Monday, February 7, 2011

My Humbling Hike up Hawk Hill

Originally, this post was supposed to be about my triumph over the eleven mile road walk at Cade's Cove. As I thought about it, though, there wasn't much worth talking about the walk itself. You can gather most of my experience through the album of pictures I took. In short, the weather was chilly but nice, the scenery was amazing, and the going was tough at times. At my lowest points on the walk, I found a timely porch for a needed sit, and words of encouragement from a stranger. In the end, my feet hurt and I was wiped out, but I accomplished it, the longest one day hike I had ever completed.

The next weekend I walked from Cravens' House to Point Park and back on Lookout Mountain. I took it slow on the ascents, stopping every sixty steps or so to catch my breath. This strategy, while resulting in slower progress, kept my progress steady and allowed to complete the hike without much trouble. Climbing almost 600 feet also created a false sense that I was really starting to get in great hiking shape. I was ready for my first benchmark hike: Hawk Hill at Forest Glen County Preserve near Georgetown, IL.

As long as I can remember, Hawk Hill has been a particular nemesis of mine. It is a fairly small incline, just about 60 feet over about a quarter mile or so. However, it has caused me problems, especially as I got severely out of shape after high school. I have to stop about halfway up to catch my breath, often times causing my more fit companions to stop when they really don't need to. It's a bit embarrassing for me, and I've made it a goal to get from bottom to top without stopping. As I was back in town for Thanksgiving, I thought it was time for me to finally realize that goal. Therefore my brother and I headed out there on Black Friday to conquer that blasted hill.

Maybe it was the lack of exercise since I had hiked up Lookout Mountain. Maybe it was residual stuffing from Thanksgiving, or I ate too much at Breakfast. Maybe it was the few extra pounds of weight in my backpack, or me setting a pace I couldn't possibly keep. Whatever it was, I most certainly did not make it to the top without stopping in the middle. My legs were willing, but my lungs had to stop. It was a humbling experience, and the first obstacle I had encountered that I hadn't quite beaten on this journey. I had walked to the top of Lookout Mountain and Brasstown Bald, how could a little ridge overlooking the Vermilion River kick my ass?

At the time, I was pretty disappointed, and felt a bit discouraged. I wouldn't get a chance to do a real hike again until this past weekend. Some of that was due to the holidays, lousy weather, and dealing with my car's tires. However, a good part of that was the amount of discouragement I felt after failing to walk up Hawk Hill without stopping.

As I've gotten farther away from that experience, I've taken a more positive view of it. I was unrealistic to expect to just get up that hill without stopping in the middle. The reason I made it up those much larger (and steeper) inclines was because I kept to my system. It didn't matter that I stopped to catch my breath, just that I made it to the top. Eventually I'll get to where I can take that hike up from the Vermilion in one stretch, without having to catch my breath part way through. But until then, pacing matters more than some abstract accomplishment. That, coupled with a gorgeous weekend, led me to a return to the outdoors and the mountains of North Georgia.

But that story is for another time...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's the Weather Like

This is a neat table of weather conditions of many locations along the hike.

In fact, that entire site looks like it could be a bevy of information on the Appalachian Trail. Great, as if there weren't enough time sucks out there already.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Conditioning Hike #4: Cloudland Canyon

October 31, 2010: Conditioning Hike #4 - Cloudland Canyon West Rim Loop Trail

It was just supposed to be a quick trip to the rim of Cloudland Canyon. The night after my six hour hike the day before at the Chickamauga battlefield, my feet hurt and I had little desire to continue the next day. Nevertheless, I wanted to get out and see the foliage, so I decided to keep my plans to visit the north Georgia state park the next day.

I packed my day pack, including some snacks and a bottle of water, because hey, maybe I'd walk a mile or two that day. After breakfast and a drive along US 11 to Trenton, GA, I headed up Lookout Mountain and parked in the lot near the east rim. My feet were still kind of sore, but certainly nowhere near as bad as my rouging and detasseling days. It was a pleasant day out, my heavy breakfast needed to be burnt off, and the trail beckoned. And so begins my unplanned hike of the west rim trail at Cloudland Canyon.

Contrary to Chickamauga, the West Rim loop trail was a much rougher trail. Its largest descent and climb were near the beginning, as the trail had to reach the level of the creek that traverses the canyon. Switchbacks eventually took me back up to the other side, where the trail eventually went over rock faces on the edge of the rim. Although this led to a smoother trail at times, it also could be problematic, especially when it became smaller rocks instead of the giant boulders. Nevertheless, it was a small preview of how large portions of the Appalachian Trail is set up, and a different challenge than the graded paths of Chickamauga.

Since it was a beautiful Sunday, and since Cloud Land Canyon is only about a couple hours or less from Chattanooga, Huntsville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, there were plenty of people out on the trail. There were too many people on the trail for my tastes, but people were generally cheerful, and one person even took my picture for me, after I had done so for him and his fellow hiker. I believe I encountered at least three different languages on the trail, a likely result of being so close to a city like Atlanta.

By far the most frustrating part of the trail to me was not the steeper parts, or the somewhat precarious parts near the rim's edge. The winner of this dubious honor had to be the half-mile or so between the beginning of the loop and the edge of the rim facing Trenton. It wasn't particularly steep, but it was a continual climb, and offered no sense of ending. Compounding the frustration was the semi-obstructed view you got when you finally arrived at the rim.

Eventually I made it back around the loop, passing from enjoying the walk to just trying to get it done in the process. I was plenty happy to see the benches and paved path on the east rim, as it meant I was back. All in all, I had walked 4.9 miles on the trail, just a mile or so less than my previous hike. So much for a quiet day in the woods.

Coming Next: Snow, sorghum, and trail magic in Cade's Cove.