That time we hiked all day in the rainforest to discover everything was closed (including the roads) so we were stranded in the fog.
Where? Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
When? May 2018
With whom? Hannah, a previous travel bud.
Hannah and I had camped out in the mountains with Lou the dog, which I wrote about in Part One. Lou is short for Kalua; it would be unreasonable to expect Hannah to name her pets something non-alcohol related. Today was our main hiking day, although we were also going to climb Mount Mitchel on Wednesday, this would be a much longer hike.
There are a number of trails from Grandfather campground which take you in various loops and directions around this section of the Appalachian trail. The helpful lady at the campsite told us that the Tanawha trail would probably be a bit ambitious for us to do in one day as it is a 26-mile hike. Challenge accepted.
I cooked us a hearty bacon breakfast over our fire pit, which took such a long time with the tantalising smell of delicious bacon taunting our hungry bellies, and then we set off on our hike. To keep us en route, the trail had the occasional feather marker but we had to guess the direction a couple of times because they weren’t always in the most sensible position. It started with beautiful open fields of green, scattered with the occasional colour from a wreath of flowers or a particularly obnoxious cow. The trail climbed to give us a great view of the rolling fields interlocking in the valley. We were both loving the hike but neither of us was having as much fun as Lou, who was running ahead, then back behind, then ahead again, walking more than three times as far as we were every five minutes!
A couple of miles along, we entered the rainforest. It was like walking into a bright green room because the sheer denseness of the rainforest encompassed us from all directions including above us. Despite the humidity of places in this latitude, the morning forest was damp and cool. We couldn’t move without some plants touching our skin, and I walked with the regular reminder that Hannah’s mum had caught this tickborne disease from hiking here one time, and caught that tickborne disease from hiking here another time. This was ever so reassuring as we continued to conquer more land and brush against more damp plants.
As we approached noon, the tropical weather turned very very wet. This was unlike the thunderstorm yesterday when all the rain came at once and allowed the sun to come out again, this was the worst kind of rain: drizzle. We had quite a lot of cover from the rainforest but the rain upped the humidity so that we were wet anyway. In situations like these I feel the only way forward is to laugh and make jokes about our situation. I threatened to report back that NC has more rain than the UK and Hannah complained that I brought it with me. We had a permanent layer of water surrounding every inch of us as our clothes and skin became saturated with the damp.
The trail led us to an opening which meant that we were leaving the rainforest; an opening that we expected to proffer an epic view of the mountains, as we were quite high up having climbed for a few hours. At this point of discomfort, we were in it for the views so the adrenaline started to kick in as we gleefully sped up with excitement. It wasn’t exactly what we expected. We were high enough that the cloud had completely set in and the visibility reminded me of a white out on the ski slopes. We couldn’t see a few metres in front of us. What else can you do at this point other than laugh.
We had a couple more miles to go until the end of the trail where there would be a welcome centre before we would have to turn around and hike the length of the trail back to camp. The word “taxi” was thrown around. It was well received. We hiked further, passing through sections of rainforest and then sections of exposed trails with waterfalls dotted around. These were view points and contained no other humans which made us think that the welcome centre wouldn’t be open. Then we lost the trail.
We thought the best thing to do now was walk along the road, then we might see a car that could tell us which direction or even take us back to camp. The visibility was still very low so we were careful and hoped that no cars would take us out. If you remember from the last post (part one), all of the roads were closed, so when we eventually did see a car, we saw it again as it worked out the road ahead was closed. We stuck our thumbs out as it returned towards us and it stopped. A bloke inside asked us whether we were okay and offered us a lift. We warned him that we were sodden and so was the dog, but this hero told us he has a dog and is a climber so he is used to stinky gear in his car. Legend.
He drove us all the way back to our campground as he told us about his “rad” businesses he has set up in California, his “good vibing” travels to Thailand, and how he was back in the area for the long weekend. This guy was a legend and a life saver. Once at camp, we immediately jumped in Hannah’s car and drove to the shower block because America. Hannah warned me to check myself for ticks and we both had a long shower, washing out twigs and dead bugs from our hair and the cocktail of sweat and humidity off our bodies. We came out refreshed and clean, packed up our camping ground and went somewhere that had a hot tub.
Info: There are tons of trails around this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and plenty shorter than our ambitious 26-mile hike. Grandfather campground was so great. Each plot has a raised platform for the tent, a parking space for the car, a picnic bench and a fire pit. Toilet block and shower blocks are decent, which is all you need when camping. Asheville is nearby, and a place that Hannah described as a “hen party destination” (she often translates things for my benefit like “bin”, “car park”, “trousers” and “herbs” with a discernible h). The weather in May apparently isn’t always as damp but we were amidst the effects of hurricane Albert. Despite the weather, it was a beautiful hike, so I can only imagine how awesome it would be if you could see things.
Product of the week: I love my microfibre travel towel and have used it for years because it dries so quickly, but I have found that even better is a suede towel. It dries even more quickly than the microfibre one and tends to be cheaper. Here is the one I have, and it’s the best thing ever for camping and hot tubs.
Tip of the week: Don’t lose sight of why you’re there. The weather was sincerely miserable and we were both uncomfortable but I still had the best time hiking with Hannah because we both had the right attitude. That can make all the difference.