I've got another thing to add to my list of Top 10 Things I've Learned About Pisgah:
11. Don't follow the flag line.
The weekend started off well enough, with a fun time at tumbling class and a very happy little girl wishing her Daddy a happy birthday. Kim made the best French toast we've ever had, and things were pretty relaxed before I rolled out to Pisgah. I had a bit of exploring to do, on this, my last long weekend before BURN.
Ranger Station > 276 > 477 > Buckhorn Gap Tr > Clawhammer > 5057 > Avery Creek > Club Gap > 477 > 276 > 475B > 225 > Cove Creek > Davidson > 475 > 475B > 225 > Daniel > 475 > Cove Creek > 225 > 475B > 477 > Club Gap > Avery Creek > 5057 > Clawhammer > 477 > 276
If you look closely, you'll notice that I got a little loopy out there, but I figured, what better way to spend my birthday than dropping a couple of my favorite descents that I haven't seen in a while, while getting to check out 5057 in anticipation of future PMBARs and Double Dares? I was planning on hitting either Maxwell > Black or Buckhorn > Maxwell > Black to finish, but it started raining in earnest as I approached Club Gap, and it was time to pull the plug anyway. Now, I've done it before, so I knew descending Clawhammer in the rain isn't the most fun, but I made it alright and drilled it back to the Ranger Station ... where it had stopped raining. All that gunk on my bike for nothing.
Kim made the call for pancakes on Sunday, and Kate was even more excited to give Kim her presents than she was the day before! It was another nice, relaxing morning, before I headed out into the steady rain with my boots this time ...
Fish Hatchery > Cat Gap > John Rock > 475C > ???? > Art Loeb > Butter Gap > Long Branch > Cat Gap
I should know better, I really should. But I've been trying to get a sense of what's left on the Bracken Mountain project from maps, and haven't quite wrapped my head around it. So I headed out 475C to try to find the end of the Forest Service road and what I thought was the beginning of the Bracken Mountain trail ...
I've been up there before, on my bike, and turned around at the campsite below Cat Gap. The brush gets too thick after that for a bike, so I put off any further exploration for another time. Well, Sunday was that time, and a-exploring I did go ...
Things started off well enough, as the road bed was pretty well defined. It was slow going, and I startled a mother turkey and her tiny chicks, but it wasn't too bad. I hit a small gap, and there were even very helpful pin flags showing me around the turn. Then I came to a couple of small mounds, with pin flags marking an X, and assumed that was the edge of the Forest Service property. But the road bed continued, and so did I.
The rain was really coming down, and as I was following a contour line, I wasn't generating much heat -- in fact, I was starting to get kind of chilly. What's more, I was pushing through knee- and waist-high fern fields, so my boots and my pants were becoming thoroughly soaked. And they were getting heavy -- Carhartts are great -- when they're dry. When they're wet? Holy crap I could hardly lift my feet.
I came to a small clearing and sort of poked my way around the trees. There, off to my right, was a flag line ... hmmm ... where could this go? Could this be Todd's work? I couldn't be far from the cleared Bracken trail ... could I?
Nearly an hour later, I stumbled back to this spot, soaked to the bone and shivering uncontrollably in the first stages of hypothermia. In the intervening time, I had made it maybe half a mile, probably less, following pin flags and strips of pink and orange ribbon tied to trees through a couple of small coves, around a shoulder and toward a small ridge ... all on 20-plus percent sidehill, through overgrowth so thick I could see only 50 yards ahead as I searched for the line. The temperature had dropped, I was fighting for every step with what felt like leaden boots, and at one point I even lost the flag line on the way back as I dipped into a cove and the flags went up the hillside. I did see the most amazing orange salamander out there -- it looked like a child's toy -- but I also realized that no one knew where I was, the footing was treacherous at best, I was hungry and tired, and I was starting to make sloppy mistakes -- it was time to head home.
I never did find the trail. Also, I came to realize that I'm not a big fan of bushwacking. It's quite an adventure ... but I'm OK leaving it to others.
After I put on every piece of clothing I had with me, ate and drank some, and headed back up to Cat Gap, I started to feel better. The climb warmed my body and lightened my mind, and I knew -- or rather, I believed, that I wasn't that far from Butter Gap. So when I hit the gap I turned left, eschewing the quicker way down -- instead, I went up and over, checking out the massive rock face above Sandy Gap and making my way to the shelter. It was great to stop for a dry minute under the overhang, and then I made my way through flowing sediment back to the car -- good Lord, do we need to get up there and clear some drains. It looked like someone had done two of the worst spots, but there were many more that need help ...
All in all a great weekend, even if I do need to find some dry clothes. I guess maybe it wasn't so bad after all, if I'm already looking forward to more exploring sometime soon ...
6 hours ago