A few weeks after I got back from China, I drove out to the mountains to pick blueberries. We found them in droves, but I wasn’t really successful in substantiating that as I ate as I picked and never took a picture of the rather small blueberry bushes. Instead, I ended up going on four hikes and soaking up the awesome weather.
The Black Balsam area of North Carolina is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, which makes it easy to access but also extremely busy. Fortunately, dinnertime on a Friday evening seems to be rather unpopular, so I had my choice of parking spots (that ended up overflowing onto the road the next day). The evening light, thought obscured by low clouds, was spectacularly soft and made me consider getting up for a sunrise hike — something I had only done once before on a camping trip.
That weekend was the weekend of the new moon, so there was only slight moonlight to challenge the stars; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Milky Way so clearly. Not having seen the Aurora Borealis in Norway three years ago (to the exact weekend, in fact!), I imagined instead that the cloud trails were green and dancing over my head.
I decided to delay sleep and stand around for some long-exposure photos. While the clouds worried me for sunrise, I decided to push through and see what would happen the next morning.
The parking lot for the Black Balsam / Sam Knob area is also the trailhead for several other hikes, one of which, Tennent Mountain, offers good views to the east. The organizer of the weekend trip, his canine companion, and I headed up the relatively short hike to Tennent Mountain for a gusty, crisp sunrise. I got overexcited with my exposures and blew out the sky; fortunately, there wasn’t much color so the photos I took when I calmed down were still useable. It was Slightly South of Magical being in the wild open, taking in a 180° view around me and meeting other hikers and campers along the trail who watched the same scene unfold. It may be blasphemy, but this beats Botany Bay sunrises if for lack of humidity alone!
Inspired by my morning romp and the gorgeous weather (a reprieve from the Lowcountry humidity and heat), I did three more hikes that day: one to pick blueberries, where I stuffed my mouth for a few hours but have precious little to show for it; a second to Sam Knob, where I ran out of water and thus trail-ran up the mountain and most of the way down; and a third around the Flat Laurel Creek trail, where the bubbling stream served as a soothing end to the day.
The weather wasn’t quite as optimistic on Sunday, so I drove lazily on the Parkway and stopped at several overlooks. It’s impossible to escape from insects, even at the high elevations on the Parkway outside of Asheville, but here the tables turned as a butterfly paused to soak up the view.
Though just last year I was only a dozen miles or so from all the hiking I had done this weekend, this time I got much better weather and a snapshot at the beauty of camping in the high mountains. I might even take some pictures of the tiny little blueberries the next time I head out here.
There’s just one drawback: this trip was just enough to give me a small inkling of what it could be like to do some camping in the Alps. It’s been three years since I’ve seen the Swiss Alps, and now the drumbeat has started anew…