Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cold Mountain

Shining Rock Wilderness - 6/6/09 - Art Loeb Trail/Cold Mountain Trail/Art Loeb Trail/Ivestor Gap Trail – 18.2 Miles

My hiking group in Charlotte, the Carolina Berg Wanderers, posted a hike to Cold Mountain and I eagerly signed myself up. Have you all read the book or at least seen the movie? Cold Mountain has a mythic appeal here in the Carolinas. It is in the Shining Rock Wilderness section of the Pisgah Ranger District, a place known for its extensive grassy balds and unmarked trails. One of my favorite webcams is mounted on top of Mt. Pisgah and looks at Cold Mountain – I check it out on days when I’m stuck here in the flatlands and want to daydream.

There are a couple of approaches to Cold Mountain. In the words of Tina Turner, we could take it “easy” or we could take it “rough.” What do the Bergs do? Rough, baby! The hike was billed as strenuous, fast-paced, warning, warning, warning. Jeff, the Pisgah guru, was the hike leader and I’d hiked with him quite a bit in the Smokies, so I knew that at least he wouldn’t leave me for dead. Seriously, I didn’t think I would have any trouble…but think again…

The trailhead is about a 3-hour drive, at the Black Balsam Parking area off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near MP 420. What an exhilerating feeling to be on the Parkway again and heading toward a hiking trail! The sky was a brilliant blue with some puffy white clouds and the parking lot was…kinda full. Looks like there will be many people wandering in the wilderness today.

 I believe there were nine people in our hiking group. I have trouble verifying this because we did not stay together for very long. We walked back down the road a quarter –mile and turned left to pick up the Art Loeb Trail which led us quickly up on top of the balds. Now, these are not the Smokies type balds where you can see trees on all sides of a field. The grass covered peak after peak and we could see the Art Loeb stretching up and over the rolling mountaintops. Walking over the balds doesn’t even feel like hiking – it feels like a lovely jaunt in Ireland.

I love this photo of Jeff on top of one of the numerous rock out- croppings. I call it his “Super Hero” poster.

As I said, part of the attraction of this hike was Cold Mountain (which happens to be part of the SB6K challenge that I am still not officially hiking) but the hike also summited three other SB6K peaks: Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and Grassy Cove Top.

After Grassy Cove Top we passed through Flower Gap and topped Flower Knob. I think this is where the jackrabbits of the group took off and we did not see them again until we were atop Cold Mountain.

Trails in wilderness areas are not maintained like those in national parks and signage is minimal. At one particular intersection you really need a compass or a knowledgeable hiking buddy to determine which way to continue. Jeff showed us a clue: someone had marked this small white rock to continue on the Art Loeb. But I wouldn’t have even seen the rock on the ground if he hadn’t pointed it out!

After Shining Rock Gap (we came close but did not summit the real Shining Rock – saving some fun for another day) we were into the woods again and began climbing Stairs Mountain. Notice I did not say “Down” Stairs Mountain…The going got tough here and I seemed to be slower than I remember from the Smokies days. Is it possible to get soft so quickly?

Shining Rock Ledge gave a short respite and the occasional nice view – and then we were negotiating the Narrows. The footing was rocky and there was a little scrambling going on. Still, we managed to spot some wildflowers along this section, including pink ladyslippers and a glorious stand of yellow ladyslippers.

 Finally we reached Deep Gap and the intersection with the “easy” route to Cold Mountain (in this case “easier” just means shorter.) The fast half of the group did not wait for us here, which frustrated me and made me feel that I needed to rush to catch them. I had this feeling for most of the day and only partially convinced myself that I did not need to feel a push and it was their business how fast or slow they wanted to move. Still, a little advance communication and agreement would have been helpful. I just kept muttering to myself, “You’ve got the car keys in your pocket.”

The climb up Cold Mountain was steep and vegetation was overtaking the trail in many places. Often we could not see our feet and hoped that we were not stepping off into the wild blue yonder – or on a wild creature. (FYI for wilderness first aid people, at some point Carolyn suffered a scrape and she stopped the bleeding with a leaf.)

We met perhaps a dozen hikers on this mile-and-a-half section and spotted three nice primitive campsites. Near the summit we met the rest of our group…heading back down! But they were looking for a good resting spot and we would meet them after we tagged the top and took photos.

And here is the view from our lunch break. You can trace the ridge that we walked along all the way out to the horizon. I was so proud to achieve this goal and gazing out on it was awesome.

But we have to backtrack now? Yikes! The steepness going back down Cold Mountain was a knee-breaker and I was getting concerned that I was so slow. Of course the jackrabbits were long gone. Most shocking was the climb back up the Narrows – did someone crank up the lungbuster dial? I just didn’t remember this part being so strenuous. I was determined not to be last in line because I was a bit afraid to be left behind and I was unsure of the intersections, plus we were going to steer right at some point and pick up the Ivestor Gap Trail and I didn’t know where. Note to self: You are not in the Smokies anymore. Bring your own map and understand it before you start!

Jeff is a good friend, and although he could have hiked up front with the big dogs, he stayed near the back of the pack with us and we pretended to identify flowers as I frequently paused to gasp for air. I had my first sighting of a jack-in-the-pulpit. They are rather tiny and greenish and blend in very well, so I was tickled to find them.

The Ivestor Gap Trail is a road bed, very little grade, and although it was not as sexy as walking over the balds, I was glad to follow it the rest of the way. I was a whipped puppy when I finally got my boots off and had mixed emotions. I was happy to have summitted four SB6K peaks (not that I’m counting) but I was discouraged that I felt so beat up after an 18-mile hike. I guess it wasn’t so bad when you consider that we did it in about 9 hours…

 We all stopped for a late dinner and then said our goodbyes in the parking lot. I told the jackrabbits that I was sorry about not getting to hike with them and that I would probably never see them on a trail. Although I said it with a laugh, I was making mental notes about future hikes.

From there I was not going back to Charlotte – no, I had another hike planned for the next morning! I drove to Danny and Lenny Bernstein’s house in Asheville and rang their doorbell at about 10:00 p.m. (yes, they were expecting me). They took one look at me and said, “See you in the morning,” and I headed for my room-away-from-home. But first Lenny said something like, “How about those Narrows, huh? You’re not in the Smokies anymore!”

Somehow that remark finally validated how difficult the day had been – it wasn’t just me going soft, it was a dadgum strenuous hike! I slept like a ton of bricks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon:
Great memories of you coming in and talking about Cold Mountain the hard way. Most people think that going from the Daniel Boone Scout Camp is tough enough.
I remember that we had a great and easy hike the next day, aat Carolina Mountain Club pace.
I finally have commenting capabilities on my blog, so do comment.
We're in Roanoke,at the start of a road trip to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy biennial meeting in Vermont.