It was about 10:30 on a Friday night, mid November, when we pulled out of the light rain and into the covered bank drive-thru in Canton, N.C. After a quick surveillance, with particular attention for the local constable, we decided the coast was clear: the five of us scrambled out of the SUV and quickly slipped into our rain gear. We wanted to be as prepared as possible when we hit the trailhead in a half hour or so to finally get our two-day backpack trip underway.
Talking with author/climber Mark Synnott earlier this week about his new book, “The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan and the Climbing Life,” I was touched by something vaguely familiar. Vaguely, and weirdly, because the book is about one of the most audacious physical and psychological feats of our time: Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan, a 3,000-foot near-sheer rockface in Yosemite National Park — without any form of protection to save him should he slip from one of the wall’s precarious microscopic holds. What could possibly be familiar about that?
The trail was wilder than I remembered. Simply finding the trailhead at the overgrown intersection of trails atop the Naked Ground meadow was a challenge, keeping it was even more so less than 100 yards in. The 10 of us slowly plowed through a welter of every type of Southern Appalachian understory — from rhododendron and mountain laurel to blueberries and huckleberries, unable to even see the trail beneath our feet at times. Our only guide: the firm ground beneath. About a mile in, the real fun began.
You watch a video of a spellbinding adventure. You think, “Man, I would love to do that … .”
And it doesn’t happen.
It doesn’t happen for any number of reasons. More often than not, though, it falls victim to overthinking the logistics: What kind of preparation do I need? How will I get there? How will I know what to do when I do get there? Before you know it, you’re mentally exhausted and have moved on to the next video.
Today, we present our 10 favorite mountain watering holes, places where you are guaranteed to escape the death-grip of summer’s 90/90 (heat/humidity) doldrums. Some are just off the road, some you have to work for. All are worth a visit. Links for more information follow.