Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cascades and Infinity Pools

MST – Day 31 – 9/16/10 – Forest Road 464 to Beacon Heights - 10 Miles

It’s dark-thirty a.m. as we sneak out of Mortimer Campground – back to Forest Road 464 to start our second day in Wilson Creek. Danny has hiked some of this section before and it’s part of a loop hike from her second book. I am pumped up because the weather is clear and again we will be following the streams.

We carry photocopies of the relevant pages from Scot Ward’s book on every hike and follow along with his notes. In Wilson Creek we tried but soon lost track of each campsite and stream crossing, although if we were backpacking we would pay more attention to these.

The first half of the hike is spectacular, discovering waterfalls and swimming holes. First is Hunt-Fish Falls, a little over a mile in, and the easy access is confirmed by an old lawn chair left for our lounging pleasure. Personally I’d rather sit on the rocks.
I am always fascinated by ferns growing on the tops of rocks.

The trail hugs Lost Cove Creek, then turns left to follow Gragg Prong. We watched closely for Scot’s instruction of a “side trail to waterfall on left (worth it!)” and marveled at this unnamed cascade. Imagine the roar of the water flowing past my boots…

…and on down the rocky gorge.

For better or for worse, there are established campsites all along the trail. Better: fire rings. Worse: trash in the fire rings. The longest walk to any of these sites is 2.5 miles from access roads so you can haul just about anything in. Danny and I debate blaming the locals for not taking care of their home turf. Is it a fair assumption that the local folks are the abusers? Whoever the culprits are, seeing the trash at site after site makes me think twice about camping in this area on a weekend unless I’m looking for a party.

A little Zen at one of the pools.

The third big surprise water feature was actually several “infinity pools” flowing into each other – pure heaven on a scorching hot day. The kids can have their own pool with the grown-ups nearby.

After hopping little creeks a few more times we crossed Gragg Prong on a very nice bridge and stepped onto Forest Road 981 at a tangled intersection of gravel roads. A scratch of the head and then the appearance of a white blaze put us onto Forest Road 192 for a three-mile uphill climb. Danny enjoyed the road walk because we could walk side by side and chat more – and we did make good time on this section – but I still prefer a trail to even a dirt road. One bright spot was a small cascade that we named “Sharon Danny Falls.” You can name a star after a person, so why not a waterfall out in the wilderness?

At Old House Gap we took a sharp left off the forest road and began a steep straight uphill climb. Instead of a nice woods trail, though, I had the feeling of walking up a narrow cut for a power line (but no wires in sight). Oh, well, at least the sourwoods were turning red, broadcasting that fall was nearly here.

Back into the woods, the trail twisted and turned ever upward toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. As we got close to Beacon Heights, I heard a very loud snuffing noise to my left. What was that? I stopped, looking over my shoulder to see that Danny had stopped too (at first she thought I was just blowing my nose). I heard it four more times but couldn’t catch a glimpse of the animal. I concluded that it was probably a 15-foot, 500-pound black bear guarding 8 cubs and that we had narrowly escaped certain dismemberment and/or death…or it could have been a really hefty squirrel

Hikers at rest

Many varieties of goldenrod are everywhere

A break in the trees - this looks like Hawaii to me...never been to Hawaii...

A scant mile from the Beacon Heights overlook, the side trail appeared to the parking area where our car patiently waited. That always-long drive home convinced us to skip the diversion to the overlook and we opted to call it a day. Two nights and two days in the wilds of Wilson Creek were a highlight of my MST adventures so far...and I was ready to go home.

Read Danny's story of our day here.

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree. ~Emily Bronte

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