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Keepin' It Local

So I'm sitting here at my desktop tonight (which in reality is a Toshiba laptop with a broken screen, connected to an ancient White Westinghouse monitor - and is also cranky, slow, and old, much like its owner. But hey, it's got Windows 10, so there's that); and I can barely move. If I stand up to move around, I can't even straighten my right leg. And since my cozy little apartment is a two-level, I have to gingerly step down from my breakfast nook (where the glorified laptop is set up) to the bedroom area. Oh, the joys of Fibromyalgia, not to mention getting old.

But I digress.

So how did I come to this current state of physical "distress," you might ask?

Well, as the late, great Paul Harvey would say, that's the "rest of the story."

Since Old Man Winter doesn't afford Old Man Robert many photo-opportunities, I have to take what I can get. And sometimes, that means getting off my duff and doing a little hiking (as seen in my previous blog, "Approaching Winter").

And also since drab, brown landscapes aren't exactly my thing during winter months (and truly, winter months aren't exactly my thing either) I'm often perusing the weather forecasts in hopes that I can catch something "wintry" to add to the ol' portfolio.

So when I scanned my totally geeky weather app on my iPhone Wednesday night, I was intrigued by the possibility of a little wintry action in the highest elevations in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, above 3,500 feet; and particularly on the western slopes. About one to three inches of the fluffy, white stuff.

The question was where to go.

I could relive last year's icy adventure on Roan Mountain; but that two hour drive, plus a six mile round trip hike - required more time and energy than I had to give, especially after working five ten hour shifts in the past six days; plus, I knew the roads up there - particularly on the Tennessee side - would be treacherous.

I could head up to the Great Smoky Mountains; but I also have access to road closures through another totally geeky app on the iPhone (man, I love technology), so driving into Cherokee would be a waste of time since I already knew Newfound Gap Road was shut down. And I sure as heck wasn't going to park at Smokemont and hike ten miles to Newfound Gap. There's a limit to my loonyness. And I'm loony enough as it is.

But - I also live only six miles from the Soco Gap entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'd have to hike a little since the Parkway was closed, but might there be some wintry sights to see there? Of course!

Soco Gap it was, close to home and not much of a gamble. There had to be some snow up there, right?

Well, if what I saw in my back yard Thursday morning was any indication (and my house sits just below that magic 3,500 feet in elevation forecast for snow) then I was going to come up snake eyes in my quest. It basically dandruffed in my back yard, the lightest of dustings covering the ivy:

But heck - I was gonna give it a go anyway; and as I made the ascent up US 19 to Soco Gap, a mere six miles from la hacienda, there were promising signs, as accumulating snows lined either side of the road. I parked at the mostly clear Soco Gap Overlook, and began my trek.

I didn't think I would have to walk far on the Parkway to see some snow; but late morning sunlight melted a good deal of the snow in the elevations around 4000-5000 feet that weren't shaded. That meant I would likely have to hike four miles to the highest elevations, and places like Woolyback Overlook and Waterrock Knob, if I were to see any wintry glory today.

Keep in mind - when I hike, I carry a camera bag that holds two spare bodies (my Nikon D2X and D2Hs), two more lenses, a few bottles of water, some snacks, and some emergency items, about 25 pounds in total; plus I carry over my shoulder a tripod that carries my main camera, a Nikon D3s (which replaces the old D700 as my low light camera of choice). Oh, and I also walk with two five-pound ankle weights. So I'm lugging over 35 additional pounds wherever I go.

When I mentioned this to the lady at the local convenience store after I was done with my hike, she looked at me sort of cockeyed and said half-jokingly,

"You must really hate yourself."

Well not really, though I am given to lunatic tendencies, but again I digress.

I measured my hike by the mileposts. It wasn't until I reached milepost 452 (I started at milepost 455) that I finally began to see what I had sought out - some rime ice and snow. And what a sight to see:

Also keep in mind the temperatures were in the low-to-mid 20's with a biting wind, getting colder as I climbed (though the grade was relatively gentle), and my poor legs and feet were starting to feel the strain from all the unnecessary weight "big dummy" here decided to lug along. Yes, a lunatic. You've got to have a little crazy in you to be an artist or photographer. I plead guilty as charged.

Yet as I kept going, the scenery kept getting better and better:

I was close enough to Waterrock Knob, so I figured, "May as well go there too." That was where it was coldest and windiest, yet there was a nice reward for all my suffering:

It's very rare to see any sort of winter scenes up here, as the Parkway is typically closed in the cold months - so very few people ever get to see scenes like this, unless they choose to hike. Understandably, the National Park Service chooses not to salt, sand, or plow the Parkway in the winter, mainly for environmental reasons. There's an abundance of fragile plant life merely feet from the edge of the road, so the NPS chooses to maintain as natural a setting for the road as possible. I'm in total agreement with that.

I saw one car pass through the whole time I was out on the Parkway - a government vehicle that left the single tire track you see below. The guy driving just casually waved as he drove past. And of course, his was the only kind of vehicle permitted out there, since as you know the Parkway was closed to any other traffic; and these government folks have the keys to the gates and stuff:

As I hiked back down from Waterrock the snow began to fall again, lightly where I stood, but still coming down steadily in the distance some fifteen miles from Cranberry Ridge Overlook, where these were taken:

I then stopped for a minute, partially to rest my legs, but also to grab the telephoto lens and zoom in on the rime ice covered trees:

And again I began charting my progress by the milepost, descending until I reached milepost 455 and the parking area at Soco Gap, where I could finally sit for a minute before making the short drive home.

And because I kept it local, those eight miles I hiked today didn't seem so bad, especially after gorging myself on some fajita nachos from the local Mexican restaurant.

And of course, I found that sought-after winter magic I'd hoped for too. It was worth the aches and pains.

I just hope I can walk in the morning!

UPDATE 2/10/2017 - yes, I can walk, albeit painfully. I worked another ten hour day today without incident, or at least without collapsing. A moral victory, no doubt.

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