Today, we just finished up our 5th expedition here at Freedom Mountain Academy (FMA).
It was a 6 day expedition in the Appalachian Mountains, near the state borders of Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, taking place shortly after the Winter Solstice, when the days are short, and the nights are long.
Our 1st day began with business as usual at FMA: Morning classes, breakfast, chores and room clean up. Then it was time for the final prep for expedition, and the inevitable question, “What have I forgotten to pack?!”
We loaded onto the bus, and after a short ride, we disembarked at Star Gap Road, shouldered our packs, and began the 5 ½ mile hike up and alongside scenic Gentry Creek. We passed over the bridges built by FMA students, including the 7th bridge which we built on our first expedition, and then up and over the beautiful twin Gentry Creek waterfalls. It was ideal weather throughout the day, and fairly easy hiking although tricky in places where ice had covered the bridges and creek crossings.
We turned right onto Albert Branch Trail which led to our campsite at Gilbert Plateau, a beautiful park like setting. All that was missing were park benches, sidewalks and concession stands. Water was abundant, as were level, relatively rock-free campsites, and firewood was close by.
We gathered at “bald knob,” so called because of the lack of top soil which trees need in order to take root. Only shrubs and stunted hawthorn grew there, but the view into the valleys below (one of which is where the school is located) was gorgeous. From this vantage point we were also able to see three different mountain ranges, two of which, (Holston and Iron Mountain) we have already hiked.
After two hours and 45 minutes of hiking, we reached the point where Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia converge: the Tri-State area, which was originally marked in a survey conducted by Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson.
We took group pictures and enjoyed our lunch and began the return trip back to camp, where Mother Nature, being the kind entity that she is, had given us a slight smattering of gropple (round white particles somewhere between snow and sleet) with promises of better things to come! We had a brief class, and the celebrated Pat S.’s birthday with singing and Snickers bars, then returned to our camps and went to bed.
We awoke to snow falling.
After breakfast, Mr. Mike left on an errand and we remained in camp, where we gathered wood, and fetched water and made other improvements. Upon Mr. Mike’s return, we had two hours of socializing and then headed to our own camps to make dinner and turn in.
We awoke to extremely cold temperatures, got our fires started quickly, made breakfast and readied for an 8:45 a.m. departure. We hiked down the trail, and turned to the North and hiked approximately another ½ mile to Gilbert + Camp, where we had camped before, way back on our first expedition. We got our fires going, gathered wood, and Mr. Mike taught a couple of classes, followed by further camp improvements, dinner and bed.
We woke up at 7:00 a.m. and departed camp at 9:00 a.m., following the trail up and out of the canyon, and along the logging road trail. After a hike of 2 ½ hours we made camp on the piney knob ridge logging road, where we had also been on our first expedition. After that, we had a restful day spent warming cold hands, and Mr. Mike taught classes, followed by dinner and bed.
We slept in until 8:00 a.m. and awoke to three inches of snow which had fallen overnight. By 9:00 a.m. the snow had turned into sleet followed by freezing rain. Snow we can handle; we brush it off. Sleet, we can handle; we wipe it off. But freezing rain is hard to handle, but we survived anyway!
After cleaning up camp, and making sure we left no trace of our camp sites, we began a short hike back down to Star Gap Road, where we were greeted by the wonderfully welcoming sight of our big yellow school bus. We boarded the bus for a short ride back to FMA, where we unpacked and reveled in hot showers followed by hot drinks.