Sat, Sep 19 2015 - Slow and Steady - Unicoi Gap to Tray Mountain and Back (View Original Event Details)

Trip Leader(s): Carol, Joyce T.
Participants:Gail C, Julie B, Connie, Melissa P, Bethann J, Joyce T., Linda S, Ken, Carol, Elaine, Jeanne S, Sunae

Click for Album
Write Up:

Well, would you like a story?  Which first, the good or the not-so-good? Let’s start with the good.

 The hike itself (thanks to Carol’s superb co-leading) was terrific.  Though we started a bit late (that’s part of the not-so-good), the pace was great and we finished on time.  The weather was perfect both for hiking and for photos, so we were treated to some beautiful overlook views.  And the hike proved that the participants are totally fit for John’s slack packing week and for Lemmy’s Bavaria event. (Most of the participants are on one or the other event.)

 Now for the story, and the not-so-good news.  The story highlights the importance of having a co-lead on an event, or at least someone who can take over when the TL is not functioning well. The story also shows that even a very experienced TL can get things wrong.

 This is Joyce’s story.  (Carol, you’re welcome to post an addendum to this write-up if you have anything you’d like to add about the event.)  Last night, I set my alarm for 4:30 am, to give me time to get ready and get to the carpool by meeting time - - 7 am.  Our drive would be about 1.5 hours, and we were to meet the participants who did not participate in the carpool by 8:30 am.  Somehow, between awakening and leaving, things got jumbled in my mind.  The consequence was one of a TL’s worst nightmares . . .  getting a call from your co-lead asking, “Where are you?”  It was 7:05 am, and I was just preparing to grab something to eat and leave.  The members were all at the carpool, and I wasn’t there!  I missed the carpool for my own event!

Because we were concerned about starting the hike on time, Carol decide that she would get the group to the trailhead herself, and that I should drive up to Unicoi Gap myself.  Since I live about 1/2 hour southwest of Mansell, my commute to the trailhead itself could take 2 hours!  I forgot about eating anything and rushed out of the house, getting on the road in minutes.  I broke speed limits all the way up 400 and managed to get to the Unicoi Gap parking lot by 8:45, minutes before Carol’s group who stopped for a restroom break on the way.

 The stress of the drive, not eating breakfast, and the pouring out of adrenalin must have depleted my system, because after leading the group three-fourths of the way up Rocky Mountain (a decidedly difficult ascent), I turned the hike over to Carol’s leadership and took the position of sweep.  As the hike progressed, I swept from farther and farther behind the group.  The hike up Tray Mountain, though not as difficult as the ascent up Rocky Mountain, sapped everything I had left.  Thankfully, it was time for a lunch break, and I was able to handle that event pretty well!

 An element of “good” was the overlook Ken guided us to just over the crest of Tray Mountain.  The trail to the overlook was hidden by thick rhododendron growth, but Ken was able to find it thanks to his GPS map, created on a hike with Ralph H.  (Ken is very grateful to Ralph H. - - or perhaps it was Aaron R. - -  for pointing out the hidden trail on a past AOC hike to Tray Mountain.)  We chose to forego the Tray Mountain shelter that was on our agenda for a lunch spot and eat lunch at the beautiful overlook.  (Pictures are in the album.)

 The return hike to the trail head started well for me, since we were descending Tray Mountain; however, once the return climb up the other side of Rocky Mountain began, I was cooked.  Nothing left!  I sweated, I gasped for air, and I stopped repeatedly the entire way to the top.  I lagged far, far behind the group, and wondered if I’d ever make the climb.  It was during this ascent that Ken pulled a “Jimmy C.” and informed me that he would not go if I wasn’t going.  He refused to leave me behind, despite my insistence that I’d make it up eventually.  He even insisted that he take items from my backpack to lighten my load.  With his help - - and knowing he was not continuing the hike unless I continued) - - I finally made it to the top.  It wasn’t a pretty climb.

 The long descent was a piece of cake.  We went so fast that the others in the group returned to the trailhead at Unicoi Gap less than 5 minutes before we did.  (Good news:  Some folks go slower on downhills than they do on uphills!)

 I’m so grateful to Carol for stepping up when I couldn’t lead.  And I must thank Ken again for his stubborn refusal to let me go it alone. 

 A final note to trip leaders:  walkie talkies are extremely helpful on major hikes.  Carol and I were able to keep tabs of each other throughout the hike thanks to the walkie talkies we brought.  The group got extremely separated from me (and Ken), but Carol always knew where I was and that I was okay (sort of).  This enabled the group to go at the speed they expected to maintain, and not be held up by me. 

 This was the most difficult D5 I’ve ever done.  I felt every step of the 3,561 feet of ascent (Ken has a professional GPS that tracked our hike), and the result wasn’t pretty.  I apologize to the group for not meeting the carpool and for causing them to be late getting to the trailhead.  And for not sharing in the conversations among the group during the hike.  For folks fearful of becoming TLs until they can do everything perfectly, let me simply say that experience is no guarantee that you won’t goof.  You can’t do worse than I did today - - so take heart in that.  AOC members are remarkably understanding and supportive of our less-than-commendable performance.    ~  Joyce