Sat, Jul 23 2011, Sat, Jul 23 2011, Sun, Jul 24 2011 - Shining Rock Wilderness backpacking (View Original Event Details)

Trip Leader(s): Michael Johnson, Bob Bunner
Participants:Jon Miner, Steve, Jane T, Pavan, Michael Johnson, Bob Bunner, Sarah Y, Stacy Patterson

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Write Up:
I was proud to show off one of my favorite wildneress areas as we wound up the trail beside the pigeon river. I feel it displays the power of the appalachian's as the clear, cold water comes rushing down the confluence of so many ravines in some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies. Then to look up at those steep green high ravines from down below can be inspiring or intimidating, either way it still makes me proud. As we marched up river about 3.5 miles in the warm, humid valley, we began the cleansing of body and soul, that only backpackers can understand, literallyy from inside out. We stopped to regroup and take a short break with lunch where the Grassy Cove Trail forks up the ravine from the pigeon river. The deep clear pools of water were so inviting, but we still had 5 miles to hike up the mountain, with the threat of thunderstorms looming as the heat rose, and of course the possibility of ripe blueberries and blackberries up on the ridge.

After eating, and filtering more water, we started our march up the mountain gaining almost 3K' in 3 miles.  This event was originally listed as a D5.  I heard some comments that this should have been a D6 while marching up the trail. I argued that I put in the mileage, the altitude gain, and the elevation, thinking that that's all that really matters. But after looking up the Difficulty ratings on the website, found they were right. And all that did this trip, deserve a D6 rating next to their name. So we have changed it to D6 and will make a note of it for future trips.

When we got to the top, we found limited ripe blueberries and more ripe blackberries, but you could see that "something" got their first. Sure enough, we found some black bear scat on the trail. Also, many of the blueberry bushes are now in the shadow of other faster growing trees and bushes as the mountain heals from previous visits by man. Some of us sat on the top of Grassy Cove lounging in the thick beautiful grass, waiting for the rest to catch up, when it began to sprinkle a bit. For a couple of hours now, we heard the deep rumble of thunder in the distance, getting closer. So we plunged ahead, nearing the top and the Art Loeb trail, with occasional breezes reaching us as we rose above most of the foliage, and the spectacular views, if you had the energy to look.

Once we regrouped again, merged with the Art Loeb, and glided along the ridges, happy to be out of the deep humid valleys, and noticing the thunderstorms were falling apart as they came to the higher and cooler mountain ridges, skirting all around us, but never over us, our moods started to lift along with the clearing blue skies, fresh cooler breeze, and sunny views. After setting up camp, gathering more water (I drank a gallon and still felt a bit dehydrated before quenching my thirst at the water hole), some of us walked up to Shining Rock, and some of us prepared dinner. After we all relaxed for a bit, hung our food, most of us went up to Shining Rock for sunset. It's one of my favorite places to watch the sun set below the gorgeous mountain ridges to the west. The clouds were awesome, but a bit too thick off to the west to see much color. Still, we stayed up there for over an hour talking, then hiked through the thick rhodendron tunnel with our headlamps back to camp. Once we got there, since they don't allow fires up there, we sat in a ring, talking for hours. All we could see were the silouettes of each other, cast in the foreground of a clear star filled sky. Sitting on a ridge at 6k' has it's advantages, when almost all the other mountains are lower. Seeing stars behind my friends head, made me appreciate not having fire blindness. I hope the rest felt the same way. It was amazing to me. And as I type this in the city, I feel so lucky to have friends who are willing to go through such pains, to be in such beautiful country. We are the few proud backpackers, that form friendships that last a lifetime under such circumstances. And to have my college buddy join us, made it that much more special. We enjoyed many adventures as young athletic men in the north country above the 47th parallel, so to bring him to one of my favorite wilderness areas down south, was something I'll never forget, and I doubt he will either.

The next morning started with a nice sunrise, a great breakfast, broke camp, and hiked out along the Old Butt Knob trail. Just beautiful walking along that ridge, but the threat of more thunderstorms on their way, kept us springing along the trail, knowing we had to get off the high ridges. We regrouped once again, just before starting our very quick descent down into the safety of the valley. But before we could enjoy the fruits of our labor long, we saw a mountain of a dark ominous thunderhead coming right at us, ignoring the high ridges, and plunging straight for us. We threw our loads back on our back, and started down the long staircase descending in a mile, what we gained in 6 miles yesterday, going down the last part of the Old Butt Knob trail. My glasses quickly fogged up as the rain started, so I slowed my descent. Everytime I stopped, my glasses fogged up so thickly I couldn't see my boots. So I kept going, trying to fan them enough to see, wishing I had on my contacts, or had said yes to lazik surgery years ago. The thunder started pounding all around us, and I started worrying about the people who were still above me on that exposed ridge. But the worst of the storm still seemed to go around us, taking the path of least resistance, and our ridge put up plenty I'm sure. We got back to the cars with more sun to our amazement. Some of us bathed in the river, got in the cars, and drove down into some of the lower valleys where the storm opened up, and showed us what it had in store for the people dwelling in the bottom lands. We all felt lucky we didn't have to hike in that downpour, or worse, set up camp in it.

Thanks for sharing last weekend with me, I hope you got as much out of it as I did! As for the friends who are joining me in the Teton's in mid-August, I hope you considered this adequate training to help prepare you for some more outstanding adventures yet to come.

Michael Johnson