On my next trip to the forest I hiked the northern loop of the Uwharrie /Dutchman’s Creek trail system. This shorter northern route creates an 8- mile loop with a 1- mile trek from Yates Place Camp to the northern trail junction. I parked at Yates Place and first headed north a couple miles to the 109-trail head on NC Route 109 just west of Troy. I considered continuing north to Morris Mountain Camp but decided instead to head back to the northern Dutchman’s loop so I didn’t leave this section of the Dutchman’s / Uwharrie Trail unseen. And let’s face it out and back for a long distance isn’t really all that enjoyable. I did that once on the Mountains to Sea Trail along the Falls Lake Reservoir. It ended up being a 17-mile day; a boring one at that.
I found the junction of the trails and continued south on the Uwharrie trail figuring to take the northern portion of the Dutchman’s Creek trail on the way back. This would be a great route on most days but as you will learn later, not this day. When I arrived at the same austere campsite near Dennis Mountain where I had previously stopped during my hike of the south loop, I ate half my lunch. There was a man there with a couple dogs who made some small talk; I soon moved on to the north on the Dutchman’s Creek Trail. Usually I will talk you head off but not this day. I moved on. Talk seemed annoying and wearisome. I stopped at the next campsite for another brief rest and more water. It was an extremely hot and humid day. Shortly after lunch I came upon Little Island Creek.
Now allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment If I may. Why do we hike? You ever been asked that question? Charlotte, thinks I am certifiably insane because I will get up at 5 Am or earlier on a morning off from work, to drive 2 hours to hike 12-15 miles. She just doesn’t get it. She always asks, “why there, there’s trails around here”. We hike to see new things, have new experiences, new adventures, to challenge ourselves. We want to see the waterfalls we heard or read about we want to see a view we want to climb that mountain, we want to traverse that gorge. We want to hike a certain “new-to-me” trail. We spend endless hours researching the next adventure. We hike for the camaraderie of our fellow hikers or the solitude of the forest, and sometimes both at the same time. We challenge ourselves with distance and speed, getting up that next precipice. We challenge ourselves with the equipment that we carry, we are challenged by the elements we encounter or the terrain we travel. Well my friends on a May afternoon in the sweltering 90- degree heat and humidity of a late spring North Carolina day, during mile eleven of a fourteen-mile trek, I found that a challenge doesn’t have to be big or high, heavy or long. We may consider it a challenge climbing one of the peaks of the Rockies, the Sierra, the Cascades in the west or Mount Washington, the Smokies, Katahdin in the east. My cardiologist challenged me to climb Mt Mitchell the highest peak east of the Mississippi; a challenge I will accept probably this fall. It was his last words during my last visit “go climb Mt Mitchell”. So, I think I will. But what I found out on this day is that a challenge could very well be an 820-foot hill called Lick Mountain in the central North Carolina range known as the Uwharrie on a brutally hot and humid day. I crossed the Little Island Creek and looked up. There was nothing but boulders, rock, sun. As far up the hill as I could see. All this, set out before me almost straight up! I was standing at 444 feet above sea level. 375 feet in less than a third of a mile. Now a younger hiker may scoff at this and normally so would I but being hot, tired and not feeling myself it was the last thing I wanted to see. Especially after 11 miles of walking through the mountains. It was brutally hot. It was humid. I wasn’t feeling myself. Do I go back which would increase the length of my hike by six miles or do I push forward a mere three miles to my destination. Rock climbing is not really what I came to do today. Of course, forward it is because as hikers that’s just what we do. It’s a challenge and I’m going to take it. As I started up both legs cramped suddenly. I mean CRAMPED! As in I can’t take a step without extreme severe pain cramped. I found a small patch of shade under the lone tree that stood there among the boulders and sat down on a large rock and began to stretch and massage my legs. 15 minutes, ½ hour finally some relief. I started out again and within 25 yards I was cramped up again. Another stop more stretching more massage, a few more steps and stuck again unable to walk. This is the first time in my hiking career that I honestly thought “They are going to have to come and rescue me”. Dehydration! But just relax, think, drink water, lots of it, cool down, stay calm I thought. I consumed almost all the water I had. It took 2 additional hours to go the final three miles but I made it. Challenge complete: it about killed me this time. I will go back in the fall or late winter and do this climb again. It was quite a boulder scramble of over 1/3 mile, and I know I can do this one without a problem if it just hadn’t been so blessed hot.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”Lao Tzu