Backyard Adventures: In Search of Fat Man’s Misery
After returning from the AT and spending these past few weeks drinking my body weight in coffee as I’ve grazed over more trail content than ever before, I decided I needed a new adventure goal.
In My Backyard
I am blessed to live in the area I do. Western North Carolina has so much to offer, from the forests of Pisgah, Dupont, Cherokee, Nantahala, and Sumter as well as tons of state parks and iconic recreation areas. And they all are within a couple of hours.
Wow, OK. So there’s a lot of options, but what about closures??
Right, there are a number of recreation areas that were closed due to overcrowding. While this does limit my options, the most popular areas for visitors offer the least amount of true exploration since they were already heavily trafficked, so no skin off my back there. While areas that see a lot of traffic are nice for day hikes and bringing less outdoorsy friends into the hiking world, I can’t think of any near me that have true explorative potential.
So you still have a few places to go, but where?
Dubbed the “Yosemite of the East” by its lead explorers, this backwoods recreation area offers exposed granite rock faces, tons of waterfalls, and almost 100 miles of interconnected trails. That’s the one-line pitch, and it’s all truly amazing, but what I’m after is a little more remote—Fat Man’s Misery.
Hidden off the beaten path in Panthertown is a “boulder-choked slot canyon,” as its modern lead explorer Burt Kornegay describes it, that offers a way through thickets of briars and mountain laurels, but it requires crawling underneath the boulders—and crawling underneath collapsed rock piles in the backwoods in search of one specific boulder among nearly a hundred others with nothing more than a photo of the man himself under said boulder to go off of sounds like adventure to me.
I combed over some old interviews with Kornegay concerning Fat Man’s Misery, and the only thing of note I have been able to find is that photo of him there and a hint to which rock face the slot canyon is located off of. If that’s all I get then that’s all I get, and that’s OK because at least I have something.
Fast forward to last week when I made my first attempt at finding Kornegay’s hidden spot. I followed the trail to the aforementioned rock face and then dove off straight into the valley keeping the rock in my line of sight as a guide, and it really didn’t take long until I found what I would certainly describe as a “boulder-choked slot canyon.” That’s a win for me.
So you made it to the canyon. Is that it?
Not by a long shot.
From the descriptions I had read, I knew I would have to crawl through and around tons of mountain laurels, rhododendrons, dead wood, and thorns, but what I didn’t anticipate was the sheer number of potential boulders. I’m talking a hundred, easy. Massive school-bus or bigger boulders hidden underneath the treeline just waiting for explorers to throw on their headlamps and dig in. While this became significantly more challenging than my initial hoo-rahs had led me to believe, the impressive quantity of options meant I had tons of exploring ahead of me, and if you haven’t caught on yet exploring makes for a happy boy.
Now, I am a petite 5-foot, 9-inch fella weighing in at 150 pounds, and I would certainly describe some of my recent crawls as miserable, so my hat goes off to the anonymous Fat Man who made them as well because they certainly aren’t easy. Sometimes I am crawling upside down into granite holes, holding myself up by wedging my toes into root clusters, and hoping not to fall infinitely into Alice’s Wonderland (or is it the opposite?), and sometimes I am standing straight up and walking under precariously dangled roofs made of a small building’s worth of collapsed rock. From dry dirt patches that remind me why we’re currently under a burn ban to full army-crawling through underground rivers and staring at salamanders, every moment has brought something new and exciting, and to think it was in my backyard all along makes me feel like an amateur in my own home.
So far I have made three attempts to find Fat Man’s Misery, and even after searching through over 20 of these small caves, I have yet to find one that matches the photo. I guess I’ll have to keep getting after it.
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