Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Starr Mountain Frustration Trip

Virginia spiderwort growing on the slopes of Starr Mountain

Starr Mountain Hike

4 miles round trip approx.

Dana Koogler solo
Friday July 25, 2014
Pictures are here: Starr Mountain Pix

   I had been jonesing to get up to Starr Mountain again for some exploration.  I have a dysfunctional 
relationship with that mountain.  I've been courting it for eight years or more.   I liken it to a girl with a
bad boyfriend she should dump, but she's a stress seeker and likes pain and suffering.  I just keep going 
back for more.   It frustrates my efforts to find things. It confuses me.  I get upset and I'm ready to give up
and break it off.... then It shows me something beautiful and I'm hooked again! 

       I think for me what lured me to begin with was the pure fact it was a lonely, flat topped mountain
out there on its own.  The history of the mountain and Caleb Starr and the interesting name fueled the fire.
The stories of Mason Evans the hermit of Starr Mountain and the White Cliffs Resort Hotel added to it.
A visit there for the first time seeing  what the place looked like really took my imagination on flights of fancy.
Red dirt.  Dry. Dusty areas contrasted with black, muddy bogs snaking across the top of the mountain really 
intrigued me.    It has waterfalls on its slopes down in the Gee Creek Wilderness.  It has waterfalls on its slopes tucked in deep ravines to discover and explore down where Yellow Creek and Bullett Creek converge.   It is an isolated, remote spot on the earth. According to what I've read the stones that form the mountain were part of a billion year old ancient sea floor. They were pushed up and made into a mountain during the Alleghany orogeny 250 million years ago.  Today we see a long, flat topped mountain with sandstone texture. Parts of its forest more like the Croatan National Forest along the coast of North Carolina!  Here are some links to the history of the area: 

Here is a piece of art that depicts the White Cliffs Hotel and the hermit Mason Evans. I cannot find 
the name of the artist at this time.  It is not my work.

     I learned more about its history and the botanical wonders that are concealed there.
I climbed its fire tower.  I found views in a few spots.  I came in Fall and found the creeping in of the colors of Autumn. I found blazing stars of three different sorts.   I've watched a copperhead strike a salamander
and kill it and prepare to eat it. I've ripped and run four-wheeling along its dirt roads.   I've slipped off into
tall, soft, cool green grass in wildlife clearings to have a little X rated fun with my hubby.  I KNEW there was a reason I married him.   I have experienced bliss and defeat there on that mountain. 

 Top: Copperhead has struck his prey and is fixing to have dinner up on Starr Mountain
Bottom: Blazing star blooms up on Starr Mountain in Autumn.

      My plan on Friday July 25, 2014 was to make the trip down the road count. I'd go explore Starr Mountain and hike.  Once I was done I'd head off the back side to Tellico Plains and up the Cherohala Skyway to Wolf Laurel to hike to Stratton Bald to see the turks cap lilies.   I was enthusiastic and sure 
it would all work out.  

       I always enjoy driving out Old Mecca Pike.  It is such a pretty rural drive through farm country.
I got up there and saw where one person was camped at the parking area/camping area for Bullett Creek Trail.   I had wanted to revisit the Carolina lilies I found up there two years back.   I was confident I'd find them. I knew just where to go.   I re-created my hike as nearly as I was able.  I got about a mile into it and 
the old ugliness of the mountain reared its head.   It started off with that sense of wondering am I really going the right way?  This IS the way I went last time, isn't it?  It seems right.  I kept thinking surely I'd find that right turn just around the next bend.  I hated to admit it, but I had a growing sense that I was getting played again.   I went two miles or more out and the only possible "right turn" I saw was the sketchiest of paths.
I was mixed up.  I was not lost. I knew exactly where I was. I just could not recreate where I went the previous time.   I hate that! It makes me feel crazy like I dreamed the whole thing before!  I finally 
turned around and headed back. I was hot.  I was thirsty. The gnats were in my face and eyes.  Time to 
try something else!  

       Back at the jeep I noticed the lady was packing up her stuff and preparing to leave.
I stowed my gear and wiped the sweat.   I grabbed me a big cold drink of sweet tea with lemon out of the cooler.  I drove on out to my next spot to park and try to hike.   I was not going to be so easily outdone.

    I found my parking spot and trail head and set out again.  I crossed a wildlife clearing/road and 
headed down through weeds.   I saw some pretty butterflies.  I was pleased the heat and bugs and weeds were not as bad or as scary as last attempt.  The previous two tries I had run away scared of snakes and disgusted with all the insects and high weeds.  Today I was going to make it!  And make it I did.
I forged on until I entered the woods on a real trail.    The forest was cooler and dark with a little breeze blowing.    Black mud was all around.  The path was encroached by rhodo shrubs so badly and the trail itself
was nothing but a ditch filled with stagnant water.  So many people had diverted around this section it was 
easy enough to avoid it.   The forest was beautiful.  Mushrooms of every type and description grew here. It was surreal.   Sphagnum mosses and loamy sandy soil and black mud were around.   Tannin stained streams reminded me of Panthertown in North Carolina. 

Top & Bottom.. various views of the scenery along the Bullett Creek Trail
Some sort of Dr. Seuss looking mushroom

  I was on a small spur trail that was not actually part of Bullett Creek Trail #121 just yet. It merged with it soon, but only AFTER I'd had to cross a deep moat filled with that brown water.  It was too deep to rock hop by far.  It was not bridged officially, but I found the work of other explorers and crossed on a perfectly good log and rock formation.  What do you MEAN it looks sketchy?

My bridge that I used to cross. It was at the most shallow part of the ditch. A smart feat of engineering!

     I hiked the trail out once I hit the intersection with the real trail.A ll the way to its end with the gravel road.
It was quite pretty and I enjoyed it, but I did not find many orchids and not the kind I was hoping for.
I saw some rattlesnake orchids.  They were pretty. I saw possum paw fern. I saw a glade where the forest floor was filled with ferns. I also walked through one part of the trail where ostrich ferns enclosed the trail like great plumes!   I realized I was burning daylight and not making any headway in finding rare wildflowers.

  I was frustrated at having not been able to find the area I'd visited before.  I headed back to the jeep where I cooled off in the air conditioning. I stowed my gear for the drive to Stratton Bald.  I ate lunch and drank some water and sweet tea.  I had been foiled again by this ancient place.  I left in a huff of depression, dust, mud and tears.    I made up my mind I was DONE with coming here hunting things unless I got some good tips or fresh information.   I was wasting my time I told myself.   I was so upset I almost decided to go home and not even bother with hiking to Stratton Bald today.

        On the way down the mountain I saw trumpet vines draping from the trees. I saw tall blue bellflower and starry campion along the roadsides.  I thought two things 1.  I am looking in the wrong place. 2.  I have got to start asking for assistance. 3. I've got to be willing to share the knowledge as it is not right to ask for help but never give it.

        And then I heard that mountain whisper as I drove off.. "You'll be back. You always come back."
And I knew it was true.




  1. That's one of the nicest photos of a trumpet vine I've ever seen...


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