THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR?
I couldn't take it anymore. No more shopping traffic. No more looting in the electronics department at Wally World. No more battling for parking spots. No more trips to the Maul. No more Muzak versions of the same 3 Christmas songs over and over and over again. I had to get out. I hadn't set foot on the trail since before Thanksgiving, and I was battling a severe case of cabin fever. I was determined to hike on Saturday. So what if the forecasted high temperature for Beech Mountain was 12 degrees. That was the temperature, by the way, not the wind chill. I don't want to even talk about the wind chill. So what if Mount Mitchell had 2 feet of fresh snow. I was going.
Fungirl didn't share my enthusiasm. Saucony didn't really understand what she was in for though, so she was eager to come. Dave is always up for a hike in the snow, and somehow I convinced Myron and Dorcas to join us, too. The plan was to head for Doughton Park. We reasoned that the weather would be less severe there than in the higher mountains to the west. We intended to hike from Longbottom Road up Cedar Ridge to Brinegar Cabin and the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there we'd follow the Mountains-To-Sea Trail east near the Parkway to Devil's Garden before descending along Widows Creek to finish in Stone Mountain State Park.
The first problem we encountered was that the gates to Stone Mountain State Park were closed. Either the ranger overslept, or they decided that the dusting of snow down in the valley made the road too dangerous. Either way, one of our trailheads was inaccessible. We decided to settle for a simple out and back hike on Cedar Ridge to Brinegar Cabin.
We found the parking area on Longbottom Road deserted. I guess everyone else in the county was swarming the Wally World in Elkin. Thanks, but I'd rather freeze. Actually, the temperature at the trailhead was quite pleasant. It was sunny, the winds were calm, and I was beginning to worry that I'd overdressed.
After a brief misadventure looking for the path, we headed up the main trail along Basin Creek to the old dam. There we found the signed turn for the Cedar Ridge Trail. We followed it steadily uphill out of the valley. It was a healthy climb, but the trail is well-designed and the route isn't steep. The only thing that slowed us down was the frequent blowdowns blocking the trail. We worked our way over, under, around, and through them, and the route cleared up once we reached the top of the ridge.
From that point the route got easier, but the snow got deeper and the weather colder. There was barely a dusting of snow at the trailhead, but on the ridge there was a couple of inches covering the ground. This was perfect, as it made the forest pretty without causing us any problems. On the way up we stopped at a couple of rock outcrops to taken in snowy views over Basin Creek and the surrounding foothills.
We neared the parkway and passed through a beautiful forest. First we hiked through pristine snow under a tunnel of rhododendron. Then we followed the side trail to Brinegar Cabin through a gorgeous grove of white pines. The trees were thick and full and draped with snow. We couldn't have asked for better Christmas trees.
We reached the parkway at Brinegar Cabin. The road was closed of course, so we had the whole place to ourselves. We had been spared the worst of the weather on the way up the south side of the mountain. Once we reached the top of the Blue Ridge though, conditions changed. We quickly found ourselves in knee deep snow as we fought our way through brutal winds. We hurried for the shelter of the cabin.
The door was locked. I guess we shouldn't have been surprised. We went around the back of the cabin where we huddled on the porch out of the wind. We had a hasty lunch, where Myron and Dorcas indulged in hot soup and cider. Dave and I weren't as well-prepared, though Myron and Dorcas were generous and shared the cider. Saucony was shaking and Dave was beginning to look like a human popsicle, so we didn't linger. Before we left, Dorcas noted that the thermometer registered 15 degrees.
We hurried back down the mountain, aided by our crampons and ice cleats. The weather quickly warmed once we had the mountain behind us to block the wind. The descent was quick and uneventful, and we reached the cars at 4pm. When we arrived at the trailhead, we were surprised to find another car in the parking lot. In an usual coincidence, we quickly realized that it was the truck of another of our hiking friends. We hadn't hiked with John in a long time, so it was quite a surprise to discover that he was nearby. We left him a note and headed for the comfort of Basin Creek Country Store in Elkin.
We relaxed around the fire at Basin Creek and thawed out from our hike. 30 minutes later, John arrived with his wife Annette and another friend of theirs. We lounged around the restaurant for quite awhile and caught up on old times. Our hiked had started out as an escape from all of the stress and misery that comes with the Christmas season. It ended with a celebration of everything that is wonderful about the holidays. What embodies the spirit of Christmas more than catching up with old friends?
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