Shining Rock

I’ve just returned from a two day hike that wandered a scant few miles away from Cold Mountain (of book and movie fame). We arrived at the trailhead at about 4pm on Saturday, rather later than we’d intended, but made fine progress to camp at a place called Shining Rock. At Shining Rock itself, the girls discovered an interesting dark yet sparkly mineral that to them immediately suggested a use as eyeshadow – typical. I’m told that the mineral was mica, or “muscovite, to be more precise,” as the ever-studious Kate puts it. Being male, I was naturally above such distractions and instead occupied myself more productively by bending sticks in interesting ways.

Due to a balky gas canister, dinner consisted of rice al dente and a cold hot chocolate drink (ingredients: hot chocolate mix, water, three assorted cream pods). It certainly wasn’t the worst drink I’ve ever had… anyway, it’s not as if I was expecting some gourmet meal anyway.

As our lone candle succumbed to the inevitability of entropy, the mist that had cloaked the hills and peaks we’d walked all day finally departed to reveal a careless scattering of stars. The sky cleared so rapidly and fully that I can happily count Saturday night as only the third time in my life that I’ve seen the Milky Way. One wag on the hike made some remark about whether we had stars in England, but that didn’t distract from the moment.

We decided to sleep outside, leaving aside our tent, and just gaze up at the stars. This was a great plan until I realised that I couldn’t see the stars without my glasses. No problem – I just wore them until I felt in danger of falling asleep.

The next morning began with our campsite enveloped in a chilly and thoroughly depressing fog. We tried pushing on to reach Cold Mountain, roughly four or five miles away, but due to slightly difficult terrain and time constraints we had to turn back after only a couple of miles. Luckily karma reasserted itself as the fog evaporated and at every peak we walked on the way back to the car, we could see that we were a mile high, looking out over trees and hills and valleys and mountains on every side. Just think of the moment in the Lord of the Rings (the first movie) when the Fellowship emerge over the top of a hill and there you have it.

I should point out (mostly because I have been instructed to) that there were literally tonnes of blueberries along this trail. Not so many by the trailhead, because that’s where all the day trippers congregated, but a few miles further in, they were in such abundance that the girls on the hike couldn’t restrain themselves from stopping literally every thirty seconds to gorge themselves until their teeth turned blue. On the times that I was leading, I tried to compensate by slowing down but then resigned myself to accepting my fate as a shepherd of a blueberry-grazing flock intent on ravaging the landscape.

About halfway back to the car we happened across an old guy in a pretty substantial camp consisting of his friends, family and a motley assorted of old, rusty, banged-up vehicles. This guy made the pretty bold claim of being directly related to the main character in Cold Mountain. While we haven’t checked up his story thoroughly, I tend to believe him despite the fact that he didn’t appear to look much like Jude Law.

Soon enough, we were back at the car and sighing in relief as boots and socks were discarded. A trip to nearby Asheville (now one of the most desirable cities to live in the US, I’m told) involved a good vegetarian dinner; for some reason I always seem to eat much better whenever I go abroad. Notch up another reason why I’m looking forward to going to India in December (provisionally). I also ordered a herbal iced tea and felt pretty pleased with myself by pronouncing it in the American way (i.e. wrongly, without an ‘h’).

Today it’s Monday, and the harbingers of Hurricane Frances have shown themselves in the form of two hours of heavy rain this afternoon. More to follow.


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