Dispatches from the Field: Trail Capitan’s Log

Trail Capitan’s Log

Capitan Matt McWilliams

Citico Creek Wilderness

This July the 21st, in the year of 2017, Midsummer’s night marks the departure of our trusty vessel, Pedro the van, west, towards the Citico Creek wilds. Little did we know that even before setting foot on wilderness soil, we would be encountering strange beasts. While journeying towards our docking area, along small dirt patch off the side of a long and winding road, we checked our navigation with a known friendly vessel passing by, a Forest Service truck. A truly magnificent carriage. Only once we stopped beside them and we cordially said hello, they informed us that they were not a part of trails, but were roaming timber beasts who ramble the mountainside in search of the perfect trees to consume. While the timber beasts were friendly enough, due to their beastly nature, we thought it best to let them be and go our separate ways lest their temperament change #LNT.

Alas, on this most delightfully long day, what eventually came to feel like the longest of the year, was only just beginning.

After loading vast quantities of food stuffs and axes and saws from Pedro the van onto our persons, we began our trek on foot on the South Fork of the Citico Creek Wilds. Co-Capitan and crew were listing heavily, every which way yet miraculously no one completely toppled over. Although, writhing through the jungle of fallen trees and dense brush clawing at our ankles and arms and our wills nearly left me capsized once or thrice. Yet onward we trekked towards our destination, a small flat respite from the steep Citico Creek Valley around Jeffrey Hell, which we shall work and call our home for some time now.

As the day stretched until evening, we walked. Yearning, evermore, to be released from the burden of our gear. 80 liters of lead, bearing down on our very soles. Yet my crew and I are no mere travelers, our souls were forged long ago in fires long past, in a time when trails weren’t yet tread, before downed logs, had to go. We are beasts ourselves, known far and wide this week as Asheville Trail Beasts SAWS™ and perhaps, it was best the USFS timber beasts let us be as well, for we are ancient beasts, beasts of the axe and of ye old crosscut saw.

As the horizon cleared, we came upon a mighty creek, the Citico, south fork, spanning nearly as far as my eyes could see. With heavy hearts and weary minds we forded the river and left behind one spectacularly beautiful campsite in search of ever greener pastures.

So, in strange unfamiliar country, we beasts rambled onward in search of what we just left behind, convinced, that our dreams would be fulfilled over the next tree we hobbled, or brush we scraped by, just beyond that next bend in the trail. There was however, no such relief! Nowhere to dock our pack and unfurl our tents. Beseeched by relentless walls of Rhododendron and steep unforgiving mountain slopes. In the depths of despair, we were encouraged by the final rays of Midsummer’s Eve as we trail beasts thrive on the first and last throes of light.

Now, our lil’ beastly bellies were churning with hunger and we started to climb and climb we did. Knees to our chest and face to the floor we crawled the steep slope for a good while but knew that tonight, our camp no longer lay ahead of us, but from whence we had just come.

And so, our Midsummer’s journey ends as we hiked back to where we first forded the mighty South Fork of the Citico. We pitched our camp and made our home packed into a tiny opening like a row of little sardines in one of them little cans. Huddled together for protection from whatever creature might come our way but mostly, because there was very little room. Very little room indeed. As I rest my weary head down in my small tent and catalogue the Asheville Trail Beasts journey today, I wonder what lies ahead of us out here in Citico? For I know, I will dream of that beautiful campsite that lies just a few minutes behind on this short, Midsummer night.