Monday, February 16, 2015

Mount Cammerer

It took me living in Western North Carolina for, um, 18 years before I ventured across the state line and on into America's #1 most visited national park for any kind of mountain exploration. Perhaps this is shame-worthy, but I am not ashamed because all of these Blue Ridge Mountains, including the ones in the comfort zone of my home state, are holy and more than worth my time. That being said, my visit to the Great Smokies National Park was long overdue.

The trip was planned for me. All I had to do was pack some snacks, and some water, and some (I mean lots) of extra clothing just in case and show up. R.E. and I headed across that state line and into Cocke County, through Newport and straight into Cosby. The Appalachian Farmers Market which we were planning to attend at the Visitors' Center was not happening, so after a bathroom break and a peanut stop at a convenience store, we parked in the Cosby Campground and found the trail head. The day was fresh, and the morning chill was quickly fading to a mild, sunny springlike February delight.

It was a 6.5 mile ascent to the summit of Mount Cammerer, which is nearly 5000ft. I forget the elevation that we started at, but it was a lot lower than that, meaning the climb was steep and "relentless." The lower portion was a familiar scene of rich, lower- to mid elevation Appalachian mixed forest coves. Hemlocks and mixed hardwoods provided the canopy as we ambled through doghobble and lycopodium, across a creek with its cold water falling majestically over mossy rocks and boulders. I saw my first spring wild flower of the year down there- a single, humble, pale pink flower at the end of a delicate long stem from a clump of round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba). I thought February 6 to be early for such a display.

As we climbed up through the middle portion of the mountain, we ventured into snow. First it was little patches, and soon the entire ground was covered. We wound around the steeply mountain, through awesome mountain coves, in an out of the angling sun. I stopped to enjoy a large yellow buckeye tree at the edge of a small branch crossing. The sun shone on a little pool of the clean, clear water, illuminating a small stash of lucky buckeyes at the bottoms, like wishes in the woods.
Buckeyes in the pool like wishes
Before long the snow was rather deep, but the balmy breeze graced us with a hint of the promise of springtime. The snow sparkled in the angling sunlight, and shadows of the delicate skeletons of last summer's angelica were cast in blue. We hiked through blueberries and galax, wintergreen, usnea, and lungwort lichen, hydrangeas, and elders. There are no domesticated dogs allowed in the Smokies, but a set of canine tracks wove in and out of the trail as we ascended- either the ghost of a wild canine or some law-breaking hiker's companion.

From the top of Mount Cammerer, we breathed the air of nearly 5000 feet and allowed our eyes to behold the beauty of both Tennessee and North Carolina. We saw I-40 weave around mountain contours below like a ribbon. Behind Snowbird Mountain was Max Patch, a familiar place never before seen from me from this angle. The sky was big and blue with thin, non-threatening clouds periodically wisping their way lazily across the vastness, casting mild shadows on expanses of green forest. There is so much land in the Smokies. A pair of ravens flew at eye level from somewhere high to somewhere else high, their otherworldly croaking unmistakable.
First mountain in the distance is Snowbird. Behind that in the farther distance with a little patch of snow on it is Max Patch.
On the way down the mountain, I remember feeling how warm the sun was when I held my face toward the sky. My knees creaked, and my feet were wet but not cold. We returned to the place we had started shortly before dusk. An unidentified songbird made a ruckus in a rhododendron thicket, and a chill drifted off of the ice cold streams which flowed over the moss covered rocks. The day was beautiful.

1 comment:

Eduard Thijs said...

For a moment I had to pinch myself; but soon I realized I was still at my desk and not on Mount Cammerer. As usual the way you portrait it is amazing. Thanks.