Monday, June 8, 2015

Pisgah 400 Hiking Challenge: It's Official

Pisgah 400 - Pisgah Inn Hike - 4/18/15 – 13.3 Miles

In search of wildflowers, weather forecast be damned, we’re heading to Pisgah National Forest.  Our fearless leader, Jeff, devised a rambling route with an unusual treat along the way.  I haven’t hiked in Pisgah NF very much, and when I go alone I usually get lost.  National forest and wilderness management standards are different than national parks, state parks, or the Appalachian Trail.  There is less signage, often less trail maintenance, and confusing unofficial trails that are not indicated on maps.  (And I am a map girl.)  So going with a group with an experienced leader (Jeff has hiked all of the PNF trails) was very appealing to me, even for a rainy day.

Gathering our group from four different cities to the trailhead required several stops to meet people, consolidate cars, etc., and we didn’t get on the trail at Grassy Lot Gap until after 10:30 a.m.  And of course the first miles were up.  But, hey, at least it wasn’t raining yet.

Pilot Rock Trail was steep but easy to follow and gave a nice view right when we needed a breather.  Around this point is when we were passed by four mountain bikers going downhill – watch out!  Not much warning. 

Mid-April was still too early for most wildflowers, although emerging foliage made promises. Tiny trailing arbutus was a treat.

Mark hiked barefoot , says he loves it – but he did put on his trail shoes for lunch and kept them on.

After 3.6 miles on Pilot Rock Trail we turned left onto Thompson Creek Trail, which careened steeply down to the creek and then marched right back up.  Maybe in the warmer months with green vegetation this trail is easier to discern, but it was pretty darn faint to me.  Glad we had Jeff at the front with his GPS track to be sure we were staying on course.

At the point where Thompson Creek Trail takes a 90-degree left turn onto Thompson Ridge…we didn’t.  Jeff led us up an even fainter not-on-the-map-but-trust-me-I-know-where-I’m-going manway to the Mountains-To-Sea Trail (finally, something familiar!).  From there it was a short walk to the Pisgah Inn and its outstanding restaurant for a leisurely lunch.  I enjoyed a delicious grilled veggie wrap and fresh fruit, saved half of the wrap for the hike back down so I could inhale some blackberry cobbler.

The gang at Pisgah Inn, full of lunch and not at all anxious to get back on the trail

Couldn’t we just sit in these rocking chairs instead?

We resumed our hike with an out-and-back side trip on the MST to Buck Spring Gap, the site of George Vanderbilt’s Buck Springs hunting lodge built in the 1890’s.  Nothing there now but the view and the stone walls of a cellar.

View from Buck Springs Lodge site – what big dark cloud?

After backtracking on the MST, we turned left to complete the little bit of Pilot Rock Trail to where we had left it for Thompson Creek Trail (are you following along on your map now?)

Surprisingly there was another little mountain to climb, not sure if it has a formal name.  Then the dark black cloud released its rain and we scrambled for pack covers.  At the next left junction, we scrambled for rain jackets. 

Chris and Kim and their primary colors

The short Laurel Mountain Connector led to Laurel Mountain Trail, where we paused to take a happy photo before turning right and splashing our way downhill.  There was a brief discussion of “how far do we want to go in this rain?” with consensus that at the next decision point we would, well, decide.  The steep footing slowed us down, but after you give yourself over to the rain it can be kinda fun.  As fellow hiker Terry said, “Nothing is better than a rainy day hiking with friends.” 

A couple of miles later, Jeff turned us right onto yet another connector that exists in real life but not on the map.  

At the crossing of Slate Rock Creek, still no wildflower blooms, but we saw these emerging lady slippers.   I wonder…pink or yellow?

We intersected Slate Rock Creek Trail for a short while, then came to our shortcut decision point.  By now the rain had slackened, nearly disappeared, so we chose to continue on Jeff’s original crazy patchwork route.  This meant a U-shaped route along Pilot Cove Loop to some of the best viewpoints of the entire hike. 

Ah, yes, the view from Slate Rock – looking at Pilot Rock on the upper right.  I love it when I can see another point on the trail.  Reminds me of McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs on the AT in Virginia.

Dripping wet serviceberry tree

Painted trillium

What is this?  Looks like doghobble but only bare branches, not doghobble leaves

The rest of the hike took us downhill to Pilot Cove Trail, through a low area carpeted in trout lily foliage – whoever hikes here a week or so later will see millions of those delicate yellow beauties – then onto an old forest road that really looked like another faint trail to me.  Then off that trail and onto Pilot Rock Extension, then onto Pilot Rock Trail – looks familiar – and a short distance to the cars.  I think today’s hike goes to the top ranking for the most trails I’ve walked on in one day.  Only 13.3 miles, but the next day I didn’t leave the couch. 

And who cares if we ate a big lunch?  Mexican food on the way home is always mandatory. 

At home the next day I bought a red Sharpie pen, unfolded the Pisgah Ranger District map and marked this hike and all the other trails I’ve completed there – uh-oh, looks like another hiking challenge has begun.  

NatGeo Map 780, Pisgah Ranger District: Today's route:  Pilot Rock/ Thompson Creek/ unnamed connector trail/MST/Pilot Rock/Laurel Mtn. Connector/Laurel Mtn/unnamed connector trail/Slate Rock/Pilot Cove Loop/old road/Pilot Rock Extension/Pilot Rock back to cars
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair.”  ~Khalil Gibran

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