Thursday, January 27, 2011

Southward Part 2 ~ the Contrary ~ Hike BRP MP 278-278.6

Walking South on the Watauga Section of the MST is contrary to the normal hiking flow from the West, heading North. I'm not a contrary person by nature, but enjoy finding my own sense of direction.
 This section begins directly across the BRParkway from the Milepost 278 marker. The marker is on the west side of the road, the trail head is on the east side.
 The first trail blaze is just a few feet down the trail. Through this section the animals have adopted our trail in many locations.
 There were quite a few deep drifts to push through. Some as deep as three feet. Much of this first section was built by Boy Scout volunteers: view here.
 Can you guess what animal made this track through the deep snow? It took me a minute or two, but studying the way he waddles and drags low to the surface gave me the clue. If you've ever seen a Ground Hog scurry across the ground you will understand how these tracks belong to a "whistle pig".
 The trees provided a windbreak and the drifts surround them like a white lava flow.
 Often interesting visual forms were sculpted into the drifts.
The drifts were so deep along this stretch because directly across the parkway there is a wide open pasture that rises above an open valley on the north. The wind whips snow across the valley and up the pasture land. At the top of the ridge it dumps on the opposite side of the parkway creating huge drifts. Just around this curve I have seen 8 foot drifts that had to be dozed out to open passage on the BRP. 
 The trail winds up the mountain through a magnificent fern forest. You will recall this location from greener days. Look here.  and here
 Another bunch of critters that are loving our trail are the turkeys.
An easy track to recognize.
 These peaceful birds are fun to encounter and I always see a peace symbol in their tracks.
 But they can make a mess on the trail. Here they have stopped to search for food.
 Scraping and digging and pecking around they can find ants under snow, grubs in the frost, and always leave a rustled mess after searching for dinner.
 Perhaps a pac-man could gobble them up! Anyone remember that early technology game?
 The colors of sunset are starting to creep into the sky/
At the top of the ridge is a flat open space that has come to be known as Dollyland. See here. The locust bench there provides a nice rest at the top of the climb. 
 Sitting on the bench your happy blogger looks toward Grandfather mountain in the last light of the day.
 Walking out of Dollyland is a path followed by many forest critters.
I enjoy this stretch of close, dense, pine saplings that line the trail at this point.
They are significant in that they preclude the entrance to the "Dead Pine Forest".
Though there is beauty to the natural transfer of old growth to new forest, the Dead Pine Forest is an alarming awareness to be alert and safe through this section. 
 This 50 foot pine snapped and dropped right beside of our trail last week. How lucky the fall to land so close and yet not block our trail.
 While one life decays it provides life source for another. Here is a wood pecker tree. Hammered for the carpenter ants and beetles that live in decaying pines the wood peckers find food within the failing pines.
 The more I studied that woodpecker tree I began to notice I was being studied too. Click to enlarge and see what was in the top hole on the tree. :-)
 This is the last leg on the north end of this section before stepping out and crossing the parkway. As I studied the tracks left by animals ahead I found interest in the next set of photos.
 Curious about this line of dragging turkey footprints I figured out he must have been running.
 The space between each step indicates a fast stride, but why is revealed in the next photo.
 A predators print parallels the running bird tracks. I suspect he was being stalked by a coyote.
 Near the bottom of this section our trail has been blocked by a new guard rail that has been installed along the parkway. As you see by the animal prints they have already found a new route out.
We have already flagged our new route out as well and as soon as spring construction resumes we will redirect the exit from this section. 
Our new exit will allow hikers to do exactly what the animals are doing, walk around the end of the new guard rail. 
And while I am talking about the new guard rails the BRP is installing let's take a look at the design and engineering of the structures. Unlike the old rails, these are reinforced on the back side with steel plates lug bolted along the length of the beam.

 The beams are butt joined together at the posts with carriage bolts from the front side.
 And bolted from the back with sunken lag bolts and washers.
 I find the engineering of these safety features to be fascinating and the new guardrails to be an significant enhancement to the BRP. Our tax dollars at work for the benefit of our experience.
 This stretch is about 400 feet long and was installed in just three days back in the fall.
 I love the fresh warm look of the new timbers. This view is just adjacent to the step out on the parkway south of the trail entrance.
 It is just a short walk to a long view ~ and that is worth the extra yards to discover.
 For just around the bend the view opens up to see Grandfather mountain in the distance. Having walked out just near sunset I waited to capture this moment of light.
As the day begins to end, and the night begins again. Grandfather the sentinel, Tanawah anchors my place on this planet.  Enjoy the quiet glow, experience the settling of the day, come visit the Watauga section of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

I will include a close-up section of the map for each of these parts to the Watauga Section. These maps have been constructed by Master mapmaker Arthur Kelley. Arthur has hike all these sections, logged his GPS coordinates and overlaid them on the contour maps. They are also linked to Google Earth and you can explore from the overflight of this magnificent high country therein. This is a wonderful, helpful, and impressive volunteer effort from this friend of the MST. Thank you Arthur Kelly.

A link to his maps is provided here for your perusal.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Heading South ~ the Contrary Journey ~ Part 1

With this post I begin a new series of hikes. I will call it the "Contrary Journey".
That is because I am hiking Southward and Westward on the Watauga Section. The traditional direction for hiking the MST is West to East or South to North through Watauga.
This is the trail marker and entry point at the North end of the Watauga Section near the 421/BR Parkway Bridge. BRP Milepost 276.7. I always enjoy beginning a trail and finding walking sticks propped against the trail head. Thanks! (BTW yours truly cut, carved, painted, and planted this marker).
 My interests in hiking are as much about the exercise as they are about the wondrous discoveries that are made along the way. Right off the start on the pine tree beside the marker above there was a crack in the tree trunk and the most remarkable ice ringed hole was spotted therein.
 This is the next interesting plant discovery. I really want someone to step up and tell me about this plant. First, it stands out because it is fresh and green in the snow covered terrain.
 Not only green, but supple and tender even though we were having single digit temperatures only two days before and the temperature this day was in the 20s.
Here are a few close-ups that will help you recognize the plant. It is almost primitive looking in leaf formation and structure.  
 A top close up reveals the tender leaf, soft and flexible stalk, and coloration of purplish and green.
 This above view shows the near perfect symmetry to the leafing pattern. I do hope someone can give me a name or type for this wonderful plant. We only saw about 6 specimens all withing 10 feet of each other. I have not seen this plant anywhere else on the trail. I have never seen such a tender plant thrive in such winter conditions.
An interesting trail construction feature on this stretch is the steep slope solution that was built. During the summer of 2009 posts were set about 8 feet apart and sunk four feet deep. Then locust tree cribbing was laid into place and the trail back filled.
In this photo you can sense how steep the slope is and how important the design of the trail cribbing was to creating a good foot tread. This stretch was designed and supervised by Professor Allen DeHart and constructed under the leadership of John Lanman and Shelton Wilder. 
 I have always enjoyed the rustle of birch leaves in winter forest. Gary and I were curious about the type of birch this might be.
Gary pinched off a leaf and twig stem for study.
 First the smell test followed by the taste test. In our untrained observation we decided this was what the locals call cherry birch. What do you think?
This is one of the nicest views of the manner in which this trail hugs the contours of the curves around this mountain. 
This is a panoramic shot. I took two photos and aligned them in PS to create a sense of the grand view and elevation of this section. It is right on the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment and long range views open up toward Wilkesboro from this point.
At about midpoint there is a locust bench that provides a nice break and brings back familial memories to me. This is the bench my family constructed in the summer of 2010.  revisit here
Yours truly taking a break and enjoying the view. Note the steep contour prior to rounding the curve at this rest stop.
 The deer use our trail as their primary passing through here to the small trickling branch just down the way. I love that the animals use our trail. Perhaps it is us who interrupted their trail?
 This deer was dragging snow clumps on the back of his hooves as he walked.
 I've always enjoyed looking closely at their prints.
 Here we begin to enter Holly Holler. This section faces south east and is filled with the most holly trees I have found yet along the trails. The trees begin high on the ridge.
The trail passes right through the middle of the Holly Holler and the colony continues down the hill and picks up on the other side of the parkway down the mountain. The berries were plentiful as late as last week on this female tree.
revisit here
 We had a discussion of how one could insure to get a berry producing holly tree from seed. Is it true that all holly trees do not produce berries? How would one collect seeds that might produce mature trees that fruit?
 I always love an "S" curve in the trail. I just find that a pleasing design that speaks to the challenges of creating a mountain trail.
 Shadows on snow provide a good understanding of how successfully this trail foot tread is constructed. I enjoy seeing how the shadow curves, flattens on the tread, and then contours off the lower side.
 People tracks! These are our boot tracks. Clearly evident are the imprints of the yaktrax we were wearing for snow and icy hiking. That little extra grip makes it easy to enjoy the hike without sliding and twisting ankles or slipping on the packed ice stretches.
Here we are, stepping out from the forest into the pasture near the end of this 1.2 mile section. This is one of my favorite North views along the Watauga Section. Most of the openings along our trail open to the South. In the distance from this area you can see Mt. Jefferson, Snake Mountain, Elk Knob, and Rich Mountain.
This exit point for this section is on the West side of the parkway across from Osbourne Mountain overlook.
From here we will walk across the parkway to the overlook where a first view of Grandfather mountain can be seen. The next section will begin at BRP milepost 278.
I will include a close-up section of the map for each of these parts to the Watauga Section. These maps have been constructed by Master mapmaker Arthur Kelley. Arthur has hike all these sections, logged his GPS coordinates and overlaid them on the contour maps. They are also linked to Google Earth and you can explore from the overflight of this magnificent high country therein. This is a wonderful, helpful, and impressive volunteer effort from this friend of the MST. Thank you Arthur Kelly. A link to his maps is provided here for your perusal.