Monday, May 28, 2012

Silence in the Middle Prong Wilderness

 I set up camp as the sun is setting. The time is alive with birds calling and fluttering about. I sit alone and 
notice a few minutes later under the moon and in the crepuscular light: silence. Stillness. Sereneness. A lull in the commotion that builds up to the nightfall. Every few minutes this blankness is broken by the BZZZZT of the bugs flying by. Then the silence returns. In the quiet moments more stars appear slowly. As the night comes on it will bring the night birds, insects and all the calls and clamor they come with. But for now: silence.

I started this last minute trip by hitting the Mountains To Sea trail around 5 in the evening. I followed the trail through the evening sun. I set up a spot to sleep at the junction with the Green Mountain Trail. This was my first experience in the Middle Prong Wilderness. I was hoping for a much less traveled version of the Shining Rock Wilderness that it shares its border with.

I awoke with the morning birds and decided to stay and rest until 630. I was up and walking by 7. Heading north on the Green Mountain Trail I soon found out that "trail" was a bit of a stretch. I pieced together overgrown sections of hiker trail, game trails and bushwhacking along the Fork Ridge. The slow and challenging ridge walk was making me nervous that the next ridge would be just as bad and I might be night hiking to make it too my car. The trail eventually reappeared and stayed in sight, but much of it was duckwalking under 4-5ft tall rhododendron tunnel. Breaking up the challenge to my knees were only the scent of the azalea and an encounter with a group of feral hogs.The last mile dropped (straight) down about 1000ft to the river. I ran into a couple later that know the area better than anyone I have ever encountered and they mentioned "...oh that trail was put in before switchbacks were invented!"
After I crossed the road and the refreshingly cold West Fork Pigeon River (the cold water being the best thing to ease my stinging and scraped up legs) into the Shining Rock Wilderness I headed up the Fork Mountain Trail. The previous ridge was higher in elevation, but I still had almost 2000 ft to climb up. I climbed up easy switchbacks through rhododendron, flame azalea and mountain laurel on all sides. The ridge was a bit overgrown, but the trail wasn't too hard to follow. I had spent all morning doing what I despise: walking through spider webs face first, but its a hefty price to pay for solitude.  I came upon a napping couple at a gap near the end of the Fork Mtn Trail. They came out of their rest when I approached and I talked to them for probably half an hour. They have been hiking the area for 35 years and gave me lots of great information, history and showed me some good off-trail sights on my map for future trips.  Near Tennet Mountain I jumped south on the Art Loeb trail and immedietly ran into large crowds of day-hikers and other weekenders. After giving a nice group of dayhikers directions back to their car I continued on my way knowing I was almost back to where I started. At this point my right knee began to hurt. Not just hurt, but start to fail me. I was less than a mile from my car and was limping along.  About 24 hours, several thousand feet of elevation change and a decent amount of miles I was back at my car ready for the drive home and less ready for work the next morning.