September 20, 2015
The Middle Prong Wilderness is not a place to find summit vistas for miles, bustling crowds and easy to navigate trails. It is a place for moss covered rocks, gorgeous streams, and trees beyond imagination. It is a place to challenge your sense of direction. Most of all it is a place of supreme solitude and beauty.
Gracie and I parked at Haywood Gap on the BRP. The plan was to hike 1.9 miles east on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST), north on Buckeye Gap Trail for 3.1 miles and return south to the car on Haywood Gap Trail for 4.7 miles.
The MST is very well groomed and fairly level. The trees covered the sunshine creating a canopy of green and yellow shining towards the forest floor. Small springs create a rich collection of ferns and grass.
Without the aid of signs or blazes, it was tough to find the Buckeye Gap Trail. After 1.9 miles the trail bifurcates. When we came to the split, both trails looked equal. I broke out the compass and map and studied it for a while. I took the trail that went north and hoped it was Buckeye Gap. The trail opens up briefly giving a great glimpse back to the BRP and Wolf Bald. Soon the trail descended hard to the west, and I knew that this was right way. It was a steep grade and I nearly lost my footing several times. We came to a large open area at the Middle Prong River and attempted to cross at several places, but I could not for the life of me find the Haywood Gap Trail. After getting my feet wet, and Gracie getting soaked, we backtracked a little, and again with my compass, found what I thought was the Haywood Gap Trail. For the next two (2) miles I kept the compass out until I was sure this was the correct way.
The trail itself is filled with stream crossings, ferns, grass fields under trees, and tough uphill climbs. Both Gracie and I were tired, but happy to find the car again.
I am finding that exploring the wilderness with a map and compass and finding your way back to your car is almost as rewarding as those gorgeous mountain summits.
Total mileage is 9.7 miles.