Yellow Face & Blackrock Mountain – SB6K - 7/16/12 – 6 Miles
Like the folks aboard the S.S. Minnow, I started out for a three-hour tour – or in my case, a three-hour hike. After our family’s beach vacation I didn’t have any work scheduled for a few days, so I made a last-minute decision to further whittle down my SB6K list and hike to Yellow Face near Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. With the SB6K guidelines of a minimum five-mile hike, I needed to hike beyond Yellow Face and over to Blackrock Mountain. It’s not really on a trail map, but Jeff had given me all his information and it seemed like a simple enough venture, just a long drive there and back. After all, the mountains are where they are.
I made a miscal- culation and ended up driving a scenic route, adding 45 minutes to my morning. I was daydream- ing about checking out Davidson River Campground on the return drive and…well, anyway, I was running late. By the time I got to the BRP I was pushing it, zipping along and getting anxious. I had a time deadline to get back home, plus there was a forecast for afternoon thunderstorms and I did not want to be on top of a mountain for that. However, skies were slightly overcast, great conditions for photos, and I said aloud to myself, “This is a waste of a good drive on the Parkway because you are in a hurry to get to your hike.” I stopped for one good shot.
At Waterrock Knob Visitor Center I said hello to the rangers and told them my hike plan. Ranger Mike had done this hike and gave me some good advice: “When you see the purple/yellow blazes painted on big rocks, that is not Blackrock (your destination). Keep going another half hour to one large rock about 40 feet across.”
On trail about 11:20 a.m., it was very easy to follow, much better than the unmaintained trail that Jeff and I hiked from Waterrock Knob to Lynn Lowry and Plott Balsam Mountains last August. That was a nightmare hike that originally was intended to include Yellow Face but we opted for dinner instead.
Mountains still go up, and I had a steady half-mile climb to summit Yellow Face with some fun stuff along the way.
Turk’s cap lilies, as spectactular as rhododendrons
Puffy and wispy clouds floating down in the valley
The summit was open with a few trees and full of blackberry bushes as tall as me
Lots of ups and downs between Yellow Face and Blackrock Mountain, but I prefer that to long stretches of either one. Yellow/purple blazes (Western Carolina University colors) were sporadic but helpful in a couple of places. Several times the trail got very skinny, hugging the steep mountainside. Note: I am not a goat.
These markers were plentiful
More Turk’s cap lilies
Vegetation was quite high in some spots
Blue beads (fruit) of yellow bead lilies
Fungus on rocks looked like peeling vinyl
I passed the area of gigantic boulders that Ranger Mike had told me about and kept going. Soon thereafter I met a couple returning from Blackrock, said there would be some moderate rock scrambling (true, more short steep sections and lots of fun).
Finally at Blackrock, hot as blue blazes, but I sat on top of it to eat lunch. What a peaceful place. The hump directly above the rock, in the center of the photo, is Yellow Face. I would like very much to go back here in the fall. This is a great novice hike…but it sure is a long drive.
View west from Blackrock Mountain
Emerging cow parsnip bloom - I tried all day to get a good shot of this. Looks a bit like the monster plant in "Little Shop Of Horrors."
Butterfly dangling on Turk's cap lily
On the return lap I slipped on one steep section, landed flat out on my back, acquired a few more battle scars. I also met a young man and woman wearing forest service clothing, orange vests. The woman had what looked like a small folded laptop strapped to her chest, said they were doing some “geologic mapping.”
Who knew there would be so many people on this unmaintained trail on a Monday afternoon? Very close to the trailhead, I met a group of six hikers who said they were going to “Bear Rock.” I detected accents, not English as their first language. I raised a mental eyebrow that it was nearly 2:30 p.m. and they were beginning a six-mile hike with thunderstorms in the forecast, but I kept my mouth shut. I did ask if they had water and they said yes, but I sure didn’t see any, and no backpacks. I think I would be a terrible forest ranger because I would worry about everybody too much.
My hike took about 3 hours, not bad. Back at Waterrock Knob Visitor Center, I checked in with the rangers, used the restroom, then got into my car to head back home. Thus began the REAL adventures of the day.
My car key would not turn in the ignition. Wiggling, jiggling, twisting the steering wheel, nothing worked. There I was , high up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 150 miles from home on a Monday afternoon. The good news was that I wasn’t alone on some dirt back road. There were people around and maybe I could get some help.
Following are my notes just as I wrote them when I (finally) got home. Names have been changed to protect…well, you know…
I called my husband Jim, busy at work, he couldn’t problem-solve over the phone. I asked Ranger Mike to look at it: a head-scratcher for him, too, but at least he confirmed it wasn’t just my imagination or weak arms. Cell phone service was sketchy, better on one side of the parking lot than the other. I called AAA, explained my situation, got cut off. After several attempts, I hoped a tow truck was on the way. The rangers gave me their cell phone number as a callback in case mine didn’t work (battery getting low, of course). A traveler stopping at the visitor center (Bill) overheard my conversations with AAA, said he was a mechanic and would be happy to look at my problem. He worked on it for over 30 minutes and concluded that the ignition cylinder needed to be replaced.
I sat around on the curb like a vagrant waiting for the tow truck to arrive. I couldn’t wait in the car because (1) it was too hot and I couldn’t put the windows down and (2) I was afraid I wouldn’t get cell reception at my car. Talked off and on with Mike and the other ranger about different hikes in the area.
Watched people come and go. A late afternoon storm did come up, hard rain for a little bit, then hail, then it passed on and we watched it travel eastward – fascinating, really. Three motorcycle dudes stopped at the VC to sit out the storm.
Rangers offered to wait around with me, but I said I’d be fine. They closed up shop at 5 o’clock and left.
Three women with six kids pulled up before the storm, kids ran around the parking area, women were fascinated by the storm and aftermath, trying to take photos of lightning. They were there probably an hour. I finally struck up a conversation. They were from Biloxi, MS where Hurricane Katrina “actually happened.” One sis lives in Clyde, NC now. They come up several times a year to visit her and hang out at Maggie Valley. One sis said she has lost her New Orleans area accent but I silently disagreed.
Tow truck arrived at 5:30 p.m., Dave in charge. I rode with him back to Fletcher, NC (near Asheville) to the only Honda dealer – Jim had called around for the best possible place to get it fixed. It was a long ride at 25 mph going down the mountain. Dave liked me right away since I was nice to him about the long wait (2.5 hours) because I knew that it was a rural area and his is the only AAA towing service in the county. Anyway, in that hour ride I learned many things:
Dave’s dad passed away in March from small cell lung cancer. His mom is having a tough time and they are afraid to leave her alone. Mom and Dad have been divorced since the ‘80’s but lived a quarter mile apart and stayed friends. Dave’s wife was going over there tonight to stay with her.
Dave didn’t have on his seatbelt ,and when I chastised him about it he said he doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, so this is the one rule he doesn’t follow, because a good friend a long time ago had a wreck and went into a pond and because of his seatbelt being fastened he drowned.
Dave got a text from his wife and explained: his cousin’s granddaughter had been molested by a family friend, and they charged the man, and the man had just that minute killed himself with a shotgun. True story, that’s about how succinctly he told it to me.
Many other topics covered with Dave – can’t get them all down. An extremely nice, down home, mountain resident, happy with his work and loves his family. I was thankful for my own rural upbringing to help me appreciate his friendly manner.
At the Honda dealer, the guy there (Bob) showed Dave where to unload my car, noticed my Virginia Tech sticker and showed me his VT watch. He’s a ’74 graduate, played basketball for Tech. We compared notes and it seems he and I were both at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in 2001 – did we see each other on Bourbon Street?
Then Dave dropped me at the Waffle House to wait for Jim to pick me up, because the dealership closes at 8 o’clock and Jim wouldn’t get there until 9 o’clock (it was 7:30). I was the only customer. They were training a new waitress. I told them I was waiting for a ride and we got into all kinds of conversations. The young waitress had quit smoking because she had bronchitis and then became pregnant, a good incentive. Her co-workers congratulated her. I ordered an omelet and it was the best thing ever, very light and fluffy. The young male cook was very sweet, told me the secret is to drop it in very hot grease and cook it very quickly, no browning. I told him I was eating so slowly because I didn’t want it to end.
The young waitress grew up around here and talked about some hiking she had done (when she was younger?) and some camping spots. She really seemed to appreciate that she lives in an area with many treasures. One camping spot near Mills River she no longer recommends because she heard they do witchcraft there.
Around 8:45 p.m. the culture of the Waffle House changed, some more customers came in, the 9 o’clock shift people arrived, someone turned on the radio and it became kind of hectic. Jim called to say he was close and to order him some food to go. I gave the order to the new trainee and she got to place her first order in code without writing it down. While it was being prepared she told me about her 23-year-old son who is estranged, she doesn’t know where he is, and she is seeing a counselor. I told her I thought it would turn out all right eventually if she always lets him know that she loves him.
Got home about 11:00 p.m. Geez, a six-mile hike.
There is no such thing in anyone's life as an unimportant day. ~Alexander Woollcott