Posted by: pjbarr | March 31, 2010

Into Town, Out of Town

Start: Albert Mountain Lookout Tower
Finish: Meadow North of Silar Bald
Distance: 13.8 mi.
Trip Distance: 111.8 mi.
Side Trips: Big Pinnacle Mountian, Wasilik Poplar, Runaway Knob, Franklin, Rocky Cove Knob, Sheep Knob
Side Trip Miles: 2.5 mi.
State: North Carolina
Highlights: Sunrise from Albert Mountain, Wasilik Poplar, Runaway Knob, Franklin, Sunset from Silar Bald

The sunset from Albert Mountain fire tower was mesmerizing. The sun crested the eastern continental divide directly over Whiteside Mountain and christened the Nantahalas with another day of crystal clear skies. My unwanted companion shared the experience but it was so serene that even he couldn’t ruin the moment.

I stopped by Big Spring shelter to get water from presumably “Big Spring”. I was excited in the morning to learn in a message from my mom that UNC had beaten Rhode Island last night and had advances to the NIT basketball championship game. Having been a student during UNC’s worst season in history, the 8-20 debacle, I take nothing for granted and take great interest in any post season opportunity, even if it is tournament associated with shame.

I made a brief side trip up the Pinnacle Mountain Trail to the summit of Big Pinnacle Mountain where a wooden fire tower once stood and overlooked the Coweeta Hydraulic laboratory. I found no concrete footings but did find several metal scraps consistent with old lookout sites. The tower was surely removed by 1951 when Albert Mountain was erected to the north.

Last night I thought of a tower operator at Albert Mountain, Pearly Kirkland (as interviewed by George Ellison) whom once served lookout in the tower. Once in the tower during a storm he described, “the lightening would strike the tower, and balls of fire just flowed down the wires that grounded the tower, they lit up everything like pure daylight.”

The Albert Mountain lookout replaced fire detection on Standing Indian in favor of a better view of Coweeta. The forest laboratory which was started in 1934 is land set aside to study prescribed fire, invasive species, pest control, land use, water quality, and erosion. It is a place I would like to spend some time in. Its research is certainly in subjects in which I could consider pursuing a career.

I passed the guy with the seizure dog only a few miles down the trail and when I did, I put the pedal down and tried to keep distance between us. I hurriedly made a side trip up Runaway Knob and shortly thereafter I reached Rock Gap where I hoped to catch a shuttle bus into Franklin to resupply. The bus was supposed to be by at 11:30 and I was a little early so I made a side trip down to the Wasilik Poplar. It was enormous, especially at its base. The three is 25 feet in circumference and until it was damaged by a storm several years back it was over 125 feet tall, good enough for ranking as the second largest poplar in the country. It apparently once had an adjacent twin that was cut down during logging in the early 1900s, but its weight was too much for oxen to haul so this poplar was left uncut.

I returned to Rock Gap and a man told me the shuttle bus wouldn’t be coming by until noon. I decided to push on shortly to Wallace Gap, another shuttle pickup spot. I did so with haste in fear it would come in the time in between.
I reached Wallace Gap and ultimately waited another 30 minutes for the bus, but I enjoyed this time by thinking about Earl Shaffer and Gene Espy who both were met at this gap by friendly forest service rangers.

I was met soon by a friendly face myself. It was Ron Haven driving his short school bus. Ron is another legendary trail angel and single handedly put Franklin on the map as an Appalachian Trail town. I had the pleasure of meeting him dropping folks off at Dicks Creek Gap a few days before. He is a tireless shuttler and hiker helper. He greeted me in his slow spoken “Hello friend”.

Ron entertained his passengers with funny stories on the way into town. Much to my dismay he made one last pickup on our way back through Winding Stair Gap and lo and behold, it was the guy with the dog. Damn! He had gotten ahead and made the shuttle. Now he was headed to town with me – and he was thrilled to see me. Great.

My time in Franklin has been short by enjoyable. I picked up my resupply box from the Ron Haven owned Sapphire Inn. There I got more food and switched out my test for a free standing double walled Big Agnes SL1 tent. I delightfully ran into Fishin’ Fred again – whom continued his kindness and allowed me to fill my water in his hotel room as well as take a shower. I picked up lunch at Hardees – a 1800 calorie Monster Burger with four packs of mayonnaise to sure eclipsing the 2000 calorie mark.

I found a ride back to the trail – albeit with seizure dog guy. Luckily, he would be dropped off 3 miles up trail from me. The climb out of Wallace Gap was steep and hot. Perhaps the cheeseburger was sitting heavy on me. I side tripped to Rocky Cove Knob then descended to Winding Stair Gap.

The final four miles of trail were long, tiring and lonely. My detour to town meant hiking late in the day to make my desired miles. I passes a neat waterfall the trail passes in front of on a bridge just up from the gap. Tired and low on sunlight I begrudgingly made the quarter mile side trip to Sheep Knob. I continued to be graced with good luck and find very open woods on my peak bagging side trips on the Nantahalas and in Georgia thus far.

I turned off my mind and just looked down the next two miles for the climb to Siler Bald. I reached the meadow north of the summit just before sundown. I took off my boots and raced halfway up the summit trail to watch the final two minutes of the sunset. A second spectacular sunset in two days. A great end to a long day.

I had no trouble figuring out how to pitch my new tent and thus far really like its design, but will need a rainy night for its true test. I just popped in my MP3 player to drown out the noise of an animal right outside my tent. Its probably field mice, but sounds as big as a curious fox or raccoon. A bit unnerving, but I am otherwise enjoying camping alone. The starts are all out in the clear night sky. I hope to awake tomorrow for yet another sunrise.

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