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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
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PHOTOS 37:  IT'S A JUNGLE OUT THERE!       
 
APRIL 8, 2006
 
 
"Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers,
I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have
at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law."
-
Margaret Mead
 
 


Jungle-like section of Trail on Day 107 in Vermont.

I don't remember reading anything that funny by Margaret Mead, the famous sociologist, in my college sociology class back in 1968! Maybe I can laugh at her quote instead of groan because I've never had any major mother-in-law problems.

I imagine more than a few readers can identify with Mead's comment, however, and are ready right now to put a jungle (or swamp or river or mountain) between themselves and their mothers-in-law, or whatever is currently bugging them.

Time to hit the trail, I'd say. Any trail.

If it's the Appalachian Trail you chose, you can find more than a few jungle-like areas during the summer, places where the forests are so dense or green or tangled or mossy or rooty or damp or misty - or all of the above - that you almost feel like you're in the tropics: places in the South with dark green, nearly claustrophobic rhododendron tunnels, or areas in New England with lush ferns and bright green moss that covers everything in its path, almost like kudzu in the South. (Thank goodness there is no kudzu on the AT!)

These aren't true jungles like you'll find in the Amazon, of course, but to me they resembled lush, wet, terminally green . . . jungles. Besides their beauty and intrigue, I really appreciated the coolness of the forest in these locations - not cool as in kewl, but cool as in less hot. They made a nice respite from the sun and heat.

Many of them really were kewl, too, resembling scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy: mysterious, maybe even a little spooky. Is that knobby tree with lichens over there actually an Ent???

In this photo essay I'll share with you some of the jungle-like spots you can find along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

RHODO RIOT

Catawba rhododendrons reign supreme along the Trail in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. I saw some Great rhododendrons as far north as Pennsylvania, but they are not as prolific along the AT as the Catawba variety in the South.

Rhododendrons have glossy green leaves all year long, providing color and shade even in the dead of winter. Their twisted trunks and branches add further interest. And when they bloom in late spring and early summer, well, there's nothing comparable to their large, ornate flower clusters, which range in color from light to dark pinks and purples.

These "rhodos" are from Day 11 near the visitor center at Fontana Dam in North Carolina:

I passed through several areas thick with rhododendrons on Days 1 and 2 through Georgia but I took very few photos the first two days. I was running with a friend, trying to go as fast as reasonably possible (considering I had over 2,100 more miles to go!), and I didn't want to take the time to stop continually to take pictures.

As you know by now, that line of reasoning went out the window by Day 3 and I started taking photos like crazy! (I'm glad I did.)

Anyway, the rhododendron shrubs/trees along the AT were not in bloom that early in north Georgia, but their evergreen leaves provided the only shade I got in late April and early May before deciduous leaves were out in the mountains.

The effect of running through these thickets is the same year-round: it's always a little cooler when you go into a rhodo tunnel, like someone left the refrigerator door open.

Here's an example of a rhododendron "tunnel" from Day 5 in North Carolina. I had difficulty with the contrast between bright sun and deep shade, which is why you can hardly see Cody in the tunnel in front of me:

Yes, the Trail goes right through there! You can't even see the "end of the tunnel" in this shot, it's so long.

I consider the rhododendrons that form "tunnels" to be trees, not shrubs. They grow tall and leggy, especially in damp places along creeks. They don't form tunnels by themselves; where the Trail goes through these thickets, volunteers have to trim them to maintain headroom for hikers.

They usually leave the tangled masses of roots in the Trail, however! It's good practice for New Hampshire and Maine.

Here's another tunnel from Day 29 in Tennessee. This area was wetter and had bog boards:

Although I passed thousands of large rhododendrons in Virginia, many of them in bloom, I don't have any photos of the tunnels there. But imagine what it would look like if these tall specimen formed a tunnel surrounding you as you walked through . . .

The beautiful rhodos above are from Day 31.

Thick stands of rhododendrons also looked jungle-like when they were growing in the midst of rocks and moss, such as this area a bit south of Blackstack Cliffs in North Carolina on Day 22

In the journal that day I commented that it resembled a jungle in Borneo.

These photos above and below show the Trail, not off into the woods to the side. The next photo is close by:

That one reminds me of a Mayan ruin in a Mexican jungle . . .

Just let your imagination soar!

In some areas the laurels and azaleas also loom tall over the Trail but they don't form the dense thickets that rhododendrons do because their leaves are smaller. They are also green all year.

MOSS RULES IN SUB-ALPINE "JUNGLES"

Southern forests along the AT also have their share of moss. This damp area in Tennessee is a good example and could just as easily be found in Vermont (Day 27):

Moss goes haywire in the shady, moist sub-alpine forests at higher altitudes in the Smokies and in much of New England.

The next two photos from Day 15 on the north side of Clingman's Dome in the Smokies are of the mysterious Lord of the Rings variety with lichens dripping from tree branches, moss covering rocks and dead fall, and dense fog shrouding the woods:

 

Kinda spooky, eh?

That's a good preview for northbound hikers as to what they will see about a thousand miles later, starting in Connecticut. The next photo is from Day 99 between Kent and Falls Village:

The AT section between Jug End Road and Tyringham Main Road in Massachusetts (Day 102) has at least two jungle-like areas.

One is around Benedict Pond, with all its ferns and bog bridges and dense foliage. There is a photo of that lake in the last essay. The other is Ice Gulch, below, a deep, mossy ravine that is a cool respite in the summer when most thru-hikers pass through:

The only sub-alpine area in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock, also has jungle-like mossy areas. There is a photo in the last essay of bog bridging over the moss-covered forest floor (Day 104).

But it's northern New England, from Vermont to Maine, where it seems like moss covers nearly everything that doesn't move.

You think I'm exaggerating?? Well, the remaining photos are my witness.

From Day 107 in Vermont:

 

From Day 110 on or near Killington Peak in Vermont:

 

In New Hampshire, literally every day had sections of moss and tangled roots along the Trail. On misty or rainy days, I felt like I was in a tropical rain forest.

I can't possibly show all the photos I took, so here are some that are representative of the state's often jungle-like terrain.

From Day 116 on Mt. Moosilauke with my best buddy (Jim!):

 

Rainy Day 117 in the Kinsman Mountains, which nearly unraveled me with rugged terrain full of slick moss-covered rocks and roots:

 

 

Day 118 above Franconia Notch on the way up, up, up to the ridge:

More tangled roots, mossy rocks, and constantly-wet terrain on Day 120 in the southern Presidential Range . . .

. . . and on Day 121 a little south of Pinkham Notch:

Similar terrain didn't end in New Hampshire, either. Nearly every day in Maine had some jungle-like areas, too.

Within a mile inside the Maine line on Day 127 I encountered large mossy boulders with trees growing out of them! Soon after, I entered the notorious Mahoosuc Notch, a ravine with house-sized boulders.

You can hear water flowing beneath you as you crawl, climb, and slither your way through the most difficult mile on the entire Appalachian Trail. The hillsides were dense with thick moss, lush ferns, tangled trees, and twisted roots, adding to the jungle feel.

 

I liked Jan Liteshoe's journal comment the best of anything I read about Mahoosuc Notch: "It's a stony jungle, and we are mountain monkeys." (www.trailjournals.com, August 25, 2003 entry).

You can see other photos of the Notch in our journal on Day 127 and in Post 14.

Jim took our best shot of tangled roots on Speck Mountain the same day when he came in on the Trail several miles to meet me. By the time I got to the roots, it was dark. That was my longest and toughest day on the Trail. How I got over those roots as quickly as I did going downhill, without falling, is beyond our comprehension!

I'm glad Don Allison used a black-and-white copy of that photo in the November, 2005 issue of UltraRunning magazine, because it is so representative of the difficulty of the AT in some places. I don't think most people really understand what I mean by "gnarly" unless they see photos of what I'm describing. Jim's photo is as graphic as they come.

Here are two different moss jungles from Day 133 in the Saddleback Range:

 

I went through two mossy boulder areas on Day 135 in the Bigelow Range that looked different than the sections above. When I wrote that entry, I called them "other-worldly."

This is one shot going up Bigelow Mountain, and there is another one in the journal that day:

The Trail goes right up through those rocks and boulders, but most of that mossy "jungle" and the later one through Safford Notch were easier to negotiate than the section in this photo.

This verdant area is on Nesuntabunt Mountain (Day 146):

The Trail goes right through those rocks. See the single and double white blazes on the trees beyond the large boulder?

My last encounter with moss jungles was on Day 147 at the northern end of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. Water was abundant along (and on) the Trail, so Cody didn't even have to wear his pack.

We began that day's run in the mist and slogged through the mud and moss and roots, wishing for some drier trail . . .

. . . which we found later in the day, as shown below in a typical Maine-esque photo of moss and ferns growing rampantly on top of an eight-foot tall boulder:

So there you have it. You don't need to travel to another continent to put a jungle between yourself and whatever or whoever is bugging you!

If you live in the eastern third of the country, you're within hours (driving time) of a jungle-like haven somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. Go soon, and find some peace.

Next up: another source of beauty and relaxation along the Trail, the many lakes and ponds.

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil