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....

No comments:

Post a Comment