A hike into the fire

Ive been gone a while. Nothing of note has really been occurring. A Disney trip, a hike screwed up by work… but I finally got in some time this week. And it turned out to be quite interesting.

On Monday November 14th, I found myself in Marion, NC for a class for work. I’d previosuly been into this area before, a few months ago hiking from Carver’s Gap to 19E near Mountain Harbor Hostel.

I arrived near Marion early enough to make the AT before sunset. I figured, since if I checked into my hotel room there would be nothing to do, why not go ahead up into the mountains and maybe take some time lapse of the sunset. I had anticipated the possibility of getting in a little trail time and brought along my tabletop tripod and SLR digital camera.

Unfortunately, Google Maps was not quite up to the task. Oh sure, when I looked at google on the phone before leaving town, it looked like it was basically a straight shot through the hills on two or three major roads for an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I’m driving into some hillside development back in the sticks thinking “I should have been there by now.”

Google and my phone have of course lost their signal, and although it still shows me on the right road, according to it, I know I’m nowhere near the right place. I pull out my portable GPS that I use for Hiking. It has the roads on it too, thankfully, and shows me I’m 20 minutes from my destination. In fact, Google led me astray and has me up in Tennessee now.

So I leave the neighborhood, find the main road and come into Carver’s gap, 30 minutes after sunset. Disgusted, I want to just go home, but figure I didn’t just drive over an hour to turn around. So I jump out of the car and SHIT IT’S COLD. I pull on my coat, gloves and quickly throw my little pack on my back and start up the hill in the near darkness. There were several cars in the parking area, and some people, like me, heading up the hill. I passed a few hunters going down the hill in orange vests, and I was glad to be going into the woods after hunting time was over. It’s easy to forget the same trails we hike are used by deer hunters.

It’s only a half or three fourths of a mile to the lookout at the top of the first hill. Along the way, hiking was an interesting experience. I’ve never hiked the AT in the dark before, I was glad I had walked this section or it would have been a little confusing. The path is well worn and even gravelled along the first part, as its a popular area, but on the grassy hilltops it’s easy to get turned around if you step off the path.

I passed the first section where I could see off to the west, but other than where the Sun just set there was not much to see. Finally I could see off to the East, and noticed what everyone was looking at.

For a few weeks, there have been a number of fires in North Carolina. The smoke was pretty bad in places, hanging in a pall over the area. Tonight a lot of the smoke had cleared off to the East, although to the North and West it was still bad. There were a few clouds in the sky, and out in front of us was the Supermoon.

I was listening to the radio on the way up, and because the only stations I could get in the mountains were country music, jesus stations, and NPR, I wound up listening to a lot of NPR. Oddly enough they were talking about the fact that Supermoon is actually an astrology term, and that science types call it a Peak Perigee moon or something like that. The moon was going to be very slightly bigger in the sky, and a few percent brighter. It was a distance difference of only a few hundred miles (out of the 250,000 miles it is normally from us).

But the effect on us shaved apes in clothing was astounding. It was easily the second best trail night I’ve had. The best is still Walnut Mountain when we all watched the sunset. But this was right up there. It’s easy to see how primitive man created religions around celestial bodies.

The moon was halfway out from behind Mount Mitchell I am guessing, when I got to the top of my hill. I found a small rock no bigger around than maybe three fett, and plopped my tripod down. I fixed the camera in place, sitting there on the ground. There were maybe a dozen people spread out all over several acres. I got a few pictures of the moon, but there wasn’t much to see, just the moon in the sky. And it was just a pinpoint because I hadnt brought my big lens, just a 50mm zoom.

So I took several long exposures of the sky as viewed from the top of the hill, looking west at Venus, and almost straight up, and then back at the moon. I had brought some Gatorade and Ritz crackers, and I sat there eating them just watching the moon go up. It finally reached a point where it was lighting up some clouds pretty well, and interacting with the clouds by going partially behind them. People walked by while the shutter was open, providing some interesting camera effects.

I got out my headlamp and wrote the word Moon across the sky, and played around with it. At one point I made a red ghost of myself. Sitting on the ground was making me cold, and after a few more shots I started to pack up. I got one with a group of people standing there looking at the moon (I did ask them to stand still for 15 seconds) and another which looked funnier than it was. This person walked near me and turned on their phone camera to take a picture. But in my shot, because of the timing, all you see is the moon and someone at the top of the hill on their phone. It was an unintended social commentary.

Ritz in my stomach and camera in my bag, it was time for a short hike down to the car. I packed up and headed down the mountain. About a mile down the road into North Carolina there was a truck on the wrong side of the road half in the ditch, and a guy stomping out a fire. It was almost completely out, but I stopped to help him, stomping on embers and trying to rub out coals and little flames with my boots. The fire had scorched an area about 30 feet wide, and ten to fifteen feet up the side of the hill. The man had lost his cell phone, and despite looking with a flashlight, we couldn’t find it. He said someone had just set the fire.

While I was helping him look for his phone, another truck pulled up. A man got out and said he had gone to a house down the hill and called the fire department. No one had cell service on this part of the mountain. I had to get down the hill, so with the two of them there, I left. My wife had texted me during a brief period of service and the text was “Call me”, which sounded urgent. I wasn’t, I would find out later, but I needed to get to service and find out what was up.

As I drove down the hill I thought about how lucky those people on top were. If the fire had escaped and burned up the hill, the place where I was watching the moon would have been a perfect place to get burned up. A dry bald grassland with no trees to slow the fire, and a slight wind, may have made it hard for the people on top to get out of the way, especially in the dark. I don’t know who you were, mysterious Hispanic guy, but the hikers on the hill owe you a debt of gratitude.

Pictures to come later, they’re stuck in my camera because I forgot to bring my card reader on my trip, and I’m writing this in my hotel room on my Raspberry Pi, plugged into the hotel TV. Oops.

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Author: theosus1

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