It wasn’t intentional, but I haven’t done a good job of concealing how much I love mountains. As geographic desires go, my fascination with mountains wasn’t cultivated from a young age — I only vaguely remember my first trip to Seattle, and that memory features heavily the Boeing plant tour, not my hike up Rainier two days after. But maybe it sparked something: some fried nerve that turned into an obsession seeing me visit Rainier five times in seven weeks in 2007, or the craze that brought me to Switzerland five times in 2011. (I did the math on this one: a typical weekend, say Friday-Sunday, is 48 hours. On a trip to Switzerland from Stuttgart, I’d spend 25% of that driving and another 25% sleeping — leaving me no more than 1/2 of the weekend to do what I wanted to do. Who in his right mind would take 50% odds like this for five times!)
But perhaps there is an underlying assumption that my definition of “mountainous” covers an area containing peaks higher than 12,000 feet, for it wasn’t until I had been in Charleston for 90 weeks that I visited the Blue Ridge Mountains waiting just 5 hours away from the Lowcountry. I thought only Rainier changed moods without a moment’s notice; this trip showed me just how wrong I was.
On Friday, the weekend looked promising. It took a [long] while to get my fire going, but when I was finished being mesmerized by the crackling reds, oranges, yellows, and – lo! – blues, the sky was starry and the moon was out.
But I was in for a not-so-surprise. The forecast called for rain on Saturday, and rain all day it did. I ended up avoiding hiking and driving through the Cradle of Forestry instead, stumbling across a small grove of perfectly-planted trees. It was a very, very wet day at the Cradle and for about 50 miles of the Parkway that I also ended up scouting. Win: apparently no one visits the Parkway when it’s raining out. I had the entire road to myself for nearly the entire day.
I suspect that the namer of the “Blue Ridge Mountains” must have been an optimist, for what appears to be a constant brew of clouds and fog across the valleys and peaks frankly renders the area more “Grey Obscured Mountains” than anything containing “blue” as an adjective.
But this isn’t to say the area isn’t beautiful. Had I thought to bring rain gear, I would have spent all day down at some of the waterfalls, which must have been roaring with all the overflow. Even the hills, cloaked as they were, had a sense of mystique that isn’t as cunning when a mountain is fully revealed. And it was because of the rain that I discovered a road that should make Top Gear regret skipping the Blue Ridge Parkway during their attempt to find the best driving road — although limited to 35 mph, this road was absolutely bonkers. Check out the squigliness of that line off the Parkway! (There’s massive elevation change, too — at the Parkway, the road starts around 5,500 feet and descends probably to 4000 feet by its terminus.) Time to send an email to Clarkson…
The rain stopped by 6 PM, giving me another chance to start a fire and a second crack at seeing the sun at sunrise Sunday. Unfortunately, heavy fog made the second goal a bit difficult, though technically I could still see the sun. The rest of the color palette, however, was a bit smashed!
Over the next few hours, the fog gradually burned off. My lens thus decided to fog up, so while the view from the top of Mt. Pisgah was clear for 360° around, I couldn’t see through my viewfinder to click the shutter a single time.
I had wanted to use this weekend to figure out if I could car camp on my own and where to get good sunrise photos of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It also served as a good gauge of when the fall foliage colors would start. I had answers to all three questions and looked forward to the next weekend, but I had no idea what a “fall foliage hike” would end up turning into…