On a whim, I decided to hike the Black Mountain Crest Trail, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Whimsical decisions often are fraught with regret and second-guessing.
I had no experience with overnight hiking and did not know the difficulty level of the trek. Having lived a life at 100 feet above sea level, my lungs are not acclimated to mountain elevations. By comparison, my feet are accustomed to walking flat surfaces, not jagged and uneven ground. The legs and calves occasionally walk stairs, but they are not familiar with climbing 150 stories or scrambling up a vertical slope. And as for my back, I’ve never had issues there, but a 20-pound backpack is anything but a friendly companion.
So, completely uninformed and only moderately prepared, I carpooled to the foot of a mountain and began the initial 4-mile “death march” along Bowlen’s Creek, in lush and verdant forests of hickory, maple, birch and many other deciduous trees. From 3,000 feet to 5,000 feet in 2 hours is a heart pumping and lung bursting exercise of pure pain. Bent over at my knees and staggering at times, we broke through into a meadow above the clouds, admiring the view only a few minutes before beginning a sickeningly slow slog through switchbacks.
Oxygen levels decreased, and whining increased, the terrain suddenly changed to thick misty Appalachian spruce fir forests with an understory of millions of ferns. The landscape looked like a scene from a Star Wars movie. Along the narrow path, we located an old mine, glistening with shiny, metallic rocks of mica, felspar and quartz. Even higher, while stumbling and sliding to the top, a crosscut into a spruce marked a trail to a plane crash from 1966, eerily broken into several pieces and still exposing its white and yellow paint. Once we reached a spot near the summit of Celo Knob, we ditched the packs and scrambled to the peak, above 6,300 feet. Did we let out a primordial scream of victory? No. We had only started, and had several more mountains to conquer, more falls and trips to come, and hours of huffing and puffing.
Well, this little whim turned out to be the most difficult American hike east of the Rockies, including conquering the highest peaks in the Appalachian Mountains. Despite the agony, I actually have no regrets or second-guessing except one. Note to self: Pack light.
Clark Hicks is a civil litigation attorney and Hattiesburg resident. Write him at email@example.com.