As the elevation gets higher, the woods become moist and rich again. In the diverse forest of deciduous hardwoods, we noticed occasional plants of the native flame azalea, R. calendulaceum, blooming sporadically under the canopy. When I saw these plants on my first trip to Gregory, I can remember muttering to myself, "I can't believe I am going through such agony just to see another orange azalea." On my second trip, though, I was exuberant because I knew if azaleas were still in bloom at this level, the top of the mountain should be in peak condition.
Eventually, the trail forks, one direction joining up with the Appalachian Trail, and the path to the right leading to the bald, about 0.7 miles away. Since I jog around the block in my neighborhood every morning, a distance less than a mile doesn't seem very far. But at elevations over 4500 feet and facing another steep 400-foot rise to the bald, it is the final insult to a tired and weary hiker. On my first trip, I can remember thinking, "The story of rare azaleas on Gregory is probably a hoax. It's all a joke, something on the order of snipe hunts we had for first time campers in the Boy Scouts." On my second trip, though, I was could barely contain my enthusiasm. I kept assuring Frank Pelurie that we were going to hit the season at peak bloom. Although Frank had missed the trip to Gregory in 1995, he had been to the top with George in the fall of 1996 to collect a few seedpods. However he had never seen the place in bloom.
Finally, the trail levels out and opens into the grassy bald. Immediately the pain disappears as we are overcome with the beauty and fragrance of the azaleas. We had indeed hit at peak season, perhaps a week later than what we had seen before. Some of the earliest azaleas were a bit past, but there were new things in bloom we had not seen before.