Bushwhacking in High Places

Can you say bushwhacking?

About three years ago, I completed the South Beyond 6000(SB6K) hiking program in North Carolina.  This program is a hiking challenge sponsored by the Carolina Mountain Club to hike all the state’s 6000 foot peaks.  There are technically 60 peaks above 6000 feet, but only 40 are in the challenge.  You end up hiking all the peaks as some are sub-peaks of others, and as in Colorado, there are rules for distance and elevation changes between peaks(see rules at The Carolina Mountain Club website).  This challenge was one of the hardest life accomplishments I have ever completed.  I started almost by accident.  I had just had low back surgery and my doctor said I could not rock climb for three months, but to walk and hike as much as I wanted.  I was bored waiting around with nothing to do, and frankly I was depressed as well.  Well, why not hike instead of mope?  I slowly increased my distances, and one day went out to hike a 6000 foot peak in Pisgah Forest, Mt. Hardy.  I remember that there was snow on the ground and the hike was harder than anticipated.  No one was around, which is very typical in the winter in North Carolina.  People for the most part seem to not venture too far than a mile from their cars, who knows?  Well anyways, the day was a blue bird day with the warm sun shining on my face and thoughts of solitude and adventure penetrated me to the core.  The views were incredible up top, which later I found out is not always the case in North Carolina, because of the thick trees and foliage.  Well, after that solo hike I was definitely hooked on hiking again and started to want more.  After a few weeks, I had done all the peaks on the maps I had, and then randomly met a hiker one day that was in the Carolina Mountain Club.  He suggested I do the SB6K program and I looked it up that night.  After browsing their maps and information, I was intrigued, and decided that if I could not climb for three months, why not hike.  I had already hiked ten peaks, so why not?  At least I would stay busy for a while.  It took me 2 years to complete the program, and I have to say that some of the peaks I never want to go to ever again.  In the East, peaks above 5000 feet are being ravaged by the wooly adelgid beetle and many trees are dying off.  This situation causes there to be an abundance of deadfall and briars.  North Carolina briars in the summer are not just little thorn bushes, they entangle whole tops of mountains in an impenetrable barrier like barbed wire fences at Alcatraz.  These briars are sometimes about eight feet tall and twist and turn around every tree, rock and bush, and combined with the deadfall, you literally have to crawl on your hands and knees at times to make forward progress.  I remember so many days being surrounded by this mass of life and literally only being able to see about five feet in any direction.  It is very disconcerting at times.  And you better know how to use a map and compass too, because over half of the peaks require about a mile of bushwhacking to reach the summit.  The summits of these bushwhacks are sometimes only a pile of rocks with flagging, or if you are lucky, there is a forest service bench mark.  About a fourth of the peaks have no views because of the aforementioned deadfall, briars, and tree fortress, that blocks any hope of a view.  But for me, it was more about the adventure than the views.  You always get views in North Carolina, but they are usually on the way to the summits.  You get up on a ridge and the trees will open up to the next valley and give you a window view of the greenest green you have ever seen.  And did I say trees?  Yes there are a lot of trees in North Carolina.  I lived in Colorado for twelve years and was always used to wide open expansive views of mountains and valleys.  In Colorado, I never used a compass, because you could always see your destination from ten miles away.  It was hard to get lost.  Here, the trees enclose you and you become part of the forest you are treading in.  You learn to narrow your focus and go inward.  The forest encloses your mind and you notice the small things.  I have seen so many small miracles of life-like spiders, salamanders, morning dew glistening on fresh cobwebs, snails, etc., that I probably would have missed in other parts of the country.  Also, there are so many colors of green in the woods here that I can’t even describe it to you, except I have seen shades of green I did not know existed here.  It is as if Van Gogh had painted the colors here, and played with his easel by experimenting and mixing new colors not on the color wheel.  The weather is another crazy factor in North Carolina.  I have hiked in blue skies, I have hiked in the dark, and I have hiked in the rain, sleet, and snow.  I have hiked in cold temperatures, in boiling hot temps, in the humidity, and in extremely high winds.  The mountains here are very unpredictable.  I have been out on summer days that have turned very dangerous in a matter of a few minutes.  And one thing you will definitely encounter in North Carolina is rain.  Buy good rain gear, because you will use it.  Hiking in the rain is so amazing though, when the clouds and fog are rushing through the trees creating window views of valleys and mountains in all directions.  Above 5000 feet when you are in the clouds it is very exhilarating.  You become a part of the living world of nature and you feel so small and insignificant, and yet happy and content.  You become part of the miracle of life and you wonder about the meaning of it all.  So if you want to challenge yourself, or if you just want to see some beautiful places, hike North Carolina summits.  You will find places of peace there and you will not be dissatisfied.

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3 thoughts on “Bushwhacking in High Places

  1. Pingback: Lessons from Injuries | Voice of the Blue Ridge

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