April 22, 2017
A night of rain and storm found us snug inside our tent, dry and warm while water fell from the sky. We woke early, packing up as sunrise brought possibilities of dryer weather.
Scattered cloud bits lingered over the landscape. I remembered two days ago, waking to a dense fog. “We’re getting kissed by a cloud,” Jay had joked. I had eyed the grey clinging tendrils of moisture, and replied, “Seems more like an overly enthusiastic embrace to me!” Today, the white puffs did look a bit more like gentle kisses from the clouds.
Laurel Forks Gorge and Pond Mountain Flats were the major destinations on the map today. For a while the trail was almost level as it followed an old railroad grade, hugging cliff top edges, cutting through narrow gaps between ridges, teasing us with glimpses of Laurel Fork far, far below. Finally, the trail made a sharp left turn and dove over the edge, switchbacking steeply down turn after turn of stone steps, spiraling deeper and deeper into the gorge. At the bottom, water rushed over wide rock ledges, in a jumble of froth and foam, dropping 45 feet into the quintessential pool at the bottom. What a destination for the morning!
The trail followed the river, sometimes edging out on tiny ledges inches above the rushing water, but mostly on a wide level path, just right for a Sunday stroll.
We met Specs, a very nice thru-hiker in his twenties. He told us of staying the rainy night at a hostel in a man’s house. “There were bunks for about 20 people, but only 5 of us were there. When it began raining, I discovered that his roof leaked, so I had to hop over to another bunk in my sleeping bag!”
Specs also told us that he met the man in charge of trail maintenance on this portion of the AT. “This guy told me that the trail used to go straight up Pond Mountain Flats, but now there are 15 switch backs and an extra two miles of trail to get to the top.”
“I’m not sure that I really wanted to know that,” Jay informed Specs.
“Fifteen switchbacks! I love switchbacks! Oh goody!” I exclaimed happily. “Let’s do it!”
Fifteen switchbacks and 1,800 feet of elevation did give me plenty of time to wonder about the name of the mountain we were climbing. Would it really be flat? What kind of mountain had a pond on top? So far on this trip, mountain tops had sported dry ridges, rocky ledges, sometimes rolling grassy balds. But I had yet to see much water on a mountain peak, other than the water I carried to drink!
At the top, the terrain did flatten out a bit, with a couple of campfire rings and tent sites. We paused for a look around. No pond, no water, but wait, what was that? A frog, hopping through the leaves! He stopped and posed for Jay’s camera. “There must be water somewhere, with this frog hopping about,” Jay remarked. “The trail guide says there’s a spring in half a mile. Let’s go fill up, and maybe eat lunch.”
Just as we reached the spring, a rumble of thunder caused us to look up. Black and grey piles of moisture loomed over the mountain. “Yikes! Is that headed here?” I asked nervously. “Maybe we better postpone lunch until we’re a bit lower in altitude,” Jay suggested.
Just then a ball of lightning FLASHED ahead of us. My scream was drowned by a simultaneous BOOM of thunder. I turned and flew into Jay’s arms! “Umm, let’s go while we can,” Jay suggested. “But be careful! No falling allowed!”
Rain pelted our heads as we warily slogged down hill. Thunder and lightning crashed. Wind blew through tree tops and whistled over ridge edges. Just as I was set to endure hours of storm, it stopped! The rain slowed to a pitter-patter, then ceased altogether as the sun appeared. “Wow!” Jay laughed. “Would you call that a cloud kiss, or something else?” I knew what he was thinking, but answered primly, through giggles, “In my day, that was called a cloud burst!”
I guess that frog knew there would be water on top of the mountain after all!