Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Keiffer Oak Tree

Leaving camp that morning, we crossed the bridge over John's Creek, and began a steady climb.  Within about a mile we came upon trail magic left there by a hiker named Special K.  His note said that he was taking over the trail magic for another hiker who  was away hiking the Continental Divide Trail.  This cooler had Dr. Perky's and Mountain Lions, apples and grapefruit in it.  Pretty nice to start my day with a Dr. Perky!  Keith and Swamprat chose Mountain Lions.  I had recently decided that my "hiker hunger" was exceeding my food supply lately, and I was going to run low on snacks, so I grabbed 2 apples and a grapefuit for future snacking.  This was really great timing for me! 
At this trail magic, two hikers came up, who were named Easy Miles (from Canada) and her friend, Diamond Dan.  Diamond had thru-hiked the trail before, and was only hiking part of it with Easy Miles in preparation for a hike he was about to take in Peru.
After enjoying the early morning trail magic, we hiked on to a beautiful vista called Kelly Knob, and enjoyed a break.  We met another thru-hiker named Cheezits.  He was also from Slidell, Louisiana, same as Swamprat.  What a small world.  Cheezits had heard of Swamprat through his aunt, who had read about Swamprat in the local paper.  They had done a really great article on him before he left for the trail.  We ended up eating lunch with Cheezits, Ease Mile, and Diamond Dan later on a Laurel Creek Shelter.  We also ate and chatted with a local dayhiker named Phil.  He was probably in his 60's, and loved visiting.  When we left the shelter, we crossed the prettiest stream with cascades, and Keith had been wanting to wash his hair, so he took advantage of the opportunity.  I don't know how he stood it.  I only washed my face, and this water was some of the iciest we have run across.
Soon, we were crossing several beautiful sloping pastures and climbing up and over stiles again.  Just past the last pasture, as we re-entered the forest, we stopped at a nice bridge over a beautiful stream, and soaked our feet and ate my grapefruit.  After that break, we hiked about 100 yards further, and found a tent in the woods -- it was Craftsman and Turtle.  It's become kind of a running joke among the three of us about when we will run into them again.  They just keep popping up!  Machete Mitch was on the trail somewhere, and these guys were waiting for him.
Just another quarter-mile up the trail, we came across an old log cabin now overgrown with backberry bushes, and they were in full bloom.   It was really beautiful!  About another quarter-mile, and all of a sudden we found ourselves looking at the Keiffer Oak, the largest oak tree on the southern part of the Appalachian Trail.  It was not only HUGE (18 feet in circumference), but it had so many long branches, that I thought it resembled Medusa a bit.  The largest tree on the AT in the northern part is in New York.  It is even larger than this one.  It made us all wonder how it ever escaped the logging companies, because most of what we have hiked through has been logged at one time or another - except in the Smokies, perhaps.
After leaving the tree, we passed through one more pasture, and once more began climbing. Only this time, this hill was DIFFERENT.  Someone had forgotten to include switchbacks.  Also, it seemed to have been misrepresented on the elevation profile.  In the AT Guide, we just were not expecting such a humiliating climb.   It was the steepest hill we have probably seen since Jacob's Ladder.  It was BAD!  I almost lost my will to get to the top, it was so steep and long.  The only thing that kept me climbing up, was I couldn't think of a good reason to stay put. (Might as well go up - no reason to go down).  We all immediately dropped our packs at the top of the hill, and whined like little babies, and took a break.  Other hikers came up the hill and also whined.  Whaaa!  It always makes us feel better when the others find climbs as difficult as we do!  The rest of the evening, we just stayed up on the ridge, and enjoyed beautiful views, and looked for a place to camp for the night.  We passed pile after pile of neatly arranged, stacked rocks, all about 6-feet high.  There must have been at least 15 stacks, all arranged at regular distances on both sides of the trail.  One of the hikers, who majored in history and anthropology thought that there had been an orchard up there at one time, and this was how they cleared the field.
On this day, we were starting to make plans to attend a big Hiker Feed that we had heard about on the trail.  It was going to be at a road crossing on Mother's Day, and we wanted to make sure that we hit it just right, and so hiked to about mile 675, and stealth-camped on the ridge.  That would leave us only about 7 miles to hike into the Hiker Feed in the morning! 
(Camped on the ridge at mile 675)


Elise said...

What in the world are Dr. Perkys and Mountain Lions?!?

I love that picture of dad washing his hair in the creek lol. So funny. And that tree makes you look like little kids!

Keith and Linda Geraghty said...

Cheap generic Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew. I couldn't taste the difference!