September 2016: Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness

In what’s becoming an annual tradition, I took my wonderful wife to a four-day conference north of Charlotte and headed up to the hills while she was busy. Since it looked like a really hot weekend, I decided to head back to the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness areas where I knew I could camp at 5-6000 feet and stay cool. I was hoping hitting Shining Rock first before the weekend would allow me to avoid most everyone as Middle Prong is much quieter.

Thursday was a quick trip in to camp on the backside of Black Balsam Mountain with a 360 degree view of only one other tent off in the distance and a beautiful 50 degree starry night.  My old camera doesn’t do justice to the late afternoon light on the goldenrod…

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beautiful sunset…

or those special minutes before the sun slips away.

The sun circled round and greeted my back porch door on Friday…

and I had a great morning hiking over Tennets Mountain with some great views of Shining Rock Wilderness

and back down Iverstor Gap briefly to hit the Fork Mountain Trail. This trail to Birdstand Mountain has views of Green Knob in the distance where I was planning on staying Saturday (furthest left knob in the distance).

My pack was heavier than usual due to the bear canister requirement and carrying a lot of water as most of the trails were ridge top this weekend and dry.  Most of the land round here was timbered at one time but has recovered, and there is evidence of the activity here and there…

But there are still a few old granddad trees hanging around…

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There are also some decent views and campsites, but most of the trail is in the woods.

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And although its late summer, there were a few wildflowers hanging around.

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As I descended down near the West Fork Pigeon River I decided to call it a day as I was wiped out, attributing it to the heat.

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I started to feel a little worse that evening, but still enjoyed a restful camp.

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I am getting used to carrying the bear canister around where required (Shining Rock included), and really starting to appreciated not having to find that perfect tree to hang a bag…see my blog update on that.

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I don’t know how to describe how the familiarity of camp makes me feel.   Hundreds of nights in camp have settled me into routines that come back quickly and the little things remind me of past trips.  There is nothing else like this feeling that I have found, and it’s one of the reasons I like the camping experience as much or more than the hiking experience when backpacking.

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I had short post-dinner LNT campfire in the Caldera Ti-Tri Inferno.

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I got off to an early start the next morning anticipating the steep climb into the Middle Prong wilderness.  Crossing the Pigeon River was easy with the low flows this time of year.

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The 3000 foot climb really kicked my butt, but led to great views along Fork Ridge through the Middle Prong Wilderness.

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I thought it was just the climb, but as the day went on I realized it was something else dragging me down.  So I tried to enjoy the views and scouted out some great future campsites at lunch and rests,

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but ended up deciding to hike out and stay in a hotel near my wife’s conference just to be safe. There is always something to see along the trail even on the way out feeling crumby…from lichens and moss…

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to pretty sections of trail…

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and even more moss…

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and even more views from a rest spot that would be a perfect campsite.

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Although the trip was a day shorter than expected and I didn’t get to spend another night at 5000 ft, I enjoyed the time alone in the woods.  I’ll tackle that climb again when I am feeling better and see if its any easier!

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