Friday, March 20, 2015
The rock faces that I continued to encounter pushed me further and further away from the cascade and up the slope of the creek valley. I hated to lose contact with the cascade because I had visualized myself following it all the way to its source, but the ridge that I was ascending was too comforting to pass up. Although I had never been on this particular ridge before, it felt very familiar. It was steep but not dangerously so. It was heavily wooded so I knew there was enough soil to support the trees – another sign of manageable terrain. There would be less rock and more dirt than what I had been crawling on for several hours. Although I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I knew there was an end of the tunnel up ahead.
This ridge was thick with trees, Mountain Laurel, briers, and other obstructions, but it was a pleasant relief from the cliffs and cascade. My sissy gene liked this route better, so I followed the one main rule of hiking up a ridge – when in doubt, go up. My partners and I had become well acquainted with this rule. It’s one that never fails, and it didn’t fail me this day. Later on, after we were all reunited at the top, Greg said that he spent a few minutes sitting among the bushes, wondering what to do next, when he heard me pushing and crashing along the ridge less than 100 yards away. He watched me make my way toward the top. Once again, being a guy of few words, he didn’t say whether this gave him comfort or more frustration at his own plight.
Keith and Charlie had apparently crossed a rocky scar at a different place than Greg did which highlighted how much luck is a part of this process of picking your way around rocky scars and faces and through mountain laurel thickets. In this kind of terrain, you tend to hike in ten or twenty foot segments. You don’t usually have the luxury of looking far ahead and seeing the big picture. You just try to get from point A to point B, and point B is rarely more than a few yards away. Only after you arrive at point B can you begin to look for point C. Sometimes the route you take leads to the end of the tunnel, sometimes it runs you into another wall. It’s a lot like rolling dice. Sometime you get lucky and sometimes you don’t. Keith and Charlie managed to find a path of least resistance that evaded Greg. At one point he was in such tight quarters that he had to take his pack off and tie a rope to it so he could climb over a rocky spot and pull his pack up after him. I think that was one of those spots that he didn’t want to be in. If he has a sissy gene, it was probably causing him to wonder – like I had – if there really was a path to the top and how much a search and rescue mission costs, and who pays for it?.
About an hour after we had split up – yes, it took us about an hour to travel that final 300 feet – Keith and Charlie reached the top, a mere 100 feet from the northernmost overlook at the top of the Jumpoff. At about the same time, I pushed through the bushes at the top of my nameless ridge. As I stood on the trail at the top, it seemed too small to be the AT or the Boulevard. Could it actually be the thin trail that runs along the edge of the Jumpoff? After walking a minute or two, I passed the southernmost overlook of the Jumpoff. Somehow my ridge had topped out not near the AT as I had expected, but about 200 feet from the southern end of the Jumpoff.
I went to the middle of the Jumpoff overlook and yelled for Greg, wondering where he was. [To be continued]