Week 0: First Day in the Field


The Journey North

Saturday April 7th I said my goodbyes to my parents and grandmother then hit the road to Red Top Mountain State Park in Georgia. The night prior a storm front had blown through, dropping the temperature a solid ten or so degrees from the day prior, and a second front was on its way behind my departure. I managed to make the campsite in a couple of hours, make a run to REI because I forgot the kitchen sink in my rush to leave, and then met my girlfriend and her father for dinner.

The next morning she and I met at a nearby Cracker Barrel for breakfast before I began the long drive to Ashville. Well in truth the plan was to make Waterrock Knob by yesterday evening and make an early morning hike to the peak for some sunrise pictures. This didn’t happen because the camp there is only accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway. A parkway that is closed during poor weather like the night prior.

Not knowing this ahead of time I made for the Nantahala Gorge and the Nantahala Outdoor Center where dozens of prospective AT thru-hikers were taking their lunch/shower breaks. I met one hiker going by “Front Loader” who was rather nonchalant about the windy, cold weather from the night before. Despite the forecast chill he was in high spirits and seemed ready to get going again. I hope he and the other hikers there make it to the end without any major incidents.

After my brief stop there I discovered the Parkway to be closed and made the decision to head to Ashville. Specifically the Powhata Lake national recreation area just outside Pisgah National Forest. I arrived and acquired a site for the night. Following a dinner of fire fried conecuh sausage and an orange I turned in only to wake up every two hours wondering if it was another camper making that racket or a bear. This was my first night sleeping in bear country after all, and I’m still at a complete loss on how to properly bear-proof a campsite. For now I’m going to limit my cooking to breakfast, eating a meal bar for dinner if I don’t stop somewhere. That and storing day clothes in a plastic bag inside my jeep should be enough. At least the park employees seem to think so.

Day 1: Trail Day

The morning of April 9th began with a hearty sausage and egg breakfast. Once all the dishes were cleaned up I moved to my employer provided site for the remainder of the week, had a granola bar lunch, and hit the trails. A quick note about these sites though, before I talk about the trails.

I’ve noticed that these campsites are geared more towards the weekend car camper, or campers. The “primitive” sites are hard packed fine gravel that is incredibly difficult to get comfortable on. Thankfully with a hammer the stakes can be driven in well enough, and I don’t have to worry about the stakes coming up. I do think that my ground pad I purchased is the single best purchase I’ve made to date. The tables are sturdy and the fire rings have a great grill grate. Now onto the trails!

I set out to hike three of the five trails today: Homestead, Pine Tree loop, and Explorer’s loop. I failed to actually find Homestead. The lack of obvious trail head markings and regular trail blazes make most of the trails difficult to find. That, combined with a simplified map thats missing many side trails, made finding the starts a bit of a head ache. So I managed to completely miss one trail and one trail head for Pine Tree loop before I finally got onto the trail. I did make up the trail mile I missed on the roads that I walked seeking the trail head.

Pine Tree loop was a rather enjoyable hike that doubled as the entry to Explorer’s Loop. It led along the smaller, rolling hills across a few thin streams and by a few old homestead sites helpfully marked with signs. At the halfway point I turned off to get onto Explorer’s loop. That trail was much hillier and brought me around to a set of sharp switchbacks ending in a small meadow of trout lilies. They haven’t quite opened up otherwise I’d have attached some pictures here.

At this point the poor blazing messed me up again. There is a small cut through to get back to the middle of Explorer’s loop not marked on the map but blazed as the main trail once you get out there. In reality you go past this and come around to where you leave pine tree. I made my way back to pine tree and eventually back to my campsite. I wish there was more to say about the trails. They’re fairly well maintained. Aside from a falling squirrel there wasn’t much going on. It was a relatively empty trail. Very few wildlife moving around, only two or three people, and none of the wildflowers were really in show.

Hopefully next time it’ll be much sunnier and there will be much more wildlife moving around. I’m not sure if that’ll happen this week, sadly. If not I’ll be giving my next update from Virginia!

The Week Ahead

Well this was my last free day this week. Tomorrow I start working an actual job and everyday for the rest of the week we’ll be in the office or wherever they want to take us. Other than that I’ll just be sleeping at camp and trying to tell if this leak on my jeep is back or a result of being parked at an extreme backslope. Regardless I’m hoping to replace the valve cover seal this Friday anyways.

Thank you all for reading this and keeping me in your thoughts and prayers.


Recommended Books

Camping and Woodcraft

Cooking with Fire

Bushcraft 101