Sunday, December 12, 2010

Deep In The Heart Of Wilson Creek

MST – Day 30 – 9-15-10 – Highway 181 to Forest Road 464 – 14.3 Miles

Time to get back on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail with Danny. Our Linville Gorge plans were thwarted back in June and for the time being we chose to skip that section as we revised our strategy. Little sister to Linville Gorge, very scenic and nearly deserted in mid-September is the Wilson Creek area. My son and husband talk with misty eyes about Boy Scout expeditions to Wilson Creek, waterfalls, swimming holes, grilling steaks that they have backpacked in. I was finally going to see it!

Danny and I met at Mortimer Campground as our base camp for hiking in Wilson Creek, a nice little spot with hot showers and flush toilets and a couple of serious compounds set up with pop-up campers and tarps galore. How do you get to Mortimer Campground? Well, just take Brown Mountain Beach Road for a few miles after it turns to gravel and turn left at 90. This area of our great state of North Carolina has not seen pavement. Most all of our driving while based at Wilson Creek was kicking up dust and gravel.

Our first hike began from Highway 181, the main road from Morganton, NC up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. 181 is a sort of dividing line between Linville Gorge and Wilson Creek. And believe it or not, we are still in Pisgah National Forest. National Geographic Map #779 for Linville Gorge/Mount Mitchell is essential for hiking this area. Some trails have names per the map and there is intermittent signage. As always, the white dot blazes were a lifeline for us, even on fallen trees.

An amazing view of Grandfather Mountain - we will continue to spy on the old man for the next 150 miles

 Bowman's root

Pink turtleheads

 Cardinal flower

Wilson Creek is a wilderness area and camping is allowed. Scot Ward’s book points out established campsites – they are numerous and well- situated. The key feature of this neck of the woods is water, water and water. Ironically, we never hiked along Wilson Creek itself, but we became intimately acquainted with Upper Creek, Raider Camp Creek and Harper Creek. Scot also notes many fords, and when Scot says “ford” he means wet feet. We decided to skip carrying water shoes and go all in – the day was very hot and the water would be refreshing. Because of the relatively dry conditions I was able to rock hop more than a few but four of them got the better of me. One was up to the hem of my hiking shorts and even higher on Danny.

Do you see the gator
lurking at the surface?

One of many pools along the way

Today was an easy hike for the most part as the trail switched between easy track, deep trenches and old roads. We made one small mistake and kept straight but soon backtracked to a left turn, where the trail changed character, becoming very narrow and steep – more interesting but more treacherous – or is it more interesting BECAUSE it’s more treacherous?

We ended the day at Forest Road 464, yet another gravel road.


Old railroad tracks from logging days

Busy beavers create dams along Harper Creek

 Yellow jacket nests were everywhere along the trail

What a hidden treasure - an unnamed waterfall on Harper Creek.

Wilson Creek exceeded my expectations, maybe because I love hiking along creeks, maybe because the skies were blue and the sourwoods were changing to red, maybe because we were still catching some late bloomers – or maybe I was just happy to be back in on home turf. There is no place like the North Carolina mountains.

Read Danny's story about the day here.  

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.~ Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sea Caves

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Trip – 9/4/10 - Day 8 – Lakeshore Trail at Meyers Beach - 10 miles 

The last day of this big adventure at Lake Superior. First stop: Gruenke’s for breakfast! A different table, totally new view of the restaurant’s atmosphere, fantastic veggie omelets and fluffy pancakes. Now we were fortified for a trip to the Apostle Islands Visitor Center.

We were curious about the sea caves that we had missed on our kayak day. At the VC we saw an excellent slide show of the sea caves visible from the Lakeshore hiking trail at Meyers Beach – decision made! The rangers described the hike as muddy (maybe for normal people but not for us) and the turnaround at about three miles (again, for normal people but not for us – we stretched the six-mile out-and-back hike to ten miles).

The Apostle Islands are an archipelago, an island chain, of 21 islands. The steep sandstone walls of the mainland fronting on Lake Superior along Meyers Beach and on some of the islands can rise over 50 feet above the lake. Sea caves are carved from the sandstone by the relentless wind and waves and ice. Formations called windows and arches are also formed on sandstone that juts out into the lake. Sea stacks occur when the sandstone rock erodes between closely spaced joints. Click here for more info and great photos of sea caves.

The Lakeshore trail undulates around curves, at times jutting out into the lake to look back at the caves, at other times skirting the edge of the cliffs:

Sea caves (photo by Jeff)

Me on the edge of a cliff

Neil on top of an arch

A window

Wonder how that tree is hanging on?

Mike on top of a cave - would have been awesome to paddle in and out of them

Sea caves

Eventually the trail swung away from the shoreline (turnaround time for the normals) and we followed the trail looking for its end point on our map, near a backcountry campsite… or is it a beach? Or both? At this beach we took a lunch break and then some of us turned back while some looked for the connection between the beach and the alleged backcountry site.

 By the time we regrouped back at the cars the day was fading and we went back to Bayfield in search of our last meal. This being Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, a few thousand other tourists were also hungry so we had some wait time before we pulled up chairs to our table at Maggie’s. Our server was an older gal who needed a night off, but otherwise Maggie’s was lots of fun, especially if you like flamingos everywhere. Great food, a beverage or two, and then it was time to retreat to our luxurious cabins and cram stuff into duffel bags for the flight home.

Our North Shore/Isle Royale/Apostle Islands trip was a unique adventure that just gets better with the telling. I am so very fortunate to have the time, money, health, energy, friends and understanding spouse combo that makes it possible for me to enjoy these wonderful national treasures.

How to shake the let-down from a fabulous trip? Get back on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail!

 “Take nothing for granted. Not one blessed, cool mountain day or one hellish, desert day or one sweaty, stinky, hiking companion. It is all a gift.” ~ Cindy Ross, Journey on the Crest, 1987