I laughed when I first saw that quote! Somehow I thought of Hillary as being
more scholarly or dignified. I don't know much
about his personality, but I can tell a lot about his spirit from that
It reminds me of the age-old quote about why people climb mountains:
because they are there! It's human nature, for some folks at least, to
accept the challenge that mountains silently provide.
I climbed hundreds (thousands?) of mountains on the Appalachian Trail from
Georgia to Maine not only because they were there but because the rewards were
often so great when I reached the summits. For all the effort it took to get to
the top, I was usually rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, a nice breeze,
and a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside.
Very fair compensation for the work expended, I'd say!
My favorite mountains to climb are those with peaks above timberline. Although
they are more fraught with danger, they offer the best views.
I've climbed many
mountains out West that are above tree line and I have to say I was impressed
with the exposed peaks I found in New England. When I was in the Whites and Mahoosucs, for example, the feeling was comparable to being in the Rockies,
Sierras, Cascades, and other ranges - without gasping for air!
When I topped mountains along the AT that were tree-covered, leaves blocked
the cooling breezes and my views except in the early part of the trek before
the leaves came out. What fun is that?? The main reward for me in getting over
view-less mountains was simply completing more miles toward Katahdin.
BALD IS BEAUTIFUL!
My second-favorite type of mountains to climb have "balds" on top. Balds
are one of the outstanding scenic features of the southern Appalachians. This
far south, the mountains aren't high enough to have a timberline like the ones in New England or out West.
However, the effect is similar to being above tree line. Enough shrubs and trees have been
intentionally kept mowed or grazed so the views are visible year-round and
hikers/runners catch all the available breezes. Grasses and wildflowers like
heather make a nice
carpet on the balds. Usually there are some low shrubs and trees left, but not
enough to obscure views of the wild blue yonder, as in this photo from the
I joked in one journal entry about the "bald maintainers." I was referring to
the livestock that graze on some balds and not retired trail volunteers who keep
them mowed! The balds that are mowed are maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, volunteer
AT clubs, and/or the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy - and I doubt
very many of them are bald.
It was fun to walk past cows on farms along the AT but I rarely saw the
livestock that keep the southern balds clear. The AT Guide to
Tennessee- North Carolina indicates that balds in the northern area of the
guide (north of the Smokies) were "grazed by cattle until quite recently, and
many are in excellent shape." (p. 31)
This photo from the Humps (Day
shows fencing and a stile that are/were used to keep the livestock in the proper
This photo essay will feature my favorite balds in North Carolina, Tennessee,
THE SMOKIES, NC/TN
Although I crossed a few named balds, such as Wayah Bald, before hitting the
southwestern half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the ones shown here
Day 14 are currently more "bald" than those I
saw earlier in the run.
The first three photos show a grassy area through an old orchard with
blossoming apple trees. It is between Russell Field and Eagle Creek side trails.
Note in the first picture that the AT goes through a "hedge" of shrubs which has
been trimmed to allow a narrow passage for hikers:
I crossed this bald later in the afternoon the
same day in the
Many of the balds in the Smokies have been lost because of lack of funds and
personnel to keep them open. The Park Service intends to maintain Gregory and
Andrews balds as open, grassy areas. Both are just off the Trail.
MAX PATCH, NC/TN
One of the most popular, attractive, and well-known balds along the entire AT
is on Max Patch Mountain, located a bit north of the Great Smoky Mountains
Although the summit is 4,629 feet, it is easy for day hikers to climb the
half mile to the top from a parking lot on a little dirt road (Max Patch Road)
that passes close by. It is a bit more difficult to get there if you're
thru-hiking on the AT, but the ascent is gradual in both directions.
I stopped at Max Patch Road on
17 and began my run
the next morning with the short climb to the top. Jim
hiked up with me, then completed his run on the road.
I'm glad he got to enjoy the beautiful views of mountains in every
direction, including Mt. Mitchell, highest peak in the eastern U.S., and the
lofty Smokies peaks. When I was there in mid-May, the wildflowers
were spectacular for several miles both south and north of the bald.
Here are several photos on and near Max Patch. The first one shows how
really bald it is on one side. It almost looks like a golf course! The Trail and
one marker are barely discernable toward the left:.
The views from the top are exquisite:
Cody and I are heading north off Max Patch in this photo:
Those four photos bring back memories of a near-perfect day on
the Trail, as do so many of the pictures from my trek.
I wish I was there right now!
BIG BALD, NC/TN
There was an increasing number of balds along the North Carolina/ Tennessee
line as I made my way north from Max Patch. Almost every day had at least one
until I got to the Virginia line.
All had great views, although most weren't as spectacular as the lofty
mountains seen from Max Patch. Even though I passed through the area in late
May, many of the deciduous trees and shrubs above 4,000 feet had not yet turned
green, although the grasses were already green.
If you're interested in "bagging" balds, I crossed some on
17 between Davenport Gap and Max Patch Road and on
22 between Allen's Gap and Sam's Gap. I don't consider them as
photogenic as the others in this essay, so I'm not including pictures of them
here. That's my opinion; it doesn't mean they aren't worth hiking!.
The next balds I really enjoyed were Big Bald and Little Bald Mountains between Sam's Gap and the Nolichucky River on
The first photo shows the approach to Big Bald from the
The next two photos are near and on the summit of the 5,516-foot mountain:
There were nice views from the aptly-named Beauty Spot and other balds on
24 between the Nolichucky River and Iron Mountain Gap:
Since there are few or no trees on which to paint the white AT
blazes on balds, trail maintainers use wooden posts or rocks to mark the Trail.
They usually use one blaze at a time (or doubles for turns).
I got a kick out of these three blazes in one clump of rocks on
Beauty Spot, thinking how spooky they would look in the dark!
Yeah, sometimes my brain got a little twisted out there on the
Trail all day!!
ROAN MOUNTAIN, TN
Day 27 was one of those photo-op days when I took seventy (70)
pictures in twenty-eight miles between Iron Mountain Gap and US19E. Most of them
were of or from balds. It was a red-letter day for balds! I'll include several
of the photos here, but obviously can't show them all.
From the south, Roan Mountain at 6,285 feet gave me my first "bald"
views of the surrounding mountains in this section. Although there are some
balsam firs and red spruce, as well as numerous rhododendrons, on the summit
there is an extensive grassy area where the luxurious Cloudland Hotel used to
sit that is still maintained as a bald so visitors can continue to enjoy the views:
The Cloudland Hotel was built by General John T. Wilder and stood on the
summit of Roan Mountain until it was dismantled in 1919.
According to the AT
Guide to Tennessee-North Carolina, the words of its advertisement still
resonate for modern-day visitors: "Come up out of the sultry plains to the land
of the sky, of magnificent views above the clouds where rivers are born."
Roan High Knob, the highest point on the mountain, is very popular with
visitors, especially in June when the rhododendrons are in bloom near the site
of the old hotel. Most folks drive up a road right to the summit instead of
Apparently a lot of others hike south on the AT from Carvers Gap (NC 261/TN
143) to Roan Knob or head across the road to Round Bald. There is sufficient pedestrian traffic on either side of
Carvers Gap (elev. 5,512 feet)
to warrant a couple miles of gravel trail surface to encourage hikers to stay on
the AT and not meander all over the bald:
There is lots of evidence of previous "renegade" trails which only destroy
A couple section-hikers I met complained about the too-civilized
trails in the area but I was happy to have a relatively smooth surface on which
to run and walk. The whole section on
Day 27 was pretty rocky and slow for me; that gave me an excuse to take those seventy photos!
The AT soon turned rocky again by Jane Bald, probably after the point at
which most day hikers turn around:
Yeah, that is more like the AT should be!
THE HUMP MOUNTAINS, TN
Round Bald is the beginning of a section of some of the finest balds in the
In this area the AT passes over five bald summits more than 5,400 feet high,
providing superb views from their treeless meadows. I call the whole group just
north of Roan Mountain "The Humps," although only two of the mountains are
so named (Hump and Little Hump).
I enjoyed the Humps at least as much as Max Patch, if not more, as evidenced
by the plethora of photos I took on
27. Several are above. Here are some more:
THE VIRGINIA HIGHLANDS
Soon after crossing the state line from Tennessee to Virginia the AT
hiker/runner enters the region known as the Virginia Highlands. It is also
called the "Crest Zone" and "Balsam Ridge."
This area encompasses the highest
peaks in Virginia, some over a mile high, through parts of the Mount
Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park. It is my
favorite part of the Trail in all of Virginia.
The balds on the ridges that form Mt. Rogers (5,792 feet), Whitetop
Mountain (5,540 feet), and Pine Mountain (5,526 feet) are kept open
through planned burning and regulated cattle grazing by private farmers who
lease grazing rights, according to the AT Guide to Southwest Virginia (p.
The AT actually goes right through a rail corral for cattle and horses, known
as "The Scales," between Pine and Stone mountains.
It was used formerly
for weighing the cattle that grazed on the highland meadows before they were
shipped to market. The corral is still used to round up the livestock that graze
in the Crest Zone and by recreational riders and their horses (several horse
trails intersect there).
This is a photo of The Scales as I approached it
from the south:
The Virginia Highlands were rockier than the balds in North Carolina and
Tennessee but the views were equally awesome.
My most enjoyable day on the
entire Trail was Day 32 (May 31, 2005) going through the Highlands area and
playing with two herds of "wild" horses. You can read more about the area
and see other photos in the journal
Day 31 Cody and I began our sojourn through the
lofty Highlands area as we climbed to Buzzard Rock on the southern slope of
Whitetop Mountain. The views of the valleys were nice from the bald and from the
flank of Whitetop, below:
The next four photos are from Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands:
I was so enamored of this area that I took over ninety photos on
Day 32 of the awesome scenery and two herds of ponies!! [You can find more
of them in the Picasa slide show. Click on "More Photos."]
This is truly a wonderland
and I'm so glad it's only a couple hours from our home. Jim still hasn't been
there yet. [Note: he finally saw it in the spring of 2007.]
Although there are some other balds in Virginia, the only
other area with scenic balds that really impressed me was a two-mile stretch between
Mountain and Tar Jacket Ridge in the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area on
50. I really enjoyed the numerous
wildflowers and the far-reaching views from 4,000-feet in elevation:
Now do you see why I say "balds are beautiful?" They are almost as spectacular
as being above tree line, but without as many dangers.
Next up: I think I'll showcase some of the many idyllic
valley views along the Appalachian Trail next . . .
Happy first day of Spring!