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Yes, I’m back to familiar haunts….if you’re tired of seeing the Southern Appalachians, look away now!
Leaving after work on Friday, I arrived at the Mt Sterling Gap trailhead about 6:30PM.
This was the launch photo taken on the gravel road used to access the trailhead. (Random note: I stopped to ask directions once years ago looking for a little known trailhead and a kind older country lady said “Son, what’s a “trail-head?”)
A little more than an hour later I made the 2.8 miles up to Campsite 38 and the peak of Mt Sterling.
A note about this fire tower from a local newspaper article (source link):
“The Mount Sterling fire tower is one of four fire towers remaining in the park. According to Peter Barr, author of "Hiking North Carolina's Lookout Towers," it has the highest elevation of any true fire tower left in the eastern U.S. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, the Mount Sterling fire tower stands 60-feet tall. Until the 1960s, when aerial surveillance made most fire towers obsolete, the tower was manned five months out of the year by crews that worked in rotating shifts and lived in a nearby cabin.”
This tower was partially the object of my outing.
Well... not to see it (been there many times) but to do something audacious that I had wanted to do for some time: try to sleep on the roof for the whole night.
Unbelievably I had forgotten the one piece of gear that I knew I would need: my bear line! (poly rope).
Thankfully there was a really cool group of guys already at the campsite hailing from Alabama, Colorado, and Michigan. They were cool enough to give me a length of 550 line to use! Guys if you are reading this I apologize for the lack of group picture: the three I took were all blurry!
A view from the tower roof; accessed by climbing up the center antenna structure and through a lidless hatch.
And here you see why the line was needed. The tower “pill box” is only little more than 6 feet square (and I’m 5’7), forcing me to the edge. There is no foot side railing to keep a person guarded. So I wrapped that line around the corner posts to make webbing in case I rolled over and fell off the 60 foot tower.
I also thought it would be a neat place to use the Nemo Nocture bag that I’m currently testing for Trailspace. Notice how the end of my sleeping pad is raised by the wind. Yeah.
This picture was taken by one of the guys from Michigan after he took some pics with his phone. I was a bit of side-show that night I think.
This was a shot for my review perhaps.
Well, I did not make it through the night on the roof. The wind was unbelievable. Mt Sterling is listed at 5842 feet so I was lying at 5902 feet and well above the tree-line. I lasted until about 1AM at which time a gust of wind blew so strong that it actually lifted the foot end of my sleeping pad and legs about four inches off the roof. It was absolutely terrifying. I waited for a lull and very carefully climbed into the pill box where I stayed the rest of the night. It was still crazy windy and loud but I did get a bit of sleep.
Hey Alabama and Colorado friends, thanks for the line! (they let me keep it)
The next morning I climbed back up on the roof to catch the sunrise.
This was looking down at my neighbors tents (and shows how far above the trees it was).
A parting shot of my one-time abode.
And the trip resumes by trekking across MT Sterling ridge in the "Boreal" forest. It’s a very level and nice hike for the most part.
I stopped here at Beech Gap to chat with a fellow soloist for a while. He was on a quest to bag all forty peaks above 6000 in NC. I almost turned around to join him in bagging Big Cataloochee but I already had a plan.
A mile later it was lunch time on the Balsam Mountain Trail between Beech Gap and Pin Oak Gap.
Could it be? Finally! Leaves are falling!
This was shot of Palmer Creek. I had two bear encounters with HUGE mature blacks on this trail. Good for me they both ran away.
I had considered camping at 39 that night but thought I might finish my loop since I was having a high energy despite the sparse sleep. So I took the Little Catalooche trail from Pretty Hollow. That trail had so much to explore and check out that before I knew it I had logged about 22 miles on the day. Well, I hit my energy wall and had to stop.
The next morning I passed this old preserved Church. The temps had dropped to near freezing the night before and it finally felt like hiking weather!
This was a scenic spot in the old settlement of Cataloochee.
This was the one of the most vivid lightining damage-paths I’ve seen (on the Long Bunk trail)
And I’ll end with a shot of one of my most favorite resting spots on the Long Bunk trail.
This was an outstanding trip and the weather has me itching to do more! Hope you enjoyed my report!