Art Loeb Trail – Pisgah 400 – 7/10/15 – 20 miles
While our waterfall days have been a lot of fun, it’s been some time since I’ve been on a strenuous, all-day, why-did-I-do-this hike. The calendar is full for the next couple of months, but Jim and I saw a little overnight window we could slip out of for a hike-bike day. Don’t think about it too long – just do it!
On the Blue Ridge Parkway in western NC we invoked the guideline “sleep cheap and eat well.” Jim and I enjoyed a memorable meal at the Pisgah Inn, then pitched a tent at Pisgah Campground and snoozed at 50 degrees rather than the oppressively humid 80’s that are the midsummer norm in Charlotte. Early the next morning, Jim dropped me off where the Art Loeb Trail crosses the BRP. While he rode a million miles on his bike, my plan was to hike southbound through Pisgah National Forest to the trail’s beginning at Davidson River Campground.
But first, there was the matter of a bit less than a mile of the Art Loeb stretching north to intersect with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. (Map completers cover all loose ends.) The short out-and-back was really a steep up-and-down and got my adrenaline flowing to be out alone on a trail again. An entire day to walk and breathe and look and listen in the woods! I carried 3 liters of water in anticipation of the heat.
Knowing that navigation can be tricky in Pisgah NF, I carried a map and a narrative writeup, determined to stay alert and oriented on the trail. Crossing the BRP to the southbound side, I felt a pang of dismay at the overgrowth of the undergrowth. Yes, this was the trail!
The jungle soon gave way to a clearer path and followed the ridge gently down to Farlow Gap, some very nice campsites and the first place requiring a consultation of my resources to distinguish the correct trail. Here Farlow Gap Trail and a couple of old road beds (including F.R. 140-A) intersect the Art Loeb. The recurring theme throughout my hike was “Which old forest road do you think this is?” The trail takes the most direct up-and-down route while the roads crisscross it on a more even grade… except when they don’t…
Dodder aka love vine
Although the trail generally trended downward, there were a couple of bumps that got my attention, such as straight up and over Sassafrass Knob and another campsite (don’t forget to bring your own water). Descending to Deep Gap, this A-frame shelter doesn’t look at all inviting. Once again, several old roadbeds converged at this gap and I had a head-scratching few minutes determining which way my trail should go. I walked about 30 yards down first one direction, then another, and ultimately chose the right now. Later in the day I wouldn’t be so lucky.
At the summit of Pilot Mountain, the best view of the hot and hazy day
View from Pilot Mountain
Bush honeysuckle on top of Pilot Mountain
The descent from Pilot Mountain followed a series of strenuous switchbacks and the trail crossed F.R. 229 twice. At one crossing I waved to mountain bikers who blew past me kicking up dust. At Gloucester Gap I stopped for a little refreshment.
Boring details so far? How about some flower pictures?
Here a phlox
There a phlox
Over the course of the day I saw many more late summer wildflowers, including: yellow foxglove, St. John’s wort, white bee balm, Dutchman’s pipe vine, Indian pipe, dodder/love vine, wild hydrangea, fringe phacelia, black cohosh and rattlesnake plantain.
The next few miles were rather nondescript except for brief adrenaline going over Rich Mountain and Chestnut Mountain. Judging by the abundance of spiderwebs, I was the lone traveler in this section. My biggest thrill (not in a good way) was running full face into a very sticky web with a very large architect (see the black blob in the photo). Just keep walking, try not to think about it…
At confusing junction #3 Butter Gap Trail, Art Loeb Connector Trail, the real Art Loeb Trail and an unnamed trail to Cedar Rock tie together (there is no official trail to the summit of Cedar Rock – why not?) I traced the circle formed by the connector trail and the real ALT and continued on past Butter Gap Shelter, another ugly A-frame. At the spring there I filled up a one-liter container with water.
The trail crossed Kuykendall Creek, the only appreciable water crossing of the hike, and climbed steeply along the southeastern flank cliffs of Cedar Rock, a popular climbing spot. There are several good campsites along the base of these cliffs. At the top of this climb there is another unnamed trail back to Cedar Rock. (Seriously, why can’t these trails be signed? They are obviously frequently used.)
A break in the action – a very healthy black snake waiting for the light to change so he can cross the trail. I couldn’t see the full length of his body wrapped around the tree.
My big mistake occurred at Cat Gap, which I had passed through on a previous hike so I didn’t bother to consult my trail narrative but simply glanced at my map. At Cat Gap I stayed to the right on a beautiful wide clear trail that I thought was still the Art Loeb…but wasn’t. After a half-mile descent I popped out of the trees onto a forest road that simply should not have been there. Once I got my bearings and retraced my steps back up to Cat Gap, I had added a mile to my hike. My good mood dissipated. I had over 6 miles still to go.
Jim was waiting by the Davidson River at the end of my now 20-mile hike. He parked me in a tailgate chair at the water, handed me a very cold Diet Mountain Dew, and I soaked my feet and recovered. Lessons for the day: download a GPS track for the trails in Pisgah NF, plan a shorter route but expect to walk some extra steps, and have an attentive partner meet you at the end to pamper you.
“What is the difference between exploring and being lost?” ~Dan Eldon