The Last Push

After spending some time cooling in a stream, Tisen and I make the final push home from Edward Point.  We make it to the first place we got lost on the way out.  When we get there, it’s completely obvious that a lower trail completely avoids the downed trees that caused us so much trouble on the way out.  We make it around the whole area with only one lift for Tisen in a spurt of steep rock steps.  I cannot resist looking to see if the trail was obvious from the other side.  It was not.  I have an excuse for at least one of my wrong turns.

I’m almost afraid to stop again.  Tisen is moving well and looking energetic.  I’m moving well now that we’re going uphill, my knee only complaining when we go downhill.

We make it back to the first natural overlook and I know we’re home free.  We take a break there, just to be safe.  Tisen looks at me with an expression on his face that I swear says, “Yay, Mom!  Look at us!  We’re almost back!”  Who knew a bit bull could look like a cheerleader?

A couple pauses to take a few quick shots from the overlook while we gather our energy for the last push.  The trees start rustling, the sun disappears, rain drops start to fall.  I realize I have nothing to cover my camera with and hope that it doesn’t get too wet.

I text Pat and let him know that we have survived and are on our way home.  I had updated him earlier when we were lost–one of the advantages of hiking on Signal Mountain is that you still have a signal.  🙂

When I start packing up Tisen’s water, Tisen pops up like he’s been waiting on me all along.  I smile.  I don’t know if he remembers what the last part of the trail is like, but it involves a lot of jumping up onto high steps and rocks to get back to the manmade overlook at the parking lot.  It’s a lot to ask of a tired dog.  I prepare myself for the possibility of having to lift Tisen many times in the last quarter mile.

Tisen springs up every rock and step like a young pup.  He is clearly excited to be getting closer to home.  He charges ahead when I pause.  When he’s behind me, I have to be careful not to kick him as I step, he’s so close on my heels.

We make it to the park.  We make it up the final hill to the car.  Tisen catapults himself into the back seat and lies there panting.  I rush to change my shoes so I can get us moving.  The breeze is still blowing, cool and slightly damp, although the rain has stopped.  I smile to myself as I put the car in drive:  we finally made it to Edward Point.

Blazing Trails

After allowing Tisen a 20 minute nap at Edward Point, I decide we’d better start working our way down.  With our side-trips on the way up, we’re an hour behind schedule and we’ll be two if it takes as long to get back.

Unfortunately, the sun is now higher, the temperature hotter, and the bugs swarming more energetically.  I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the bugs that get to Tisen, but not more than a 1/4 mile from Edward Point, he finds a shrub, runs into the shade underneath, and starts digging himself a nest in the dirt.  It takes quite a bit of coaxing to get Tisen back out into the sun.

Fortunately, we are back in the shade a little further down the trail.  And the turkey vultures who greeted us on the way up have given up on us dying, disappearing down the river valley.  I took that as a positive sign.

Because I had opted to break in my new hiking boots in anticipation of a back-packing trip the following weekend, my knees were suffering.  My left knee was the first to start screaming.  This has something to do with inflammation.  As my knee starts to swell, it no longer wants to bend.  When I bend it and step downhill, a sharp stabbing pain shoots through the joint.  It makes going downhill excruciating.  I make a mental note to make sure I figure out how I can carry my camera and still use my trekking poles before we set out backpacking next weekend–I imagine my knees won’t hold up to a backpack without trekking poles.  I wish I could wear my fivefinger shoes, but the rocky terrain and the extra weight of a backpack is a bit much for almost-bare feet.

We manage to stay on the right trail on the way back.  I am watching for blazes with the intensity of a pit bull.  Or maybe that’s Tisen?  When we get to the juncture where I went the wrong way on the way up, I look back to see how I got confused.  I realize there is no excuse for missing the main trail.  The blazes are obvious and well-placed.  I don’t know what I was thinking.

We keep on stepping, slower than I’d like, but we’re making more progress than if either my knee or Tisen gives out completely.  I have to lift Tisen over some big rocks in the part of the trail we missed on the way up.  While I’m glad I’m able to lift him, I am simultaneously worried about how much poison ivy he’s run through and how much of it each lift is getting on me.

We make it back to water.  Tisen plows in and lays down.  I watch and wait for him to look cooled and refreshed so we can continue on our way.

Edward Point

As Tisen and I walked what we thought was the last 15 minutes to Edward Point, shadows raced across the forest floor like silent, dark ghosts.  I looked up to discover a half a dozen turkey vultures circling overhead.  Close overhead.  Too close.

Given we were hot, tired, and bleeding from numerous wounds from brambles, it was a little ominous to feel like they were so interested in us.

Fortunately, they soared further away as we approached, giving us a more breathing room.

As we looked around (well, I looked around, I don’t know what Tisen was doing exactly), I realized that the area must have had a fire in recent years.  The trees were charred in place.  The growth was thick and dense, but it was all wild flowers and sun-loving brush.  The bugs loved it.  I couldn’t seem to keep them off of me.  I saw bugs on me that I’d never seen before.  I stopped shooing and started swatting, leaving red hand-prints on my arms.  They went well with the bleeding scratches from the earlier brambles.

There is something disconcerting about hiking from relatively deep forest into bright meadows when a mountain is well below timberline.  You expect to come out into open spaces when hiking in Colorado, but here, it just seems wrong.  I found myself wondering when the forest had burned and whether that was normal here in the Eastern  US.

About 15 minutes after we’d found our way back to the Cumberland Trail, we encountered an overlook that faced the cliff on the other side of the gulch.  Directly across from us was a huge building that absolutely looked wrong.  There is nothing I resent more than when I spend hours making my way to a overlook in the “wilderness” only to discover I’m within a football field (or two) of a major development.  I found myself hoping this was not, in fact, Edward Point.

I googled Edward Point to see if I could tell.  Thankfully, I was able to determine that we were not there yet.  Now, I had a decision to face.  A 72-pound dog who is tired and hot and 45-year-old knees that are equally tired give one pause at moments like these.  Had it been me and only me, there would have been no hesitation–I was going to make it to Edward Point this time no matter what.  However, I’d lifted Tisen enough times on the way up to know I couldn’t carry him back.  I had to consider whether he could make it or not.

I decided to give it another 10 minutes.  I could see where we were along the gulf and it seemed like Edward Point, which overlooks the main river valley, had to be close.  I was so glad we’d stuck it out when we arrived at the overlook.  While Tisen took a nap in the shade, I took as many photos of the view as I could.

Lost Again

Tisen has a very specific way of cooling off in streams. He walks in, feels around with his feet until he finds the perfect spot, then he lays down.  I suspect it has something to do with his Holstein genes.

Having cooled off for several minutes and drunk his fill of water, Tisen recovered enough to tackle the uphill climb.

As we made our way of the far side of the gulch, the climb got steeper.  We were distracted by the amazing rock formations.  Perhaps this is why, when we got to the next junction in the trail, I decided we needed to head downhill rather than up.  This turned out to be a bad mistake.

We ended up on a trail that kept getting narrower and more overgrown.  Soon, we were walking through brambles that hooked themselves into bare skin, tearing flesh as I forced my way through.  Tisen was somewhat protected by his fur, but both of us looked like we’d taken a beating by the time we got to a clearer part of the trail.

The trail now tucked up against another rock bluff, looking more like a deer trail than a parks and recreation trail.  I should have turned around about a 1/4 mile in.  Have I mentioned I have issues with going backwards?

On the plus side, since nature was calling pretty loudly at this point, it was good that we were in an isolated area with plenty of underbrush so I could heed the call without fear of someone walking up on me.  On the minus side, there were so many enormous spider webs in the rocky bluff I was almost afraid to turn my back on them.

When we got around the bluff, we started bush-whacking uphill, hearing voices above us and thinking that must be the main trail.

This was tough going.

Not only were there more brambles and spider webs, but now there were more and more rocks to climb as well.  I was worried about Tisen getting a little more exercise than he could handle.

As we walked along the face of yet another rock bluff, we caught up with a couple with a child and two dogs.  I have no idea how they all got there, but there they were.  I asked them where we were and they assured me that we were just below the Cumberland Trail.  All we had to do was go straight up the rock face.

I found an entry point that I could climb, lifted all 72 pounds of Tisen up onto the rock at shoulder height and managed to convince him to stay up there while I used a tree to assist my own ascent.

Bush-whacking through another patch of brambles rewarded us with being back on the main trail.  The couple had said Edward Point was about 15 minutes away; had it been much further, I probably would have started heading home.

Beyond the Overlook

Continuing our hike from Signal Point to Edward Point, Tisen and I made our way along the steep slope of the gully.

I guess it’s a gully.  I’m not really clear on when a gully becomes a canyon or if there’s some other name for a horse-shoe-shaped space in the side of a mountain, but essentially, we were going to hike in nearly an ellipse, but we were going to end up on a point on the opposite cliff from where we started.

The trail starts high, goes mostly downhill to the midpoint and then climbs again to Edward Point overlook on the far side.  It requires stepping over, on, or around many rocks in the process.  We clambered our way up the trail, keeping a pretty good pace going.  I eyed the poison ivy growing along the trail with disdain–I knew it meant Tisen and I were going to be taking very thorough baths that night.

When we got about another 1/2 mile down the trail, we ran into an impasse.  This happens quite frequently on trails.  A tree has fallen across the trail that can’t be gone over, so you have to go around.  Usually, this might mean walking a 1/10 of a mile out of the way to skirt the fallen tree.  In this case, there were dozens of trees that had fallen.  It was a terrible scene of destruction that made me sad.  On the other hand, with as many bad storms as have rolled through this area in recent years, it’s pretty amazing that that’s all the damage that’s been done.

But there were piles of fallen trees.  And we we tried to go around, we ran into only more fallen trees.  We went around and went around some more, trying to find a route through all the crap that fell with the trees.  Eventually, we did make it.

Of course, in the process, I lost the trail.  We ended up bush-whacking our way back to the trail, arriving slightly scratched and a little more tired than we would have otherwise.

When we finally found the main trail again, we hadn’t gone more than 10 feet hen we saw a junction with a trail that came from the same direction we had just come from.  It was clearly blazed as the main trail and it looked like it would have missed all of the fallen trees.  I kicked myself and wondered how I had missed that option when we took the high trail to hell.

But, back to relatively clear sailing, we continued on our way, making it to the point where we’d turned around the first time we tried to hike this trail and pushing beyond.  Less than a 1/4 mile past our previous turn-around point, we ran into a stream.  Tisen made quick work of laying down in the water to cool off.  I thought about joining him, but there wasn’t a puddle big enough.