With a very early start to this year`s Spring / Summer season, with record breaking warm temps, and a substantial amount of rainfall, the weed whacking time came early this year. It was still the usual time of mid June before we could make it to my trail section on the A.T. so the weeds were growing exceptionally well. Luckily my son Tyler (right side of picture) agreed to help me out again this year plus as an added bonus, our friend Bol’Dar met us at the end and had cut the weeds all the way from Spivey Gap to High Rocks. Since we stopped cutting around High Rocks, this worked out perfectly. Tyler and I met Doug Corkhill (left side in picture) at Spivey Gap around 9:30 am where we left my car and rode with him to the top of Big Bald where we discovered the key would not work on the locked gate. This was not a big deal for us, however, for Doug it did complicate things as he had brought a push mower to cut the trail across the grassy part just North of the bald and a weed eater to go from the woods on to the shelter and out the ridge to the top of Little Bald where my section starts. This meant he had to push the mower the extra distance down the road just to get to the trail. After that he would have to return it all the way back to the truck and then carry the weed eater in and cut the rest of the trail. To make matters worse, the mower did not want to start at that altitude. We could see him struggling with it as we looked back from the top of the first hill before we got out of sight. We later learned from a Northbound hiker that after some strong words and more pulling on the start cord that it did finally start and he was able to complete the task which was good news indeed.
The grass and weeds were plenty high enough and he would have his work cut out for him as would we. As we hiked through the grassy bald, I could not help but remember last year when this same area was burned black from a fire that was started by a hiker`s cook stove. We expected the bird banding people to be there but there was no sign of them to be found. We could see Little Bald (aka Big Hairy) waiting for us out in the distance as we entered the woods on our way to the shelter. We had heard there was a new picnic table at the shelter but when we got there and sat down on it, we nearly toppled over on one side. Closer inspection revealed that the seat parts had been mounted much off center putting the entire table off balance. I had to wonder who made this mistake as I can not believe Howard would design something like this. We took a short break there before moving on towards Little Bald.
Not far beyond the shelter we came across this cute little Eastern Milksnake hanging out in the trail. It allowed us to takes its picture before it slithered along its way.
The closer we got to Little Bald (aka: Big Hairy) the higher and thicker the weeds became. We kept thinking what a long day it was going to be for Doug as we climbed the final ascent to the summit. By the time we reached the top it was time to eat lunch so we took the side trail on the NC side to the rock there to have a sit down, eat our pizza, and contemplate our work that was about to begin. Luckily it was kinda cool in the high country which was surprising considering how hot it was down in the valley. We had packed plenty of extra frozen water, a mountain dew apiece, plus we left a cooler full of Mountain Dews on ice in the car for when we finished. Before long it was time to start slinging the sling blades and snipping the trees and laurels back as we made our way down the steep North side of Little Bald after first getting a view off the TN side. The weeds were between waist and head high in places so it was hard work but, I have seen it much worse in years past so the only thing I was complaining about was the unusually high numbers of sweat bees that plagued us the entire day. We ended up putting repellent on to stop them from eating us alive.
It was a slow go, but we eventually made it through all the trouble spots, steep descent and switchbacks of Little Bald and found ourselves on the new upper relocation where the weeds were still “white blaze high‘ but the trail has a much better grade and is easier to stand on and sling the blades with less obstacles to dull the blades on. This part of the trail is a long stretch to cut but after that the trail enters into the woods on the old part of the trail and makes its way to the AT Rock where the weeds do not grow near as well so the going is much quicker. By the time we reached the AT Rock we were pretty much worn out with sore hands, aching wrists and running low on energy. The blades were starting to dull at this point but still were sharp enough to do the job as I had spent a lot of time preparing them the day before. We took a much needed rest break at the AT Rock to drink a Mountain Dew and dump enough lactic acid out of our leg muscles to get us on down to Whistling Gap.
The weeds were not bad from there to the gap but the hill up to High Rocks always kicks your butt no matter what so, we made our way slowly up the hill slinging the blades at a much slower pace as we trudged along. We met a few hikers that day including ‘Crowbar’ who informed us that Doug had gotten the push mower started which was good news to hear. I was glad to finally make it to High Rocks where we somehow mustered up enough energy to climb up the steep blue-blazed trail to the top for another well deserved break. I had heard about the infamous blue lounge chair that Bol’Dar had found and carried to the top of the mountain but we discovered someone had actually carried it further to the top of High Rocks where I proceeded to unfold it and stretch out to enjoy the view. It is not level there but I managed to not slide off the rock to my death which would be some 30 + feet below !
We took the not well known and lesser traveled shortcut down from High Rocks on the backside to eliminate having to climb back down the blue blaze side trail and then climb up all the rock steps under High Rocks as we were still very tired at this point and just wanted to get down the mountain to the car and this cuts off all that. It was very overgrown with large briars but was well worth the distance and climbing saved. Once we got down from the rock, we met a nice couple who informed us that our buddy was cutting weeds on the trail down below us. We were like, Huh ? Because we did not know nor did we expect Bol’Dar to be there but, sure enough just as we got down to the lower relocation, there was Bol’Dar finishing up after spending a long hard 6+ hours cutting the trail all the way from Spivey Gap to almost High Rocks !
This was a welcome sight to see and I was happy that now the entire section was now cut for the year and no second trips would be needed. Long gone are the days when we used to start at Spivey and cut trail all the way to the top of Little Bald and then hike back to Spivey, ending up most times walking the last mile out in the dark. Many hairnts to Bol’Dar for his sweat and hard work and for Doug who goes the extra miles to pick us up and drive us to the top. We took another break to celebrate our accomplishments before walking the rest of the trail out to the vehicle where we would enjoy another ice cold Mountain Dew before I had to make the drive home just so I could shower and then work an 8 hour shift. After working an 8 hour shift the night before and only getting a couple hours rest before the work trip, it had been a long 7 + mile day, and would be an even longer night but, at least this years weed whacking was done.