Misty Mountain Getaway

On the porch of our cozy cabin in the woods, in the absence of the city soundscape, I could hear the leaves above shudder from the impact of each raindrop. Despite this week being spring break, while others escape to warmer locales, we opted for a cooler weekend out near Boone. It had been some time since I visited western North Carolina, and the mountains were calling. Upon arrival, the crisp air in the Blue Ridge Mountains at once both relaxed me for the weekend and invigorated me to hit the trails. I looked forward to reaching an overlook with the mountains rolling on endlessly before me.

Only, this time there was fog.

A dense, persistent fog that I have not seen in years, when I lived in the redwoods in California. The kind of dream-like fog that makes the hikers you meet on the trail disappear just 40 feet away from you.

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Watson and his human Joe taking in the foggy forest.

I accepted that I wouldn’t get that distant view this time around, and prepared for two of the foggiest hikes of my life. Our first was near our cabin at Elk Knob State Park. Perhaps because of the rainy weather, we mostly had the Summit Trail to ourselves. I love paying attention to the trees on the way to a peak; the first trees are very tall, and as in a fairy tale, I feel like I become a giant as I go higher and the trees get shorter and shorter. In less than an hour we were as tall as the plants around us, and suddenly, our heads popped up above the tree line.

According to the signs at the overlook at 5,520 feet in elevation, we should have enjoyed views of Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell nearby, as well as the farther Iron Mountains in Virginia and Tennessee. Instead, until the windchill forced us back down the mountain, I was captivated by the blanket of clouds sailing past, both above and below us. The motion was somewhat disorienting, but wondrous.

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Clockwise from top-left: Short trees against a foggy sky near the top of Elk Knob; a window in the clouds briefly yielded a view of the land below; tiny bryophytes along a stream we crossed; our canine companions and myself on a trail lined with rhododendrons.

We spent our second day in Julian Price Memorial Park on the Boone Fork Trail Loop. Some sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed that day due to fog, and luckily we drove without a hitch to our trail head. The forest socked in fog muffled all sounds, pierced only by bird calls. This trail had its challenging moments, but the rewards were great. We started through a thicket of rhododendrons that I would love to return to when they bloom in summer. In just five miles the trail offers rock-hopping across streams, passage through a peaceful floodplain and meadow, views of a beaver dam, and, my favorite, a massive jumble of boulders called Hebron Falls. At this popular summer swimming spot, I felt grateful to experience it in such seclusion, to really listen to the water rush and slip past the rocks.

The mountains will call again, and I will surely return soon under sunnier skies. But, while I am certainly a fan of warm weather adventuring, this trip was a great reminder of the gifts that cooler weather brings.

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Water coursing through the boulders made the rocks slick at the base of Hebron Falls.

 

 

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