Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Day of Firsts: Max Patch

A Day of Firsts:

After living near Asheville, North Carolina for 20 years, I've heard many people speak about "Max Patch", but I had never been.   Here's the story about my first visit.

Max Patch is a knob (a.k.a mountain bald) that borders North Carolina and Tennessee. It is a major landmark along the Tennessee/North Carolina section of the Appalachian Trail, although its summit is located in North Carolina. This 4,600-foot mountain was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. It is known for its 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains (thank you Wikipedia).

It seemed that each time I planned to go to Max Patch, bad weather always fouled up the plans.  Reaching Max Patch requires driving several miles on a narrow, gravel, Forest Service Road only after crossing two mountains - no matter which direction you take to get there. 

So, after several foiled attempts, I finally found myself in the small parking lot with my friend Ally, ready for the ascent, in the dark, prior to sunrise.  We encountered fog on the way out of Asheville, but we were hopeful that the 360 degree view would be above the fog.  (Nothing worse than fog after a 4:30 am wake-up AND a 1.5 hour drive for a sunrise photo shoot...aah..the joys of photography!)

From the parking area, there are two ways to the top 1.) a winding path to the left (1.5 miles), or the path straight up (.5 miles.)  Since early light would be starting soon, we decided to attack the mountain straight on.  Ugh.

Headlamp on and camera gear strapped to my back we headed straight up the mountain.  "Sometimes" when I hike I get so excited to get out on the trail that I usually forget something. :)  At least I can admit it.  So the thing I forgot in the car this time was water.  We had already hiked long enough to need a break and I was NOT going back down to the car to get water.  This is what the trail looked like (the photo was taken in daylight, but we were hiking it at dark. The trail looks like it goes to the left side of the photo, but it's really just going down the mountain.) 

When I tell you the trail was straight up, believe me - it was straight up.  The path itself was a dirt worn place in the tall grass.  No rocks, no stumps - so it was basically easy climbing so long as your lungs don't explode.  Did I mention that I forgot to grab water?  Ha.  (I wonder how I find my own shadow sometimes..lol.)

First light was coming faster than I was able to climb.  I was determined to make it for sunrise and tried to stop as few times as I could.  I told Ally to go on without me (sounds dramatic doesn't it?)  But, she went at my pace so we could stay together.  At last, we reached the bald.  There were several tents, and a few people hanging out.  We quietly found a place for our tripods and began snapping away. 

Max Patch at first light.
The sun finally showed itself after a few minutes.  Soon thereafter, dark clouds began rolling up from behind us and were moving towards the sun.  Most of the Appalachian Trail hikers that had spent the night on top of the bald had packed up and headed off.  Soon, it was just me, Ally, and two other hikers. 

We kept photographing, roaming around the bald a bit, trying to capture the sunrise, the fall follage, the mountains, etc.  Then it happened...I felt raindrops.  Most photopgraphers will tell you they don't like shooting in the rain, and neither do I really.  Except for the fact that rainstorms usually produce some dramatic photographs.  But being the tallest thing on a mountaintop in a storm is not an ideal situation.  Thankfully, there was no thunder or lightning.

That's when I heard Ally yell my name from behind.  I turned around to see what she wanted me to see.  When I looked up, I saw one of the most magnificant views - ever.  There was a full rainbow stretched out over the knob, and the sunrise was giving just enough light that the whole mountain top glowed.  Wow..what a gift first thing in the morning!

It was an amazing experience!  The rain was just off the mountain, so we weren't getting wet.  If I had to give an estimated duration of the rainbow that morning, I'd say it lasted at least 20 minutes.
Photo of Ally photographing the rainbow.

So - had I made it to Max Patch on some other given day - I would probably not have been so eager to get up at 4:30 am and hike up a mountain in the dark.  And...I would have missed the Max Patch Rainbow.

I honestly believe that the best photopgrahers are people who are in the right place at the right time and know how to capture a great shot.

There were MANY "firsts" today:  my first time at Max Patch, first time on the Appalachian Trail, Ally's first time seeing a fox, first time seeing about 10 chipmunks in one day, Ally's first time up Doggett Mountain - it seems like there were other firsts today, but that will suffice for now. :) 

Here are some other shots from that morning.
Panoramic Fun:  Thru-Hikers, the rainbow, the fall follage on the mountains, the storm clouds, and Ally.  :)
Sunrise layers (Rules of Thirds)
Sunrise w/ clouds and mountains - Max Patch Bald
The White blaze is the Appalachian Trail markers.
Fall shrubery glowing at sunrise - this is where I saw scat (bear maybe?)

 If you're in the area, I highly recommend visiting Max Patch (remember to bring your good lungs.)  I would only make the trip if the weather is crystal clear as rain, fog, low clouds, dust, etc. can hamper the view dramatically. 

I don't really want to end this entry on a sad note, but one reason I've always wanted to get to Max Patch was due to a story about a girl being struck by lightning up there.  So, with that...my disclaimer is that I wouldn't hike up in any weather situation, especially a thunderstorm.   This story has stuck with me ever since reading it in 2010.  I'm a sensitive being, so it only takes a little to make a big impact.  I'll share it here:  http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20100608/NEWS/306080033/Woman-killed-by-lightning-Max-Patch-minutes-from-engagement?nclick_check=1

They say these mountains can change you way down deep in your soul....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Seattle to NC - Day 15

Saturday, September 15, 2012:   This was my travel day back to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina.  I cried the whole way to the airport because I didn't want to leave the Olympic Peninsula. I think I also had some tears of relief mixed in.  Relief that I didn't have any issues or experience any crises while so far away from home.  Relief also knowing that I was on my way home.  Sometimes, there's nothing better than that feeling.

All in all, I'm excited to say that the Alaskan cruise, Seattle, and the Olympic Peninsula was an awesome vacation for me.  I have no regrets for traveling alone, and wouldn't hesitate to do another trip.  I'm so glad I did it!

It also makes me wonder what else I can do. <smile>


“Strength comes from struggle. When you learn to see your struggles as opportunities to become stronger, better, wiser, then your thinking shifts from "I can't do this" to "I must do this.”
Toni Sorenson

Olympic Peninsula - Day 14

Friday, September 14, 2012:   Waking up to the sad reality that today is my last day in the Olympic Peninsula.

It was a foggy morning overlooking Lake Quinault.  I could hear elk bugling, but couldn't see them for the fog.  Later in the day, I learned that a small herd was across the street behind the campground.  Not a big deal, I thought, because we have elk in North Carolina too.

I took an early morning stroll around the lake.  As far as photography goes, the fog added mystic to the photos and I didn't mind it a bit. 

There were a couple hiking trails close to the hotel.  One trail led to the 'Worlds Oldest Spruce Tree' which is a Sitka Spruce estimated to be 1,000 years old.  It had sap running out of it which glistened in the morning sun.  It looked like liquid gold running out.  Pretty cool.  I'm at the bottom of the photo, but I kind of blend in.

Before leaving home, I had mapped out the area around Lake Quinault.  There were tons of hiking trails, but since it was pretty remote, I decided it probably wasn't the smartest activity for this solo female traveler.  I opted for a 30 mile loop around the entire lake via gravel forest service roads.  Probably not the best option either, but at least I had my locked car doors for protection..right?  (I can see my dad shaking his head as he reads this.  Love you, Pops!) 

The decision to loop the lake worked out fine.  I saw two waterfalls which required little to no hiking.  They didn't have the water flow I'm used to here in NC, but they were still pretty.  My photo doesn't show it though.

The backside of the lake had snow measurement poles - measured in feet...eek. 

There was also some kind of river/land conservation at stake as I kept seeing signs to 'say No to Wild Olympics'.  The locals claim the government is trying to 'land grab' and they are ticked.  You can read about it here if you are so inclined: http://www.wildolympicsscam.com/  (this is the locals point of view which I tend to favor over government..just sayin.)

So back to my peaceful drive around the lake...

I didn't spot any wildlife other than a large blue bird which turns out thanks to my friend Karan, is a Stellar Jay (in the blue jay family, but larger.)  I saw a pile of scat in the road which I presume was elk or moose, but I never saw either animal.

Today was pretty low key, but I thoroughly enjoyed being in the woods.

After finishing the loop, I headed back to Seattle (the traffic around the Army Base was ridiculous!)  I dropped my luggage at the hotel and returned the rental car.  It was a sad day because I wasn't ready to go home. 

Here are some random pics from the Lake Quinault area.


Olympic Peninsula - Day 13

Thursday, September 13, 2012:  Waking up in La Push, WA was the highlight of my trip.  I didn't know how I was going to top the previous day, but I knew I was going to try.

I headed out to the beach at first light.  First thing I saw was campers on the beach with fires going.  How awesome it would be to sleep out there?  (Already planning the next trip!)  There were only a few people out, and all were really friendly.  I talked to a native there who laughed when he heard where I lived because his people come to the Smoky Mountains (Cherokee) for vacation.  He was very familiar with North Carolina.

It wasn't long before people began gathering on top of the break wall.  Of course I had to climb up to see what they were looking at.  The sun had risen giving a bluish hue to the Quileute harbor.  It was beautiful.  There were tons of seagulls floating in the water.  I love the different textures in the photo on the left.  In addition to the birds, there were men setting out crab nets and others were floating by on shrimp boats.  I could see a cave on one of the sea stacks although I don't know how anyone could get to it to explore due to the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing against it.  There were several points of intrigue in La Push - all to be explored another time.

I hated to leave this beautiful area, but the Hoh Rainforest was calling my name.  I traveled through an area called Forks.  It was made famous in the vampire book, Twilight (apparently speaking since I haven't read these books.)  They had an 'Edward' tour, but I didn't get into any of that.  If you're into Twilight, perhaps you should consider a visit.  All I know is that I couldn't find the post office there.

At the Hoh Rainforest, I hiked the Trail of Mosses.  It was another old growth forest that covered multiple eco systems.  This trail was crowded enough that I didn't have to worry about being alone in the woods.  The size of the trees was hard to put into perspective in photos.  Hindsight - I should have taken some panoramas.
Also, it was difficult to capture through photos the layers upon layers of moss in the rainforest.  It was impressive while in the woods, but sadly my photography didn't capture the essence of mother nature's rainforest.

One neat view I captured was the cris-crossing of two downed Sitka Spruce trees.  The photo gives some sort of perspective as the trees formed a bridge over the trail.  They were high enough that no one really had to duck under.

Here are a few other shots that I liked from the area around the Hoh Rainforest.

On my way out of the Hoh, I saw a Blue Heron.  We have them in North Carolina so I wasn't too excited.  The bird struck a 'yoga' pose and stayed there for at least 10 minutes.  I gave up watching him!  He was likely trying to dry his wings or something  that makes sense.  Either way it was entertaining.

Another interesting thing I saw was people camping on a river bed in the middle of the forest. It was partially a dry bed, but still - is that safe?  What if it rains? I mean it WAS in the RAINforest. 

Leaving the Hoh behind, I headed to my next overnight location - Lake Quinault in the Quinault Rainforest.  Along the way, I passed through a coastal region.  With the two-lane highway running along side the Pacific Ocean, I was amazed that it was still a pristine coastline.  No hotels, no restaurants, no bathrooms...nothing.  It was beautiful, and quite a difference from Myrtle Beach and the SC coast.  I stopped at a beach along the way and saw where someone had stacked up rocks into cairns.  It was pretty cool!

Moving on down the road, I finally reached the Lake Quinault area.  More importantly, it was sunset!  I arrived at the hotel just in time to capture these amazing photos!

I had dinner at the Salmon House across the street from the Rainforest Hotel.  The dinner was fabulous and I highly recommend the salmon with fresh dill sauce!  The hotel was very 'dated' (complete with wood paneling and gold shag carpet), but it was really big, had 2 balconies overlooking the lake, and it had a very comfortable bed.  Not as luxurious as the hotel in La Push, but it was clean and the location met my needs.

It was another day that I fell into bed exhausted.  Ahh..bliss.

More miscellaneous photos below:




Olympic Peninsula - Day 12

Thursday, September 12, 2012:   Still felt puny upon waking. Aunt Bonnie walked me down to the Marriott where my rental car was waiting.  It was sad saying goodbye to Uncle Durward and Aunt Bonnie, plus I was really nervous about driving in Seattle and taking the ferry over to the Olympic Peninsula.  It was a big day of traveling solo.  Turns out the worry was for nothing (as it usually is!) 

Seattle from Bainbridge Island Ferry

Before starting the vacation, I had mapped out my route around the Peninsula. I had allotted three days and two nights to get it done. I knew there was much more to see than three days would allow, but I took this opportunity to hit the highlights. 

I was the 2nd vehicle onto the Bainbridge Island Ferry which gave me an amazing view!  It felt good to be back on the water again, and brought back all the warm fuzzy memories of the cruise.  The ferry took about 30 minutes to transport me and my vehicle to the Olympic Peninsula.

My goal for the first day was to get all the way around to the west coast for sunset photos during low tide (no pressure, right?)  My directions were spot on (yay me - and thanks Google Maps!)  I crossed the Hood Canal on a one-mile long floating bridge/drawbridge combination.

Next, I saw a sign for a lavender farm named "Purple Haze" and took the exit.  It was pretty cool to see lavender everything (even ice cream), plus it helped clear my sinuses.  I bought more gifts in that little shop than the whole time in Alaska!

I resisted the urge to stop at each attraction along the way, so I will need to go back one day to see all the things I missed (Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Hot Springs, northwest point of the United States, Dungeness Bay, etc., etc.)  One place that I couldn't pass up was Lake Crescent.  I would fail horribly if I tried to describe the beauty of this glacier-fed lake.  The colors were marbled rich blues and greens that I have never seen before.  My photos don't do it justice.

Another point of interest I couldn't pass up was hiking up to Merrimere Falls.  It took me through old growth trees in a rain forest. The waterfall itself wasn't too impressive considering I live near the Land of Waterfalls in Transylvania County and Brevard, NC, so my bar for waterfalls is pretty high.

Headed back to the car worked my way through miles and miles of open two-lane roads.  There wasn't much traffic at all and driving 80 mph felt like I was creeping along due to the huge, steep mountains to my left, and basically flat forest land to my right.  The road had very few twists and turns which I found unusual.

Finally, I reached the road to La Push, Washington.  I made a right, and traveled what seemed like 50 miles of nothingness.  No other cars, no houses, no animals, no people..I mean nothing.  I was a little worried about my selection of overnight location, but then I finally reached the little Indian Village of La Push.  And then I saw the sign to Third Beach, and then Second Beach.  Second Beach is where I planned to take sunset photos.  The descriptions of Second Beach that I read on the Internet portrayed it as breathtaking.  So, weary from all day traveling, a waterfall hike, plus still being sick with a head cold, I loaded up my camera equipment and headed 'up' the trail.  (Those of you that have hiked/photographed with me know that I usually forget 'something' in the car mainly because I'm so excited to get into the woods.)  This time I forgot my headlamp AND my extra camera battery. 

There was a group of older adults in front of me so I tagged along with them so I wouldn't be in the woods alone.  We hiked for about 40 minutes both up and down in the forest.  There were lots of muddy stairs that were slick (all going down.)  I knew that I would be hiking back out at twilight so I became a little leery.  All the effort used get to the beach was forgotten when I had my first glimpse of God's creation before me.  Again, words cannot adequately describe what I was seeing.  There were sea stacks jutting from the Pacific Ocean, and the tide had begun working it's way back in.  Driftwood was thrown about which required a lot of climbing to get to the beach. 

Once I reached the area of the open tide pools, I saw my first starfish.  First an orange one, then a purple.  Green sea anemones were also sticking to the rocks of the tide pools.  Once my eyes focused on the starfish colors, I began seeing them all over!  It was amazing.

There was a natural hole in the rock wall from the sea water washing against it, and I could see the ocean on the other side of the wall. The whole scene was breathtaking!  As stated earlier, I had planned to stay through sunset.  Also stated earlier, I forgot my extra camera battery.  Yes, Rookie photographer mistake.  I finished off the battery and decided to hike out of there while I could still see.

I believe that things happen for a reason, and I'd like to think that me coming back off the beach at the right time to snap these photos was one of those times.  I had just enough juice left on the ol' battery to snap these photos while hiking back to my car.  They ended up being some of my favorites from the trip.  Timing is everything sometimes!
Back at the rental car, I changed camera batteries and drove the very short distance to my hotel on First Beach, the Quileute Oceanside Resort (www.quileuteoceanside.com) just in time for sunset.  Wow - what an amazing day!
The night sky was clear over La Push which allowed for an amazing display of the stars and Milky Way Galaxy (sorry, no photos.)  I sat on the balcony under the blanket of stars until exhaustion crept in.  I honestly believed I could stay there forever and ever.  It was such a magical day and I hated that it had to end.  Ahh...bliss.
I'll close this post with some photos that were taken from my hotel room balcony in La Push, WA.  Hindsight is that I should have stayed two nights here.  If you ever find yourself in/around Seattle, I highly recommend taking some time to visit this area.

A friendly seagull visited me up close!

Seattle - Day 10 & 11

Monday, September 10, 2012:  Bheem got to hang out with us today instead of going to daycare.  We went back through the Public Market (Pike's Place) and loafed around Seattle.  We visited Uncle Durward's favorite creamery and a great map store.

We changed hotels and began staying at the Moore Hotel.  It was built in 1906 and still had that old time charm.  It was decorated with rich reds, burgundy, and animal print giving it the feel of a swanky establishment.  The bed was super comfy, plus there was a Target two blocks away.  For some reason, I ended up going to Target 4 times (like how did I survive before knowing there was a Target there?) 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012:  This was my last day in Seattle, and unfortunately I woke up with a horrible head cold.  I slept in a bit before Aunt Bonnie and I walked all over Seattle - again.  We found an art gallery that I had wanted to visit.  It showcased the work of accomplished photographer, Mr. Art Wolfe.  He's the main reason I wanted to tour the Olympic Peninsula while in the area.  www.artwolfe.com  Here we are inside his gallery.

Tonia met us for lunch, and then we headed over to the big REI of Seattle.  I could have spent a whole day in there! I skipped supper with the group and went back to the hotel to rest.  I missed saying goodbye to Tonia, Jay and little Bheem.  Ugh..I hate being sick.


Seattle - Day 9

Sunday, September 9, 2012:  Tonia drove us to the tailgate market in Ballard.  We had fresh wood-fired pizza and picked up fresh food for supper (fresh baked pot pies, beets and salad.)  Seattle thrives on fresh food!

Bheem enjoyed the various musicians and didn't hesitate to bob with the rhythm of each one.  I have a feeling that music will play a big role in that child's life.

Next we visited the Ballard Locks.  I didn't read up on this, but I know the locks are used for elevation changes of boats traveling between sea level and inland rivers.  Interestingly as well, the salmon have 'ladders' they use to swim from sea to inland rivers too so they can spawn.

We made a quick stop at Hale's Ales to get a t-shirt and a quick photo!   Thinking back - I never did taste the beer.  Hmm..may need to re-visit that place again.  The lady selling t-shirts wasn't impressed that I was a Hale, and there was no discount.  Sheesh.. (ha!)  She did throw in a handful of Hale's coasters for free.

The Hale girls prepared an amazing supper.  We relaxed for the evening and Uncle Durward played an old video from mine and Tonia's childhood.  It had my Papaw in it, which was bittersweet to watch.  Papaw Hale died when I was 8, and my memories of him are sketchy at best. We watched it twice, but I think I could have watched it 100 times just to see his laugh and his mannerisms again.  I fell asleep that night through salty tears missing a man I hardly knew, but loved so much.

On a lighter note, I took advantage of Tonia's balcony to capture a nighttime Seattle photo (the round thing is a ferris wheel in motion.)  She's got an awesome view!

Seattle - Day 8

Saturday, September 8, 2012:  Arrived in Seattle and met Aunt Bonnie near the dock.  The walk back to my cousin Tonia's apartment would be the first of many uphill hikes in Seattle with Aunt Bonnie!  It was a great feeling to actually know the people around me for the first time in a week, plus these people have a special place in my heart - they're family!

After dropping off luggage, we set out for Olympic Sculpture Park for a day of sunshine and fun times with Tonia, Jay, little Bheem, Uncle Durward and Aunt Bonnie.  We visited the beach in Seattle (think stones instead of sand) and watched Bheem play.  The Public Market (Pike's Place) was hopping with weekend visitors - I've never seen so many fresh flowers for sale - they were everywhere.  I had read about a bubble gum wall just below the market area.  It proved to be disgusting and intriguing at the same time!

We visited an olive oil & flavored vinegar store - it may sound strange, but it was fun (and delicious!)  I've heard we have one of these in Asheville, but I haven't checked it out yet.  Seattle reminded me a lot of Asheville, so I wasn't too surprised to experience piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks, street performers, the wafting aroma of patchouli mixed with the occasional plain ol' stinky person.  We did a ton of walking, so after a scrumptious dinner of fresh salmon at Etta's, we called it a night.

Here are some other photos from Seattle:

This is one I haven't seen in Asheville yet - a rolling piano!