When winter fog wraps my cabin and flames crackle happily in the fireplace, I reflect on hikes taken and those yet to come. In the 20 winters I’ve lived in Western North Carolina, I’ve slid down icy trails, sloshed through wet snow and felt the wind bite through layers of clothing I’d thought would be adequate. But I haven’t been out much the past few months.
That perplexes me, particularly since I live within walking distance of the Appalachian Trail. It’s like living at the beach and never getting sand between your toes. One of my most recent hikes was way back in late August. It was a short one—the steep jaunt to Lover’s Leap, a rocky ledge that overlooks the French Broad River and the town of Hot Springs. With a 1,000-foot elevation change in the space of about a mile, Lover’s Leap is a butt-builder, and the late-summer air was thick and humid. My partner and I had to pause every few minutes to catch our breath, sip our water and sweat.
Nonetheless, once we’d descended and were strolling through Hot Springs, I liked looking up at that cliff and knowing I’d been there.
Other notable 2008 hikes included explorations on the Tennessee side. Located just southeast of Greeneville, Tenn. (longtime home of Andrew Johnson, one of the only two impeached U.S. presidents), Marguerite Falls is another short, steep climb. From the trailhead near Shelton Mission Road, it’s 1.3 miles to the falls. We huffed along a bracingly cold stream, ducked under and clambered over fallen trees, and hiked steadily upward (you could also reach Marguerite from the ridge where the AT traverses Blackstack Cliffs and Camp Creek Bald, but the trail was damaged by heavy floods a few years ago, and I wouldn’t trust it). There are several small waterfalls along the bounding creek, but the clincher is the 60-foot cascade that spills down a series of rock ledges, ending in a shaded, rocky pool.
We shared this peaceful spot with two young men who’d also made the trek that day. I helped one of them clear a huge log from the falls and picked pretty stones out of the cool water. After that we ate our trail mix, sat for a spell, and then headed home.
I like hiking near water, so on another Tennessee jaunt, we explored Rock Creek Falls near Erwin. The trail proved just as rocky as its namesake; it made me glad I was wearing my lug-soled boots and not my Converse sneakers. All the same, when we reached a small waterfall that sluiced between huge rocks, I couldn’t resist first dousing my bare feet, then crouching underneath it for a bracing shower.
But then fall arrived, and while I focused on coordinating the Xpress Outdoors section, my hiking boots sat on the shoe rack. The more I worked my beat, the less I seemed to actually get out in the wild. To be sure, every time I journey between Asheville and my mountainside home, I enjoy startling vistas and a sparkling river, and I often catch a glimpse of wild turkeys foraging in an old corn field. After an early snow, I did don those boots and crunch around in our hilly pasture, pulling frozen apples off an old tree just to see whether they were worth saving.
That’s about the extent of my recent adventuring, but I feel an itch coming on. Like a gardener perusing seed catalogs in winter, I’ve pulled out my trail maps and started planning. Sure, I’ll revisit some favorite trails and wilderness areas this year—Black Balsam Knob, for example, where my dad’s ashes are scattered. But what about the undiscovered country?
Predictably, I’ll pick trails by rivers, creeks and streams in 2009. But I also explored two old fire towers last year, and those visits sparked my curiosity. Long ago, during my Beat Generation period, I read Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels, two semiautobiographical novels that allude to his brief stint as a solitary fire lookout at Desolation Peak, in the middle of what is now North Cascades National Park in Washington state.
My feet are eager to follow my literary whims, so perhaps I’d better pick up a copy of Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers by Peter Barr and ponder Kerouac while I spruce up my boots.
For more information about Rock Creek, Marguerite and other Tennessee waterfall hikes, visit the Sherpa Guides Web site at http://sherpaguides.com/Tennessee.
Send your outdoors news and ideas to Margaret Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message at 251-1333, ext. 152.