December 12, 2019
Celo, Gibbs, Winter Star, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Craig, Mitchell, Hallback, Gibbes, Blackstock, Craggy Dome
I scramble to silence my blaring cell phone as quickly as possible. It’s 4:30 in the morning and I can tell it’s below freezing by the temperature of my nose, the only exposed body part peaking out from under a nest of blankets. I try to gather my outer layers as quietly as possible and slide into the front seat, but the guardian of the van has already sensed my movement. Navia uncoils from below Will’s feet with a yawn and a stretch, tail wagging and brown eyes asking where I am going and if she is coming too.
This hike is too long and too cold for the pup, besides, she has a long day ahead of her at the Bald with Dad. I leave the warmth of my little van and little family and begin the five mile climb up to Celo, not wanting to leave them, but knowing they’ll be waiting for me when I finish. I haven’t hiked this route since February, but the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for miles, so I am getting creative.
I make my way down the Black Mountain Crest Trail, over Mount Mitchell and out of the State Park, high above the eerily silent Blue Ridge Parkway on the Mountains to Sea trail. The sun sets before I reach my last peak of the day, Craggy Dome. I head up this short unmaintained trail under the icy light of a newly risen full moon.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sight of the warm lights of my van parked at a trailhead waiting for me. My whole world is behind that van door, and just as freezing rain begins to fall I slide it open to a blast of warm air, twinkling lights, and sloppy puppy kisses.
There is joy in freezing van nights, joy in leaving, in the difficulty in between. But nothing compares to the joy of coming home.