Saturday, April 11, 2015

Trailblaze Challenge: Stone Mountain State Park

Last weekend, the weather was in the upper 40's and now we're hitting almost double that. The good news is that it looks like it will be cooling down a little bit for this weekend's Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh half marathon. But, back to last weekend! I headed out to Stone Mountain State Park to meet up with my hiking group to do the second-to-last long training hike. Unfortunately, it took me a little longer to get to the meeting spot than I was expecting, so I ended up missing the group as they started on the trailhead, but I knew with the varying paces of the group, I should see people throughout the hike. So, I grabbed my gear and started walking to the trailhead… and promptly turned around when I realized I had forgotten one of my new pieces that I wanted to try out on this hike - my trekking poles. Now that I was 30 minutes behind the group, I was ready to get started! Everyone kept recommending hiking poles and I've been on the fence for several weeks whether or not I really wanted them, but when I went into REI and asked about renting them, they didn't have that as an option, but they did have them 30% off, so I figured it was worth at least taking them out for this long hike and testing them on the steep trail I kept hearing about. They weren't kidding about the elevation change and challenge that this trail would provide. 



The hikers normally end up splitting up based on pace and I caught my first group near the base of the major hill and my second group around 5 miles in and I'm glad I caught the second group because there were a couple of areas where the direction of the trail wasn't clear, especially when we got 6 miles in and the directions on my map ended… we ended up at Devils Garden Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and still had 3 miles to go before our official turnaround, but the trail actually continued on the other side of the parkway, and while you could see the sign, it was a little confusing because I didn't realize we were supposed to keep going at that point.



Once we got onto the parkway, the wind really picked up and made me glad I had packed my light rain jacket which is also windproof to 50 mph. After crossing over the road, we went another mile or so before coming up to the parkway again. Again, it was a little hard to follow the trail, but there were a few signs, so I was able to follow it along the road before it cut back into a field.




As I was coming out of the woods the second time, I could still see one of the other hikers in front of me, but as I turned through the field and back into the woods, I quickly lost him in the thick woods.


Let's play find the trail!

There were definitely times when I wasn't sure if I was still on the right path, but just as I was thinking I would need to turn around to look for the blaze, I would see another one. Eventually, I made my way to the cabin where I found 3 more of the trailblazer crew eating their lunch.



Once I got to the cabin, I realized that I had caught up to the front of the pack which wasn't too bad considering they had a 30 minute lead on me. Everyone stuck around for 10-15 minutes eating, resting and tending to their feet before heading on the 9-mile return trip. I spent most of the time on the way back hiking on my own and I realized that I wasn't really "looking around" much when I was hiking up the major hill at the beginning. Here's some things I missed on my initial pass:


All the white you can see is the stone of Stone Mountain State Park where you can find another hiking trail and, of course, rock climbers. I've actually been on that trail before and originally, that's what I had assumed we were hiking for this trek.


I really don't know how I missed this since it was only 20-30 feet off of the trail, but apparently my attention was focused in the other direction. I tried to take some pictures of how steep the trail was from the top…



… but I still think it's more impressive / scary from the bottom, looking up!



The good news is that I didn't have any knee pain this week and while it took me a bit longer than I was expecting, just over 7 hours for 18 miles, it was a really good hike. I also got to try out some new gear, including new socks (slightly shorter wool socks) and my trekking poles, which I used a lot in the downhill section at the end. Only one more long hike and 4 weeks before the big hike!

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