Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Plants on the Art Loeb Trail - and barefoot shoes!

We hiked the Art Loeb Trail over Labor Day weekend - Chris, me, and our two kids. We did it in two days, mainly because no one felt like camping out two nights.

We spent Friday night in Brevard so that we could catch the 6 a.m. shuttle run by Pura Vida Adventures. That way we could do the trip with just one car, which we left in Brevard at the Davidson River Campground. The shuttle dropped us off at Camp Daniel Boone so we could hike the trail north to south. This is the easier direction because the majority of the altitude gain happens all at once at the beginning, on the hike up to Cold Mountain. As we proceeded down the route, I felt increasingly sorry for the poor souls hiking in the other direction.

This walk took us through an incredible variety of plant communities. I will confess that though I initially regretted that I hadn't brought any collection gear with me, I soon lost the energy to think about plant identification beyond an idle appreciation of what grew on the sides of the trail. But it did make me think of my friends André, Mark, John, and Joseph - up in the wilderness, it's possible to see some of what they saw.

On our first high ridge, between Deep Gap and Shining Rock, we walked through fields of Ageratina altissima, common white snakeroot, and endless nettles, Laportea canadensis. The nettles sting. We saw chestnut oak, Quercus montana, and American chestnut, Castanea dentata. In places the ground was thick with shiny green Galax ureceolata.

The area between Shinking Rock and Black Balsam Knob is awash in blueberries, Vaccinium corymbosum. One year Chris and I gorged on them like black bears; this year we just nibbled as we walked, though we saw plenty of collectors armed with plastic containers. We also saw lots of black bear scat - on the trail! - laden with blueberry bits.

Just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway we entered a quiet, soft-grounded forest of spruce and fir. Patrick finds these areas sadly devoid of diversity, but we've always found the ambiance pleasant, somewhat Middle-Earth-like. We camped in a grove of what I seem to recall as sycamores and tulip poplars, but I might have been insane after 15 miles of hiking, and it was both dark and pouring down rain, so all I can recollect is the wind that blew up amongst the broad leaves - broad leaves and a high thick canopy that actually stopped much of the rain from reaching us. At first.

The next morning we climbed Pilot Mountain, home to more Castanea and endless rhododendrons and mountain laurels.

As we descended toward Brevard we saw more of those, plus numerous Magnolia fraseri. It was like dinosaur land. We were set upon by a nest of yellow jackets tiptoeing through a rhododendron thicket near Butter Gap. The climate grew warmer and more jungly as we approached Brevard.

What else did we see? Trilliums with dried flowers still attached. Goldenrods. Some sort of Lysimachia? Red oaks and white oaks. Pines. Tulip poplars. Red maples. Lots and lots of other things I can't recall. It wasn't the trip for collecting or taking notes.

Biggest breakthrough: Chris and I both hiked the whole thing in Merrell Barefoot shoes. I wore the Pace Glove, no socks, and he wore the Vapor Glove with thick wool socks. It was great! We had no blisters, and the groundfeel was wonderful. We've been doing the minimalist thing for several years now so our feet must be pretty strong, but still, it was a revelation to see what our own feet are capable of. Allowed complete freedom they do a great job of walking - way better than heavy cast-like hiking boots. No more boots for me!

We also ate what I think of as a more genuinely paleo diet than the currently popular silliness, all dried fruits and nuts and a small amount of beef jerky. Plus some tortillas with peanut butter. No stove, no camping food. That is also the way to go - lots of energy, low bulk, and very little trash.