How Not To Be a Hike Leader
First let me say that hiking is one of my favorite past times. You could say it is a hobby of mine. It is my Happy Place to be on a mountain trail, smelling the perfume of the forest and the rhododendrons, which we have plenty of here in North Carolina. I am fortunate to have many great hiking buddies to go hiking with, thanks to Meetup.com. I love Meetup.com and that will be another Hub.
My goal is to do a mountain hike every Saturday. It gives me something to look forward to while I am sitting in my crappy work cube Monday through Friday. There have been times (I am not making this up) I was sitting there in my silly work cube when all of a sudden, for a few brief seconds, the smell of the forest and rhododendrons would hit my nostrils. Then the good memories would flood my mind of all the great hikes and adventures I have been on with my various hiking buddies, and it brings a smile to my face and makes me want to leave the cube and go into the mountains, right now.
So it was a surprise to me that for some reason in the past year there have been two bum hikes I went on that did not turn out so great and I must share this story because both hikes were amusing in their own way, but truthfully if I knew in hindsight what was going to happen, in a New York minute I would have signed up for another hike with another group. It is not a coincidence that both hikes were booked by the same hiking group and the same leaders.
So here are my two adventures that didn’t turn out so well. For the sake of anonymity, I will name the hiking group Hoagy Hikers and the group leaders I will name Susan and Johnny. The events and places set forth are true but I am changing the names of the people and the group for privacy.
Scenes Along the Trail towards Catawba Falls in Old Fort, NCClick thumbnail to view full-size
Catawba Falls - Old Fort, NC
Catawba Falls in Old Fort, NC is a beautiful easy three mile trail that ends at a gorgeous waterfall, named the Lower Catawba Falls. For your viewing pleasure I have included photos I took of this trail and the lower Catawba waterfall. Way above this waterfall is another waterfall named the Upper Waterfall. There is a ½ mile trail to the right of this lower waterfall that will take you to the upper waterfall.
However, it is very steep, treacherous, and so dangerous that the county posted signs all over the place stating how dangerous this ½ mile trail is which leads to the upper waterfall. You even have to use ropes to climb up rocks to get there and people have died trying to get there.
So one sunny morning we all met Susan and Johnny at the carpool location to share rides to Catawba Falls. We arrive and hike the trail to the very end and see the magnificent and beautiful lower waterfall before us. This is the spot we stop to have a snack break. After about 20 minutes I asked Susan are we ready to go back to the cars. She said no we are waiting for a few folks to come back from the upper waterfall trail.
The video below was taken from YouTube and was filmed by a Mr. Tony Young. He looks to be a strong hiker and videotaped his climb up to the upper Catawba Falls. I do not believe his camera showed how steep this trail really is. His wife followed him and wore a pretty dress with her hiking boots. You can't hear the audio on the video very well, at least on my computer it didn't come through well. This video makes me want to at least climb this trail to the ropes and then turn around. I do hike a lot but I am not athletic nor light on my feet. This trail looks beautiful to hike!
Yes they went there: the trail up to Upper Catawba Falls.
The Renegades Took Off!
I thought to myself, Oh Crap. It turns out we had about eight Renegade hikers that decided at the last minute that they wanted to climb the dangerous trail to see the upper waterfall. Johnny, who I carpooled with, was one of those people. It took them two hours to do this ½ mile trail -- that is how difficult this trail is, and these are hardened experienced hikers. So we had to wait two hours for these folks to get back to us so we could leave and go have lunch at a local restaurant. Johnny did the trail in one hour, the rest of them it took two hours. They finally came back and they were all bloody and bruised and telling us Wow that was an adventure.
First of all, if I would have known these Renegades were going to take off and do their own hike for two hours, I would have done the three-mile trail two times, for a total of six miles. I was sitting there the whole time not knowing when they were going to come back. Susan didn’t seem to mind at all, she is not a hiker, just a Sunday walker and didn’t mind sitting there at the lower waterfall waiting for them. I did not want to complain or sound like a negative person so I didn’t say anything about it to Susan. After two hours they showed up at the cars (no, we couldn’t just leave them behind).
Views of Catawba Falls in Old Fort, NC. These are of the lower falls.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Black Mountain, NC Links
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The Buggy Bistro
We then proceeded to go to a Bistro in Black Mountain, NC. It is a lovely Norman Rockwell town and I loved the Bistro we went to. However, I did not fancy eating outside because of all the insects flying around. We have a lot of bugs here in the spring and summer and fall. So here we are all sitting at an outside table and sure enough, here comes this lime-green creature flying out of the sky and plopped on our table and started climbing up the napkin holder. I don’t know what kind of creature it was, but it looked like a small praying mantis.
Johnny sees it and picked it up and named it Harry. Then he put it back down on the napkin holder so Harry could continue doing whatever it is he was going to do. I would have just carried the creature named Harry away from the table in the grass, far away from the table. Next thing I know, Johnny has these small fly-like creatures flying into his hair and getting stuck there. He is gray so it was easy to see them flopping around in his hair. I proceeded to flick them out of his hair for him. This happened two more times in the next 20 minutes. I don’t know if it was the same fly-like creature or different ones from the same family.
The food finally arrived and we are all eating. The other guy sitting next to me, one of the Renegades who was bloody and bruised from his dangerous trail experience, was eating his food and a small black bug plopped down on his plate. He had a sandwich and bowl of soup and the creature was crawling around his plate, so I pointed this out to him and he removed the bug. A few minutes later the same thing happened, and I don’t know if it was the same bug or not, but it sure looked like the same bug, except this one was upside down on its back squirming around. I let it go. I was tired of worrying about these creatures. I wanted to eat my salad.
However I did inform everyone that I was carefully watching my salad to make sure nothing is moving in my salad dressing. Being such happy people, they all thought that was really funny and we all got a good laugh out of it.
I ordered a salad with a small piece of salmon on it, plus a tiny itty bitty bowl of potato soup, and a cup of coffee. Total bill was about $28.00 and that is with tax and tip. I thought the restaurant was too expensive for my budget, and even for the area since it was not a five star restaurant. I was glad to get home that day and struck it off as bad luck. One month later the next bum hike followed with the same group with Johnny as the leader.
Now on to the next Trail with the Hoagy Hikers: Beautiful Harper’s Creek Wilderness Area – South Trail
This is a wilderness area in the Pisgah National Forest owned by the federal government. They do not maintain the trails like State Parks do because…..it is a wilderness area. There are many hiking trails and waterfalls around here and I absolutely love this area so much. But if you ever hike or camp out here make sure you go with someone who really knows their way around. I cannot emphasize this enough. Go with someone who knows where they are going. If you get lost, and you can very easily get lost, there is no cell phone service out here, and if something happens it could be a day or two before they get a helicopter out there to get you. But it is beautiful out there. Photos of the northern and southern areas have been provided for your viewing pleasure. I have been out here twice with Johnny and the Hoagy Hikers. The first time it was in the Northern part of the wilderness area and it was one of the best hikes I have ever been on. The second time in the Southern part….not so much and here are the details.
North Trail - Scenes Along Harper's Creek Wilderness Area. This is the easier trail we did a year ago, 5 miles, excellent hike!Click thumbnail to view full-size
South Trail - Harper's Creek Wilderness Area. I didn't get many photos since I was trying to not get hurt or lost.Click thumbnail to view full-size
North Harper's Creek Video
Johnny Books the South Trail Hike
I asked Johnny if this was the same trail we did last year in the northern part that was five miles and we saw three waterfalls up close and personal. Lots of creek crossings too. He said no it is a different trail in the southern part that is seven miles and only has one steep incline.
His description on the meetup site said seven miles. So we all meet for carpool early in the morning and off we went back to Harpers Creek Wilderness. Johnny booked this hike in the southern part two other times in previous years (which I did not go on) and he got the group lost both times and 8 miles turned into 12 miles. He told me he did a recon on this trail and that he knows where he is going (a recon is the same as Scouting a trail before booking it with a group).
So we get to the trailhead and we have about 16 people. We started on the trail and it was straight up strenuous hiking. There was a new guy who joined named Steve, who was a cigarette smoker. He lit up a few times on the trail and I tried to stay away enough not to smell it. Johnny said we would see a spectacular view of a large waterfall. After two hours of hiking we came to a high ledge and stopped for lunch. The spectacular view he was talking about was a very small itty bitty view of a very large waterfall, but we were so far away you could hardly see it.
After breaking for lunch we continued on the second half of this hike. This is the part where I had to keep my mouth shut because Johnny was pissing me off. At least four times we ran into the Harper’s Creek, he stopped the group and said, you all just wait here a minute, let me find the trailhead where we are supposed to go. He did a recon but didn’t know where we were? This hike turned out to be 8.5 miles in 92 degree heat, with 48% humidity, because Johnny didn’t count the 1.25 mile trail from the cars to the actual seven mile loop.
The second part of this hike turned into an obstacle course and everybody was running low on water. I brought enough water for seven miles because that is what Johnny advertised and said it would be. I was mad at him for not providing accurate information to prepare for a wilderness area hike.
There were a few hardened hikers that went with us and they were in the front hiking faster than everyone else. The slower hikers, including me, were in the back and there were about five of us. Johnny stayed behind with us even though he is a hardened hiker. At one point he told us to go down this trail right here. We continued down that trail and it was basically a dirt wall. It was so steep we had to sit on our butts and slide down (even trekking poles would not help it was that steep). When you looked to your right and looked down, you could see a ledge with a straight drop down about 100 feet. There were a few trees to block your fall if needed. So we all slid down to the bottom and there was a small creek and no hikers. We asked each other and Johnny, where is the rest of the group, did they just disappear?
Johnny proceeded to hike past the creek and looped around and came back to tell us he did not see anyone. So I blew my whistle on my backpack. And blew a few more times. The rest of our group heard my whistles. It turns out they were behind us way up above on the ridge. Johnny then went up the dirt wall and caught up with the other hikers on the ridge and spoke to them a few minutes. It turns out Johnny took us down the wrong path. He came back down to us and said, I’m really sorry about this, but you guys have to come back up.
At that point I said, what? I don’t speak English. I don’t know what that means to come back up. I asked him to hold my trekking poles for me and if he had a rope to throw down to me. I needed a rope to get back up that dirt hill, the same one we had to slide down.
He said to look down at your feet, there is a rope at your feet. When I looked down I saw a very thick tree root that climbed all the way up the dirt wall. So I grabbed that and climbed back up the dirt wall, then had to climb a few giant rocks to get back to the trail. The hikers in the front all came back to meet us and were helping each of us over those rocks. I was getting really irritated at Johnny for leading us down the wrong trail, because we unnecessarily expended a lot of energy which we needed to finish the hike. All five of us came back up the dirt wall and as a group we continued on our way.
There were several river crossings in the Harper’s Creek that were so refreshing. Everyone got their feet wet because many of the crossings did not have rocks we could step on to get over, so we just splashed through the river. You must be very careful when doing this because the bottom of the creek is extremely rocky and all the rocks are extremely slippery. Three of us fell in the water while crossing. Since it was such a hot day it was refreshing.
We climbed many giant boulders and over downed trees as big as horses that blocked the trail. It turned into an obstacle course. I am not an athletic person and not light on my feet so this became challenging for me. Someone athletic would have loved to hike with us this day, that is, if they could stand the heat and humidity. After about 4.5 hours of hiking, we came to another creek. Johnny said hey we don’t have to cross this one, there will be no more creek crossings until we get back to the cars, and it’s okay for everyone to take off their wet socks for new ones.
So everyone proceeded to sit down and take off their boots, wet socks, dried their feet, and put on a fresh pair of dry socks. Everyone had happy dry feet, even though we were low on water in this humidity, we continued on our way. Guess what? An hour later we came to the creek again and Johnny said I’m really sorry, we have to cross this creek and I swear it is the last one. At that point several people said never say never. So we all crossed the creek once again and needless to say, we all got our happy dry feet wet again.
Will It Ever End?
We were on the trail for six hours. The last hour it started to get dark because the sun was setting on the west side of the mountain and we were headed east and hiking under trees. We got back to the cars just in time. I could feel the dehydration and my muscles were really aching because of it, not to mention all the boulder climbing, stepping up and down three feet ledges, navigating slippery rocks during each creek crossing, climbing over giant downed trees, sliding down and climbing up dirt walls; I was never so happy to see a trailhead and cars and civilization in all my life. It was a miracle that nobody got hurt, stung, bit, fell down, or broke anything. Johnny did stop by a store on the way to the restaurant and bought everyone in his carpool a 20 ounce bottle of cold water. That was nice of him to do that and let me tell you my cold water was gone within eight minutes. I carried 68 ounces in my pack to cover the original seven miles; after the hike I drank an additional 44 ounces, for a total of 112 ounces and I didn’t have to pee from 11 a.m. in the morning until late in the evening after I got home – that is how dehydrated I was.
Pizza Doesn’t Cut It After All That – Give Me Some Buffet Food
We went to a pizza restaurant in Morgantown, NC. It was a very tiny place with only 20 parking spots, sitting on the corner of two major intersections. They were cooking something in the kitchen that made the air hazy inside the restaurant and my eyes got watery from it. The food was good but the atmosphere needed improvement.
In the group was a new guy named Tom who just joined this hiking group the day before. He and I were standing outside the restaurant waiting for the others when I told him this was the most difficult hike I have ever been on. He agreed and said he wanted to hike today, not go on an obstacle course. The next day he unjoined the group.
After hiking six hours in the wilderness, not knowing if we would make it out of there or not, and not having much water left and borderline dehydrated, I was ready for some good buffet food like AJ’s Steakhouse, so I was disappointed in the restaurant as well. We left the pizza place about 8:00 p.m. and it’s a 2.5 hour drive back to Charlotte where I reside. I got home about 10:30 p.m. that evening.
The next morning I woke up and noticed I had many bruises and cuts and scratches all over that I don’t even remember getting. My legs had the dark purple bruises below the knees, one on my thigh, my arms and elbows had long scratches on them. I know Johnny is going to book another Harper’s Creek Wilderness hike this year as well. This time I will make sure it is the North section and not the South. I am pretty sure I never need to hike the South section again any time soon, unless I am with a slower group and they really know where they are going. If you got this far, thank you so much for reading and hope you enjoyed!
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