Grandfather Mountain State Park – 5/1/15 - Profile Trail/Callaway Peak – 7 Miles
Something rustling in the dark… Is that a mouse? No, it’s Jim up very early getting ready for his big bike challenge. We had to get organized and leave our hotel room at crack-of-dawn-thirty. He planned to ride his bike to the starting line in Banner Elk and I wanted to be far out of the way when hundreds of cyclists swarmed the roads. A hike at Grandfather Mountain would entertain me for just the right amount of time to return to the finish line at the top of Beech Mountain.
Gearing up for the Beech Mountain Metric
Although I’ve lived in North Carolina for 34 years, I have avoided hiking at Grandfather Mountain because the weather is such a significant factor. Wintertime means extreme cold, record-breaking wind gusts and icy conditions. Summertime means quickly developing thunderstorms with too little time to get off the exposed rocky areas at the summits. Spring and fall – well, it’s always crowded. I did hike there once in late 2013 and found the trail to be arduous and slow going. But today I was in the neighborhood, so I sucked it up with the attitude that I’ll get however far I get and be ready to bail out.
Most NC state parks are free, but Grandfather was formerly privately owned and has infrastructure and substantial maintenance needs, so a fee is charged at the main entrance. Then you can drive on up to the Mile High Swinging Bridge and restaurant and various trailheads. However, if you’re willing to walk, the Profile Trail access on Highway 105 is free. Get there early.
What a glorious morning! The trail was lush and meticulously maintained. I noted many wildflowers that I saw at Big Creek in GSMNP a few weeks ago, plus a couple of new ones like rosy twisted stalk and large flowered bellwort.
The spotlight flower of the day was umbrella leaf in full flower, its enormous leaves blanketing the sloping mountainside
Each bloom more intricate and beautiful than the one before
Okay, now I’ll stop!
The elevation gradually steepened and I slowed down. Boulders began to appear alongside the trail.
The namesake attraction of the trail: the Profile. On my way back down I met a cute young couple here and took their picture. They were very excited because this was their second hike – EVER (their first was Crowders Mountain). They were from the NC coast.
Some impressive stone and trail work on a section called “Peregrine’s Flight”
White violets lining the trail
At Shanty Spring – hope you have enough water!
The last .4 miles to the top of the Profile Trail has a seriously different character than the lower section. The grade is extremely steep and climbs up a field of large boulders. Why don’t I have any pictures of this? I was working too hard!
At the intersection of the Profile Trail and the Grandfather Trail, the morning was still young so I turned left to continue on to Calloway Peak, the 5,964-foot high point of Grandfather Mountain. Still going up, of course, and this .4-mile section features some ladders and rock scrambling. At this elevation the forest features spruce and fir trees and I spotted a couple of late-blooming painted trilliums.
If you do this hike, don’t skip the little side jaunt to Watauga View just a short distance from Calloway Peak summit. On this clear day I was more than a little excited at this view featuring a faint Hawksbill and Table Rock on the horizon (they look like cat's ears). I have seen these two iconic peaks from many points in my hiking life, especially during my Mountains-To-Sea Trail days.
Creamy white witch-hobble blooming at Watauga View
At the summit of Calloway Peak, looking at MacRae Peak (which also features a little-bit-scary ladder climb).
There were half a dozen hikers at the peak and more on the way so I didn’t linger. I had a timetable to get back to meet up with Jim. The hike back down the rocks was a challenge in reverse. I met about 30 people on the return, many of them asking me how far to the top and was it worth it. I tried not to judge those who had on flip flops and were talking on their cell phones. They would learn a lesson without my input.
At the parking lot, the rangers had closed access and were directing cars away. Again, get there early! Driving back to up Beech Mountain, I slowly and cautiously passed weary cyclists on their insane climb to the finish line. I decided that I like hiking best.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” ~Rachel Carson