Getting over the Humps not always easy
Buzz Trexler | The Daily Times
There’s nothing like a getting a few miles under your feet on the trail to build a little self-confidence.
Sometime after we left Grassy Ridge during the fall 2010 hike in Roan Highlands, hike leader Steven “Griz” Gilreath put me in the front of the pack. My new position in the six-man posse had nothing to do with my ability and everything to do with keeping the pack moving along at my pace, and not the other way around.
About quarter-mile or so from Grassy Ridge, we came upon Stan Murray Shelter, which looks like an oversized lean-to. (Murray was an active member of Southern Highlands Conservancy and Appalachian Trail Conference. There is also a metal plaque memorializing him on Hump Mountain.) Someone was hanging out at the shelter. We gave cordial hiker greetings as we passed, saying things like, “Good morning! Beautiful day for a hike,” but kept on moving.
When he was just out of earshot from the shelter, Griz grumbled, “I hate shelters.”
He never broke his stride.
Further on, we went through a somewhat forested area and I was moving along, trekking poles rhythmically hitting the trail. We rounded a switchback and my feet went out from under me, slightly twisting an ankle as I went down.
The entire posse stopped and looked at me with concern.
“You OK, Dad?” Grey Squirrel asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, testing my right ankle after getting upright again. It was a little tender, but decided it was nothing to be concerned about ... yet.
Big Red Barn
A little more than 6 miles from the ridge, The AT intersects with Overmountain Victory Trail at Yellow Mountain Gap. The Overmountain trail includes part of the original 330-mile route used by Revolutionary War citizen solders who traveled from Abingdon, Va., to Kings Mountain, N.C., where they kicked the British army’s butts.
When we reached the crossing, we were still trying to decide whether to camp at Overmountain Shelter. The red barn, which was constructed in the 1970s and renovated in the 1990s, can sleep up to 30 people and is the largest shelter on The AT. Best of all, it has a privy with an incredible view down into Roaring Creek Valley.
“Let’s go down and check it out,” I said happily and moved toward the side trail that leads to the shelter.
“The only way I’m going down there is if we’re staying the night,” Grey Squirrel said. “Once I get down there, I’m not coming back up until morning.”
I had to admit, my doggies were hurtin’, too.
I couldn’t believe we had only traversed 5 miles. We had planned to make Bradley Gap, which was at about the 7½-mile mark.
“It’s got a great view that you’ve got to see,” Griz said. “I guess we can stay there tonight.”
We didn’t stay in the shelter, opting instead for pitching our tents. Gotta agree: The view was fantastic.
The next morning, we watched the sunrise, ate breakfast, and hiked up Yellow Mountain, making our way to Little Hump and Hump mountains, two of most unique formations along The AT.
We stopped for water, filling up at a spring, and then hiked on for another quarter-mile or so.
Definitely no Boy Scouts!
I was bringing up the rear with Chris “Caboose” Phillips when I heard some commotion at the front of the line. Words like “inconsiderate,” “dumb,” and a few unprintables soared with the wind.
Just to the right of the trail, someone had cut down saplings to clear space for a campsite and create lean-tos.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the campers left the remains of two fires smoldering SEmD and the still-glowing embers weren’t the only things hot on the trail: Griz was fit to be tied, if anyone dared to try.
“People like that shouldn’t be allowed on the trail,” were the calmest words he used. Other statements would have been incriminating, thus we shall not repeat them in print.
“OK, guys, get out your water,” Griz said.
We went to work dousing what was left of the fire, stirring and pouring as we went.
But it wasn’t enough.
So, we hiked back to the last water supply and filled up again, with at least a couple of us repeating the maneuver until we were sure there were no more hot embers.
When we returned to the trail, Griz continued to share the many ways he had learned to take down an enemy combatant during his military career.
At some point, someone suggested the offending campers may have been the Rastaffarians.
I began to imagine some CSI-types trying to make sense of shredded Afghan garments and clipped dreadlocks.
Medical Examiner: “Musta been a bear, I s’pect.”
Deputy: “Yeah, happens all the time. Did you see where some fools cleared out fer a campsite when they coulda just stayed at Overmountain?”
Pacing by the 100s
As we started to ascend Little Hump Mountain, I convinced the group to let me hang behind on the premise that I wanted to some pictures. That was half true, the other half being that I wanted to move along at my own pace.
I developed a method of hiking 100 paces and then stopping to catch my breath while looking around and taking in the views, taking a picture here and there. Along the way I prayed, I sang, I marveled at God’s magnificent creation.
And I counted myself blessed to be able to do so.
While ascending Little Hump, a thought entered my mind: “One hundred. One hundred. I wonder how Psalm 100 reads. I’m going to stop and read Psalm 100 aloud when I get to the top ...”
Caboose, was waiting for me at a point where the trail began it’s last bend near the summit.
“Griz is hot,” Caboose warned. “They’re up there.”
Caboose recounted that as soon as Griz reached the summit, the larger one in the group said, “Takes a while to hike up here, huh?”
“Yeah,” Griz grumbled. “Particularly when you’ve got to stop and put out some fool’s campfire.”
The Rastafarian’s face fell, and Griz knew.
Caboose said Griz didn’t rake them with his claws, but he did rake them over the proverbial coals.
I caught my breath and then the two of us ascended to the scene.
To my right stood the Rastafarians, looking somewhat dejected.
“How about reaching into my backpack and getting my Bible,” I said to Caboose.
Looking back toward Little Hump, I looked up Psalm 100 and began to read aloud into the wind.
I closed the book and walked over to where our posse was resting, about 20 feet from the Rastafarians.
Griz was a little calmer, until the big guy came over and said, “Man, we’re sorry. We learned a real lesson today ..”
Griz was just beginning to launch in on him again, when I stepped between them and said, “Brother, I appreciate you saying that.”
All was calm.
All was right.
And they went on ahead of us.
We rested a bit and then continued the journey, crossing Bradley Gap and then Big Hump Mountain, where the views were stunning.
Our journey took us across a meadow and through Doll Flats. There were some slippery moments afterward as we picked our way down an incredibly rocky trail.
“Now, you see why I said it was good that you dropped off Memorial Day weekend, Dad?” Grey Squirrel said. “Imagine what it was like in all of that rain.”
I knew he was right. My two bad feet were screaming at me, “What are you, crazy?”
Caboose had taken a fall along the way and his knee was making it extremely difficult for him to walk.
Now that I remember, several of us were limping our way in to U.S. 19E.
As for me, the Missing Link was no longer missing.
And, thankfully, neither were the Rastafarians.