saw my first flowering Flame Azalea. I am now camped out in a moutain laurel thicket, happy as a hiker in a 15 degree Kelty sleeping bag in May.

The birds have been my soundtrack during the day and at night the hooting owls. Does anyone know which one would go "Who, who, who, who-oo!" with a lilt at the end? I had two calling back a forth to one another the other night, one on each side of my tent in the trees somewhere. 

I should be cruising into Asheville on Friday as long as all goes as planned. It'll be a long day but spurred by the comforts of home, I shouldn't have any problem kicking it out. I'll be sure to post lots of pics with some of my much needed downtime for a few days. There's so many I want to share with y'all! Thanks for all your comments. It's great to know you guys are out there, considering when I'm hiking on trail, there's not a single other hiker out here. I'll start replying to them individually as soon as I figure out how to do so(!) Technology, it can be a little tricky sometimes. Hope y'all are warm and cozy too!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Moonshine Creek Campground

I decided today was a good day to roll into a campground for a partial day off. I awoke this morning to more clouds and an aching achilles tendon (nothing major, just part of the break-in period), and so time to take a break before my body makes me. Besides this is my last opportunity before I hit Asheville, about 6 days from now. 

Before I get started on the plants, I'd like to remark on what an amazing service the people here at Moonshine Creek Campground have been. They picked me up at the trailhead (thank you Betty and Butch), allowed me to check in hours early, provided me with a cozy clean cabin, clean restrooms with hot water, assisted me in mailing home some unneeded (and too heavy gear), and hooked me up with a ride into town(thank you Logan for finding me some friendly folks) and thank you Vicky and Chris from South Carolina for being those friendly folks. I have not gotten the owner's name yet, but a big thank you to you to for providing such a pleasant place to roll off the trail and chat with some good people.

So let me highlight some plants for you now that I am hooked up, drying out, and enjoying sitting in a tiny 12x12ft cabin with a bed and electricity!

So one of the first plants to steal the show was Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana). This plant abundant the first two days on the trail, while I was in the Smokies. It seemed to flourish on sunny slopes in the woods, as well as along sun dappled edges of trail.

 Notice the 5 petaled regular flower, colored white-pink and striped with vivid pink lines. We know this is a Carolina Spring Beauty and not simply a Spring Beauty (C.virginica) because it's leaves are long stalked and more of an oval or rounded shaped, whereas C.virginica has long narrow leaves. As I said, the entire plant is edible- the above ground parts (stem, flower, leaves) as a salad fixin' or on a sandwich, as well as the root or more accuratly the corm (a corm is a short underground enlarged plant stem that the plant uses for nutrient storage, roots grow from the corm). These corms can be prepared like a potato would be. Pick these beauties mindfully.

Another plant that first greeted me on the trail and has persisted along the trek. I tiny groups of just 5-10 peeking out from mud and moss near stone steps, as well as in large communities along the edges of trail, but where it forms the largest spreads is along the edge of the parkway, where it creates long narrow streams of blue, is the Creeping Bluet (Houstonia serpyllifolia). These flowers are four-petaled, deep blue with a yellow center, leaves opposite. What distinguishes the Creeping Bluet from simply a Bluet (H.caerulea) is its almost round leaves (these are the teeny tiny leaves you see in the center of the pic), bold blue petals (as opposed to paler blue), and well, the fact that its stem, creeps! These are edible from the ground up (not the root), and have a pleasant crisp flavor. They can be enjoyed as one would Spring Beauties.

Oh! And the Trilliums. So many trilliums. They like the dark moist woods and I've seen them growing streamside, speckling deep woods and spreading out over entire slopes beside the parkway. Below are pics of those I've seen the most, as well as a nodding red one. Perhaps someone here can tell me- is this simply Wake Robin or Large Flowering at a later stage? Trilliums are part of the Lily Family (Liliaceae) and have 3 whorled entire leaves that encircle the top of the stalk. Flowers can be long, short stalked, or stalkless. However, these are all long stalked. I have no experience with Trillium as a medicine, since it is a plant that has been overharvested in the past and is best one to leave be, but it does have a long history of various uses. The root has acrid, astringent, and antiseptic properties, good for producing heat and tightening tissue, and discouraging infection. It has been used for everything from easing childbirth to decreasing hemorrhage and mucous discharge. Two traditional interesting preperations I found were to boil the root in milk (don't know proportions) for diarrhea and dysentery; another was to boil the leaves in lard and apply to ulcers and tumors.

Wake Robin Trillim (Trillium erectum)

Painted Trillium (T.undulatum)

Unknown Trillium
 To follow are some of the pleasant plant surprises...if anyone has any information on these, please feel free to share in the comments section...

Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii)
Umbrella Plant
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

That's all for tonight, signing off from Jack Daniels Cabin #2 (yes, that is the actual name of this cabin!)

Fork Ridge Overlook

Oh my, oh my, blogging from Fork Ridge Overlook just off the Blue Ridge Parkway- how novel! 

So far the hike has been awesome. What I just posted below was my journal entry from the first night. It's been a bit more challenging than expected to get an internet connection on a nightly basis. But as you can see I've hit a "connected" spot. I am now out of the Smokies and not too far from Waynesville, so this helps.

The plants I have seen has been too many to list, at least in this post, as I am watching my battery carefully. But let's just say its been a challenge simply to get down the trail with stopping to see so many plants. My hiking style has been forced to change. To give you a general idea, some I've seen the most of have been, Wake Robin Trillium, Large Flowering Trillium, Creeping Bluets, Carolina Spring Beauty, Smilax spp, Marsh Violet, Northern White Violet, Yellow Birch, Witch Hazel, Wild Geranium, Blue Cohosh, Indian Cucumber, and Pedicularis, just to name a few. Some of the more unusual ones, which I honestly don't know at this point if they have any medicinal and/or edible qualities, are Indian Paintbrush, White Miami Mist, and One-flowered Cancer root.

The last couple of days I have been mostly on the parkway and so have been passing lots of our more common "weedy" plants- dandelion, common plantain, common fleabane, however also pin cherry, yellow birch, tulip tree, willow, and sassafras trees. Oh and of course, lots of Carolina Hemlock and Red Spruce.

As soon as I am graced with a power outlet, I promise to upload lots of pics- considering I've already taken over 200 (!) The plants are overwelming, the scenery beautiful, and hike, well a butt-kicker, but that is to be expected. Tonight I am grateful to have just missed a storm, found some water, and a place to put my tent. Nice to know you're all out there!

Oh, and if you can believe it, I ran into one of my favorite Filo regulars just yesterday, while I was nearing the parking lot at the Oconaluftee Visitor Carol, if you're reading this, it was a pleasure to see a familiar face! Also, I'd like to tell the Allen family what a pleasure it was to meet them and chat some- I'm appreciating my human interactions out here- a whole lot less on people on this trail than on the AT. When I'm on trail, I don't see a soul.

Nice to know I have folks hiking virtually with me :) Pics to come soon!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day One!

The weather today could not have been more splendid – all day long. Clear blue skies, warm temps, and a light breeze. Asheville had predicted rain, hail and strong winds. Whew!

The trail began in a thick Red Spruce and Hemlock forest, filled with various mosses, lycopodium, and lichen. Many of the Hemlocks were in sad shape due to a little aphid called the Wooly Adelgid. This little guy injects toxins into the twig tips that cause the tree to both loose its needles in greater numbers and makes it difficult for it to sprout new tips. If you've ever seen soapy looking stuff on hemlock needles, this is most likely what it was. However, I also spotted many that did indeed have nice fresh light green tips, and though I was tempted to pinch them off and nibble, I let them be. Lining the edges of the narrow, eroded and rocky trail, were patches of Carolina Spring Beauty. These are edible as well, both above ground parts (flower, stem, and leaves), as well as the root which from what I hear is potato-like and can be prepared as such. I have only nibbled the above ground parts, which are deelish- crisp and light. However these should only be enjoyed where they are in abundance. Creeping Bluets also appeared in soft blue bursts along the trail. Above ground parts are edible in these little guys as well, just pinch off at base and pop(!) in your mouth.
The sun shone in between the trees and there were many opportunities in which the trail rounded a bend just right and the woods opened up to reveal the layers upon layers of mountains in the distance, cloaked in haze. Now and again the aroma of sweet drying pine wafted up from the forest floor and I was in heaven.
Leaving the AT, I crossed Clingman's Dome Rd and continued onto the Fork Ridge Trail. I was greeted on either side by thick patches of Mayapple and Virginia Waterleaf, interspersed with enormous- headed Dandelion. Here the trail went gradually downhill (and con't to do so the entire rest of the day, easy on the lungs and quads, hard on the soles of the feet and shoulders). The woods completely changed here. Now fewer Hemlock and Spruce and more Yellow Birch and Cherry that were just beginning to leaf, and flowering Hobble Bush and Raspberries. The Spring Beauties became much thicker as did the Bluets and the unfurling papery fiddleheads were easier to spy without all the drying pine needles and moss. The Trout Lily flowers were open and nodding, their speckled orange petals folded back. There were several kinds of Trillium, which I continued to see on and off throughout the day – Painted, Wake Robin, and Large Flowering. Star Chickweed also joined the show, as did Meadow Rue, various Toothworts (still in flower!), the tiniest little white violets I have ever seen in my life- I believe these were Sweet White Violet, Indian Cucumber, various lilies unknown to me, Dutchman's Breeches (w/o the breeches), and the periodic Buckeye sapling.

While in this much more green and moist (little drops literally kept falling from the tree tops and though the ground was dry, all the plants appeared freshly misted), I saw my first Miami Mist. I have never seen such a thing in my life. It is a little white flower with five petals that are fringed on the tips, the leaves are lobed and tiny, without stalks (at least those that are closest to the flower). While taking a moment to figure out what the heck I was looking at, I heard some very noisy rustling up on the embankment beside me. Basically at this point the trail had been winding around the outside contour of the mountain, so there was a steep embankment on my right and a steep slope to my left. I went very quiet and knew, right away, this was no squirrel. After a few minutes of staring into the woods hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever creature this was, I took a look down at the trail for clues. I immediately saw the evidence of Wild Boar- torn up vegetation, deep holes, and broken roots. These guys wreak havoc in the Smokies. And though I've heard them at night, snorting and such, I'd never seen one- until that moment. I caught a glimpse of his tail whipping back and forth through the leaves and also his blackish-brown fur. I then decided it was time to hike on and as I did, I gave him a start too, as he let out a big snort and rustled further down the trail, unfortunately in the same direction I was headed. However, he was soon immersed in his rooting and I hiked on.

As I wound around the mtn, the weather alternated from hot and humid and sunny to shaded and cool and breezy. Continuing to drop in elevation, I soon found myself amongst towering maples and oaks and thick rhododendron. I began to get concerned at this point, as the trail was getting very overgrown and I hadn't seen a single white dot marking my way since I crossed the road. Finally, I took a look at the map, and saw that I must surely still be on the trail, as there was none other to be on. So I kept walking.
Soon I could hear the rushing creek below, where I thought my campsite must be (Deep Creek Campsite). At this lower elevation a mixture of hardy upper elevation plants as well as common “weeds” began to appear: blueberry bushes (w/o flowers or berries lined the trail as well as galax, cinquefoil, parasitic squaw root, cranesbill, and Marsh Blue Violet, as well as tall Canadian Violets (good for nibbling, with a minty aftertaste). I also saw Wild Geranium, Dutchman's Pipe, Smilax (more nibbles), Wild Yam, and Pedicularis, and the first Sassafras of the trip.

Finally at 6pm, I rolled into camp, more than ready to be done. But just before the campsite, I had to ford a small ice cold stream. So off came the sneakers and on went the crocs. Cold water never felt so good. The site is nice and open in a small clearing and all I can hear is the rushing of Deep Creek.
I am all alone, but I can hear the voices of friends and family in my head as I prepare dinner, set up camp, and stare off into woods. I have taken to talking to myself a lot this afternoon and even more this evening, which is unusual for me. But, I suppose as long as I keep my monologues confined to the trail, I should be alright, right?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Leaving Tomorrow

Just one last day to send off! I've got my pack all packed- for the most part - and am officially moved out of my house. Just me, my Dad, and a Super 8 Motel for the time being. Pretty soon it'll be just me, my backpack, and the trail. I can't wait.

I thought I'd just give a quick rundown of my gear since I've had lots of questions. I'd like to preface this by saying, though quality and dependable gear is of utmost importance, gear is not going to get you to the destination. Additionally, expensive gear does not equal the best gear for you (example: I almost purchased a $35 'backpacking umbrella' because of it's compactness and light weight, however then went to Dollar General and found one almost identical (hot pink instead of neon orange) for $5). Different gear works for different people, so if you're considering a long distance hike, consider lots of people's suggestions and then go with what feels best to you.

Backpack: Kelty Trekker 64L External Frame (this pack is a dinosaur in the pack world but it is da bomb)
Tent: Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
Sleeping Bag: Timber Woods 32 degree and La Fuma 50 degree
Clothes: Wal-Mart and Target Tank Tops (2), Columbia Shorts (1), Smart Wool Socks (3), Target synthetic pants (1), K-Mart synthetic stretchy pants (1), IceBreaker medium weight insulating layer (1), K-Mart fleece hoody (1).
Other: Leki trekking poles, Vargo titanium alcohol stove, K-Mart grease pot, Black Diamond Headlamp, Mtn Hardware rain jacket, 2 nalgenes and 1 liter Platypus water bladder, basic roll-up sleeping pad, Crocs
Tech stuff: Eee PC netbook, prepaid Verizon mobile broadband, Samsung flip phone

I'm hoping to arrive at Clingman's Dome about 9am. Isolated Thunderstorms is predicted for the entire week ahead, so hopefully they will be isolated to whatever side of the mountain I am not hiking on. Temperatures have risen since last week (low of 27 degrees in the Smokies-eep!) to low 40's and predicted to stay there. Well if it rains, I have my $5 hot pink umbrella and the plants will be happily turning their leaves to the sky.

Before I head out, I want to say THANK YOU. Thank you to all the folks that have supported me in my decision to do this trail: friends and family you know who you are, as well as anyone who offered me a kind word, thoughtful suggestion, or simply a smile when I was in the throes of indecision or worry about the trip (this would include many a kind Filo customer). I would like to thank in advance all those who have offered me a place to stay while hiking (some of them previously complete strangers who once learning of my trip and intentions, opened up their thoughts and homes to me). I would also like to thank all those who have greatly assisted me in learning about the plants and offered me the guidance and confidence to leap into the plant world - Juliet Blankespoor, Marc Williams, 7Song, the folks at the UNCA Wildflower Pilgrimage (guides and attendees alike), herb school classmates, and my special homeschool students. 

Tomorrow the trek begins. Mountains-to-Sea Trail, bring it on!