If I plan a hike on the day I am to return to the mountain, I either make sure it's short in length, or at least minimal in its elevation change. The uppermost five mile stretch of the Thomas Divide Trail starting from Newfound Gap Road seemed like a good fit. Along the way I would pass through the junctions with Kanati Fork and Newton Bald Trails of hikes prior, sort of like connecting the dots on a map. It had its share of ups and downs, but nothing that would cause me to break a sweat. Plus my research told me that the ridges were dotted with occasional stands of flame azalea that bloomed in early June. What great timing for me. Every so often there were azaleas in varying shades, from the reddest oranges to the whitest yellows. Perhaps a little teaser for next week's display at Gregory Bald.
The trail follows the ridge crest so the constant breeze coming up from the valley was refreshing, plus it kept the flies away. Many of the ridges, now with forest canopies, still have grassy floors, remnants of the old balds that used to exist here. Now the divide is completely covered, and there were no views to be had with everything leafed out. There were some neat surprises at several points in the hike. I came across a lone pink lady's slipper as well as several grand clusters of wild columbine in full bloom. The latter were even more impressive than what I had seen growing along roadsides or at White Oak Sink.
When I reached my turnaround at the junction with Newton Bald, I found a few yellow lousewort still blooming, but many of them had faded since my last visit. The trek back to Newfound Gap Road was obviously repetitive, but pleasant. As soon as I got back to my vehicle, shut the door, and started the engine, a torrential down pour of rain struck. Talk about timing, and I didn't even pack my rain gear for that morning's hike.
Thus concludes the hikes of early June. We all know what's coming next. Conversation among hikers is that the crazy spring weather has done a number on the blooming progression of wildflowers, with the rhododendron and flame azalea peaking early in places. Guess we'll have to see what happens in a week.