Who loves you, baby? Death Prong, Part Four

3 02 2011

Death Prong, Part Four


…so we hike, and we hike and we hike. It isn’t all bad – at least we don’t have our packs. We have fishing “chest packs” with some fly boxes and tippet spools, one small bag of what’s left of some GORP, and a magnesium fire-starter tool. And one space blanket that could not have been made for use in space, nor to cover just one space since it promptly split in two when Milliam tried to use it.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

We’re deep into the side of the mountain now, one switch-back after another. It’s longer this way, but a long time ago someone figured out that winding a trail up a steep slope going left-right-left-right was less likely to kill you in the first ten minutes of the climb. So we switchback, again and again. It’s really dark. We stop at a fork in the trail. Those guys that pointed us up this trail didn’t tell us which fork to take and although we’d like to put Yogi Berra’s wisdom to use, we find that even in the real world it does us no good. So we guess left, and proceed up the sloped trail, dust flying, pine needles kicked, to the next switchback.

An hour goes by, maybe an hour and a half. We stop to rest, standing in the trail and I hear something. It’s down below us. As the trail winds up and over smaller side-ridges along this mountainside, you have a drop off to the left or to the right at all times. This “sound” was coming from the drop-off. We walked a few more yards and stopped again. We heard it stop. When we were walking, we couldn’t hear it but each time we stopped abruptly to “test” the thing that was following us, we could hear it stop too. Something was paralleling us up the mountain. Was it a bear? A deer? Bigfoot? I was hoping it wasn’t bigfoot, because I was in no shape to try and jump high enough to poke him in the eye. I pointed my little single-LED light hopelessly into the dark black woods. I almost giggled, but I was feeling way too bad by then to do that. I must have giggled in my head a bit. That little light. Those deep, dark woods. It’s funny now, sure.

A few dozen yards later whatever it was left us. Back to the switchbacks. Up, up, up, up….a small saddle at one point where the ground was flat and we thought about stopping. But we heard a car along the parkway just seconds before reaching the saddle and decided to push oh.

In what seemed like a couple more hours ( although it was only another 30-45 minutes I’m sure) we saw headlights. We saw a car on the Parkway. Thank GOD! It was then that I caught a sort of “second wind” and gained an ever so slight bounce in my step. It was short-lived though as we soon realized that the trail we were on was going away from, and then parallel to the Parkway. How far was it until this thing crossed the parkway? Another mile – or five miles? The woods were thick here, the terrain not being as steep. There was no way we were going to bushwhack our way through all that laurel and dog hobble in the middle of the night. Snakes, bears, who knows what else could very realistically be in there somewhere. Maybe even bigfoot for all we knew. No, we would stick to the trail and stick it out. We’d come this far. We could make it to the Parkway.

And so we did. We popped out into what I can only describe as a desolate, star-filled stretch of some of the highest roads in North Carolina. Not a car in sight. Not in the parking lot and not on the road. No matter. We’d just wait for one and flag them down.

The first car wasn’t a car. It was a van. A white van. I stood in the road with my little LED light and the van pulled to a halt. It was 2:30 am. The fellow driving it looked worse than we did.

“Can you give us a ride – up the road, about two miles to the parking area for (we’ll call it) Snapfinger Fields?” I asked the less than respectable looking driver.

” no.”

” No? ” I asked staring at him and his van, the inside covered in some 70’s velvet red shag carpet. ” No?” I asked again.

“No. Maybe the Ranger at that next parking area can help you.”

He drove off.

Now, the thing is folks….at nearly 3 am on the Blue Ridge Parkway there’s not going to be a “ranger” at the next anything. Most of the LEO’s that would patrol up there are at home asleep. The chances that this guy was telling us the truth was slim indeed. I didn’t trust him and I told Milliam, who was fiddling with that stupid space blanket that maybe we were better off not getting a ride from him.

The next car came along and pulled to a stop. It was an older model “family car.” Bronze or brown, it was hard to tell in the pitch black night. It was full of young men, probably 6 or 7 of them, and not one of them was wearing a shirt. What that means I still to this day don’t know and I don’t want to know. I told them we’d walk. “Nevermind, guys. Thanks anyway.” They hit the first curve going away from us at “ludicrous speed!” and I was once again glad we were going to be forced to walk.

We walked for maybe a mile and a half. Owl distance, mind you. It was probably only a half mile. I stepped with heavy wading boot feet along the Parkway, alternating my view from the stars above to the inside of my eyelids. Every now and then I’d look at the road to make sure I wasn’t walking off the side of the cliff. Step, step, step…look at stars….step, step, step…look at feet….step, step, step look at starts, step, step, step look at SNAKE!

I jumped three feet up and two back. It was the largest rattler I’d ever seen in the Blue Ridge. I’d estimate it’s length to be nearly 7 feet. I’d almost stepped right on top of it. I was suddenly VERY awake. Luckily, the snake was missing a couple of things. Namely, it’s tail and it’s head. Cars along the Parkway had done their damage earlier that evening and it was nothing but the trunk of the beast. I got my heart back under control and checked my shorts. All ok. We hiked on…up and down and around the paved curves of the BRP. Until suddenly….around 4:30am …I could hike no more. I told Milliam I was done. That I couldn’t walk anymore. I didn’t know why, but later it seemed so obvious. My muscles, lacking water and electrolytes and probably some other stuff they need… had given up.


Milliam at the beginning of the two day trip...

We “made camp” by lighting a small fire in the woods, far enough away from the road so that if we fell asleep we wouldn’t be run over. We got a grand total of maybe an hour’s worth of sleep in the next three. When the sun broke, I couldn’t walk more than 50 feet before I was done again. Milliam walked the last 1/2 mile back to the car and came and got me. I told you, he’s braver and stronger and …well, he’s in much better shape than I am too. He’s pretty much everything I wish I was as far as the outdoors go. I’m just better looking.

So, we parked the car and got a little something to drink. And then…well, and then friends…we hiked the mile into the valley where our tents were set up from two nights before. We’d spent one night around the campfire and sleeping in comfort and one night hiking with bigfeets and being turned down by a scraggly guy in a van. A guy who just happened to look alot like that killer they caught in GA just a couple of months after our trip. He’s killed again, this time on a mountain not far from my home called Blood Mountain. The poor girl was only a kid.


Base camp. We got one night there at least. I guess that was something.

After sleeping restlessly for an hour or so we…come on…you can guess what we had to do right? That’s right. We had to pack up our 40 pound packs and hike BACK out of the valley we were camped in…back to the car for the long drive home. On the way home I made Milliam stop and buy me something to drink at every single place that sold something to drink. We must have gone into 4 places and hit 5 or 6 drive-thru windows. I still didn’t have much of a clue what was wrong with me – I just knew I was really thirsty still.


Native Southern App. Brookie...say "ahhhh"

I missed two or three days of work that week. I couldn’t get my legs to work right and I couldn’t stop drinking anything I could get my hands on. One thing for sure though…I’ll never, ever forget that first trip to Death Prong.

What? Oh yes. Milliam talked me into going back the next year and going upstream. But perhaps another time…

The View South from the Parkway near our exit...





7 responses

3 02 2011

Yep, I’d say you got yourself into quite the furball down in there. Makes my trips seem rather mundane. 🙂

3 02 2011
The River Damsel

Wow…that was quite the outdoor experience, to say the least…ugh, SNAKES??? You should have had Jay with you…he likes them. Maybe you and Milliam need to find new territory next time. I mean, how could you top this?

3 02 2011
Owl Jones

Oh RD, I’m hoping I never top this one. 🙂 LOL That’s about as much “adventure” as I want. Like you, I’ll take my adventure in every riffle, from now on. 😉

3 02 2011

Yeah, poor Mr. Timber Rattler. Good thing you didn’t get in the van. If that guy was the serial killer he probably thought two adult males might be a bit difficult for him to handle… and the car full of young shirtless males… can we say, high on something?
I hope you’ve since invested in a Camelbak or some other way to tote a bunch of water with you. I forget about hydration in our part of the world sometimes too… I think I’ve really only worn a Camelbak in the desert. I think I would have taken my chances with the giardia and drank from a stream, but it’s probably good that you didn’t. Glad you survived… I enjoyed your adventure story.

3 02 2011
Owl Jones

Jay – shortly after that I got a purifier. And a safety whistle.

4 02 2011

Whew! Glad to hear you didn’t die on that trip, We’d miss you at the rendezvous!

4 02 2011
Owl Jones

HAHA! Howard. You nut. 🙂

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