West to go South to go North

The Standing Indian Loop: Day I

We arrived at Standing Indian Campground just after 5 pm on Thursday….though we had another 30 mins or so delay as we had to backtrack into Franklin to stop at an ATM machine (we had forgotten to bring cash.) If you stage out of this campground, remember to bring it.

The camp host warned us that it would likely be very cold that night. And they were right…in fact, it would be the coldest morning by far of the three we would spend outdoors. It likely got down below 30 degrees (ice had formed on the tent poles in the morning) and this was in the low lands. That day and the next, almost every hiker we spoke with commented on how cold it had been that night.

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Sylvia bundles up

This was the start of what would prove to be a rough day for Sylvia. First, in the extreme cold, Sylvia had a hard time getting her “mano freos” going. In fact her hands would not warm up until we had been hiking for hours. And by then, other stuff had happened.

This was also when I began to notice the several ‘fubars’ which I had committed somewhere between when I had done the equations for the trip and the actual packing of the gear. One of these was that I had forgotten my wool hat and gloves. Gloves may NOT be an essential survival item, but they aren’t something you can leave at home in cold weather without potentially serious repercussions, either. Cold hands themselves won’t kill you, but if your hands freeze up to the point where you can’t do anything with them, that MIGHT kill you. I was sorely miss the latter that morning; I had to hope that I wouldn’t suffer any more for it.

After decamping and warming up Sylvia’s manos as much as possible we drove out to the trailhead, which is located just outside the campground near a backcountry information kiosk, just at the point where a lonely forest service road fades from pavement to dirt. This is the same dirt road that, many miles hence, leads all the way almost to the top of Albert Mountain.

I felt a bit nervous leaving the car here…we were the ONLY car in the parking lot at that time. I have never had anyone break into my car while hiking in the mountains, but I was the victim of a smash and grab robbery in California (it was a rented car) plus Sylvia and I have had gear stolen out of campsites. Both you and your stuff are probably a lot safer in rural areas than they are in the city but still…robbery and vandalism are facts of life everywhere you go. We locked up the car, being sure to leave nothing of value in it (and nothing at all lying in plain sight) and headed out. We would not see the car again for another 48 hours.

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Sylvia just prior to her appointment with the ground

The trail quickly crosses the Nantahala River via a road bridge (here, not far from its source, the Nantahala is merely a small creek. Further down it is a whitewater rafters paradise.) It breaks sharply uphill as it wraps in a wide circle around the campground. But the grades soon moderate, with a few muddy and slippery sections, and some moderately steep ups and downs as the trail crosses heights of land. Nothing is strenuous. For most of the way the path follows closely to Kinsey Creek, sometimes breaking away to cut cross-country through wide bends. After two miles there is a clearing and a sign helpfully pointing the way back to the campsite, and at just over three miles, a small parking area along another dirt road.

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The woods are open this time of year, with spring just beginning.

It was just prior to this parking spot that Sylvia had another of the days challenges befall her, quite literally…out of the blue she pitched forward and fell, striking her forehead and shaking herself up. She was back on her feet hiking quickly, but quite annoyed due to the fact that her husband, oblivious to what had happened, kept hiking on in spite of her cries (the stream covered the sound.) She caught up with him in the middle of a stream crossing and set the record straight. Sylvia was unhurt apart from mild scratches and a slight headache. But for the rest of that day she would be off her game.

Apart from that one sign about the campground there are none along the Kinsey Creek trail. Nothing informs you how far you are from the AT…you simply arrive there after four miles of hiking. at Deep Gap, the white blaze of the AT first appears. As with many of the gaps there is a dirt parking area. A thru hiker was camped here tending a campfire, and a good six more came through while we were resting. This seemed confirm what I had already guessed, that the trail would be thick with thru hikers this time of year. This would turn out to be true, but not so much as I had thought. Apart from the night we spent at Long Branch Shelter, we seldom saw more than two or three in one place.

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Standing Indian Shelter, one of three on this section of trail

Here another bit of chicanery ensued, as for about 20 minutes we ended up following the wrong trail (instead of the AT we had chosen a similarly signed forest road that would have taken us to the middle of nowhere.) We were quickly back on track and making the long and steady ascent to the highest point on this trip…5500 foot Standing Indian Mountain. The actual AT heads south for a bit here…even though technically (and confusingly) it runs in the Northbound (toward Maine) direction.

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A sign announces entry into wilderness

For almost this entire hike the AT is quite moderate, being well graded and devoid of steep sections. Further on we’d see some tougher stuff on Albert Mountain, but here it was just a slow, gradual uphill on a gentle dirt trail. But Sylvia, still shaken up and burdened beneath a weighty pack (mine was heavier, but hers a greater percentage of her body weight) was still struggling. We reached Standing Indian Mountain at close to four o’clock in the afternoon.

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The Mountain that gives this whole hike a name looms

You could probably camp an army on the wooded summit of Standing Indian Mountain; there are literally scores of fine campsites here, and the mountain is a popular destination with hikers who come to watch the sunset and sunrise from some of the summit viewpoints. We were only able to find one of these (allegedly there are more) and a quartet of thru hikers were already resting here. The view back was the country they had already covered, including Chatuge Lake of the Hiwassee River and the mountains of North Georgia. Somewhere out there among them was Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point, which Sylvia and I visited by car a few years back.

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One consideration for camping on the summit is, there is no water here. You have hike a quarter mile down a side trail to get to it.

After a brief exploration of the summit we headed off, downhill all the way now for this day, anxious to get to a place where I could camp. My thought was to put in at Beech Gap, where there was a reliable water source and tent sites, and which I believed to be about three miles distant. A long way to go in waning daylight.

It turns out we were more like two miles way, and easy, miles at that. To be on the safe side we replenished our water en route from a passing stream (the first we had seen for some time). Here is where I discovered another of my ‘fubars.’ I have forgot to bring the stoppers for the water sacks. Fortunately, the hose connected had a crimp that did effectively the same thing.

We arrived at Beech Gap less than 30 minutes later, selected a good camp site and went into camp…at which pint I promptly tripped over a root, executed a smart prattfall and landed on my side.

There was room for a dozen groups to camp at Beech gap, but only three groups were and one was us. There was a solo thru hiker and another a hiker whose father and brother had come out to meet him on the trail. No one else showed up. As expected there was a water source in the trees behind the campsite but it was muddy and shallow…with the help of the family of hikers I located a better one about 400 feet down a side trail. In no time at all I had the Sawyer water system pumping…it too was as expected, maybe even better.

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Worked like a chaaaam, as we say in Boston.

Another bit of chicanery ensued as we set up camp. I looked for the roll of para cord I always bring with me to hang our food bag out of reach of varmints. (To be clear, a bear is a varmint, and there are many about.) To my extreme dismay, a search of my pack turned up nothing…even though I distinctively remember packing it with the gear. We begin desperately combing through the gear for anything that we could tie together to make an ‘improvised’ rope including shoe laces, tent cord, the neck halter of a safety whistle and a roll of Ace bandages.

My dismay was short lived. Returning from a run to fetch water (with unlaced shoes) I discovered that Sylvia had in fact found the cord…exactly where it was supposed to be, in with the cooking gear. Chastened, I sat down to lace up my shoes before going out to hang the food bag.

As we enjoyed a hot dinner, a barred owl began hooting nearby. Another took up the challenge. Within minutes the antagonists zeroed in on one another, squawking and gabbling out owlish fury. One of them landed directly in the tree above us, lashing out in wrath at his opponent entirely oblivious to us.

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The owl gives a hoot about who enters its territory

Ambient daylight lasted until nearly 8:30 pm, at which point we retired to the tent to listen to the owls before a well-earned rest. Day One of the SIL was in the bag. Tomorrow promised a longer, harder day which would force us to dig even deeper.

NEXT: Our (mis)calculations prove right!

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