Blue Ridge Parkway

008 All Who Wander – A Walk With Graybeard: Black Balsam to Shining Rock via Art Loeb

Play

This Christmas episode of All Who Wander features a winter hike on the Art Loeb Trail with Henry “Graybeard” Mitchell from milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway across Black Balsam Knob to Shining Rock.   Henry is an artist who makes his home in Greenville, SC.

He has several sites:

 henry@sculptorsjournal.com
http://sculptorsjournal.com
http://dawntreestudio.com
http://henrymitchellsculptor.com
http://earth-sign.com
http://soulsreach.com
http://meanderlog.com

Music has been provided by Jacob Johnson.  Here’s his contact info:

www.myspace.com/JacobJohnson

www.cdbaby.com/JacobJohnson

and

www.youtube.com/user/bebop1986

You can also find his fanpage on facebook

For booking:

JacobJohnsonTunes@gmail.com

Hope you enjoy!  Merry Christmas and may Christ be born in you this holiday season.

 

Ghosts in the Wind (Art Loeb Trail)

“DAVID!” Pause. “DA-VID!!” Pause. “DAAAAA-VIIIIIID!!!”

“Huh? Whuh-what’s wrong?! Whuzzzmatter?!”

I had been asleep. With earplugs in.

Now? I was not.

I fumbled with my earplugs and my sleeping bag zipper. Why don’t those things ever work right?

“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN MY HAMMOCK!”

“Did you say in your hammock?!”

“YES! THERE’S SOMEBODY IN MY !@#$ HAMMOCK!”

I struggled to wrap my mind around the situation while working clumsily and feverishly to extricate myself from my cocoon. It had been a cold night and I had used everything in my arsenal to create a cozy environment. That happened to include velcro-ing my tarp around my weather-shielded hammock.

“Aren’t you in your hammock?”

Pause.

“YES!”

Obviously we have a problem here…

It had all started with a late night decision (Why can’t we ever decide on a trail a week…or for that matter a day in advance?) to hike toward Black Balsam Knob via the Art Loeb (pronounced “Leeb”, I think.) Trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC. Since we had no idea how exactly to do this we stopped at an outfitter on the way, purchased a guidebook and a map for the area and then confirmed the practicality of our plans with a very helpful, albeit distracted ranger. While affirming our choice of route he suggested (as he pointed to his map) that we use the Mountains to Sea Trail to form a loop hike. It made perfect sense…until we got there and looked at our own map. So we decided to just take Art Loeb from where it crossed Farm Road 816 to the first patch of trees (3 miles away according to all we’d read) camp, then return by the same route the next day.

Of course, there were cars crowding the parkway and myriad “leaf-peekers” out for day-hikes. Don’t blame them a bit. Growing up, I was among those crowds. My family would join the rest of the Southeast in filling their tank with gas, packing a picnic lunch and pointing their station wagon toward those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to see the autumn leaves at their peak of 3-D techni-color. ‘Tis one thing to look at a beautiful work of art, ’tis another to step into said creation and walk around. We planned to do the latter.

Despite my awful map-reading skills we traversed multiple hills, knobs, balds and even a 6,040 foot high mountain (that Dana couldn’t seem to stop calling Tannenbaum. “Tennent. Tennent.” “Tannenbaum.” “Okay. Tannenbaum.”) From the summit of…Tannenbaum we spotted a grove of, what I believe were, Black Balsam Pines. Mostly dead and dying but trees nonetheless. While stumbling down through a washed-out, ankle-breaking, rhododendron-walled descent Dana’s love of hiking had, well…waxed cold. I walked in near silence as she shared her contempt for this narrow channel of doom, while dodging an ascending boy scout troop. The grove was perched about a hundred feet from the top of a knob and, I hoped, would provide a shelter from the wind. We entered the site on a winding path through scrub-brush, weeds and half-dead trees and a beautiful, almost hidden, campsite opened before us. A solo-hiker who was just packing up shared with us all the hidden amenities: a clear, pure mountain spring a mere ten minutes away, a source of firewood and most importantly a rock overlook with a view of the valley just through the rhododendron forest to the rear. We bid him thanks and good-travel, hung our hammocks, ate our potatoes and built a roaring fire. Interesting to note: The reason we ate potatoes? You know those ridiculously expensive dehydrated meals found in all outfitters? Yep, we bought one. Mac and cheese with bits of crunchy ham. We left it in the car…along with a Luna bar, a peanut-butter crunch Clif bar and the one thing I was most excited about…my Loksak, a tactical-grade, odor-proof zip-lock bag that would enable me to keep my grits and bacon in my hammock so I could have “breakfast-in-bed. All in the car. Potatoes…again.

So after dinner, we nearly ran to the top of the rock to watch the most spectacular sunset we’d ever, ever seen. We ooooo-ed, we ahhhhhh-ed; we held each other and let the beauty of that sunset wash away any residual from the “channel of doom.” We reluctantly picked our way back down to our little grove and hung the bear bag maybe 30 feet away from out hammocks. Not a good plan but this area suffers from a serious tree shortage. I stoked up the fire and we sat and talked until our exhaustion lulled us into a comfortable silence. We zipped ourselves into our hammocks, then our bags, then planned to drift off to sleep. That’s when the wind started picking up. Before sleep could come the wind became enraged and tore through the gap and into our little grove, whipping our tarps against our hammocks. It actually, all night long, would lift the tarp and by default our occupied hammocks into the air and drop us. The movement itself was unsettling but with the accompanying whipping tarp sounds…well, sleep seemed unlikely. I found and used a set of earplugs I had brought along and somehow entered dreamland. I’m not sure what time it was but I awoke to the sound of a man’s voice, “Hello? Hello,” and the beam of a flashlight shining through the fabric of my hammock. I managed to unzip my mosquito netting and weather-shield and poke my head out. As I was responding with, “What?! What the…?!” I pried my sleepy eyes open for a look at this invader…and there was no one there…but the wind…the accursed wind. Surprisingly enough, I fell back to sleep…until, “DAVID!”

As I said earlier, “Obviously we have a problem here.” When I finally wriggled free of my cocoon…for the second time that night, I stepped into what was very nearly daylight. The harvest moon was full and bright in the October sky and lit up our grove as if it were morning. I observed with panic a set of boots just visible beneath Dana’s hammock. I jerked completely awake, leaving behind the 9″ hunting knife I sleep with when hiking, and ran to Dana’s “rescue”. What was I going to do, half-asleep, scared out of my wits and no knife? Hug the attacker? I got to the other side of her hammock and realized what I had seen were actually Dana’s boots. She’d left them sitting right where she’d taken them off. “What’s out there?!!” she yelled in a panic. “The wind. It’s just the wind.” “But I heard scratching!” Her tarp had torn loose and was scraping against the fabric of her hammock. “It’s just the wind.” This lovely fiasco took place at 3:38 in the morning. We spent the rest of the “night” being wrestled, jostled and tossed by our invisible attacker…the Wind.

We both awoke, surprisingly refreshed, just in time to watch a gorgeous sunrise. We braved the freezing wind with tears in our eyes while scarfing down a quick breakfast of grits, oatmeal and Starbucks Via Caramel coffee. Mmmmmm. As we broke camp and packed up our gear, we gut-laughed while filling in details for each other of the night’s adventure. We had discovered from the guy who camped here before us that the trail the ranger had told us about actually existed, though it wasn’t the Mountains to Sea Trail…hence the confusion. We enjoyed a gentle, hour long, easy hike on a farm service road with breath-stealing vistas almost all the way back to the car. The last 1/2 mile on the Art Loeb Spur Trail went nearly straight up the side of a knob but brought us to a fantastic summit before plunging us back down into the shaded, balsam forest that smelled occasionally of cinnamon and hazelnut, where we’d begun our journey. We found the Montero. The Montero found Brevard. We three found the Sagebrush Steakhouse where we more than made up for leaving the mac and cheese in the car. With a final stop at the Leopard Forest Coffee Company we found our way home…or at least to our house, pleasantly exhausted, sated on beauty, and deliciously content.

I told Dana, through chuckles, “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that our little grove had a reputation for being haunted.” It was nearly Halloween.

Wanna see more pictures from this trip? Find me on facebook.

david longley (alive adventure gear)