This is my last trip report in which I have to post about from me and my wife’s recent “vacation.” After our day hike to Chimney Tops, and then our 4-day loop hike in the Smokies, we finished our trip off with an overnight camping experience on the summit of Max Patch.
Max Patch is located in the mountains of North Carolina, but more specifically in the Pisgah National Forest. One way to reach Max Patch is to simply hike the AT. The AT crosses right over the summit of Max Patch. However, another (easier) way is to simply drive. For this visit to the bald, we opted to drive (you know, time constraints ~ can’t take off of work forever…)
We drove out of Hot Springs, NC and followed one of those curvy mountainside roads for a while and eventually ended up on a gravel road which was actually Max Patch road. We drove right up to the parking area and parked in front of the Max Patch sign, then eagerly jumped out of the car. We loaded our packs on and then took the 0.9 mile route that shoots straight up the mountain. There are actually two other routes in which you can take to reach the summit. These are loops that will circle around the mountain and will end up on the summit. These trails are a little longer (just over 2 miles) however, there are benefits to it such as a more gradual climb (rather than all at once).
When we arrived, the wind was blowing, a lot. The forecast we saw earlier in the day for the area in which we were in was 25 mph winds with gust up to 35 – 40 mph. Once we were standing on the top of the summit, I definitely believed it. The wind was blowing hard. For a little bit I even contemplated setting up my tent for fear of it getting destroyed by the winds. (I wasn’t ready to lose my tent – it is the only one I have and I am not at the point in which I can get another at this moment.) But in the end, curiosity won out and I pulled the tent out…
We first decided to set up the tent (Kelty Grand Mesa 2) without the fly. I figured the tent by itself would mange ok because of all the mesh but was uncertain about the fly which could catch all the wind rather than let it pass through. This was a fine idea for the first 3 hours or so, but after a few hours in the constant wind, the 60* (or so) temps were starting to feel cool. I decided to try the fly. The only problem with this was that the guy lines were left in the truck with the stakes I left behind. I had carried a set of MSR Groundhog stakes to use with the tent rather than the cheapo stakes that come with the tent, especially in windy weather such as this! But the cheapo stakes were in the car, with the guy lines. This was the first of 4 hikes I did back down to the parking lot (and back up).
Once I returned from getting the guy lines, I completely guyed the tent out. I must say that this is the first time doing this with this tent, so I was a little nervous. But I must say in the end it turned out well. With the fly on, the inside wall stopped blowing into us while we were sitting inside the tent and blocked almost all of the wind, however there was still some that came in.
Once we got all of this accomplished I started contemplating how I was going to go about “cooking” in this wind. Of course that meant boiling water using my White Box Stove and my GSI Kettle and then adding the boiling water to the Backpacker Pantry meal. So, I got the idea to clear an area under the vestibule and have a go at it there. I got a spot cleared, and decided to only use a tiny bit of fuel to see how well the stove would perform with the wind still coming through. Here is what I had:If you will notice, some of the grass around was, well dry… This did not necessarily dawn on me at this point as I was thinking about the flame going up rather than down. So, I light the stove using my fire steel and watch it. It went well. I decided to hold some popcorn over the fire to see if it would get hot enough to pop the popcorn (it is the popcorn that is in the little pan and the foil expands over the top when heated, you know…) So, while doing this the stove blossoms. This is when I notice that some of the grass around the stove begins to flame up then die out. Ok. But then some starts to spread a little…. Now I get worried. I decide to try to put the fire out using the little pan of popcorn and in doing so, I knock the stove over (remember there is flaming fuel inside this stove…) Well, at this point I unzip the vestibule in a hurried manner and my wife darts off, meanwhile I am beating the ground with the popcorn pan. Needless to say, I put it out rather quickly, but it only took a moment to happen and I was lucky that I did not fill the stove with much fuel because things could have easily went very bad. Wind, dried grassy bald, fire…
In all the fuss, I singed some of the hair on my head, my eyebrow and even an eyelash. Don’t know how. Like I said it happened fast. And I can say that I have learned my lesson, the hard way as usual…
So, anyway, this little mishap made me decide not to worry about cooking for a minute, but in the end, I still had to. So, this time I took the stove to an area on the trail that had been worn down to nothing but dirt. I sat here and used my body as a shield to start the stove, and successfully boiled our water for our meal.
After our meal I decided to pack up all the food and the remaining smellables and just bring them back to the truck. We were leaving out in the morning anyway. So, I made another hike to the truck, and back up.
Once we got everything cleared away we sat back and relaxed inside the tent for a while. We watched many people walk by on the trails and even others that came and brought quilts to lay on and under waiting on the sunset. We saw a few others come up and fly kites in the wind storm and even some others that hiked up and set up tents.
Finally, the sunset came. We sat there for the few minutes it lasted and watched it. It was beautiful. I would suggest to anyone to catch a sunset on Max Patch if given the opportunity. It was awesome watching the sun disappear behind the mountains, and then the colors come out.
After this we went back to the tent and crawled in our sleeping bags. At this point the temperature had dropped considerably. Once the stars came out we went and enjoyed the huge display of the moon and the stars. I felt like I was looking at one of the kid’s night light domes except many more times larger. Then again, we crawled into our sleeping bags and eventually dozed off.
Morning came and brought with it the cold. We laid there and even though the tent was facing the sun rise, we decided to lay in our sleeping bags and relax. However, after a while we braved the cold and got up. We did not linger around long since we were thinking of a hot breakfast and somewhere warmer. So we began to pack up our stuff. Once we got changed and our pads and pillows and bags stuffed we staggered outside into the cold.
The wind had died down and almost completely gone away by the time we came out of the tent. As I began to pull the stakes out of the ground I noticed a layer of frost covering the back side of the tents fly. This is the direction that the wind had been blowing in last night so I figured that this is why there was a layer of frost. I wiped the tent down, and finished taking it down and packed it up.
After getting everything together, we took one last look at the mountains which surrounded us and then we hike off of Max Patch and headed home…
Here is a link to the pictures from this trip.
Read about the first part of this trip, the day hike to Chimney Tops, here.
Read about the second part of this trip, our 4-day loop hike in the GSMNP, here.