Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Long Day in Middleprong Wilderness

Starting with 250.7 miles, 34,900 ft. ascent

MST7-Day2paintedtrilliums

Bearpen Gap MP 427.6 to FS 816 MP 420

14.4 miles, 2,300 ft. ascent

It was a long, long day on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, though the mileage was almost the same as yesterday – terrain makes all the difference.

MST7 - Day2obstruction on trailAs soon as Sharon and I arrived on the MST after walking the blue access trail, we saw mounds of rocks to keep out ATVs and maybe even trucks. Then the trail had been excavated with several large holes, perhaps to keep out bikes.

We reached Charlies Bald, a flat area popular with campers – campers, not backpackers. It’s less than two miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway so people bring in large tents and car-camping equipment. The trail zigzagged to Haywood Gap where we crossed the Parkway.

MST7-Day2MiddleprongwildernesssignHere the trail leaves Nantahala Forest to enter Middleprong Wilderness in Pisgah District.

But the Wilderness sign was placed about two miles from the Parkway, so it wouldn’t get stolen. We met a hunter wearing camouflage and carrying a rifle or shotgun – a long weapon anyway. He was hunting for turkey but no luck. Most people think of hunting season as deer and bear season in the fall but you can hunt almost anything all year.

Though we had a long way to go, Sharon wanted to climb Mt. Hardy which would have added another mile. As if hiking the MST is not enough, Sharon is working on her South Beyond 6000 – the 40 mountains higher than 6,000 ft. in the south and Mt. Hardy is one of them.MST7-Day2Mthardytop A metal marker is on top.

A shorter version of the hike we were doing today is in my book – Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage. I had climbed Mt. Hardy in August 2007 for the second time to include it in the book and I remember it as a confusing bushwhack. I wrote up the instructions while whacking bushes and blackberry canes.

But now someone had cleared a trail and though there were no signs – wilderness rules – it was easy to follow up. You can’t count on this maintenance but it was convenient. This reminded me of bushwhacking in the Catskills for the Catskills 3500– one of several hiking challenges Lenny and I did while living in New Jersey. But on that challenge, there were canisters on all the trailless peaks so we knew we had gotten to the top.

MSt7-Day2usbackonmstAfter we got back on the MST, we met Jim, a fellow running through the woods toward us. Jim was flagging the route for a new race,the Smoky Mountain Relay, which he was organizing. Organizing challenging races or triathelon is a career choice, I guess. He came from Oregon and really had no idea where he was.

He called his race the “Smoky Mountains Relay” though his runners were going to be nowhere near the Great Smoky Mountains National park. He said that the “park was hard to deal with”. I interpreted that to mean that they didn’t automatically said “yes” to 50 runners through the Smokies but asked him to fill out a form.

I guess that I’m a little protective of the Smokies since I understand their rules. Jim also wanted to get Boy Scouts to paint “these white circles”.

“These white circles”, we informed him, “is for the MST but we are in the Wilderness and no signs are allowed.” Groups can be no larger than 10 but we forgot to tell him that. I guess he figured no one official would find out – and in the national forest, that’s probably true.

Once we crossed NC 215, we were out of the Wilderness. Lots of blazes now but the terrain was rocky and difficult. Painted trilliums (above) were everywhere but that didn’t make up for the fact that the trail seemed to go on forever. Finally the MST joined the Art Loeb Trail and we knew that we were almost there. We finished at 4:45 P.M. and had to start shuttling cars for tomorrow.  Who says that section hiking is easy?

After we got home and took a shower, we tried to get into a local restaurant. By this time, all the restaurants were packed and we made scrambled eggs at home. Much later, Sharon reminded me that it was Cinco de Mayo (May 5) a Mexican holiday. When you’re in the woods, you forget about the outside world.

Cumulative after Day 21 265.1 miles, 37,200 ft. ascent

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