Monday, March 18, 2013

John Rock Hike

Me and my pops.
John Rock is a mountain situated in Pisgah National Forest on the edge of Brevard, NC. This particular hike features a 4.5 mile trail around John Rock Mountain and a 2-mile trail to the summit.  This is a popular day-hike for a lot of people. On the back end of the trail you can head into the less touristy back country for some more scenic wildlife views and less traffic.

On this particular trip, my father and I geared up and prepared for a night out in the wilderness. We took a 2 mile portion of the trail up to the John Rock trailhead which was a pretty easy walk, then the work began. Climbing to the John Rock summit is no joke. But once you get there the scenery is breath taking.

Looking Glass
At the summit of John Rock one can easily see mountain peaks in a 180-degree field of view from a bare rock face including the beautiful Looking Glass Mountain less than a mile away.

It is worth noting that the highest summit of the mountain ranges visible from the summit of John Rock is Black Balsam Knob which I hiked about five weeks prior to this blog entry.

At the summit of John Rock is a nice open face where you can casually sit and enjoy the scenery including the parking lot from which you just came, 1000 feet directly below you. Numerous other people were on the summit enjoying a casual lunch or just the fruits of their efforts hiking the 4-miles and ascending 1000 feet.

As I was finishing up my lunch, a guy in front of me stands up, turns around and announces to about ten or so people in his field of view, "I don't suppose anyone is interested in a game of chess?"  My immediate thought was, what kind of nerd brings a chess set on a hike? But then it occurred to me that I have done that more than once, being a rated chess player.

I did not mention to the guy that I was a former amateur state champion, well not at first any way. Non-chess nerds can skip the following section.

Begin Chess Talk

I played white and the game went as such. 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4!?

This is the Scotch Gambit, one of my favorite attacking openings.

4... Bc5 5. c3!? Here is where the gambit comes into play. After I played 5. c3 he said to me, "I always wonder why people give up this pawn." To which I replied, "why don't you take it and find out?"

He declined the gambit but he was already getting dangerously close to falling critically behind in development. Incidentally taking the pawn is just an acceptance of playing defense for a long time and hoping to win in a king and pawn endgame. It's a fantastic opening against novice players, but not 100% sound by any means.

5... Qf6 ?!  Tsk tsk. Bringing your queen out too early. 6. Bg5! Qg6 7. O-O! Qxe4?? He's already lost. He bit that pawn which was poisoned. Find the winning move for white.
White to Play and Win.
End Chess Talk

After our friendly chess game was over with, we picked up our gear and headed on.  We reached our junction and along the way passed several, beautiful mountain streams and makeshift bridges that added to the beauty of the hike.

This was my dad's first major hike. After 4 miles (and the equivalent of climbing the Empire State Building with a kindergartner on your back) he was really worn out. We had another 40-story climb ahead of us in order to get deep into the back country.

He mentioned his hips were hurting pretty badly, and so I suggested we take an alternate route which would cut out about six miles of our hike, but still put us in some wilderness where we could camp pretty comfortably, and most importantly, it was all downhill from here. He accepted my proposal so we spent the next hour hiking an additional two miles around John Rock to our camp spot.

My father works for a meat packing plant and so he had some filet mignon that he wanted to bring on the hike. No arguments from me. We made camp, started a fire and then speared the filets on spits and cooked them over the fire. I also brought along some Hoppin' Johns, which for those of you who weren't lucky enough to be raised in the South, is white rice mixed with black-eyed peas and doused with jalapeno tobasco sauce. Without a doubt the best trail meal ever.

After dinner, we sat around the campfire for a bit, and I played a few songs and some improvised blues on my harmonica. Around dusk I told him I was going to hike up the trail for 20 minutes and then hike back. So I got an extra two miles or thereabouts into my hike before bedtime.

We waited until dark to turn in. We were surrounded by thick trees which was the only downside. The site is so far away from the city you can literally see twice as many stars than on an average night. I could only see the Southern sky pretty clearly and had a perfect view of Orion. However, the Northern portion of the sky including Ursa Major, Andromeda, and Polaris was blocked by trees. I really wanted to get a clear view of the Milky Way which runs right through Andromeda but could never find it because of the tree cover.

Bridge just before the Trail ends
Around 6 a.m. we were awakened by a pack of nearby coyotes howling. It was awesome. They were very close too, within a quarter of a mile or so. Around 7 a.m. we headed out and had a two-mile walk back to our car.

This was the second time I have done this trip and I love it. It's one of my favorite trips. I was a little disappointed that we did not head into the backcountry because there are some breath-taking views, and a long walk right beside a sheer mountain face which is really neat. However, I was not complaining about a downhill walk and an early camp which made for more relax time.