With the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend approaching fast, I had my sights set on soloing the Mt. Mitchell and Black Mountain Crest Trails, but knowing that I am keen on outdoors, a few friends of mine who had never been camping invited me on an outing to Talladega National Forest and Mount Cheaha. Not really thinking about the offer, I figured in my own head that some multi-day backpacking with a good group of friends would feel my Mt. Mitchell hunger, as well as wet the feet of some other potential outdoor lovers. "Yes," I said, "when do we leave?" Everything seemed awesome until the day before we were set to leave. I received an excited call from one of the female members of the group; she was very pleased with her fine purchase of an eight person Wal-Mart tent I will refer to as "Plenty Vent." I don't think I had ever seen as many vents on one tent before Plenty Vent. "Wow, it sure is big." All I could think was, don't be too rude in telling her that this wasn't going to work well in 30 degree weather. Having all the gear myself for a winter trip, I knew I would still be comfortable in the monstrosity, but I knew that no group of my friends could ever muster up enough body heat to keep Plenty Vent cozy. I was also puzzled about the idea of my friend carrying the tent, which was nearly the same size of my 4500 in2 pack, and at least as heavy. When asked the question about carrying Plenty Vent along the trail as we backpacked, I was met with the just as puzzled answer, "I'm not going to carry it; I'm going to leave it at the camp site." Well, I guess the positive to this was, I had just figured out the kind of trip we were going to take. About this time I'm thinking *well guys, good luck; freeze your asses off; let me know how it went; Mt. Mitchell has my name on it; SEE YA!.* Next. shortly after my "mental Mom" popped into my head, I remembered that I am a pretty good guy, and that I should go with my friends anyway. Sometimes I wish I was a shittier friend.
To make the weekend a little cooler, I did at least have the chance to kayak the second half of one of our local class III rivers before meeting with the group. Because I am somewhat of a decent guy, I agreed to find out what a winter wind storm really meant by sleeping in Plenty Vent. The first night out, as luck would have it, we were greeted with a windstorm. I was fine in my boxers inside of my 15 degree bag on top of my therma-rest. As you can imagine though, with what should have just as easily been a Wal-mart sponsored trip, everyone else was, let's just say, feeling it.
Rather than drive to the top of the mountain, we decided to hike, but for lack of a decent map, we took the road to the top anyway...by foot. An hour and a half later, we were in the deep woody depths of the Cheaha Mountain parking lot. Nevertheless, the views from the top of Alabama's highest point were pristine. The day was cool but comfortable, and the sky was immaculately clear. Finding the shop at the top of the mounatin, we were able to obtain a park trail map. This is about the point that I stepped up the ranks to exert a little knowledge and authority over the expedition. Using the compass at the top of my friend's Wal-Mart walking stick, I oriented us with North, wait West, wait, just follow me. We were able to find to gems of trails before making our way back to the primitive campground. The Pulpit Rock trail, a wooden pier-like walkway built by prisoners, as one fellow hiker described it, led to an incredible vantage point where we all sat on rocky perches pondering the rat-race below that was Talladega, Alabama. At this point, the trip was really starting to feel worth it. I felt like everyone felt, if only for a second, the feeling of enlightenment that can be gained solely from the top of a mountain.
Bingo. I couldn't have asked for a better moment for a group of first-time hikers. After our moment of peace, we found the Rock Garden Trail, Lake Trail combination that would lead us to the bottom of the mountain. I neglected to tell a few members of the group that this trail is the steepest and most difficult of any of the Cheaha State Park trails. The sun was setting, and the alternative method for descending was more than twice as long. Negotiating small switchbacks and rock jumbles, everyone found the trails to be both challenging and fun. Bingo..mission accomplished again. Thirty minutes later, we were at camp sitting around the fire ring. Even though I knew I would have to spend another night in Plenty Vent, I was happy everyone at least felt a sense of peace witht the world and accomplishment.
What did I learn on this trip?
- Even though friends might want to organize a trip by them-selves,
the person with the most experience should probably have a large
say in "what goes down"
- Wal-mart is not a good one-stop winter camp shop
- Powdered doughnuts, chips, beer, s'mores are not neccessarily
good camp food, but they sure do hit the spot
- Primitive camping = same as non-primitive, except the girls have to
walk about a mile when they want to take a shower
- I can go for at least three days without anyone complaining that I did
not take a shower