Friday, July 11, 2014

Hang Over Hike --Knees to the Shoulders!

Rosebay Rhododendron is the flowering shrub of this hike!

Hike to The Hang Over--Knees to the Shoulders!

Monday July 7, 2014

Dana & Kenny Koogler
6 miles round trip

Pictures are here: Hang Over hike pix

    Kenny was finally home from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  I was glad to see him.
He was glad to be home.  We had lots of catching up to do before he had to leave to go back again.
He was tickled to be out of the Delta Country and back in the mountains.  It took no persuading
to get him to hike with me.  I had originally planned to make a second attempt at locating Burgan 
Creek Falls.  I wanted to explore that area some more. I still do and we shall in the not too distant future.   We discussed it and it was agreed that since the weather was going to be nice and clear
for good views we'd hike up to The Hangover in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina.

 You can reach this scenic overlook by many routes.  I opted for Hangover Lead South.
Short. Steep. To the point.  A real manly man's hike. Lots of uphill climbing.
The trail begins at Big Fat Gap.  We made the drive across the Tail of the Dragon this morning.
It was not bad being a weekday.   I had hiked out of this parking lot once before.  
All trails leaving it were wilderness trails.  I had called John Quillen one day to get some advice 
about the hike and his words were true.   One trail leads up and left heading out of this parking area.  Its easy to spot.   I knew it was going to be a rugged hike.  

 The start of the trail goes up..... 

              and ever up........

          We gathered our stuff in our packs and set off up the trail. Kenny usually prefers uphill climbing because he is long legged and it is easy for him.   My poor little heart and lungs and short legs struggle with it compared to him. I've done plenty of it though over the years.  One lady taught me long ago a tool I've used ever since.  She taught me the Mountaineers Rest Step
I learned it and use it all the time.   Its better to keep going even if it is very slowly rather than 
all this stopping and starting.   Knowing and using that simple technique and getting in a good head space has helped me learn to cope with and even enjoy uphill climbs.   The climb up Hangover Lead South seems relentless to start with, but it moderates.  You get flat spots or less strenuous grades a little later on the hike.   

         I had always wondered why I did not see photos of this hike?  I knew why now.
Who cares about taking photos when you're climbing a steep trail as this?  I will also say that while this trail is worth doing it is not ever going to rate up there as a favorite hike.   I find that pretty scenery along the way really helps kill the pain.  It is not bad, but it is not as attractive as some others.  It is more utilitarian for a good part of the way.   I was using Tim Homan's guidebook
and I really like his writing. He does a fine job of giving detailed directions.  It helped a lot having it.   Here is a link to it. Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Citico Creek Wilderness

     What made this hike good?  It was a first time experience. I had my spouse with me.
The rosebay rhododendron was in bloom. We saw beautiful old growth trees.  It was challenging.
The views at the top would  be worth it.  My curiosity about it would  at last be satisfied. 
We hiked along and Kenny realized he lost the end cap of a trekker.   We made a mental note to look for it from that point along the trail on the hike back.    We continued on and on until we came to Grassy Gap. It is a flatter area along the trail and it is indeed a grassy gap just as the name implies.   It is pretty.  The trail description indicated the forest changed abruptly at this point from hardwood forest with oaks and maples to hemlock, pine, birch, beech and silverbell.   We found that to be the case and it was easy to spot the division as we gained altitude.  
Top: The trail winding along through Grassy Gap
Bottom: Deep woods with a little sun peering through near Grassy Gap.  

     We came to the place where the trail's character changed again and got rougher.  It is a wilderness trail so it is not going to be as groomed or maintained and that is ok with us.
It had climbs moderated by spots where it leveled off a bit.  The trail was out on the edge of the mountain in places and it was muddy and slick. Roots. Rocks. Downed trees.  Briars. 
We ran into a little of all of it.  Gnats were in play today, but not as bad as we had seen them 
on other Summer trips.  

        We had sat down and gotten a drink and rested by a massive rock formation along the trail.
We read the trail narrative to have a good idea of where we were milage wise based on what we were seeing.    We finally came to the "double switchbacks" he mentions.   A rudimentary path cut down and right along the edges of a rock outcrop.  Another more distinct path headed up and left.
We had to do some more checking the book and the map.  I don't know where on earth that down/right path went or even IF it was a real path.  We headed up and to the left.  It was clear this was correct.  While standing there at the intersection and ciphering out where we needed to go we both heard the voices of men.  
          We did not go too much further until we emerged onto a heath bald as he promised we would.
It was quite beautiful. It was like walking under a bridal archway decked with pink and white flowers of rose bay.  We had a clear, perfect day for our trip.  It was not too hot and we were catching an occasional breeze.  We could hear the voices of men again.  
I got really tickled when we began our climb down and out to the first overlook.  I could hear the men and realized this had to be the people we were unable to see moments before.  Hiking out this narrow gully of heath walled vegetation is something else!  Rosebay here is stunted as are other species due to the elevation.  We made it out to a nice rocky overlook. Getting out here was an experience like no other. Imagine yourself walking along a rocky, narrow trench hemmed in on both sides by thick rows of shrubs on each side.  Now add to that an uneven surface on the rocks where you are climbing up on some and down over others.  At one point I was standing high on a rock in the middle of this trench just high enough to see head and shoulders over the hedge row. The view that lay before me and about me was stunning. Grand mountains of blue and green and gray rolling out under a blue sky. Ahead of me down this trench is another man and all I see of him is his head and shoulders. We both caught the irony and weirdness of the moment and grinned! It is THIS moment and THIS view that will bring me back here again and made this hike worth doing!  Two other men were there with a friendly dog.    We talked to them a little.  They had hiked in from Bob's Bald.  We asked them about other overlooks in the area and they replied that far as they knew there weren't any.   I don't like to correct people or criticize them out on the trail especially.  I did not say a word, but perhaps this time I should have.  They had hiked in all that way and it seems they ended up missing the actual Hangover.  I may be wrong, but I don't see how
if they had been there when we asked about other overlooks ... they said no.  
 Here is the view from overlook #1.  We had lunch here and rested.  I got misty eyed when I beheld this view.  The feeling of gratitude over being well and no longer having double vision has not left me.  I thank God for His divine healing.  It is also not lost upon me how good it feels to be able to walk normally and have my sense of balance return.  I sat here soaking up the view.
Birds swooped and dived around us twittering and chirping.   I saw swifts. I saw a rufous sided towhee.  I saw a flash of bright yellow as a goldfinch winged its way past us.   Such a scene of beauty with a view in about 340 degrees.   I thought of William Bartram's words about these mountains and his experiences so long ago. Watching the shadows of clouds move across the face of the mountains.    We finished our lunch. I experimented with my new Vivitar camcorder. I've had it for three years and I'm just now fooling with it.  I will let you know how that comes out. It is cool. It is easy to use and takes photos or videos.   We took time to re group and figure out our next move.  We realized we certainly were not at the Hangover.  I was not going to miss it after hiking a tough 2.5 miles to get here.  It was only 0.5 miles further, but it was more up.  I did not care. I was determined to see it. We moved on to the goal.

              The trail here is rockier and in one spot birch tree knees and roots form a set of natural steps.   Up and up and more up.  We passed a very wet muddy spot.  We arrived at the next trail intersection which was actually flagged and signed.  The ridge line was mercifully flat so we caught a break.   We hiked out to Saddle Tree Gap and the campsite.   We passed the intersection with Deep Gap Trail. It is also signed, but the sign is broken and sitting on the ground. No kidding.
I hunted for the spring here at the indicated spot below the campsite. It was dry today. 
We were going to have to ration water on the rest of the hike as we did not bring enough for this hot day.     We met the only two other hikers we saw all day.  Kenny visited with them while I hunted for the spring.   I returned up the hill with a negative report on the water situation. 

       We finished our hike out to the Hangover proper.  I realized today that all my bellyaching in the past about the brier tunnel going out to Bob Stratton Bald is for nothing.  It is not unique to that area. It is just how this entire area is during Summer. I guess I always knew it, but since that was my primary focus I made it a bigger deal than it was.  Now I stood plowing through a tunnel of heath vegetation and briers. Praying for no snakes.  I raised a hiking pole high over my head and the tip did not clear the height of this stuff. I'd say its nine or ten feet high.   I was fine as frog hair.
Glad I did not lie and say I was not going "off trail" this Summer.  I was ON a trail, but oh what conditions of that trail.   The hike out to the Hangover was another narrow heath tunnel over rocks.   Just a little more UP and we were there!  It is a spectacular spot on Earth.  A 360 degree view of these mountains.  It was good to finally be here! Will I come back? Probably. It was worth it.  It was a challenge. I may pick a different way just for variety and perhaps better scenery. 

Views from the Hangover: Top-- toward Cheoah bottom out toward Haoe.

Worth the work to get here!

      We soaked up the view and wallered in it. It is a Grand Stand view to be sure!

   We began our weary hike back.  Dreading the limited water on a hot day. 
We were dreading the down hill on our knees.   On the hike back we found a second spring that WAS flowing and thankfully filtered wonderfully cold, clear water and had our fill.  We were both relieved at having two bottles a piece of fresh cold spring water for the hike out. We had plenty of drinks in the cooler in the jeep. We just did not plan well enough.   We trudged back down down down.  My right knee and Kenny's feet began hurting.    I will say that this is was only the second time we've had a hike be so intensely steep it hurt going up and down.  The first time was Elliots Knob hike to the summit in Virginia.  We turned around and walked backwards on the descent to take the strain off our knees. Today this trail was too harsh for that.  We just had to suck it up and
continue.  We rested some, but Kenny needed to get back at a reasonable time to call James Corum  his co-worker and Bud, the operations manager at work.  They had to coordinate a plan for the work week and his trip BACK to Baton Rouge.    

       We made it back to the jeep and we were so glad to see it.  It felt good to sit down.
My knees quit hurting. Kenny's feet recovered.  He told me he was proud of me for doing hard hikes and continuing to try to get back in shape and loose weight. He is supportive of me and I appreciate him tackling hard tasks with me.  He must like a challenge or he'd not have married me, right?   

      We headed back across the Tail of the Dragon toward home.   We had done it!
We hiked the Hangover and made it count!

          The rest of what I had planned for this area will have to wait.
Any repeat hikes here will include: bring more water. pick a different season or another trail for variety.  

          In my Crystal Ball of the Future I see:

A hike to Wildcat Falls
A camping trip to the Topton area to hike the terminus of The Bartram Trail and 
see Bartram Falls and Ledbetter Creek
A hunt for Burgan Creek Falls 
Visiting Tulula Bog and hunting for carnivorous plants
A repeat visit to Teyahalee Bald and climbing the firetower for the view
Happy Times with my love. 

I will post a blog with the videos from this hike and another blog entry to make a comparison 
between the video and image quality of the Vivitar camcorder and the Olympus.


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