Adventures in Wonderland (Near Disaster on Deep Gap)

Adventures in Wonderland (Near Disaster on Deep Gap)

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 35.76470°N / 82.26200°E
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 5, 2007
Seasons Season: Summer

I'm very brave generally, he went on in a low voice: Only today I happen to have a headache." -Lewis Carrol, "Through the Looking-Glass"

For weeks I have known that my eleven-year-old niece would be coming to visit, and the thing she wanted to do most was go into the mountains. I also have known that she suffered a broken arm about a month ago and has been in a cast since (the arm, nearly healed, was recast so she could hike in the mountains). Keeping all this in mind, I decided to plan a trip that would be scenic, adventurous, but not too difficult. After much research, and a little bit of selfishness on my part, I chose Mount Craig, Big Tom, and the other peaks on part of the Deep Gap trail in North Carolina. Big mistake. I knew that the trail after the Deep Gap campground became terribly rough, but I did not realize the whole thing was a bit of a struggle-come on, the trail was on, a stroll for lovers! Little did I know as we headed up 26 that this would be no stroll for the two of us.

I should have known the other day when my niece had to rest after a mile walk in the park. She is just bored, I thought-the mountains and trails will motivate her. I had my doubts then; I thought about changing my plans, but I had told her about climbing Four mountains and she was pumped (and so was I). I shook it off. Saturday night we busily packed as our excitement began to build. Right before heading to bed I remembered the weather. I quickly checked the forecast-40 percent chance of rain. Again, I thought about changing the plans, but decided to check it in the morning again. Come Sunday morning it had dropped to only 30 percent, and being rather cavalier I took it as a go ahead. Quickly we loaded the car with our packs, extra clothes, and snack food. A quick stop at Dunkin Doughnuts and we were on our way. As the sweet sounds of The Big Wu filled the air, I couldn’t help wonder what would become of us during this hike. Looking over at my niece, who was fast asleep, I wondered if she knew what was in store for her.

After a missed exit, a stop at the visitors center, and 40 minutes on the Blue Ridge Parkway (where my niece nonchalantly said: “I hope I don’t get sick when we get to the top of the mountain”) we finally arrived at Mount Mitchell State Park. Quickly we changed our shoes, threw on our ballcaps, and used the restroom one more time before hitting the trail. My niece, in all her excitement (and probably a bit of fear), was finally ready to go. At the trailhead sign I showed her that our destination was only 4.3 miles and we would hit four summits. She said she could do it, and we were off. Down, down, down we went following the trail to Mount Craig. So far so good I thought looking back at her-and then we started up, which was quickly followed by a break. The words “almost there” pushed her the rest of the way up Craig. One down, three to go, and my pretty little niece was on top of the world. We had a quick lunch and I listened to her “ooh and ahh” over how “cool” it was, and how she can tell her friends that she climbed a mountain.

Mount Craig
The momentum was now carrying her. In fact, it carried her all the way to Big Tom. Again, excitement filled the air, pictures were snapped, and she was proud of herself-I was beginning to feel better about this trip. The feeling didn’t last long. Shortly after leaving Big Tom a haze began to fill the air, the rocks began to get slippery, and her skinny little legs began to give out. We pushed on; I was determined to make at least three before turning around. I pulled away, just a little, to get a look at the trail further up when a "thud" followed by a groan came from behind me. “Morgan” I screamed and ran back to see her face down on the trail. “I’m okay,” she said pushing herself up with her one arm. I took a deep breath and told her to rest. As she snacked I wrestled with what to do next. She was dragging, her excitement was gone, and our adventure in Wonderland was quickly deteriorating. I wondered how far we were from Balsam Cone. I told her to relax for a minute as I quickly ran up the trail trying to get an idea of where we were. I came across a sign that indicated we had about .6 of a mile to Balsam Cone. I ran back to find my niece a bit rejuvenated and wanting to press on to the third. She assured me she was ready. We got maybe a tenth of a mile before she was resting again. I dropped my pack told her to wait and I ran up... and up... and up until the trail leveled out. I knew we were not going to make this one-but maybe I could. Not seeing any indication of the Summit, I gave up and ran back down. My niece was up and starting my way when I told her that we were turning around. “The trail only gets worse,” I told her. “You aren’t going to make it.” She didn’t get mad, nor did she think I was cutting her down. She simply nodded her head, and we turned around. Right as we made that pivot, we felt the first rain drop-followed by the second, then the third, until the sky was falling. At this point, I was trying to remain calm. Thoughts of slippery rocks, wind gusts, lightening, and the fact that we hadn’t seen any people in hours began to clutter my head. I thought about waiting it out, but I didn’t want it to start getting dark and us get stranded, nor did I want to be surrounded by trees if a storm did come. Amazingly, my niece pulled through and became alert again. Together, as a team, sopping wet and caked with mud, we guided each other back on the trail, each of us taking turns asking how the other was doing and lending balance when needed.

Deep Gap TrailThrough the Looking Glass (Deep Gap Trail heading south toward Big Tom)

My thoughts turned to the hardest part of the trail-the roped area. Initially we went down, which wasn’t bad, but now we had to pull ourselves back up the drenched rocks. I knew if one of us fell there then it would not be good, but I also knew that if we got past this part then we would be home free. Still, we were the only ones on the trail. I thought if someone came our way they could help get my niece back up the rocks, but no one did. Instead, I took her pack, positioned myself behind her, and we began to pull ourselves back up to the top. Slowly, but surely we survived the first pull-the second one was going to be much steeper. Again, we took it slowly and made our way back up the side-my niece quite happy with her accomplishment and I was silently thankful about remaining calm in a stressful, and potentially dangerous situation.
Deep Gap Trail
From there, the rest seemed like a stroll.

Mount Craig

The sun never returned, but the people did and so did Morgan’s smile. And as our eyes landed back on the picnic benches from where we started, a sigh of relief came over two very dirty, sweaty, and wet girls. Needless to say, we drove to the beach the next day.

Deep Gap TrailAll smiles at the end of the trail. We may not have conquered the mountains, but I am pretty sure we conquered ourselves.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-19 of 19

RenatoG - Aug 9, 2007 9:53 am - Voted 10/10

Unusual and nice!

I've a little niece of 6 months old. I hope she'll come with me, up on the mountains, among some years...



Theonestar - Aug 9, 2007 11:05 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Unusual and nice!

one picture was all it took...


StarMan - Aug 9, 2007 11:38 am - Voted 10/10

Great job!

Well written... and a nice touch with the Carrol quote (a lot of connotations there). I can't remember if there was a sign at the top of Balsam Cone when I last did it, but from your description, I'm pretty sure you made it. A special congrats to your niece!


Theonestar - Aug 9, 2007 4:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great job!

ha great-now I can sign the climbers log!


rhyang - Aug 9, 2007 12:12 pm - Voted 10/10

Cool !

Thanks for the fun TR Karen. Brings back pleasant memories of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Carolinas !


Theonestar - Aug 10, 2007 11:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Cool !

thank you for reading. Right now the Carolinas are not so pleasant with the 103+ temperatures and 40% humidity.

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Aug 9, 2007 1:50 pm - Hasn't voted

With the utmost respect

May I point out that this epic may not have been such a trial had you had the proper footwear, clothing etc. I see only running shoes (no ankle support), streetwear and no evidence of rain gear at all.

Even "small" mountains deserve the respect due to them at all times of the year.

I say this not as a critism but in the hope of making future trips more enjoyable for you and your niece. I've seen too many kids put off the mountains prematurely by a bad first experience. Not that this seems to have applied to your niece - she seems to have revelled in it, cold, mud and all.




Theonestar - Aug 9, 2007 4:15 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: With the utmost respect

I will agree that her choice of shoes were not the best (not much traction), but it was how she was sent to me-I will blame that one on her mother! :-)

I place the blame on me for not fully comprehending the roughness of this trail-but never meant any disrespect. There are much easier places all over the southeast where sneakers and a short hike suffice to see great views.

yes, rain gear-something I will make sure to carry next time, but with the extreme heat we are experiencing in the south, that rain actually did a nice job to cool us off.

Honestly, she thought it was great. She can't wait to come back next year and do it again. I, on the otherhand, saw it a bit differently. Chalk it up to a good learning experience.

Thank you for your comments-


BobSmith - Aug 9, 2007 5:17 pm - Voted 10/10

Try it in a downpour!

The trail on the other side of Winter Star is actually worse! I hiked it once during a thunderstorm and the trail was, for all intents and purposes, a waterfall.

The Crest Trail has a rep for toughness that is well deserved.


StarMan - Aug 9, 2007 6:59 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Try it in a downpour!

Reminds me of the time I went up "The Chute" (just below Attic Window) on Grandfather Crest Trail during a severe thunderstorm back in June 2006!


Theonestar - Aug 10, 2007 11:12 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Try it in a downpour!

I read your warnings Bob-I get a bit bullheaded at times though. Learned my lesson!


mlandau3 - Aug 9, 2007 7:24 pm - Hasn't voted

A Question

The ropes were on the steep descent from Big Tom to the gap between Big Tom and Balsam Cone? When I did this in mid-July there were no ropes (at least as far as Winter Star).

We did this in March one year and got caught in a hailstorm with thunder coming back up Big Tom. It made us move really fast.


Theonestar - Aug 9, 2007 10:37 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: A Question

you are correct. The rope did help on those slippery rocks, too bad they were not there for you-that only makes you much more hard core! :-)


e-doc - Sep 29, 2007 8:26 pm - Hasn't voted


What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.


Theonestar - Sep 29, 2007 10:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: truism



Enapai - Oct 2, 2007 9:38 pm - Voted 10/10

Trip Report

Your adventures with your neice reminded me of my days as a camp counselor and opportunities to motivate kids to the top of a mountain. Ah the joys of carrying my pack plus 3 others :-) Its too bad more kids don't get out into the mountains these days and I applaud you making the effort.

I must say though, that after being IN a thunderstorm at the top of Katahdin in ME, I am always relieved to be in the woods when the rumbles of thunder begin and not out on the open bald peaks.

Thanks for the memories.



Theonestar - Oct 2, 2007 10:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Trip Report

thank you for reading. with everything said and done, we did have a blast-a good bonding experience for us. I figure if I start her out now, maybe in a few years I will have a lifelong partner. Shooting for a three day AT route with her next year!


misher - Dec 16, 2007 12:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Trip Report

For your three day AT route I highly suggest you include the Roan Highlands... Maybe carvers gap to 19E? Spectacular Views and two shelters (go for the second)along the way! (weather permitting)


Theonestar - Jan 6, 2008 8:33 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Trip Report

thanks Misher-will definitely check into that route. Thanks for the tip!!

Viewing: 1-19 of 19