Tag Archives: Linville Gorge Wilderness

The Appalachian Trail…a taste of risk

"into the wild"

“into the wild” (Photo credit: niawag)

Reflecting today, I have become aware of another reason I hiked the Appalachian Trail.  I wanted to taste risk.  Having read Ed Garvey’s book on the trail (“Appalachian Hiker II”), which was one of only a handful available at the time, I found not just his achievement compelling.  I discovered a greater adventure than just hiking and backpacking.  I had done plenty of that; long weekends in the woods near my home, camping overnight.  But the only sounds I heard consisted of a distant bellowing cow.  How thrilling is that?  No wolves called my neck of the woods home.

The first taste of risk came when I met my first pit vipers while on a day hike in the Uwharrie National Forest.  To be sure, adrenaline never became so familiar as it did in those tense moments within striking range.  Rather than coiled, however, the snake was lying lethargic on the chilly earth on an April morning, trying to gain enough warmth from the sun to begin moving.  Even so, just the hint of danger was something I’ve never forgotten.

The Linville Gorge Wilderness of western North Carolina was another savoring of risk.  I did a mid-winter day hike, struggling to the wind blasted summit of Table Rock on a frigid day, barely able to light my Svea stove to make soup.  Slipping and sliding over ice atop the summit, I felt the exhilaration of my early experience in more serious mountaineering.

Danger Trail Closed

Danger Trail Closed (Photo credit: iwona_kellie)

When the full Appalachian Trail experience began, I reveled in the challenges it brought.  Even the misery was chalked up to stoic achievement.  Fortunately, I had laid aside unrealistic expectations and let the trail teach me what I needed to learn.  In that incubated state of mind, I was able to stretch myself further, tacking heights which until then would have left me paralyzed with fear; fording a deep river, something I’d never imagined doing; handling myself in a hypothermia situation and using my head instead of mindlessly plodding into further danger.

For some time, I chalked up these experiences as “adventure.”  And it’s true, they were and I still think of them that way.  But they were also risks I had taken.  They were not a mere “stretching” of myself; they were me deliberately moving beyond my comfort zone into an unknown land with potential for greater hazard.  When climbing, I might have fallen.  When fording a river I might have lost my footing and drowned.  When hypothermic I could have ignored the signs and ended up a casualty.  As a result of these encountered risks I learned to handle the events with hard-earned wisdom and a great dose of humility.  Had I taken them for simple “adventure” or a lark, I would have made unwise choices that might have cost me greatly.

Risk.  We live it every day we step out the door.  Adventure.  We seek it to remind we’re alive.  The Appalachian Trail is a living laboratory for you to enjoy adventure; but remember that you’ll take risks – both chosen and those thrust upon you.  Handle them with humility and be open to being taught.  Above all, learn all you can about the risks the trail entails.  Though it’s been greatly tread, written about, and heralded, it’s still a “footpath through the wilderness.”

Video showing risk:

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

Thinking about…hiking sticks on the Appalachian Trail

“You wouldn’t part an old man from his walking stick?” – Gandalf, “The Two Towers”

I’ve always been a “tripod” ever since I was a kid hiking the woods behind my suburban house.  I would quickly pick up a downed length of basswood or cedar and adopt it as my hiking stick and off into the trees I’d go.  It wasn’t long before I felt unable to venture into the woods for a hike without having one.  That is still so today.

Hiking Stick Grips

Hiking Stick Grips (Photo credit: Randy Cox)

Somewhere at a roadside stand along the Blue Ridge Parkway about 1978 I found a walnut hiking staff carved by a local man vending summer tomatoes, corn, and mountain sourwood honey.  I think I paid ten dollars for it.  That hiking stick kept me stable during my trips into Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge, Shining Rock Wilderness, and eventually along my entire Appalachian Trail hike during the years from 1985 to 1988.  Sadly, the reliable length of wood splintered at a shelter on the Long Trail in Vermont.  Sentimental as I am, I still keep the two pieces of it inside a hall closet.  I have given up my old Vasque hiking boots, but I can’t part with that staff.

I carried a staff mainly for stability.  I cannot recall how many times it kept me upright when gravity would have had me horizontal.  There’s more than one instance when I know it literally saved me from sliding into a rushing torrent.  I would have drowned had I not had that staff to lodge into some rhododendron thicket to arrest myself.  Poking and prodding down the trails with it, I beat the ground to warn any rattlesnakes which might be sunning themselves to move along.  I used it to prop up my pack to make a backrest.  I have used it to fashion a tent with a tarp.  I have found a hiking stick indispensable for my sense of security.  And, yes, it’s added to my sense of adventure while on the trail.  Something compelling and magical always happens when I pick it up; either a new adventure is about to begin or resume, and taking the staff in hand is an inaugural movement which signals the beginning of something special.

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Vital Foundations: of Hiking Boots

Vasque Cascades

Vasque Cascades (Photo credit: simonov)

I remember the first thing I bought was a pair of Vasque Cascade backpacking boots.  They were the last pair from an outfitter just outside Albemarle, NC.  At the time I had done some day hikes in the Uwharrie National Forest and sneakers were inadequate.  Plus I had read up on The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher, and it was pretty obvious that more substantial hiking gear was needed for whatever sort of trip I was going to take.

Unlike boot care today, I had to SnoSeal those babies to soften the leather and then walk around with them for weeks to break them in.  I wore them to work at the radio station, around town, in the mall, pretty much anywhere I could.

Linville Falls in the Linville Gorge Wildernes...

Linville Falls in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Photo taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 in Burke County, North Carolina, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon enough came time to give them a real test; a shakedown backpacking trip up at Linville Gorge Wilderness in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Wildly rugged and accessible only by a washboard road which goes well off the asphalt, Linville Gorge Wilderness is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and offers a stunning challenge of hiking trails, from simple visits to an overlook to drops into the deep, cool environs along the riverbank.

For me, the first break-in hike was up to Table Rock, which soared over the eastern rim of the Linville Gorge.  Table Rock was a bear to climb, but it proved the boots were more than up to the task of

Tablerock Mountain as seen from Dogback Mountain

Tablerock Mountain as seen from Dogback Mountain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

putting down serious trail miles.  Sturdy and reliable, I never so much as turned an ankle.  The added insurance of stiff leather hugging my ankles firmly went a long way to boosting my confidence when negotiating strenuous trail.  And nothing else beat the exhilaration of standing on top of the summit without so much as a blister.

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