|Big Bald on the horizon.|
As many of you know, there aren't a lot of trails in Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia that I haven't visited. This past May I was reading a few blogs in search of a new hike and stumbled across a place called Big Bald. The hike to Big Bald starts at Sam's Gap and is a 6.5 mile one way hike to reach it's summit. The hike looked perfect on paper and as I continued pouring through information I found that you can drive to within half a mile of the mountain's summit through a gated community, but where's the fun in that? I wanted to be true to all those hikers I had seen as a child, I would hike in from Sam's Gap making a thirteen mile round trip.
|The meadow along the ATV roads.|
When the day of the hike arrived, I found that I had forgot about a meeting at work and wouldn't be able to start until around 1pm. Days had begun to get longer so I wasn't too concerned with a late start and a few clouds didn't keep my foot off the gas either as I roared up the mountain on Interstate 26. One of the biggest changes since my childhood was the completion of the interstate connecting Erwin, Tennessee and Mars Hill, North Carolina. What once over an hour drive at times now was less than thirty minutes. The addition of the road actually threw me off and I wasn't sure how to get to the old road and the parking area for the Appalachian Trail. I ended up riding into North Carolina and taking the Wolf Laurel exit and taking the old road back to the top of the mountain. When I pulled in, three hikers approached my truck. They were thru hiking and looking for a ride to Erwin to resupply. It really bothered me that I had arrived so late and couldn't help them out but they understood my need to get started and were gracious anyway.
|Dwarf Larkspur. The only one's I've seen this year.|
Across the road is a small white sign now that says "walking trail" and I opened a small gate and stepped onto the Appalachian Trail. Many thru hikers had already started the pilgrimage from Georgia to Maine and only a short distance into the hike I was caught and passed by several hikers with much heavier packs than I was wearing. I didn't let it discourage me and kept pressing as the trail wound uphill and into the woods completely out of sight of the parking area and interstate. The sounds of traffic followed me well into the first mile and so did the uphill grade.
|Maybe an old homestead the trail passes through.|
|There were so many spots just to stop and admire the trail.|
|More strange plant life.|
|Trillium as I found approaching the summit.|
The final two miles to the summit of Big Bald were downright torturous. The only solace I took on that stretch is that the hikers that had overtook me on the first part of the hike were sprawled along the trail as I went marching by. In the shadow of the summit I found a female refilling her water bottles from a spring and she told me based on her guidebook it was about half a mile to the top. I really liked the forest here as many old trees twisted by wind lined the trail. I had arrived at the elevation at the perfect time too, some of the biggest Trilliums I had ever seen began to pop up with white, red, and pink blooms. The trail gets rocky as it winds around boulders covered in some of the thickest and strangest varieties of moss I had ever witnessed. Suddenly the entire landscape changes and the trail appears to wind through an orchard as it skirts the summit of the mountain. I walked through clouds and could see no further than a few feet in front of me. The trail was now lined in grass and I knew I was almost to the summit. The wind was violent and it was hard to keep my balance as I leveled off on the summit of Big Bald.
|One of the only views I got before the weather swallowed me up.|
|Here comes the clouds.|
It was so cold I couldn't enjoy my efforts and I continued on the trail a short distance off the summit and rested in the grass and had my lunch consisting of peanut butter crackers and a Nutella to Go. I even allowed myself one Mountain Dew knowing it would boost my energy, if only for a few minutes. Luckily, the clouds broke up enough for me to take a few pictures and I was impressed even with limited views. The cold became too much and after being soaked with sweat I decided I needed to get moving and head back.
|Big Stamp across from the summit of Big Bald.|
|Lunch of champions.|
|Cloud bank as I hiked off Big Bald.|
The hike back was easier for the most part and I knew I only had one or two climbs and the rest would be downhill. The climb back up to the meadow four and a half miles from the summit was some tough times. I was down to my final water bottle and I finished the last of it as I made the top of the mountain. I took time to snap one last picture looking back as the storm had completely swallowed Big Bald Mountain. The last two miles went by quickly and as the sound of traffic grew louder I knew my day was coming to a close. When I crossed the road over to the parking lot I rested on the tailgate of the truck staring back from where I had came. My imagination as a child had actually sold short the wonder of the stretch of trail to Big Bald, it was better in real life. Until next time, happy trails.