April 9, 1998

4/9/98 Iron Mountain Gap

18.3 miles (360.1 total)

Long day, but let’s start at the beginning. Last night EWOS decided to give me a lesson in fire building. I thought I was pretty good but "assistant scoutmaster Ed" showed me a few things. He showed me how to identify Eastern Hemlock, kind of an evergreen, with leaves that made a flat shelf, with small pine needles. You break off the small dead twig branches to use as tinder, burns easy and hot. Mountain Laurel, almost looks like rhododendron, but with smaller leaves. We got a great fire going, lots of flame and no smoke. We talked about how fire is a male kind-of-thing.

Smiley warms up by a "perfect" fire

Last night, the storm clouds did rip open up until early this morning. When we finally woke up, the rain had stopped and the sun gave us good hopes for the day. The trail was not bad and we made good time the first four miles. At Beauty Spot, we had good views but the exposed bald was very windy. All day the sun and rain clouds were fighting it out. They seemed to be chasing us all day. The hike was a typical day, up, down, and more up. OK, a lot of up. The switchbacks up Unaka Mountain made it a little easier but a lot longer.

The sun tried hard to break up the clouds

Met a few day hikers even on a day like today. As we got higher, the clouds were definitely winning the battle. As we got to the top, we had another kaleidoscope of vegetation changes. On top, as the rain began on and off, the trail entered an extensive stand of red spruce. With the darkening of the sky, the spruce made the whole area seem haunted. I was grateful for frequent blazes up here. But all of a sudden, you’re squirted back out into the usual vegetation, with sun even. Another long hike down, but the sun started losing again.

Crossing fences

As we got to Cherry Gap Shelter, my original plan was to do a 14 tomorrow, but with Roan Mountain at the end of the day. That sounded really NOT good. So I decided to go as far as possible, maybe 20, to make the trip over Roan earlier in the day. Before I left the shelter though, I was knocked out when my head hit the overhanging beam of the shelter. I’m so short and the overhang's so high I’ve never had a problem. Smiley was amazed at how fast I hit the ground.

Entering the 'Black Forest'

The terrain was another up and down roller coaster, with rain clouds in clear dominance of the skies. I was planning on stopping around 5 PM, after the stream noted in the databook. But NO stream! As the weather got worse, I began to panic. After 5, I began just looking for places to tent. The adrenaline was pumping way too fast to run long. Finally at 6, I found a spot and set up the tent. EWOS finally showed up (I was moving too fast). "Only 90 more minutes," he said, but I was finished. After Smiley came by I was having second thoughts but the rain was starting to come down harder. I reluctantly let them go. Because of the rain, I was unable to cook, so I ate snack food. By the time that food had it’s effect, I was feeling much better. But to pack and take the tent down would take time and it was getting late. So I admitted defeat and went to bed early, as the rain fell.