Thursday, July 24, 2014

MST Thru-hike 2014 Complete!

 
Atop Clingman's! The route that I traveled runs over those mountains, and more mountains, and more mountains, across foothills and farmland, through palms and sand, all the way to the sea.
Yesterday on July 23rd, I took my final steps up to Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in the Great Smokey Mountains at 6643 feet elevation, and second highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Beginning on May 3rd at Jockey's Ridge, atop an ever-shifting sand dune on the Outer Banks of NC, I traveled through salt spray and sand, past tobacco fields and cows and tractors, over beach, gravel, asphalt, rock, and trail, and finally following ridgeline and creek into the misty mountains of Appalachia. Now, after nearly 1200 miles, my trek is complete!

Hiking the Bodie Dike Trail on Hatteras Island
Walking through the ever-present melding of civilization and natural landscape in the Piedmont
Atop the rocky ridgeline heading further west and deeper into the Mountains
Although I had hiked this trail in 2011, headed eastbound, I had the opportunity to travel the new Cape Fear Arch Route through the Coastal Plain, hike miles and miles of new trail and designated greenway through the Piedmont, and enter into the Smokey Mountains via the new River Valley Route. It was a thrill to suddenly come upon the beloved places I remembered, but so often I found myself in awe at the views never before seen, challenged by the route not yet mapped, and meeting people I never would have known were it not for the trail meandering through their little town.

Giving some love to my two favorite trails: The MST and AT. Here at Clingman's Dome is where they meet. It's fitting that I finish on the trail on which I first discovered my love for long distance hiking.
I am truly grateful to have had the privilege to walk this trail, get to know its twists and turns, it lowlands and highlands, its plants and trees and critters, its generous people, cities and hollers all the better. I've had some folks ask me..."What was the best part?" or "What great insight did you have?" I've learned from previous hikes that these questions are too big to answer in the moment or even in a simple blog post. A thru-hike and the insights that it offers are a process. The insights bleed into every part of your life, the way you interact with your natural environment, with people, with society...and continue to affect the way in which you move through the world long after it is done. I encourage anyone who has ever considered a thru-hike, of course along the MST, but along any long distance trail, to DO IT. The time will never magically present itself. You have to carve it out. And it's time well spent. It is raw and real and what it means to truly live.

My morning summit atop Clingman's Dome
Okay, so to give you the scoop on the last couple of days and the last couple of steps leading up to the summit. Leaving Sylva I walked 20 miles by road before hitting trail again in the Smokies. I walked through the tiny town of Dillsboro and then along the winding 4-lane Rt. 74, and finally along country roads that led me past small swaths of mountain farmland and up steep hills along the edge of the Cherokee Reservation. The Tuckaseegee River was a constant at my side and the mountains grew larger on the horizon with every step I took. 

Deep Creek in the Smokey Mountains
I spent one quiet night by myself at a campsite along Deep Creek and then spent most of the whole next day walking along beside its moss lined and rock strewn mountain waters. I made sure to take one last dip while taking a break for lunch and although it was incredibly refreshing, it was so frigid, I promptly lost feeling in all my fingers and toes. Then it was 2000 feet up Fork Ridge Trail to the Mt. Collins Shelter. Here I had a dear friend and hiking partner meeting me for my last miles as well as a slew of awesome fellow hikers to join in my final night on the trail. FreeWil and I hiked together for a good portion of New England on the AT in 2008, we also summited Katahdin together. It would be a treat to have his company on yet another summit. And as for the crowd at the shelter, I couldn't have asked for a better group of folks- among them were AT alum Mr. Blunt, several hardcore section-hikers, Kirk with his avid-reader son and monkey-limbed nephew, and a painter of rhodo thickets, essentially a good festive crowd to share in whiskey and laughter and stories.

In the morning, I had just 3.5 miles to go to the summit. FreeWil and I took our time, climbing the last 1000 feet to the top. The fragrant Fir and Spruce were ever-present and the trail was fairly easy with large rocks to hop and dry brown dirt framed by moss and ferns on either side. Once at the top, however, as you can see, the summit was socked in by fog. It lent its own atmosphere to the finish, but I desperately wanted to see some views and simply hang about in the sun at the base of the tower. FreeWil and I took a couple of photos and then it promptly started to rain a cold, steady rain. We retreated to the visitor center a half mile down to await another friend's arrival.

The Great Robino and I at the top!
 By 2:00 in the afternoon, my dear friend, Robin arrived to join in the celebration and had apparently brought the sun bottled up with her which she promptly released atop the dome, parting the clouds and bringing warm sun for the rest of the afternoon. Robin also was responsible for delivering the proper summit attire. You see, you simply can't finish a long trail in the grubby clothes you have worn the entire hike, you must be certain to be dressed for the occasion. And so, what is more fitting for a two-time thru-hike on the MST than a pair of zebra-print galoshes, a gold rain jacket, red feather earrings, and a silver scarf?

The Botanical Hiker atop Clingman's Dome
FreeWil and I made a point to get a pic in while the sun was actually shining. I lent him bling (notice silver scarf) for the photo...

FreeWil and I at the top
Now please, don't let me paint the picture that we had Clingman's Dome all to ourselves. Hardly. There must have been hundreds of people that came and went from that Dome that day. It detracts a bit from the special moment for sure, but once The Botanical Hiker was on the scene in style, the onlookers actually became a integral part of the experience. It was a trip to have a complete stranger give me hug and congratulate me. As I walked the catwalk of the observation tower, Robin took a moment to explain to a passerby "Pardon my friend, she is a celebrity!" To which the passerby replied, "She looks like she's from New York!" To which I, in New Yorker frankness replied, "I am!"

Posing with the final (or first)  MST sign - behind me you can see the tower. This is a nearly 50 foot tower with a long winding ramp leading to the top. It is really rather space-age for the top of a mountain, but it affords those who visit to see the mountains for miles in all directions
 

View from atop Clingmans Dome

And so now, I head back to New York to family and friends and woods that I have missed. I have a couple of book events I'll be attending to there, but then it will be time for a relocation. That location is yet to be determined, but I am on the fence between moving further into upstate NY in preparation for another long trail or back to sweet Asheville to immerse myself in the MST and these mountains I also consider home awhile longer.

The blog will be continuing, as I will post more events having to do with not only, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, but future plant walks and classes, herbal and hiking endeavors. It will also continue to be an educational source for learning about your local plants and trails.
 
Thank you all for supporting me in this journey! You make the trail what it is! And it's been one helluva trek!!!

Hiking on....



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Final Asheville Event

I love the hell outta this trail!
Please join me for my final thru-hiking book event! This will not only be a presentation about my recently published, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, but a celebration of my completion of my 2014 thru-hike of the Mountains to Sea Trail from the Outer Banks to Clingman's Dome. And I have just the venue...not only is Black Dome an outfitters, but they have a bar serving the finest microbrews in the Asheville area! Come learn about the trail, the book, and enjoy a cold one!

A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail Presentation and Thru-hike Celebration at Black Dome Mountain Sports, 140 Tunnel Rd, Asheville NC 28805
Thursday, July 24th at 6pm
 
Hope to see you there!

Clingman's Here I Come!

View from atop Chestnut Ridge
This was one of the very last views I can remember seeing...which was this past Wednesday morning. I have hiked through some incredibly special parts of the trail and did manage to capture some of the plant life, however as for trail and scenery shots, eh not so much. My views have been blankets of clouds, which do lend a majestic atmosphere to a mountaintop nonetheless and the trail has been a splish-splashing wet rock, green moss, deep mud kind of experience, all with too much rain to take out the camera. The plant photos I managed to catch before the rain began!

The Middle Prong Wilderness making up just 8 miles of the MST, but sandwiched between Pisgah National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, offering the hiker a seamless wilderness experience
 To catch y'all up, I left Asheville and hiked gradually up on easy well-graded trails towards Mount Pisgah. The first day out of Asheville was hot and humid and actually rather stifling, the first I'd had on the trail since the east, but by the second day after gaining a over 2000 feet elevation and reaching over 5700 feet at Pisgah's summit, the cool weather set in. I'm talkin' true mountain air, the kind that makes your lungs expand, makes each step feel a lil' stronger, and that smell of what I call the "cotton-candy" pine. I have yet to figure out just which one it is, but breathe deep and be mindful next time you're at that elevation, you're bound to catch just a passing waft of its sweet smelling sap.

RipeWineberries (Rubus phoenicolasuis) - notice the very hairy sepals and the leftover yellow receptacle - this is characteristic of Wineberries. The entire plant is wooly, with the stems often being covered in a red wool and the undersides of the leaves in a thick white wool. The berries are considered raspberries and are hollow when plucked, leaving the receptacle behind. Leaflets number just 3, with the terminal leaflet being the largest.
Along the way, I had the pleasure of eating my first Wineberries of the season that seemed to be blushing red everywhere I looked. In fact, I notice lots of berries and plants already going to seed. For us, it still seems the height of the season, but for many of the plants they are already preparing to for fall. I saw this in the flowering Wood Nettle (Laportea Canadensis), bright red Trillium berries (Trillium spp.), and Clintonia (Clintonia spp.).

Trillium (Trillium spp.) berry of a Trillium's single large flower - these berries are NOT edible and will produce gastric upset if consumed. Trilliums are a rare and habitat sensitive plant, so best to simply admire them anyhow.
Oh and I also must mention, I had this handsome man as my hiking companion on the first day out of Asheville. He hiked 19 miles, keeping up the whole time (well most of the time), and drinking and bathing in every stream we passed...

Me and Harvey. Harvey is usually Rachel's main squeeze, but I got to enjoy his company on this day!
It was the night leaving Mount Pisgah that the rain first began. Although I had to don cold wet clothes every morning, at least I was offered a reprieve throughout the majority of each day... that is for a couple of days. After reaching Mount Pisgah, I enjoyed a subtle downhill to Chestnut Ridge and then another gradual descent to Yellowstone Prong and Graveyard Fields. This area lies just outside of the Shining Rock Wilderness and is astoundingly beautiful, known for its Red Spruce (Picea rubens), Fraser and Balsam Fir (Abies fraseri and Abies balsamea) trees. A popular swimming spot known as Skinny Dip Falls lies here, tumbling between the boulders of the Yellowstone Prong. And lucky me, I had some ladies meet me at those falls...

Me and my two lovely ladies from Asheville, Robin and Rachel - they actually managed to jump into those ice cold waters! I, on the other hand, was still cold from the soaking rain that had dumped on me the night before, and so enjoyed being wrapped in my thermal, basking in a single sunbeam, and eating all the goodies they brought to share with me!
I quickly ascended from the 5000 mountain valley of Graveyard Fields to the mountaintops surrounding Black Balsam and Sam Knob, at least one of these bearing a name, Silvermine Bald. The views were breath-taking and the air was again cool and crisp. On this night, I had the pleasure of camping in an open high-canopy pine woods on a bed of dark red needles. On the ridge I could see the colors put off by the setting sun, the night was void of sound, and in the morning I was awoken by a the song of a single bird.

Heading towards camp in the diminishing light near Black Balsam
As I left here in the morning, I headed into the thick wood woods of the Middle Prong Wilderness, one of my most favorite portions of the MST. The best way that I can describe this area is as a mountain-top garden. It is not at all orderly like a garden but the way that the trail is cut through the thin black soil, exposing the, most often, flat slabs of rock below, leaving the trail to be framed by bright green moss and blooms of white lichen, gives the suggestion of a definite pathway through the plants. The curling bark of Yellow Birch (Betula allegheniensis) lies strewn about as does fallen clumps of Usnea (Usnea spp.) and as always in these high elevation woods, the Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel creep in from all sides. Through all of this are many skinny trickling streams, with waters so clear that you can see perfectly all the different shades of brown and gray and cream one could ever imagine in the pebbles that make up the stream floors.

Usnea aka Old Man's Beard (Usnea spp.) - this is a potent medicine, possessing antibiotic, anti-viral, anti-fungal properties. It was historically used to pack soldier's wounds when modern medicines were not available in the field. It is now largely used by herbalists as a general antibiotic and more specifically in use against urinary tract infections. Making a tea of it will extract some of its constituents but making an alcohol tincture is more effective.
It was in the Middle Prong Wilderness that I had the pleasure of meeting Becca Day and her friends Claire and Debbie. I met Becca by running into her on the trail and asking her with great trepidation, "Is this the MST?" To which she replied, "Yeah!" Oh thank God. Because this is a designated wilderness area, there are few blazes and many side trails where hikers have wondered off and gotten lost, therefore I was doing my damnedest to stay on track. After learning I was thruhiking Becca happened to offer up her home when I came through Balsam Gap in the next day or two. Well...let's just say I took Becca up on that offer after hiking in a torrential downpour the next morning for 3 hours at 5000 feet over steep rocky trail and across the tops of blowing wind balds. Okay, so maybe after I realized my hands were so cold I couldn't tie my own shoes and in a dumb-handed frenzy threw my tent down on the side of the trail, ripped off my wet clothes, got inside tried not to get anything else wet, put on every article of dried clothing I had, got inside my sleeping bag, and then proceeded to eat half my food bag, fall asleep with head on said food bag, and wake up to the rain still pouring down...I called Becca...asking her to meet me 7 miles before Balsam Gap. Becca, thank you, you were a true Trail Angel! Oh yeah, and then Becca, her husband, and I all ate Mexican and drank Angry Orchard. Does it get any better than that?

A snail - I saw so many of these guys, I had to be careful not to crush them underfoot- at least they have been enjoying the rain!
And so it not only rained all day that day, but I started off in the early morning the following day in more rain. I spent the first half of the day descending, hiking at a lower, and therefore warmer elevation and had some good body heat built up by the time I again had to ascend to Waterrock Knob. Let me tell ya, I was quite the sight, walking up the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway in tiny shorts and rain jacket with the hood pulled as tight around my head as possible dripping wet in the rain and thick fog, passing drivers probably thought me an apparition. Through that fog I simply followed the enormous rock faces on one side, all with streaming waterfalls, and the dark green pines lining the cliffs on the other. And good news, hikers, Waterrock Knob Visitor Center at the summit is OPEN! And they have a fireplace. Upon reaching here, I promptly threw down my wet gear and plopped down on the floor in front of that fire and ate a snickers.

The sign telling me Clingman's is only getting closer!
And now I have officially begun the River Valley Route! This route descends from the mountains after summiting Black Rock and Yellowface Bald, which I did yesterday evening, to the Tuckaseegee River. Here I will follow roads for about 20 miles into the Great Smokey Mountains. Two days of hiking here, and I'm at Clingman's Dome. All I can say is, "Clingman's, I'm comin' for ya!" This is one of two alternate routes to avoid walking on the parkways. The other route goes largely through the Smokies with this route has been described as the less rugged of the two...well, do not hit those woods on the other side of Waterrock Knob and expect a nice easy walk in Pinnacle Park. Blackrock and the West Fork Trail that leads you over it's summit is incredibly rugged with much boulder scrambling and then a descent of over 700 feet in 0.5 mile. This small section was also some of the most beautiful trail I've seen along the MST yet, so also definitely a portion to be experienced.

The countryside of Sylva, a little town along the edge of the Tuckaseegee River and that sits at the base of the Waterrock Knob, Black Rock, Yellowface, and Pinnacle.
And so after raining all night long last night, I awoke this morning to mere mist and could just feel that the sun would be coming out. Seven miles later, as I entered the town of Sylva, the sun was so bright my eyes were mere slits and the sun so hot I wondered what on earth I was doing with that Mount Mitchell fleece in my pack. Sylva is the definition of mountain town and I have so far thoroughly enjoyed its amenities: City Lights Bookstore and Café, the Economy Inn, and later, a brew at the Innovator Brewery. Delicious little eateries also abound here.

Tomorrow...into the SMOKIES! I will do one small post following this one with an announcement for my final book event in Asheville at Black Dome, but my next full post will be upon COMPLETION!

I must leave you with the photo of one more friend that I met during an actually beautiful, fall-like, crisp day in the Middle Prong Wilderness...

Speckles, the Spiritual Llama. I want nothing more than to leave it at this, but I'll give you the backstory. Speckles is part of a team of llamas that are part of an organization called Challenge Adventure. The kids that were on this trip informed me of this particular llama's name and his role amongst the other llamas. After I learned this, I felt rather honored I'd had the opportunity to pet him.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

1000 Miles Down!

Standing atop misty Mount Mitchell: elevation 6684 feet
How did I actually come this far already?! These words are what resounded in my head the last few days on trail, as I began to see not only familiar names of towns and gaps along the parkway, but the mountains looming larger and further in the distance, and I drew more and more near to Asheville .

A view of the mountains en route to Mt. Mitchell
 I know my last post was brief and so I'd quickly like to run through where I have hiked since I left the little mountain town of Boone. Beginning on trail along the parkway, I hiked up to Moses Cone State Park, grazed the edge of Rich Mountain, then descended into the valley, meandering along the edges, fording, sloshing, and splashing through over a dozen creeks and a handful of rivers...

a foggy morning on the creek
... I climbed up to Rough Ridge which held true to name with its rock strewn ridge and boulders as large as houses, all the under the gaze of Grandfather Mountain, and crossing beneath the Linn Cove Viaduct that winds like a snake along an outside edge of a mountainside. I climbed the Chimneys, spending the Fourth of July here and having the absolutely magical experience of watching the fireworks burst like tiny colored flowers in the valley far below, the accompanying booms sounding like drums out of time....

A view from above the Linville Gorge
...I descended from Shortoff Mountain at nearly 4000 feet into the Linville Gorge and back up to the Pinnacle, once again at nearly 4000 feet where I had the pleasant surprise of finding a whole untouched watermelon some crazy person had lugged all the way up there...I looked around to make sure no one could claim it and then...I ate it....

Quite the find atop The Pinnacle on a hot sunny day
...I descended down to more creeks in deep gaps filled with Wood Nettle and Blackberry Brambles, clawing my way through the vegetation as I neared Black Mountain Campground, and then ascended up, up, up to Mount Mitchell at nearly 7000 feet. Although I it looks nice and warm in the photo above, it was far from it, as I stood socked in by cold fog. After spending nights in my tent at elevation wrapped in my rain jacket for warmth and my hair wrapped around my neck like a scarf, I bought a true tourist-esque Mt. Mitchell fleece at the summit gift shop and later found myself huddled and relieved in my tent as the rain pounded and wind blew from where I was camped in dark pine woods at 6000 feet just on the other side of the mountain...

Descending from the mountains...Asheville laid just below these clouds
Then beginning quite the downhill, descending to Craggy Gardens and then the equally craggy Lane Pinnacle and Wolf Den Rocks within just 12 miles of the city of Asheville. I camped at Rattlesnake Lodge the night before hiking into town. As I continued to descend in the early morning on my old familiar MST running routes, the above photo was my view on the valley...

Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum)
 ...Along the way I met with the colorful faces of the Mountain Plants, such as Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum), Michaux's Saxifrage (Saxifraga michauxii), Mountain St. John's Wort (Hypericum graveolens), Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbekia laciniata), Pedicularis canadensis and various species of Monarda...


Basil Balm (Monarda clinopodia) - the individual florets are edible with a subtle minty flavor
 
Green-Headed Coneflower aka Sochan (Rudbekia laciniata) - the greens of which are edible, however traditionally require a couple changes of water to prepare.

Back in the abundant Mountain region, I feasted upon Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana), Wood Nettle (Laportea canadense), Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), various species of Violet leaves (Viola spp.), admired the Ramps (Allium tricoccum) that I wished I could have caught in leaf, and chewed on Birch twigs to freshen the breath...
 
A whole wheat pita with Cabot cheddar cheese, kalamata olives (I'm lovin' those new individual travels packets!) and a pile of Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)
And then once in Asheville...look at what I found sitting on the shelf amongst some of my most treasured books in one of my favorite bookstores, Malaprops....
 
A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail - found at Malaprops Bookstore - I must say it felt good to see it shelved with some of my favorites, such as Botany in a Day and Wildflowers and Plant Communities
Having once lived here in Asheville, and for nearly 10 years, it is always a thrill to hike into town. I've now been here since Thursday morning enjoying the company of amazing friends - thank you to Rachel for providing the home base and the sweet welcoming, and Amanda for joining me on my rounds down in Asheville and for hooking me up with the Black Mountain Farmer's Market. Thank you to ALL my ladies - Robin, Jodi and Noah (I know, not a lady but I'm including you here), Raeleen, Addy and Alex - I had too much fun to go through ALL the good stuff - however I must say dancing to ol' skool hip hop under the full moon and a yoga class with long time yoga teacher, Sierra,  were among the highlights! Thank you to Maria at Filo and Bob at Long Time Sun Yoga and Wellness for hosting me and also for simply being awesome. And thank you to EVERYONE that attended my events. Asheville was a hit! And I am quite pleased to say that I am quite nearly sold out of books...however, not to worry there is a second printing on the way!
 
Kori and Risi, two of my beloved yoga students I had the pleasure of seeing again, and myself while on an impromptu plant walk around the grounds of Long Time Sun Yoga and Wellness on Charlotte Highway in Fairview
Thank you to Asheville for peanut butter tofu and kale, spicy Indian food, salad by the pound, dark microbrews, dark bars full of people dancing, friendly day hikers on the trail, and for being the funky mountain town that you are!
 
And now...I kid you not...I have 10 DAYS LEFT TO GO until I reach my final summit atop Clingman's Dome. I am going to savor every sweet step (well, at least the ones that don't hurt). I will be taking the River Valley Route which is a one of two new routes in this section. This will be a combination of roads and trail, as I continue my journey through the mountains of Blue Ridge Parkway, then into the little towns of Sylva and Dillsboro, and finally into the wilderness of Great Smokies.
 
I should be able to get at least one more post in before completion, as I will be stopping in one of these small towns along the way to resupply and also very likely do a book event. Whoop, whoop! Here I come!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Upcoming Asheville Book Events

Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) - one of our lesser known Asheville edibles
I am pleased to announce my upcoming, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, book events!
 
Malaprops Bookstore and Café
Friday 7/11 at 4pm - Book signing
 
Filo Pastries
Saturday 7/12 at 1pm - Book Presentation and signing
 
Long Time Sunshine Yoga and Wellness
Saturday 7/12 at 6pm - Book Presentation and signing
 
Plans are still being finalized for an event at Diamond Brand, so please stay tuned to this blog and the FMST facebook page for info on when this will be held. And if you can't make it out this weekend, I will also be doing an event at Black Dome Mountain Sports upon completion of the hike!
 
Hope to see you there!

A Wilderness Snapshot


Oh this will be a condensed, and for that I am terribly sorry because the experience is worthy of so much more few words...but that is part of being in the true wilderness...no internet access and little to no phone service. I have truly been on the trail the last 5 days in both body and mind.

Taking a break atop Shortoff Mountain above the Linville Gorge
And lemme tell you, these feet have walked some hard miles. I have been regularly ascending and descending between 1000 and 2000 feet, walking dusty fire ravaged mountain ridges, following trail along lushly vegetated waterways such as Steele's Creek and Upper Creek with lots of opportunities for a quick dip in one the abundant waterfalls, tunneling through Rhododendron thickets, hiking through sweeping meadows with Coreopsis and Wild Carrot up to my waist, and tenting along the edge of craggy mountain rocks.

The trail approaching the Linville River
And of course, all this mountain plant life has been offering some fantastic foraging along the way! Wood Nettle has been a part of dinner every night this week and its not hard to find considering, it too, has been growing nearly waist high, and stinging these hiker legs down narrow overgrown trail. But the best find was this Stonecrop, growing true to its name, atop a large flat boulder near a small cascade.

Multi-grain flatbread with sharp cheddar cheese, kalamata olives, fresh Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), and a light spread of mayo. I had the pleasure of eating this while seated on an enormous boulder surrounded by the spindly roots of a tree that had made its home there.
Even out here in the wilderness, I've had the good fortune of making some new friends...

Megg and Carter
Above are Megg and Carter. I met these ladies while fording the Linville River, they on one side, myself on the other. After fording we got to talking...turns out these ladies are section hiking the MST, at least 100 miles a year is the plan, however they've already surpassed this year's goal! Carter is the reason why I am able to post a blog tonight! She gave me a call today and it just so happened I was at one of the few road crossings along the trail and said, "Hey would you like to sleep in a bed tonight?" And so has taken me home to her cabin in Linville Falls for the evening. Thank you Carter!

Teepee Walter aka Uncle Fungus
This here is Teepee Walter. In that pack on his pack, he has got 22 days worth of food! I thought about him several times as I moaned and groaned my way up the mountainsides with my suddenly modest pack. He was headed into the woods surrounding Steeles Creek, using the MST as a backbone to get to the various side trails. No resupplies planned. He told me about an absolutely magnificent waterfall that could be seen from a cliff just off trail from where I'd be camping that night. My God, Teepee Walter, you weren't kidding, I felt like I could have just soared off that mountain!

A moth who found me while sitting atop a rock lunching at The Pinnacle
And how could I not include this lil' guy. He joined me for lunch at The Pinnacle...I believe he was lunching on my dirty toe.

I will just have to make up for this short post when I get to Asheville on Thursday! I will be posting a list of my Asheville events immediately following this one!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mountain Plants

Now, to give you a glimpse at some of these gorgeous Mountain flowers....

Galax aphylla
Galax is the unassuming lil' plant that gives the Blue Ridge Mountains there unique scent. It is really quite indescribable...but if you've walked the higher altitude trails through North Carolina and breathed deep, you already know this plant. Galax also goes by the common name Beetleweed, but I think simply calling it Galax is more appropriate as this unusual name better conveys its individuality. It is the sole member of the Diapensia Family, although I couldn't help but notice how much the leaf resembles that of Pennywort found along the Coastal Plain.

Galax flowers
Galax is not edible and with its strong odor, its inedibility is already strongly suggested. From its basal leaves (there are no stem leaves), a single flowering stalk arises, slender and tall, bearing 5- petaled regular flowers. The evergreen leaves are toothed, shiny and heart-shaped, yet much more rounded than say the heart-shaped leaf of a violet. It often shares woods with Rhododendron, Eastern Hemlock, Black Birch, and various Oaks.

Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)
Again, not an edible or medicinal, but this flower is too lovely to simply ignore. The trail often passes through tunnels of Rhododendron thickets as this shrub spreads easily with many-crooked or angled branches that together can weave quite the impenetrable woody web for the unfortunate lost or wandering hiker. It shares the same genus as Azalea and is a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae) which also contains the genus of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia), which is somewhat similar in appearance, although flowers are more cup-shaped.


Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)
Finally onto an edible! This is Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) showing off it's new spring tips. These tips are the edible part. Simply pinch off just the ends and pop in your mouth for a lemony-pine tasting treat. They are packed full of vitamin C and will help to ward off any spring-time colds. A tea can also be made of these tips, simply take a small handful and steep in hot water for 10 minutes. It is quite tasty, and crazy as it sounds, I think they are a nice addition to the bitter instant coffee hikers must often resort to on the trail. However, please pick sparingly as this tree is under attack by the wooly adelgid, an insect that slowly kills the tree by preventing these spring tips to form. Avoid any trees that may be under management by conservation groups as these could be treated with chemicals to kill the adelgid. Also avoid any trees with a soapy residue at the base of the needle, as this is evidence of the adelgid's inhabitance.

Eastern Hemlock's striped needles
The easiest way to identify Eastern Hemlock is by turning over a sprig to see the undersides of the needles. Each needle bears two horizontal white stripes. Another species of Hemlock is Carolina Hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana). This Hemlock's habitat is specific to the high elevations of the Southern Appalachian mountains. I come across this species much more rarely and instead of pinching off tips, choose rather to simply appreciate it. It's needles will not lie in the almost perfectly flat plane you see here, but rather will be more twisted or shoot off at different angles.

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Self Heal can be found growing along the edges of trail in deep woods, along the roadside, or amongst grasses in wild meadows. Therefore it is one of your most easily accessible medicinals. It is a Heal-All (also one of its common names) with its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Now, the medicine, I feel, is a more subtle one, so it is best employed with the use of other herbs when treating an actual virus or infection. Simply make a tea of the flowering heads and fresh green leaves. A member of the mint family, it has opposite leaves, a square stem, and irregular bilabiate flowers. What I find helps to distinguish this flower is its tall spike and the circular pattern in which the flowers seem to grow around it.

Spotted St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum)
This is the forest loving species of St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum). There are over 400 species, with Common St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) being the one most often marketed medicinally. However, Spotted St. John's Wort has been shown to possess equal, if not greater, amounts of hypericin, one of the main the constituents, believed to contribute to its anti-depressant qualities. It's xanthones and flavonoids (plants chemicals) also play a large role.

Spotted St. John's Wort's spotted leaves
I have personally had little experience with using this plant medicinally and so would like to do more research before expounding upon all of its useful properties...and there are many....from treating depression and pulmonary issues to bed-wetting and diarrhea. I believe this plant to be incredibly useful, but one which we don't entirely understand yet. Hold the leaves of this St. John's Wort up to the sun and you will see each leaf possesses many translucent dots that at first glance appear black. Therefore, I like to look at this plant metaphorically...Spotted St. John's Wort is the flower that when all appears dark, let's the light in.

Oh, I would absolutely love to keep sharing the plants with you! But alas, I now must get back to the woods!