Taking the Summit and Going Within

Why am I doing this!! I asked as I searched for a path up the steep mountain slope. The fourteen thousand foot summit of Mt. Sneffels was only a 1.2 miles from the trail head, but it was scary steep and covered with loose rocks that seemed to give way as soon as you set foot on them.

It was anything but easy and I had similar thoughts the last time I climbed a fourteener. As I took a break, my mind politely reminded me that I’m on vacation. Several miles away, I had a large beautiful camp site next to a crystal clear mountain stream. I could be stretched out in my reclining camp chair napping peacefully in the sun.

Instead, I’m up here breathing hard, with a heavy pack and trying not to climb up and not slide the long way down. Geez, I could take it easier on myself, ya think???

After a while my pack began to annoy me. It seemed heavier with every step and it felt heavier than it should be. It only had two bottles of water, a bag of almonds, granola bars, first aid kit and a DLSR. Yet, it felt like I was carrying a week’s worth of supplies.

The summit loomed ahead and was close enough to not give up, but not close enough to just run up. Each step required a test for solid ground with my trekking poles. I made my way up in short increments and a few times found myself in a seemingly no win situation. I can’t step forward because there isn’t a solid step ahead. I can’t step backward because I’ll fall for sure.
Now I know what a cat feels like when it climbs a tree!

As I made my way up in short increments, I encountered fellow hikers returning from the summit. Each one had two things to say: 1) awesome view, worth the trip 2) it’s slick up there and I’m glad to be headed down.

After two hours I reached the top and enjoyed the amazing, breathtaking view composed of jagged peaks set against a blue sky. Some peaks looked like they were carved and others looked like they just fell into place. I could see forever in all directions and felt like I was on top of the world. The most memorable part of sitting on top was the incredible deafening sound of silence. It was clearing and yet a bit eerie at the same time.

When it came time to leave, I peered down that steep, rocky, slope and wondered how I’d get down without falling. I watched other hikers slide along on their butt, using their trekking poles to keep them from sliding too far.

Everyone that I had passed had dirty pants from sliding or falling on their butt. I was a bit determined to get off this mountain with clean clothes. After some closer than I’d like to slides, I managed to pick my way down that mountain without falling and stayed clean.

I totally agreed with all the hikers I’d met; I’m glad to be off that steep, rocky, feel like I’m going to fall anytime slope.

So why did I do that instead of napping at my peaceful camp? I admire Sir Edmund Hillary, but my answer is much more than “because it’s there”. For me, being on that mountain forces me to face my inner self and accomplish things I’d never otherwise do.

It’s about being in the moment, for better or worse, and moving out of that moment to the next one. It’s about looking at something that appears impossible and yet finding out it’s not. It’s where I find myself and what I’m truly capable of.

Now when I’m faced with “difficult” tasks or don’t know what to exactly what to do I remember that mountain climb. If I can successfully face those unknown obstacles, surely I can figure this out.

For me, that is the beauty of exploring and challenging myself. It’s way more than the interesting people I meet or the amazing scenery and photographs; it’s about finding what I can really do and that is the greatest journey.

Finding the path in the Eliada Corn Maze

“Do you know where number 11 is?” The little girl asked. “Sorry, I’m only up to number 6”, I politely replied. Then I looked down at the map and realize d I’d lost my place. Oh no!

I’ve driven solo across the country, but finding my way through this corn maze was proving quite challenging. A friend and I were finding our way through the Eliada Corn Maze, in Asheville North Carolina. The first maze was listed at 2.7 miles in length. Definitely a larger challenge than my last corn maze!!

The corn maze has numerical check points and you punch your card at each checkpoint. The goal is three-fold; find all the checkpoints and find your way out, preferably before dark, and have fun.

We embarked and found the first couple of checkpoints relatively easily. Then there was a long stretch on the map. Actually it was a section where several trails made a circle all together. One trail was correct and the others wrong.

Right turn, then left, and the next check point should be right here. Except it’s not and I can’t see anything that looks close to where I think we should be. Uh-oh…….

My friend and I take another look at the map and then back tracked some. The trail still didn’t look familiar; we back tracked more. In a corn maze, you can’t see out or around; you have to follow the map. If you lose your bearings, like we did, it’s challenging.

Shoot, we were doing so well too!! Fortunately, it is the south and everyone was more than friendly mainly because we’re all in the same boat. “What number are you looking for?” a gentleman asked. “Six” I replied. “Oh that’s over there” as he pointed in the opposite direction. That’s nowhere near where I thought; obviously….

We said thanks and promptly found number six. Ok, now I’m concentrating on this map much harder because it’s a long stretch to the next one. For me following the map, took all of my concentration and I became “the map”. I wasn’t getting lost again.

We managed to find our way through not just one, but all three of the mazes. It was fun and a great sense of accomplishment. However, the corn maze was just the beginning of the fun.

As we were in the corn maze, I kept hearing this “whoosh” sound periodically and wondered what it was. Once I saw it, my eyes lit up. Lined up, three in a row, were air canons. You put a corn cob in the end, aim, and fire. Sometimes the corn would fall a few feet in front and other times, it sailed off into the forest. Oh yeah, I’m so doing this!!

Who knew something so simple could be so much fun!! I could’ve spent a few hours launching corn cobs into the forest. After that we hopped on the adult hay ride and took a leisurely tour. There is also a hay ride for the kids so whatever the age, anyone can enjoy a hay ride.

All of these activities benefit the Eliada Homes which are dedicate to helping kids succeed. Having been a kid myself, I’m all for helping kids succeed. It can be tough sometimes and a little help goes a long way.

If you’re in the Asheville area, come have some fun, support a great cause, and spend an afternoon at the Eliada Corn Maze.

For more information: http://www.eliada.org/get-involved/eliadas-annual-corn-maze

Here’s a very short, no frills video I took:

Turkeypen hike; mushrooms, bushwacking and great scenery

“How much farther up does this go?”….. Up being the key word as we had climbed for about half an hour and still were climbing. I knew we were on the right trail, but I couldn’t see where it ultimately went. The thick Carolina foliage only revealed the trail as you hiked along.

I had heard this trail was one of the tougher hikes on the hiking challenge and so far it was living up to its description. We were taking on the Turkeypen hiking trail near Ashville, North Carolina and it is one of eight hikes listed on the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s hiking challenge 2.0. When you complete all eight hikes, you’ll receive a White Squirrel patch; I just saw a couple of white squirrels in person and that was really cool! Squirrel or not, the hiking challenge is a great way to encourage people to get out and explore new scenery.

Turkey Pen/South Mills River gap would be my 4th hike in the series, and it’s rated very strenuous at 6.4 miles and elevation gain of 1,240 feet. As you stand in the parking lot there are a couple of trail options. We took the one on the left, as if you were walking in front of your car. Up is up, but I think this might have been the easier way to tackle the terrain, because you climb the all of the elevation in the beginning.

We continued the steep ascent stopping along the way to photograph the tall trees and tons of mushrooms. I’ve never seen so many different mushrooms on one trail. I enjoy fried mushrooms, but I have no idea which ones to pick so I just took photos.

Finally, we reached the top of the trail and were greeted with a survey marker noting the trail and elevation. The top was shrouded in thick foliage so it was shady, but the expansive views were hidden. Take this hike in the fall and I bet you’d see a long way.

Happy to have the hardest part of the trail behind us we descended into a lush forest with babbling brooks and moss covered logs. The guide labeled this section the Garden of Eden and it was easy to see why. Just as the Garden of Eden had a surprise, the trail had one more surprise for us.

Descending into an open area, the trail mysteriously just disappeared into a stream. There weren’t tracks around the stream as expected. It just stopped. I’m used to walking down a stream a bit, but usually you see the trail on the other side. I didn’t see any signs of trail here.

Backtracking a bit didn’t reveal any missed turnoffs and the trail guide didn’t note anything about crossing a stream. This has to be the way to go, so I decided to go scope it out and return with a report.

I picked my way over the rocks and headed down the stream. After a few yards, I found the only exit point which was through tall brush that appeared to have remnants of path through it. Although it appeared to not have been used in eons.

There were two options here; snakes or poison ivy. I’d prefer the snakes because generally they move, although in a similar area, I saw a rattlesnake hold its ground and I moved. Well, here goes…trekking poles in hand, I made my way through the dense foliage.

About 100 feet later, I exited the jungle into a wide open space and there was the trail. I’m not sure how people were getting to this section, but I think I was the only one through that overgrown area in a long time. Fortunately, there weren’t any snakes or poison ivy.

Shortly after that adventure, the trail again dead ended in a large creek. However this was noted on the trail guide and there is a trail that goes to a fun swinging bridge. I say it’s a fun bridge; it wasn’t too high over the water and was easy to make swing. I bounced, rocked my way over the bridge and just had fun playing. Don’t ask me why I found that so entertaining, but at one point I almost swung myself right into the river.

Leaving the bridge, the easy trail follows the creek with access points among the trees. One stop was too inviting to miss and I stretched out on a rock in the warm sun. The sound of the water, the warm sun, and warm rocks and I could’ve been out for a long time. I must be part cat; I enjoy a good nap in the sun, plus I had been walking for hours. Days it seemed.

The trail crosses more bridges, then makes another small ascent and ends up in the far end of the parking lot behind the sign with the big map. 5 hours and 6.4 miles later, we were done and mostly spent. It turned out to be a combination of hike and adventure, which I always enjoy.

As I took one last, long look at that creek babbling among the green trees, I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the fall. They say October is the best month to see the fall foliage. I may have to make a visit back just for that.
For more information:
www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/turkeypen