Discover more from Field Notes
Gregory Bald, Day 2
Field Notes XXIV- The return from backpacking and photographing Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Welcome to Field Notes issue XXIV! This edition will cover-
The morning of Day 2 at Gregory Bald and the return from this adventure
More photos from the morning of Sept 27, 2023
The final edited film I made of this trip
For the best experience, I urge you to subscribe and get the app!
Wind in the treetops wakes me at 02:00. It sounds like a gale force, but my tent is still. Backcountry campsite #13 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Sheep Pen Gap. It is a wide, flat area in the forest, still a half mile from the summit of Gregory Bald. Tucked in this saddle, the campsites on the ground are somewhat protected from the weather, but the high canopy of trees feels its full force.
The forecast called for rain. I go back to sleep, but the wind wakens me at 03:30 and then again after 04:00. No rain, just wind.
I reluctantly emerge from my tent at 05:30. As I retrieve my food sack from the cable suspension system, I see the stars of Orion looking coldly down on me. The clarity of the sky is transient. Coffee first, and then I pack up my camp in the darkness, silent but for the wind. There is a short climb ahead to reach Gregory Bald and once I leave this camp I will not return. I must reach the summit before the dawn.
Clouds are racing by with the wind near the top, and I am in them. Visibility is very limited. At the grassy apex of Gregory all of the views of mountains are obscured.
I prepare more coffee and wait. The light slowly grows and thin patches in the clouds come and go. Sunrise is hidden in the mist, but as the sun climbs higher the cloud cover slowly opens up. Luminous angled light is revealed across the landscape. My patience is rewarded and I busy myself with photography.
I satisfy myself with the scenes and images I have captured and pack my gear to start on the trail. Yet, every turn presents new scenes of flowers brushed by light rays through the trees. Though past failures and missed opportunities, I have learned to be mindful of the present moment as I move through Nature. She reveals her mysteries at unexpected times. In the presence of magic, I take time to savor the enchantment.
From Gregory Bald, the hike along Long Hungry Ridge Trail is almost all downhill. The wide path, unencumbered with vegetation or downed trees allows for a very fast pace. However, as the name implies, the trail is long and me knees ache under the descent.
The clouds clear away entirely. Filtered sunlight tumbles through the colored autumn foliage. Yellow maple leaves scatter across the trail, speckled with a few bright reds. The air is crisp.
The trail lands on a wide, flat ridge called Rye Patch, turns, and then tumbles in a switchbacked plunge. From the dryness at elevation I begin to cross damp trickles of water in the draws. These cluster into audible trickles, which in turn gather into louder streams. The streams become a creek and the creek begins to roar.
Moving past Upper Flats campsite #92 I cross a bridge and slow to check distance on the GPS. A rustle in the leaves snaps my attention to it. Just 15 feet ahead to my left I see it, turned and slinking away in a smooth low crouch. It is a mottled grayish brown, the color of the forest floor. It is the unmistakable graceful movement of a bobcat. In the seconds it takes me to recognize it, the cat vanishes into the rhododendron. I shift my view for a different look at the last point I saw it, but it has faded away like a ghost.
Long Hungry Ridge Trail connects with Twenty Mile Trail. As the creek paralleling it grows larger, so does the path. Despite numerous tempting cascades, I resolve to stop only near one marked on the map as “Twenty Mile Creek Cascade.”
I find the cascade down a short marked side trail. I photograph it, but the sun is high and the whites of the water blow out easily. I am tired and my muscles ache. My pause here is short. One more turn in the trail and my trip is done.
You guys! As I mentioned last week, I was recently able to acquire a GoPro camera for supplemental video and photos from these adventures. This trip was my first experience using it. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time over the last couple of weeks on the technical side, figuring out how to edit the footage. In the end, I’m pretty proud of how it turned out! Its close to 9 minutes, so as with my other longer films, I’ve uploaded it to YouTube-
I’m very excited about the direction Field Notes is headed! There have been many new subscribers recently, and I’m grateful to have all of you along for the journey. By subscribing, I hope that this is an experience you feel like you are a part of and belong to. Your feedback and interaction definitely give that feeling to me. That said, you can help keep Field Notes going by spreading the word!