Unconventionally conventional

It’s been a long time since I went on a hike — and the last time I tried to summit a mountain, I ended up circling its base for five hours. I therefore wavered on going on a hike up Mt. Cammerer, just under 5,000′ in elevation but requiring a six mile plod to summit. About 40 miles west of Asheville and just barely inside the borders of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the hike was intended to showcase some of the fall foliage in the area. The weather was supposed to be great (no rain this weekend!), and the only real unknowns were my tolerance for a 12 mile hike and how many leaves were going to have turned this early in the season.

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The hike thankfully turned out to be less of an issue than I had originally thought; I ended up adding on an additional four miles to the out-and-back and got to see even more of the Appalachian Trail. The trail up Mt. Cammerer starts quite steep and runs parallel to a creek — early on in the hike, we found a waterfall. “Pleasant surprise on the way up the mountain,” I thought.

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Except there was another unknown. The “Great Smoky Mountains” did not get their name from a little bit of occasional fog. At the higher elevations, the leaves had just barely started to change color, but as we approached the  summit we found the sunshine promised for the day cloaked in a fine mist.

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Fortunately, by the time lunch and a discussion over the return route concluded, the veil had begun to lift, revealing the valley floor below and the extent to which this government shutdown really messes up photographers’ plans. Imagine the colorful canvas 4000 feet below if the leaves all turned this coming weekend!

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As we hiked back down to the Big Creek campsite, we came across the creek that gave the campsite its name. Although recent storm damage was still evident, the number and the beauty of the waterfalls all along the creek more than made up for the lack of visibility and fiery oranges and reds at the summit 5 miles uphill. This, even more so than the fall foliage that originally enticed me to go on the trip, would make for an outstanding photography excursion and was the highlight of the trip for me. The water is pristinely clear, the atmosphere completely tranquil, and the scenery incredible. That’s a tough combination to beat, even compared to the numerous waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area.

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Although I was hoping for a fall foliage hike, it was a delight to stumble across an unintended inspiration. In some senses, this hike symbolizes the whole of these mountains: I’ve grown used to the Cascades and the Alps sitting on the doorstep of Seattle and Germany, but in seeing the richness of the Appalachians, there’s a whole new range that’s only just begun to call my name. Once the Parks reopen, I’m sure I’ll be back — whether for color, water, or just to poke my head above the clouds from time to time!

Unconventionally conventional

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