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 today...today 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!