This crisp weather makes me want to go backpacking again. It's been a while, but you never forget your first time.... four days of "roughing it" in the North Carolina's Shining Rock Wilderness Circa 1982.
Backpacking, as the term implies, requires that you carry on your back everything that you will eat and wear for the duration of your trip.
It's always good to go with someone experienced. Dan Wax of Columbia, SC had gone once, the year before, on a portion of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. To hear him tell it, he nearly died of thirst. He had made the mistake of not considering where they would get drinking water. There apparently was none on the portion of the trail they chose to walk. But Dan's negative experience had not dampened his zeal for the sport (is it a sport?) and I was happy to follow his lead.
First stop: "The Great Outdoors”, a shop specializing in rental hiking gear like backpacks, sleeping bags, etc. to people like us who didn’t want to spend a thousand bucks but still wanted quality gear. We paid Ten bucks each for a Kelty backpack, $15.00 each for a North Face minus 30 degree sleeping bag and we invested another $50 or so in such things as compasses, trail maps, cooking gear and food.
The experts at the “Great Outdoors” said they had two words for us…. “pack light”. We took lots of light weight dried foods like powdered soups, grits and powdered potatoes. Cooking oil was a must and could be mixed with corn meal and water to make hoecakes, always a favorite around any campfire!
We parked just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and began to “saddle up”. With our 60-pound packs strapped to our backs, Dan and I resembled top heavy biped pack mules. Our sleeping bags topped the packs and the entire ensemble exceeded our height by around 14 inches. We were to discover that balance was key. Lean too far over and you go down. My pack was heavier because I carried the 6-pound tent.
With the fading sun an orange ball behind us in a cloudless sky, we trudged toward the Art Loeb trailhead. The detailed topical maps we had purchased that morning showed every little dip and rise in the mountainous terrain. We reckoned our first campsite was about three miles away near a creek.
This was before the days of GPS. We found out where we were and figured out where we were going by first spotting a landmark on the map, then finding it on the horizon. Then we placed the flat compass on the map and pointed it at the landmark. That done, it was a simple matter of turning our body with the map until we were oriented and walking. It seemed to work! But these were not just woods. This was a big place with miles and miles of isolated country. We had both heard the stories of campers who had entered and were never heard from again.
We walked two miles along a mountain stream that was home to rainbow trout over a foot long. Suddenly we came upon a grassy clearing and knew without consulting the map that this was our campsite. We assembled our tent in the thickening darkness. Night sounds were strange. Owls whooed and wind whistled through the branches of the trees directly above us. The down sleeping bags were cozy warm within 15 minutes and we slept soundly despite the fact that the temperature outside was in the low 30’s.
The next morning we awoke to a crisp blue sky and we could see our breath as we worked to strike our tent. We had not built a fire the night before but we would this night. But ahead of us now lay 10 more miles of the Art Loeb Trail and the summits of Dog Loser Knob Shining Rock Mountain. The names of these places on the map were intriguing and beckoning. “Dog Loser Knob”. I couldn’t wait to see this place. – to be continued