Sunday, April 3, 2011

Green Knob to Mt. Mitchell

The steep switch-back climb up Green Knob from the BRP passes easily as I try to keep the pace honest.  I am a little surprised to find that the trail to the fire tower has been worked on.  There are support rocks and steps all along the way and the switch backs themselves have been bolstered with rocks and timbers.  Perhaps that is why I climb this short, near-vertical section much faster than the previous two times.

This climb allows me to conclude that my legs are fresh and peppy.  They are, in fact, much stronger than I thought they would be after the big day on Monday and the relaxed day of morning training - 8 gentle trail miles and 30 bike miles on the "flattest" section of BRP around.

Wood planks, a generator, and a few other construction materials strewn about he clearing around the fire tower indicate that it is under renovation.  I snap a couple of pictures of the scene before beginning the 2.5-mile, 2200-ft descent of Green Know to Black Mountain Campground.

The sky is perfectly clear and the temperature at a mile of altitude is in the mid-40's as I negotiate the rocky outcroppings of the super steep upper segment of Green Knob.  The Knob is actually such a technical descent that I am forced to scramble over rocks and use trees for "guidance" as I basically fall down from the top.  I love it!

Not open for business
I hear chainsaws as I move into the less steep lower reaches of the descent just above the campground.  I later learn that a crew is removing downed trees on the other side of the campground.  The campground is closed for the season.  The gates are locked and all of the signs are covered with black plastic.  I am pleased to see that I have descended seven minutes faster than I did last year.  It is noticeably warmer at 3000 ft, so I remove my shirt when I stop to retrieve a pack of Gu Chomps.

The lack of foliage on the trees leaves me baking in the sun as I begin the six-mile climb up Mt. Mitchell.  I am glad I took the shirt off, since I do not intend to get dehydrated on the run.  I encourage myself to run every runnable step, which I expect to include almost all of my strides.  It is not long before I rise and cross over a ridge where the sounds generated by high winds replace the whining of the chainsaws.  The sun is still warm, but the wind leaves me chilled.  Perfect!
Barely Runnable

Last of the snow.
As I reach the higher elevations of Mt. Mitchell the winds increase and the temperature decreases.  Sweat  from my hat drips onto the goosebumps on my arms.   Finally reaching the dense spruce and fir forest  where the trail becomes much more level, I open up my stride and begin to run as if I were on the roads.  This section of trail has been etched into my memory as one of the most beautiful and enjoyable places I have ever run.  The thought occurs to me that this section of trail makes all of the work of this long run worthwhile.  I feel blessed to have the ability to run through such sensory-effecting place.

Several areas of deep snow and ice hide the trail as it meanders around the north side of the summit.  Just before I pop out on the asphalt summit trail I encounter the first people I've seen all day.  A family of five passes gingerly over an ice-covered rock outcrop as I bound through.  The mother informs her children that I am being careless and dangerous.  And she doesn't even know of my tripping skills!

The previous evening, just before a big black bear ran in front of me as I drove to my campsite, I had placed three bottles of water near a signpost below the summit.  They are gone!  This is NOT good.  All of the services at the summit are closed for the season.  The restroom is locked and the water fountains are turned off.

The Garmin indicates that it has taken me just over two hours to reach the summit of Mt. Mitchell from the BRP.  This is significantly less time than the same journey last June.  I have mixed emotions as I continue running up the spiral walkway above the summit.  The air is quite cool, maybe 55 degrees, and the wind is blowing 25-35 mph at the summit, so I quickly put the shirt back on.

It is while munching on another package of Gu Chomps that a joins me on the tower.  We greet each other and I learn that his name is Sid.  Sid is limping and wearing sandals that reveal several strips of white tape on each foot.  He tells me that he acquired "many, many blisters" the previous day when he climbed this mountain.

I tell Sid about my missing water.  He points to the ranger station/visitors' center about a mile down the asphalt road and suggests that I run over there to get water.  He said he stopped there on this drive to the summit parking lot.  I tell him that I came from the BRP and that I did not want to make that round trip before descending on the trail.  Sid breaks the seal on the water bottle in his hand and shrugs, "They would probably give you water."

A distant source of water?
Slightly miffed, I walk away.  Sid follows.  At the bottom of the viewing tower I ask him to take my summit photo.   He snaps a few pics while I smile and fantasize about going Chuck Norris on his ass with a spinning round kick to his head.  I see my right foot contacting his left cheek before I continue the spin and catch both my camera and his water bottle.  I am certain that I can get away, given the condition of his feet.

I sip from the tube of the Nathan just before he hands me the camera.  It makes an "I'm empty" gargling sound.
"You do need some water, don't you?"
"Yep. "
"Good luck." Then he screws the cap off of his water bottle and takes another drink.
"Thanks.  Take care of those feet."
Chuck Norris spinning through my mind!
I begin the run back down the mountain very thankful that it is such a cool day.  I know I will be thirsty when I get back to the RAV.

The descent of Mt. Mitchell goes much better than I expect.  My feet move swiftly and deftly as they find the best landing spots.  I find myself both surprised and pleased with my trail running agility.

Only when I see the white government vehicles of the trail crew do I realize how fast I have descended this rugged trail.  What a day!  This has gone much better than last summer!  And I haven't even stubbed my toe once!! 

The toe grabbers!
It is at the moment of that thought that I look at my watch - and catch my right toe on a root.  Several floundering strides over a myriad of roots later I catch the left toe on another root.  I crash hard on all fours before I bounce and skid to a stop.  Inspection of the damage reveals that I have contusions on my left knee and right palm.  There are several abrasions on my forearms and shins.  Dang!  I was so close!

My stride returns to normal before I finish crossing the campground.  I am sore, but my parts seem to be working.  And that is a good thing since the brutal climb up Green Knob awaits me.  As with the Mt. Mitchell ascent, I intend to run as much of this climb as possible.

The Green Knob trail post.
I manage to run the vast majority of steep trail up the Knob.  It is on this climb last summer that I completely came apart and struggled to the summit.  Not on this day.  The climb comes surprisingly easy to me.  Perhaps this is because I keep thinking about the water, orange juice, and organic fruit and protein Bolthouse smoothies stored in the RAV.  I really want to get there as fast as possible.

The sounds of hammers and saws serve as a welcome greeting me as I approach the top.  The work crew is busy repairing the fire tower.  I glance at my watch and find that I have, once again, crushed last year's time for another section of this run.

The culprits after much scrubbing.
The family enjoying a picnic lunch at the Green Knob overlook freeze when they see me.  Jaws dropp and eyes express concern.  I glance down and notice that the cut on my has bled A LOT.  That blood is all over my forearm, my once tan shirt, and my right thigh.  Furthermore, the knee had bled even more.  That blood, still running, has reached my shoe.  I smile and wave at them as I proclaim, "This is a wonderful day, isn't it!?"

While I turn the key in the door of the RAV I see my reflection in the glass.  I had, apparently, used that bloody right hand to wipe sweat from my brow during the climb.  It appears as if I had suffered a nasty head wound.  That poor family.  I hope all of them keep their lunches down.  They did leave rather abruptly.

I spend thirty minutes shoving food and fluids into my mouth while I rest on a cooler and look out over the mountains of the Blue Ridge.  Then I decide that I want to enjoy a lot more of that view with Faith. I change clothes and climb on her for an exhausting 40-mile ride that includes 6200 vertical feet of climbing.

That ride satiates my thirst for outdoor activities.  I clean up and drive back to Asheville for another afternoon and evening of big eating.  I declare the trip a peak experience when I plop down at the bar of the Jack of the Wood to enjoy an evening of live Old Time music.  And get this, the night and the great music are prolonged by a nasty storm that keeps almost everyone locked in their seats.

What a day! What a night! What an peak experience!

The first of three shifts of players at Jack of the Wood's Old Time Round up.  Great music!

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