It was a rather calm morning deep in the Pisgah National Forest. The anxious noise of the city was far from recollection, with only the rushing sounds of a nearby creek bubbling in our ears. Filled with excitement, I took a deep breath and inhaled the cool, damp, mountain air; this is my stomping ground. My name is Shaylyn (Sarge) Sargent, and the Clawhammer hike today was my first hike of the 2019-2020 AmeriCorps service term with SAHC. I could barely keep my socks on. Due to the threat of storms, we had a small group — Israel and his friend Abby along with her black puppy, Prairie. Israel, a former SAHC hike leader, shared his experience with me as we set off down into the rhododendron depths of the forest cove.
The trail was long and strenuous with 1,500 ft in elevation gain and a total of 10 miles to conquer. However the three of us were not beginners. With Abby enjoying trail running as one of her favorite pass times and Israel and I being avid hikers, we swiftly climbed the mountain, exchanging observations and conversations along the way.
“This is Usnea, a genus of lichen also known as the Old Man’s Beard lichen,” I explained, pointing out some shaggy-looking lichens. “These lichens are known for their fuzzy, branch-like structure covering many trees in this region. Being sensitive to air pollution, Usnea will only grow in areas with very clean air — this makes it an excellent air quality indicator.”
“Have you heard of the folk tale behind Old Man’s Beard?” Israel asked.
Abby and I hadn’t heard of the story. Israel began to tell us the tale as we walked between Usnea-layered trees, of an old man who ran away into the woods from the devil after being granted immortality. Since the devil could never find him, the old man ran in the woods for hundreds of years, growing a long and bushy beard. So long, that his beard would always get caught on tree limbs, and clumps of it stuck to them. As time passed the old man withered away into dust, and all that remains are pieces of his beard sprinkled across the forest.
“Whew, that man’s been to a lot of places,” I laughed, looking up at Usnea hanging high above us in the trees.
Upon reaching the summit, the three of us plopped down on the rocky ledge, gazing out at Looking Glass Rock as we bathed in our sweat. Meanwhile, Prairie began chasing bugs around us, still full of energy. Here we remained for quite some time, soaking in the view and enjoying our well-earned lunch.
For the descent down we took an alternative route through the rich cove forest. The sound of thunder shifted our strolling pace to a slightly more aggressive speed-walk to the car. With our legs aching and our hearts racing, we settled our tired selves back into the car, listening to the soft pitter patter of rain on the way home. This is only the first of many adventures to come.
For Love of Beer & Mountains Partnership:
This hike is part of our partnership with Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC. Highland donates a portion of sales of seasonal releases during the “release party” at the Tasting Room in Asheville to support SAHC’s land and water conservation efforts, and we lead guided hikes for folks to experience and enjoy the natural landscapes for which these seasonal brews are named. Our Clawhammer partnership hike is always a spectacular, and rigorously challenging, hike – well-deserving of a Clawhammer Oktoberfest Lager treat at the end!