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Camping atop tall mountain in heavy storm is no picnic

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This column is next to the final one about backpacking with our new friend, Leon Stenzel, who took me and my two oldest sons, Bobby and Greg, on two backpacking trips many years ago.

After several hours of hiking up and down small mountain sides, three of us took advantage of a 30-minute brief rest in a small trail lean-to with bench seats and a roof on the Appalachian Trail. Oh, did those benches ever feel good? You can bet they did!

Leon returned all too soon, and he was excited about telling us he had found a wonderful campsite bordered by rhododendron, on top of the mountain next to us, after climbing for about a half-hour. It all sounded good except for the climb up the mountain, but we all agreed.

Leon wasn’t kidding. It was a steep climb and the campsites were nice and flat bordered by tall rhododendron.

The weather was nice and cool at the higher altitude and we found a tent site for Leon and me, and another close by for Bobby and Greg.

We pitched our tents only a few feet apart and cooked our supper over an open fire, being careful to extinguish the fire afterward.
We got settled in our tents and we noticed that Bobby and Greg had left the fly on the top end toward our tent left open to allow more air. However, we closed ours because it was plenty cool with it shut.

We were awakened by loud thunder and sharp lightning flashes about an hour or more later. When the rain became heavier, I stuck my hand out from my blanket, and felt raindrops falling through the tent. Leon awakened, too, and said to grab my camera and anything I didn’t want to get wet to put inside my blanket. We hadn’t put up a fly cover over our tents when thinking it would not rain.

And let me tell you, it didn’t just rain, it poured rain, and in a few minutes I heard some hollering for help from Bobby that made me laugh as he had to go out in the rain and attach the curtain fly over the large opening over his head.

It was a week or more later when I heard a remark by a newspaper friend from Denton that after reading this column about being camped on the top of a tall mountain overlooking Bakersville, she was amazed to learn we were out in that same storm she and her husband experienced in a church function right below us.

All of us were awfully wet the next morning and it was a cool 50 degrees. I don’t know what we would have done without dry outer wraps the next morning as we worked at repacking our belongings. The wraps helped us survive the icy cold winds.

You may think we had enough backpacking problems to keep us out of the outdoor experiences for a while, but we had become die-hard backpackers in just one week. Leon had gotten us hooked and he suggested we try a wilderness area called Shining Rock Wilderness in western North Carolina.

At least we had all the gear we needed and that made it easier and much less expensive. Just after we had parked, we were soon captured by a large sign posted and reading: “Warning, You Are Entering a Wilderness Area” in large black letters on a white sign.

It made us all take a second look (well, except Leon) as we thought about never seeing a sign like this before, and feeling cautious.

We started our trek and soon saw where we were to stay and find a clear spot for camping. Noting there was only one spot clear enough for placing our tents, we decided to let Bobby and Leon make the decision, while Greg and I walked through the one-person-wide and 6-feet-tall rhododendron path around the large Shining Rock.

Only the top of your head was visible for someone watching. And when we heard talking ahead, we were very much surprised to meet two young girls meeting us along the pathway.

Look next week to learn more about the girls for the truly final column about our backpacking experiences for the four of us.

Bob Allen, publisher emeritus of The Wake Weekly, invites comments at 919-556-3059 or