To hike, or not to hike. That was the question Monday upon waking to see that not only were Sunday’s 11 inches of snow still on the ground, but Mother Nature was adding another two. The second hike in our Tuesday Night Hikes series was scheduled for the next evening, on a stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake; looking out the window, I wondered if we could pull if off.
We love the idea of exploring the wild places out there. But actually doing it can be daunting.
The wildest place we know of in the Southeast is Linville Gorge. Most of the 11,651 acres is wilderness. The gorge is just three-quarters of a mile across, from rim to rim, and is as deep as 1,500 feet in spots. On its 13-mile run through the gorge, the Linville River drops 2,000 vertical feet. So inaccessible is much of the gorge that it contains virgin timber, a rarity in this part of the world. Trail descriptions are peppered with such phrases as “very strenuous,” “very primitive,” and “notoriously steep.” There is no “easy” in Linville Gorge.
A few years back I was nearing the top of the Mount Mitchell Trail when I came across a group of youngsters intently examining the balsam firs that begin appearing above 5,500 feet. As they probed about, an older fellow explained what they were seeing. The gentleman had a professorial look; not surprising, I soon discovered, considering these were forestry students from N.C. State. I lurked in the shadows and got a free education on the challenges of life above 6,000 feet in a Southern Appalachian forest.
Sure be great if you didn’t have to go to school to get this kind of education, I thought.
Last night, I discovered, you don’t.
Before a packed house Tuesday evening at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, Steph Jeffries and Thomas Wentworth discussed their just-released guide, “Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia” (UNC Press). It’s a scientific look at the forest written for a lay audience.
Jeffries and Wentworth are uniquely qualified to write “Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests.” As N.C. State professors — she in the Department of Forestry, he in Plant and Microbial Biology — they’ve been exploring these woods for years. On one outing with students several years ago, Jeffries yelled to Wentworth: “We need to write a book about this.”
“Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests” is peppered with insights that can’t help but make a hike all the more enjoyable. A sampling: