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Griz on the MountainGriz waiting for me to unpack lunch
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Dutchman's Britches WildflowerDutchman's Britches Wildflower
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Flat TopProof that we were here. :)
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Washed Out BridgeView after crossing the washed out bridge
Griz on the Mountain
Dutchman's Britches Wildflower
Washed Out Bridge
I headed out this past Sunday with my chocolate lab, Griz, to take on the Cascades and Flat Top Trails at Peaks of Otter. "The Greatest Day Hiker of Them All", Kurt Rheinheimer, encouraged me to check out the Cascades Trail in addition to Flat Top. The Cascades trail is located directly across the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Flat Top Parking lot, so it's easy to add to the trip.
I should have known the statement "since Flat Top is only 5 or so miles, you can do the short Cascades Trail too", would come with a price - something like 2,200 feet in total elevation gain. Thanks, Kurt...
We started downhill for the Cascades Trail even though I read a sign that said "Caution Lower Bridge is washed out!" My head was in the clouds, left over stress from the week before barely allowed the warning to register.
Sure enough, the bridge was out and intimidating to cross but the water was low and there was an obvious path going across the creek and up the embankment. Immediately after the crossing, the trail begins to climb a series of rock steps and inclines. We did the barely 2 mile trail in 40 minutes. I was hot, mad at Griz for pulling me, and seriously doubting my endurance for another 5-6 miles hike with a 1,900 foot elevation gain. I didn't care what kind of view laid ahead of me, I was tired, hungry, and in a generally bad mood.
After a quick stop at the Flat Top parking lot for a snack we began the gradual climb up the mountain side to the 4,001 foot peak, Flat Top. I was still grumbling at Griz, though stopped to admire hundreds of Dutchman's Britches and less frequent, white trilliums.
As the trail continued to get steeper and rockier, I think Griz sped up. Luckily at mile 1, a bench appeared! Hallelujah! I've never wanted to stop, sit and debate about turning around so much!
Then reality hit. My 30-year old cousin, Andrew, had a massive aneurysm rupture 4 days earlier and was laying in a hospital bed at Northwestern, slowly recovering from a 20-hour brain surgery. Who was I to be doubting my ability to walk and to be crabbing about hiking, an activity I normally adore? From that moment on my struggle with the hike became known to me as: "Andrew's Hike". This wasn't for me or my weak mentality but for Andrew who was and still is fighting a battle. He couldn't be out here, I was, so if I couldn't do it for me, it would be for him.
From that point on, the extremely uneven, rocky trail was less a battle of mentality and just a gosh-I-am-lucky kind of hike. Griz and I continued our break-neck speed, stopping at each of the three benches that seemed to mark each mile (based on my GPS) and finally made it to the top in 1 hour, 8 minutes.