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Posts Tagged ‘NC Birds’

Max Patch.  It’s one of those places you learn about, either in backpacking magazines or from AT hikers who talk about how refreshing it is after miles of endless woods to emerge on such a high, windswept plateau where the sun shines and the grass seems to stretch like Kansas prairie.

After about two weeks of deliberation, my husband and I decide that we just can’t wait any longer before hitting the famous Max Patch.  After a three hour drive, we finally land in the parking lot at the base of the mountain’s grassy foot.  Grabbing our sticks and gear, we head up the trail on the north side of the loop that leads to the mountaintop.

The trail is peppered with tangerine-colored azaleas, and I’m delighted that our hike coincides with the annual bloom.

Above: flame azaleas on loop around Max Patch 

At the summit of Max Patch (which is named after the farmer who cleared the mountain for cattle grazing), we feel like we can see the entire world.  Lolling clouds play with the mountains below, casting shadows whimsically in and out of deep valleys.  Birds soar overhead, and I can see why birders enjoy visiting this area as it’s home to Canada Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Goldfinches, just to name a few.

Above: views from Max Patch

After some well-deserved gawking, Charles and I leave the loop and head south down the Appalachian Trail toward Brown Gap.

This is classic AT terrain—sylvan glades, decaying trillium, and a well-trodden footpath.  Along the way, we spot a turkey vulture as well as a coopers hawk flying low through the trees.  The presence of the birds makes the woods seem all the more untamed and my only disappointment is that they’re too quick for my camera.

Above: AT south toward Brown Gap

After about 2.5 miles, we begin what feels like a gradual decent down the mountain toward Brown Gap. (I’ll later learn that the ascent does not feel gradual, but more like a full-scale cardio workout.)  I’m glad I have my hiking stick as it helps me keep my footing as we traverse tree roots and packed leaf litter.  Charles and I are alone the entire time we follow the AT and we savor the solitude, especially since we’re on the most popular hiking trail in the east.

Once at Brown Gap, we linger only long enough to snap a picture of the campsite and to eat a snack of trail mix and salty jerky.

Above: campsite at Brown Gap

After finally making our way back to Max Patch, I’m relieved to see the sunshine on the grassy fields once more.  I tell myself the three hour drive was worth it.  The only downside is that we didn’t bring our overnight packs.  Somehow I feel jealous of all those lucky folks who get to sleep along the AT, under the night’s restless stars.

Hike it:  Want to experience Max Patch?  Here’s how to get there:

  • Head toward Hot Springs, turning south on 209 (there will be signs directing you toward Max Patch)
  • From there, turn right on Meadow Fork road
  • Turn right on Little Creek Road and eventually right on Max Patch road

Charles and I hiked south toward Brown Gap (3.5 miles from Max Patch, there’s a campsite at the gap), but hikers more commonly head north toward Roaring Fork and Lemon Gap.  If you’re down for a real hike, you can go all the way to Hot Springs.

There are numerous campsites in either direction and AT hikers commonly crowd the Roaring Fork shelter during the high season, so bring your tent just in case.  Since this is the AT, the trail is conspicuously marked, so it would be hard to get lost.  In terms of difficulty, the hardest part of this hike was coming back out of Brown gap.

From what I’ve heard, there is no camping on Max Patch as it’s extremely exposed.  As someone who shrivels at the thought of a lightning storm, I can’t say this is a bad idea.

For additional insights and information on Max Patch, please visit the following:

If you’re interesting in birding, you won’t be disappointed with what Max Patch has to offer.  Check out the following sight for detailed information on birding in the area: Wildlife South.

Entry by Lori Beth

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