“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
On a late Saturday afternoon I stepped off from Deep Gap and began a lumbering climb up Standing Indian mountain in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. I continued this backpacking trip through days of crisp Autumn air, concluding on a cold, wet Friday morning which was the only wrinkle in an otherwise perfect week.
I spent nearly every waking hour between trekking up and down the mountains of Western North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail. Days, weeks, and months of life’s stress built from the challenges of work and life were erased with the soft crush of each footstep on leaf strewn path. Up steep climbs, across streams and dry beds, scrambling through technical sections, or appreciably enjoying switchbacks, through 50 plus miles of the Nantahala National Forest.
Muscles and joints ached from the strain of carrying packs across mountains over countless miles. Clothing were drenched from hour after hour of hiking, dawn to dusk. And this was vacation.
Each day was a ritual in fulfilling basic needs. Every morning spent in the cold mountain air by a small open flame boiling water for food and coffee. A diet of rehydrated food, water and ibuprofen. Stopping at water sources where we would contort our bodies to reach a trickle of water at drought stricken mountain streams and springs to replenish our reservoirs. Setting up and breaking down camp each evening and morning.
And while the majority of the day was spent struggling on these basic needs of life…it also freed the subconscious mind to reflect and take in the surrounding wonder in those brief rests along the trail. Removed from the complexity of modern life, to wash the spirit clean in this incredible space.
The scenes on the Appalachian Trail through the Nantahala National Forest are taken straight from the postcards at roadside stands. The vistas are certainly spectacular, extending in rich tapestry of color in a 360-degree view, but even the ordinary is incredible. A glance ahead a the upcoming trail reveals a spectrum of color filled with purples, oranges, pinks and golds. An early morning hike through a high grove of trees shrouded in clouds presents a scene taken from a fairy tale.
And the smells. There is a bush or tree that smells of cassia cinnamon and cardamon in these parts. As you walk you’d come across a section and you would be gently taken in by the smell.
The Cherokees consider these lands sacred because they are interrelated and balanced in harmony. This land presents a duality of force that embraces, but the setting never overwhelms the mind. An intensity of color balanced by the hush of a quiet forest. A nested dark corner of woods filled with the bubbling sounds of a waterfall. An expansive sunrise vista softened by the edge of of clouds nestled in the valley below. It is as if the creator designed this area to go to the limits of sensory ability, but not overload.