Eisley is terrified of fireworks. Well, really anything that goes “boom.” Fireworks, guns, thunder, cars back-firing, you get the idea. So we have really made an effort to spend every 4th of July as a family, our happy little family of 5 where furry creatures outnumber humans, so that we can make sure our little girl can be comfortable and hopefully a little less scared.
This year Ross and I both had Thursday – Sunday off of work for the holiday, so we decided to make the most of the long weekend by escaping to the mountains for a couple of nights. Henry (the cat) held down the fort at home, and we set out with the dogs.
We spent Thursday night at our friend Jeremy’s family cabin, nestled in the woods outside Banner Elk. The cabin was comfortable and quiet, with just the right amount of rustic charm: exactly like a mountain retreat should be. Jeremy had his dog Bailey and his parent’s dog Dakota there for the night, so when we added our two pups it was a bit of a zoo, but everyone got along fabulously.
And speaking of animals, this little guy also joined the party:
Now while I personally am not one to decorate my walls with dead forest friends, something about this dude made me smile. I think it was the silly smirk on his face and the position of his hoofs. I imagine he is saying “Here, hold my beer while I do this.” Ha!
Friday morning we hit the road for the more adventurous portion of the trip. Our plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap to Highway 19E, camping out one night along the way.
We parked our car at the Mountain Harbour B&B, a mountain hostel that serves as a perfect retreat for weary through-hikers and high country visitors. We paid $5 to leave our car in the field in front of the hostel, with the peace of mind that it would be watched over by staff and guests to prevent vandalism. Jeremy kindly drove us up to Carver’s Gap, and all we had to do was march the the 14 mountain miles back to our car.
This 14 mile portion of the Appalchian Trail travels along a ridge, providing absolutely fantastic views. You are out on an open ridge line for a while, then down into the trees, and then back up to the open ridge. It repeats this a few times, giving you alternating 360 views of the high country and generous breaks in the shade.
A little over three miles in we stopped at the Stan Murray Shelter for a break and quick lunch of cheese, crackers, packaged tuna, and a chocolate chip cookie. I don’t know if it was the hike or the high-calorie content of the meal, but it was amazing.
This shelter is a popular turning point for day hikers, so from here on out we expected a significant decrease in foot traffic on the trail.
The next couple of miles were easy and shaded, providing us plenty of time to digest and get ready for the next big challenge on the trail. After passing the Overmoutain Shelter, (at a little under 5.5 miles from the start) we started the initial climb up. Although we were hiking “down” to our car, the majority of the trail was rolling, with a couple of very significant climbs. The initial climb to the first “bald” was pretty steep, but definitely manageable, and the views were totally worth it.
We had a short little downhill, before the biggest challenge of the trip. The second hump was incredibly steep, and incredibly exhausting. It felt like we were climbing a ladder, but without a handrail. I knew it was pretty tough when even my super-athlete husband was moving slow! :)
Here is a view of the second hump from the top of the first:
And this is where we started the long climb up:
No matter how steep, the doggies thought it was the best day ever.
We were told that the top of the second bald was an excellent place to camp, because you can see 4th of July firework shows down in the towns below. We had our minds set on reaching the top, and slowly drudged on.
When we reached the top we were met with a spectacular view and the unfortunate realization that there wasn’t anywhere for us to camp. There was only one spot at the top that looked like a good place to pitch a tent (the grass was much shorter from heavy use), but it was occupied by another camper. There was probably enough room for us to join, but we really like the idea of camping out in the wild alone unless we intentionally go with a group (which is a lot of fun too).
So we trekked on… leaving behind the idea of a firework show at the top. We intended to camp at the next site we saw, but we just kept going and going without any sign of a resting spot. Yes, we could have “made” a camping spot anywhere, and just tossed down our backpacks and called it a night, but we wanted to preserve the fragile landscaping and rare plant-life as much as possible.
On and on we trekked. And on and on. This part of the trail was heavily wooded, and there really wasn’t an opportunity to put a tent anywhere. Unless we wanted to sleep in a tree. :)
At long last, when my legs were dead and I was feeling very hangry (hungry/angry), the trees parted and we found ourselves in a wide open field. Ross joked that he had never been so happy to see grass in his life.
Just across the field we found an incredible site, stocked with boulder “tables” and a fire ring where some kind soul had left a pile of dry limbs for fire wood. We set up camp just as the sun was setting over the ridge (which of course provided fantastic lighting for a little photo shoot with the pups).
We ate a nice dinner of dehydrated rice and beans, noodles, juice box wine, and s’mores before turning in early, all four of us huddled into the tent together. We could hear firework shows in the distance, but after 7 hours of strenuous hiking, covering about 12 miles, we didn’t even bother looking for a place to watch the show.
The next morning we woke up incredibly sore but refreshed to be out in the wild. We packed up our backpacks, and started the final hike back to our car. It took us less than two hours two hobble our sore legs back to the car, which we are guessing was the final 1 – 2 miles.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip, and I highly recommend this portion of the AT for avid hikers. The views were incredible and there was a wide variety of rare plants to brighten our walk.
What did you do for the 4th? Do you have any favorite hikes in the high country? Would you backpack 14 miles into the wilderness just to get your dog away from fireworks?