My new job started this week, so I've been busy getting my work life in order. I'm glad to be back to a semi-regular routine again, but I'm already thinking about the next chance I can get away.
One of my favorite parts was the big meadow at 5,000+ feet, right past the trailhead. I read descriptions of the trail but I didn't give the meadow a second thought, for some reason. In person, it was so unexpected and unlike anything I'd seen before. (The meadows are actually man-made: logging in the early 1990s left debris and stumps that turned into kindling during a 1925 wildfire that burned 25,000 acres and up to a foot below the ground. A subsequent fire in 1942 took out all the trees that had started to grow back.)
It's bear season and lots of the wild blackberries were picked over by bears (and hikers). We hiked the Sam's Knob Loop in the Shining Rock area, but once we turned on the Mountains-to-Sea trail, we found enough to eat almost continuously as we were walking.
One of the coolest things (which doesn't show up in the photos) is that on some sides of the mountains I could see hundreds of trees that had been struck by lightning. Apparently the weather patterns around here mean that storms come in from the west, and tend to strike the western side of the ridge. Burned-out tree skeletons are everywhere.
Growing up in the Midwest and Florida, I still find mountains to be so crazy and mindblowing (so big! so old!) and I'm grateful I live just a short-ish drive away from them. Nothing clears my head better (or faster).
After reading a reference to it in Dear Life by Alice Munro, I started reading Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. There's a part in the beginning that I loved, about going up to the Alps:
"Only yesterday he had been caught up in his normal train of thought, preoccupied with what had just occurred...and with what was about to occur...and looking well beyond with as much impatience as his nature allowed. But now it seemed to him that the present circumstances demanded his full attention and that it was inappropriate to shrug them off. Being lifted like this into regions whose air he had never breathed before and whose sparse and meager conditions were, as he well knew, both unfamiliar and peculiar -- it all began to excite him, and to fill him with a certain anxiety. Home and a settled life not only lay far behind, but also, and more importantly, they lay fathoms below him, and he was still climbing." -The Magic Mountain.
It's true that time kind of stops at higher elevation, for some reason. Our two-day trip felt twice as long, in the best way.
Note: If you're local or planning a trip, I really liked this book by Joe Miller (of the blog, GetGoing NC!. (I wasn't asked to review it, or given it or anything.) It's great for trip inspiration and planning. On its advice, we hiked Sam's Knob in the Shining Rock Wilderness because it wasn't too strenuous (marathon training, ya'll) and there are great views and water crossings. The book included useful local tips about whether it's possible to hike in at night, and approximately how many days one would want to spend out there -- with options to lengthen or shorten the trip.