Earth Day Yoga Hike to Standing Indian Mountain

What could be better?! The day was clear and blue. The temperature was crisp and refreshing. And a gusty wind carried the scent of Spring in the air.

Hiking to Standing Indian Mountain for an Earth Day 2015 Yoga class.Earth Day 2015!! We were so fortunate this year. The weather around the mountains of western North Carolina is rather unpredictable in April; 70 degrees one day and snowing the next, but this Earth Day was the best one in recent memory.

And what better way to celebrate it than having a Yoga class on top of Standing Indian Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest?

Eight of us intrepid Yogis strapped on our day packs, filled with water and snacks, and hiked the 2.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail from Deep Gap to Standing Indian Mountain. It was a crowded day on the trail, filled with AT section hikers and thru-hikers making their way northbound. I counted 23 in all!Backwoods AT sign for the blue blazed trail to the top of Standing Indian Mountain.

Imagine their surprise when they stepped off the short blue blaze trail and into the small opening on Standing Indian with a bunch of yogis striking poses…and OM’ing? But that’s another story.

It took just over an hour to reach the top of the mountain. We weren’t in a rush; we had all day. Two of our Yogi’s, Bill and Sharon, being past presidents of the Nantahala Hiking Club, regaled us with AT stories, trail history, and an ongoing seminar on spring wildflowers. Very informative!

Stopping along the AT for a rest and a brief history lesson.And, Jean, a member of the Franklin Bird Club, offered her keen ear to help identify the calls of all the birds we could hear, but as nature would have that day, couldn’t see.

All in all, it was an amazing Earth Day watching Mother Nature awaken and start to redecorate her woodland mantle, with spring wildflowers.

Having the theme of Earth Day, our Yoga class consisted mostly of partner Yoga poses. Everyone was invited to explore their partnership with Mother Earth as they learned Yoga poses that relied on another person. Each pose honoring and expressing gratitude for all the things on Earth we take for granted.Holding Virabhadrasana I, or Warrior One Pose, atop Standing Indian Mountain, Earth Day 2015.

We finished our Yoga class back to back with our partners in a seated meditation. As we quieted our minds and our hearts, I invited everyone to see if they could sync their breath with their partner. Once they had accomplished this, I invited them to sync their rhythmic breath with the rhythm of their other partner, Mother Earth, as we gently sat on her shoulders.

Something magical happened on top of Standing Indian. After about 5 minutes of meditation there was a pause – a pause in the howling wind, a pause in the song of the birds, a pause in the Earth. For about 15 seconds nothing moved, nothing was making a sound. It was the quietest moment I’ve ever experienced.

Learning to work as a partner in Uktanasana, or Chair Pose.You could feel the stillness. You could touch the stillness. In that one moment we were connected to each other, to the Earth, and to something bigger than any of us collectively.

The whole purpose of Yoga is to connect to this Oneness and, speaking for myself, I’ve never felt anything like this before. Was it the day? Was it the people? Was it our intention? Was it being on the proverbial mountain top?

Or, maybe it was just a coincidence.

Who knows?! But…it happened.

Enjoying the view from Standing Indian on Earth Day 2015.

Though a little chilly, the sky was clear, the sun was out, and the view was amazing on Earth Day 2015.

And none of us will soon forget this experience. That’s for sure! And all the way back we talked about making this an annual thing; The Earth Day Yoga Hike.

Maybe you can join us next year? Or, if Earth Day doesn’t work for you, I’d be happy to lead you and your group on a Yoga Hike to Standing Indian or any other mountain top in western North Carolina. Think about. And let me know. Namaste.

See ya on the trail!

Friends In High Places – Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob On The Bartram Trail

You really need to do this hike. Seriously!

OK! So it’s off the beaten path. I’ll give you that. But you won’t be disappointed. The views from Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob are worth it. I promise!

A gorgeous long-view of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.

View of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.

And, it’s one of the easiest hikes along the Bartram Trail (BT). This is a promise too.

Granted. I haven’t hiked the entire BT – yet – but this section is certainly nothing like the grueling section from Wallace Branch to Wayah Bald. That’s practically straight up hill for 11 miles.

Fortunately – and you’ll be happy to know this – you do most of your climbing in the car on your way to the trailhead for Whiterock Mountain. What a relief, right?

With A Little Help From My Friends

Amazing things happen when you have supportive friends.

I’m starting a new venture. It’s called Mountain Trails Yoga and it’s a fusion of two of my favorite things; the cardio workout of a vigorous hike and the strength, balance, and flexibility of yoga. And it’s a blast too.

Well, I mentioned this idea to some friends who just so happen to be board members of the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society and they immediately started suggesting great places for a yoga hike.

Signs indicating the beginning of Forest Service road 4522 to Jones Gap.

Entrance to Forest Service road 4522, leading to Jones Gap.

Doing Tree Pose on top of Whiterock Mountain.

A perfect spot for some hiking yoga!

One of their suggestions was the hike from Jones Gap (elev 4360) to Whiterock Mountain (elev 4480) on the BT. And it turned out to be a perfect place for a yoga hike – complete with open rocky balds and breathtaking views.

It’s the sort of mountain top you might imagine a yogi sitting cross-legged, practicing levitation.

So, anyway, we picked a day, invited more friends in high places – a couple who work for the National Park Service and another couple who are scientists at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory – and headed out.

On The Trail Again

Once you get to the trailhead and put on your pack, go north through the Forest Service gate and along the old service road. This will pass through a wildlife clearing which ends at the junction of the yellow blazed BT and the blue blazed trail to Jones Knob (elev 4622).

If you’ve got the time, take the short trail up to Jones Knob. You’ll get a great view of Whiterock Mountain and wonderful perspective of the whole hike.

An amazing view of Whiterock Mountain, looking from Jones Knob

Looking towards Whiterock Mountain from Jones Knob.

Taking in the view from Jones Knob.

Taking in the view from Jones Knob.

Beyond Jones Knob, the BT basically follows a gently undulating ridge line towards Whiterock Mountain. I’d classify this hike as easy to moderate and very family friendly. Just be mindful of your children and pets once you reach the open rock faces.

The trail winds through rhododendron tunnels and shady hardwood forests. Besides the occasional view between the trees, there are two points of interest between Jones Knob and Whiterock Mountain.

The first one is the graveyard. It’s not really a graveyard but it certainly gives the appearance of one. The graveyard is an open rock face, looking over the Tessentee Valley and toward Whiterock. Large flat boulders litter the rocky prominence, giving the impression of toppled tombstones. It’s a nice spot to rest, have a picnic, do some yoga or simply contemplate your life.

Happy hikers enjoying the views from the Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.

The Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.

The view of Whiterock Mountain from The Graveyard.

Whiterock Mountain as seen from The Graveyard.

A weathered old sign welcoming hikers to Whiterock Gap.

Whiterock Gap with directions to one of the two water sources.

The second point of interest is Whiterock Gap (elev 4120). There’s a well-marked water source – one of two on this section of trail – right below Whiterock Gap, which adds to its appeal as a comfortable campsite.

And this spot could come in handy for you. A lot of people will visit Whiterock for the spectacular mountain sunsets. So if you’d rather not do a “night hike” after the sun goes down you can always camp here instead and hike out in the morning.

Not long after Whiterock Gap you’ll come to the blue blazed junction for Whiterock Mountain (the BT continues on its way to Fishhawk Mountain). This short spur gives way to a rocky path that eventually opens up dramatically to the most amazing views in the southern Appalachians.

A sign indicating the short blue blazed trail to Whiterock Mountain.

Look for this sign and the blue blazes that lead to the Whiterock Mountain overlook.

A group of hikers sitting on Whiterock Mountain, enjoying the views.

Friends in high places – basking in the glorious views from Whiterock Mountain.

This is Whiterock!

You’ve made it! Sit and rest and bask in the sunshine. Take in the views of the Tessentee Valley below you and the southern Nantahala Mountains to your west. On a good day you can see Albert Mountain and maybe even Wayah Bald.

Saying you can see forever might sound like an exaggeration, but when you’re up here on Whiterock…you can almost believe it.

Don’t rush! Take your time and enjoy this magical place. And when you’re ready, simply retrace your steps to the trailhead at Jones Gap.

A young woman sitting on Whiterock Mountain.

Taking it all in on Whiterock Mountain.

What is it about sitting on top of a mountain that makes your spirit soar? Drop us a comment and let us know what it is for you.

See ya on the trail,

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 3.5 miles one way to Whiterock Mtn – plus an additional 0.3 mile to Jones Knob
Elevation change: 120 ft to Whiterock/262 ft to Jones Knob
Water sources: Streams
Trailhead: From Franklin, NC: drive 9.5 miles on 64/28 towards Highlands. Turn right on Gold Mine Rd. Travel 0.8 mile and then turn left on Dendy Orchard Rd. Go 2.6 miles and turn right on FR 4522 (Jones Gap Rd). Drive 2 more miles to the Jones Gap trailhead.


Get Your Asana On The Trail

Crane PoseI was tricked. I had no idea what I was in for. She said it was an exercise class. How was I supposed to know we were going to yoga?

I remember how shocked I was that day. Yoga was hard, sweaty and uncomfortable. There I was lying face down on a yoga mat, waiting for the end of class, thinking it shouldn’t have been so hard.

I mean, I’ve always been physically fit and active. I’ve worked out regularly for years and I’m proud of my level of fitness for a guy approaching fifty.

It was almost as if the yoga instructor that day knew every single weakness in my body. He knew exactly where I was inflexible. And he knew just how to throw me off balance. I didn’t stand a chance.

And it upset me!

I always thought yoga was for giiirrrls – and yes, you must draw this word out to get the full disdain I had for yoga. Real men didn’t do yoga. Real men worked out with weights, pumped iron and ran until their knees gave out. No pain, no gain, right?

Ha! That yoga class was an eye-opener. There was a definite shift in my thinking that day. It was a tough class, but I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me.

Halfway through that class, when I could have been thinking I was in the wrong place at theHamstring stretch wrong time, I actually woke up and realized I was approaching my fitness from the wrong perspective. It was time for a change. It was time to man up and give yoga a try.

And, you know, I’m so glad I did. What a change I’ve seen in my body and my fitness level. Big improvements and I’m not done yet. Nope, far from it. There’s still room for more.

Fortunately, in the past three years, my flexibility has greatly increased, especially in my hamstrings and low back. When I started yoga I could barely reach my knees in a forward bend. Seriously!

I’ve also noticed I’ve gotten significantly stronger throughout my body without the typical joint pain and strain I used to experience with weight lifting.

This is all well and good, but, honestly, and I didn’t see this coming when I started doing yoga regularly, I’ve experienced the biggest improvements in my hiking and backpacking activities.

Going up and down mountains is much easier on my knees than it used to be. My hips are stronger and more flexible, making my stride longer, faster and stronger. And my spine, from my neck to my low back, no longer feels compressed. Hiking is a pleasure again.

Bound Side Angle PoseYou should try yoga. Seriously! I’m sure you’ll get equally fantastic benefits – on and off the trail.

And don’t worry. I wouldn’t trick you.

After all, when I stop and think about it now, I wasn’t tricked either. I truly believe I was in the right place at the right time. You will be too when you go to a yoga class.

See ya’ on the trail


Eleven Yoga Benefits for Hikers – As I See It

Me, a yogi? Pft, no way! Far from it actually. A student, maybe. Yes, a student of yoga. I can live with that.

From where I stand in mountain pose, the more I learn about yoga the more I realize there’s…more to learn. I can’t imagine anyone ever “mastering” yoga. Every pose is never ending. Every pose can always go deeper.

Yoga’s great because it reminds me to breathe and let go, both physically and mentally.

It exposes my weaknesses, which is something most of us don’t like, but then turns them into strengths, which is something we all value and could benefit from.

And, for some odd reason, something I expect other yoga practitioners might understand, I’ve come to enjoy the physical challenges of yoga and actually have fun attempting some of the more difficult poses. I know – call me crazy.

But, honestly, yoga is the sanest thing I’ve ever done, especially as an avid hiker and backpacker.

Get this. I no longer have knee, hip and foot pain. No more tired shoulders or an achy back and neck. And no more holding patterns that limit my hiking ability.

Holding patterns, as my massage therapist calls them, are those tight, achy muscles we get from repetitive motions and postures, like sitting at the computer typing all day.

I’ve read enough trail journals to know a large number of hikers suffer greatly for their beloved hobby. But one doesn’t have to suffer – unless you’re into that sort of thing.

So, as I see it, here are the eleven benefits yoga provides to those of us who live on the trail.

  1. Strength: The isometric contractions from holding deep poses, combined with working all of your muscles through their full range of motion, creates incredible strength without amassing big, bulky muscles.
  2. Flexibility: Like strength, flexibility improves in increments. Taking your asanas, or yoga postures, to “the edge” and then letting go of any tension allows you to gradually stretch deeper without pain and discomfort.
  3. Balance: Being sure-footed on the trail can save your life. Yoga offers challenging balance poses you can practice in a safe and controlled environment with all the benefits spilling over to your trail activities.
  4. Better posture: Have you ever seen a hiker take off their pack and stand as though the weight of the pack was still causing them to lean. That weight can take its toll on your back, neck and shoulders. Yoga will counteract this pull, help you stand erect and prevent back and neck injuries.
  5. Endurance: Through yoga, your muscles will become accustomed to sustained contractions, greatly improving their ability to perform for long hours without fatigue.
  6. Fewer Injuries: Hiking long distances takes its toll on the body. Yoga, through proper conditioning and toning, will greatly decrease your chances of stress related injuries, keeping you on the trail longer and with more enjoyment.
  7. Improved Cardiovascular Health: Many yoga poses twist, bend, fold and invert your body, causing your heart to have to work harder to pump blood to these tissues. The result of his is a gentle, yet powerful strengthening of the heart and circulatory system.
  8. Greater Lung Capacity: Yoga encourages proper use of your breath, or Pranayama. Learning breath control will give you greater endurance and keep you from getting “winded” when climbing hills and mountains.
  9. Universal Practice: No matter where you are, yoga is unique in that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a studio or a gym, machines, weights or much paraphernalia at all. What you need is a soft surface and a willingness to practice. Some hikers even take their yoga mats with them on the trail.
  10. Inexpensive: As an activity goes, yoga is cheap. Sure you can invest in all sorts of props and clothing, but compared to backpacking and many other sports, yoga requires very little investment. Save your money for more gear.
  11. Instant Community: Yogis are literally everywhere. Finding a group to practice with is easier than you think. Even on the trail, it’s not uncommon to see someone go into downward-facing dog. The point is, yoga is an individual pursuit but you never have to practice alone – unless you want to.

I’m sure there’s more – much more – and I look forward to discovering them as I deepen my understanding of yoga and spend more time on the trail.

If you’re a hiker, I invite you to explore the world of yoga. Your body will repay you ten times over.

See ya’ on the trail