Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Closed and Really Closed

Starting with 285.4 miles, 40,850 ft. ascent

MST8-Parkway really closed

NC 151 to Sleepy Gap Overlook

9.9 miles, 1,500 ft. ascent

This week is Hemp History Week and Strive
Not to Drive Week
in Asheville but Sharon and I are in our own
little MST world. We get up, get out of the house, drive to our trailhead and start walking.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed from NC 151 to Bad Fork Valley Overlook. It’s been closed since October because of a potential rock slide. So how are we going to continue our MST hike? The road is closed to everyone, including hikers and cyclists but the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is open.

Today, we’re being treated to a ride so we don’t have to pick up a car on NC 151 and have a potentially horrendous shuttle. Lenny (my husband) drops us off on the Parkway on NC151 and we started walking. He maintains a section of the MST that we’ll go through today. and he proudly says that his section (MP 404 to MP 402) is perfect. And it is and so is the section west of his.

MST8-Clintonia lilyThe trail is really shut-in with no views. Clintonia lilies (on left) are everywhere.  Spider worts are in bloom and tall turks cap lilies are preparing to bloom in a month or so. Spring sped too fast and summer is sneaking in. We are slow and take pictures of flowers almost leisurely.

Sometimes I feel that naming all those flowers is like a parlor game. They make me feel smart but what does it mean? There are spring, summer and fall flowers. Altitude plays a big part of naming flowers. But how does it help to understand the environment to know the names of flowers? When I lived in New Jersey, I only knew white flowers, red flowers, blue flowers but there were so few wildflowers that it wasn’t a topic of conversation. Here, everyone I hike with is taken up with knowing flowers so it was much easier for me to learn them.

At Beaver Dam Gap, with a picnic table and garbage cans, the Blue Ridge Parkway is really closed with a plastic fence and lots of warning signs. See above. The trail goes back up into the woods and we can’t see or hear any sign of construction work on the road.

Climbing Ferrin Knob is the only challenge today. The Knob was the site of a fire tower, now long gone. At Wash Creek Rd., under the Parkway, we enter the Bent Creek Experimental Station. This is the oldest such experimental forest which conducts research on logged and abused land. Not much longer, we reach Sleepy Gap Overlook, our end point.

MST8-Parkway closedIt’s very early in the afternoon and we probably should have planned to continue another 5.5 miles to the end of our stretch.

We drive to the other closure at Bad Fork Valley Overlook where the Parkway is only closed half-hearterly. (See above.) Then we go out for ice cream at The Hop. Stick with me – I know all the good ice cream places in town.

Sleepy Gap to French Broad River Bridge

5.5 miles, 400 ft. ascent

We only have 5.5 miles to do but we’re out of the house by 7:30 A.M., giving ourselves an extra half-hour of sleep – what a treat.

MST8-Solomon SealIt’s raining when I get up, raining when we pack up the car. It’s a good thing that we only have 5.5 miles to go from where we left yesterday to the bridge over the French Broad.

“Are you putting on rain pants?” Sharon asks. “No, too hot”.
But she puts them on anyway.

It may be raining in the outside world but the trail from Sleepy Gap Overlook is perfectly dry. Sharon soon takes off her rain pants and her rain jacket. We’re walking on a section of the Shut-In trail, so shut in that we hardly feel the rain.

There’s little uphill and we truck along, noticing the overwhelming vegetation. Lots of giant Solomon seal (above) and a small mystery flower with shamrock leaves. Maybe it’s the shamrock flowers. We’re in a temperate rainforest, obvious when everything is green, green and more green. But we’re close to Asheville and invasive exotics like multi-flora rose and honeysuckle abound. Poison ivy covers the ground but that’s our own nuisance plant.

We nearly blow past our first firepinks, another sure sign that summer is coming. Then we pass large mesh baskets, set out to collect mast and see how well the wildlife will be fed.

This is the end of our three-day stretch and I feel we’re hurrying. Heh… It’s not going to be as easy as this for a long, long time – let’s slow down. But the conversation veers toward what we’ll be doing next. Sharon is going straight from here to a Girl Scout camp for the weekend. She’ll be teaching little girls camp songs and outdoor cooking. Tonight, I have a talk to give on the pleasures of hiking in the Blue Ridge Heritage Area. Then I’ll turn my attention back to the Smokies. Aah… The challenges of section hiking.

Cumulative after Day 25  300.8 miles, 42,750 ft. ascent

 

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