The intention David and I continued into this new year, of getting above tree line once a month, or hiking to at least a 180 degree view, was doubled for February. Not only did we hike to a view two days in a row, we got above a rainbow.
On Saturday we drove a steadily climbing and seriously winding dirt road into the Appalachian Mountains between Knoxville and Asheville to a short trail up Max Patch, a bald mountain top along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. We were taking a side trip from our Knoxville vacation to visit friends in Asheville, and a detour through the mountains seemed like the perfect route. It was.
Originally cleared in the 1800’s for pasture land, and kept open ever since, Max Patch has incredible views of the Smoky Mountains to the south and the Black Mountains to the east. We started off on a trail around a grand slope of dried grasses, then followed the white blazes of the AT up to the summit. We were surrounded by mountain ridges drawing a horizon in every direction.
On Sunday we drove back to Knoxville through Smoky Mountain National Park, and met up with Sam and a friend at Newfound Gap. There we followed the AT once again, this time for a few miles to a trail to Jumpoff, a spur of ridge that ends in steep, brush covered cliffs with a view of mountains to the north. As we ate some snacks at the edge of the ridge, the clouds that had been blocking the sun off and on all day rolled into the ravine below us. Now instead of forested mountain sides, we were looking down into a sheets of mist. Which suddenly picked up enough light to create a circle of rainbow below us.
There is no tree line in the southern Appalachian mountains — trees grow right to the peaks, even though many of them are higher than the mountains in New Hampshire. So instead of getting above tree line this month, we got above a rainbow. I’ll take it.