I love maps. They tell you everything; where you are, where you're going, where you've been, how far you've come, and how far you have to go. I fucking love them. The opinion is one brought about by having saved my own ass once just by having a map. I always carry a map with me on the trail. But not this time. Keep that in mind.
My blood has always been too thick for the heat. I can tolerate it and function to a high degree in the summer months, but it's not my favorite. This is the reason why winter always sparks a need to go farther and operate in ball shattering temperatures. Soviet Union temperatures that that extend the limits of a regular man and his gear. This is where I found myself for three days in the midst of January. Three days of glory in the Roan Highlands when I remembered the complex exhilaration that arises from truly not knowing how you will persuade life to cling to your ass while you sleep.
The Roan Highlands are a wonder of natural beautitude that stretch through the area of the Appalachians which straddle the junction of the east Tennessee and North Carolina state lines in the Pisgah National Forest. Here it is said that the Appalachian Trail is at it's most gorgeous and impacting. My goal is a three day perambulation from Carver's Gap to a place called Grassy Ridge Bald. And "balds", in the parlance of or times...refers to a mountain which is virtually devoid of forestation...bald mountains...see, we're using words. In any case, it was a place I had never been and I was determined to make the most of the coming winter scenery that will be brought about by the welcomed forecast of four inches of snow, zero degree lows, and 40+ mph winds. Because that's how photographs are made.
I set out early into the darkness from my house in west Tennessee and boomed eastward down I-40.
Arriving at Carver's Gap around 11am, I see that the area has already had a healthy dose of winter the night prior.
I had read that the AT crossed the road and that the trail to the balds began in an old growth alpine forest. I see the trees and then I'm off on the trail.
I'm having to take in my own water this time so the pack is feeling the firm clinch of gravity. It's already gorgeous and it feels outstanding to have my boots back on the AT after so long. I make my way through the snow and ice with a feeling of general euphoria that is usually brought about by the comforting orange glow of the "Hot n' Ready" sign at Krispy Kreme or when someone asks me to finish their beer. The sun is shining like little white lasers between the trees making teardrop shaped points on the snow.
There's a low hanging mist that makes the air seem exceptionally still. It's cold but not too cold, maybe around 28-30 degrees. I notice three or four sets of footprints but it's not long before that number dwindles to two, and then one, and then fresh powder and ice.
"Adam, aren't you bringing your ice gear on this trip???" Me: Fuck no....
I'm alone on the AT and it's wonderful. I make my way along to my predetermined camp destination at Grassy Ridge which sits at a prominent 6,165 feet above the ocean. I want to reach the Ridge, make camp, and then strike out to take in the sunset around the peaks with my camera before the real weather moves in for the night.
As I move through the mist and the ice and the snow, I think about all the feet that have carried hikers north and south and back again.
Thru hikers who are either feeling the strain of the trail on their way from Springer Mountain in Georgia or the absolute joy of knowing their epic journey from Katahdin is nearing an end. In any case, my mind was occupied with lofty thoughts of pride of sharing the trail and it's beauty with fellow dirt bags. You know, deep thinking kind of shit that clutters the minds of the philosophically predisposed and those who are waiting in line at Wal-Mart. It's fantastic and I'm lost in the walk. I notice where a small mishap must have happened on the trail...
I pause to make a few exposures but generally don't stop too often because I'm wanting to make camp fast. I finally come out from the trees to a beautiful open spot of fresh snow and blowing mist. The sun warms my face as I make my way along to find my stopping point and make camp. I find it not too long afterward. I'm glad too, because the sun has began it's depressive drop into evening and I know it'll be cold soon. It is here, standing alone in the blowing snow in early afternoon in a place I've never been, I realize a fact of marginal importance....
I've been going the wrong direction this whole time.