Harmon Den/Pisgah National Forest – Rube Rock Trail/Groundhog Creek Trail/AT – 4//16/16 – 9 Miles
I can count on one hand the hikes that have stumped me. This is one of them. A good lesson in flexibility and problem-solving (plus a reminder that a little Google research can save time and aggravation).
Tucked away in the Harmon Den area of Pisgah National Forest is an enticing loop hike formed by three trails: Rube Rock, Groundhog Creek and the Appalachian Trail. My hiking friends Cathy, Chris and Anonymous have a high tolerance for long drives to and from dayhikes, so they joined me for an exploration of this off-the-beaten-path loop. We reached the trailhead via I-40 west of Asheville, NC, Exit 7, Cold Spring Creek Road and then forest roads to where the AT crosses at Brown Gap. [We used the Harmon Den & Hot Springs Area Trail Map, USDA Forest Service.]
Anonymous brought his four-legged hiking buddy, Lily. I am not a fan of dogs on hiking trails, especially when they are off-leash, but when it is legal I strive to be tolerant. When it is not legal, I am resigned that people will do what they want and I don’t fight the tide. Having said that, Lily’s presence was legit and she behaved extremely well, sticking to the trail and within her owner’s sight, no barking, and she obviously enhances Anon’s enjoyment of the outdoors. A good experience for everyone.
We began our hike southbound on the AT for about a mile to the intersection with Rube Rock Trail and turned left onto it.
About 100 yards in, we saw a campsite with a fire ring and rough structure. Looked like a Boy Scout camping project.
And that’s where the trouble started. Yellow blazes disappeared as we tried to follow faint traces of Rube Rock Trail. In addition to our paper map, Anonymous had a GPS track to assist us as we walked a ridge line, and we knew that we would intersect a forest road.
Well, we did pop out onto a forest road, but which one? Often there are more on the ground than the map indicates. After tracking back and forth on what we hoped was FR 148A, we picked up another trail trace on the opposite side. After less than a quarter mile of blowdowns it also petered out, and we returned to the road. Decision time: walk back to the car and drive 3 hours home with little for our trouble? Or walk the forest road for a few miles until it intersects Ground Creek Trail, forming a different loop that will still access the AT?
Well, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
The forest road wove in and out of the contours for a gentle walk, crossing Orchard Branch, Chestnut Branch and Ephraim Branch, which helped us determine our progress per the map. The junction with Groundhog Creek Trail was clear and we turned right to begin our ascent to the AT.
We made a brief stop at Groundhog Creek Shelter, .2 miles from the AT, and chatted with a woman out for a week-long hike. Cathy and I had been here in 2009, on my first AT backpacking trip outside of the Smokies.
We turned right at the AT junction and hiked the remaining 2 miles back to our car at Brown Gap, ultimately completing a loop of about 9 miles, similar to what we had intended although on different dirt. All’s well that ends well, no injuries except to our egos, and a reminder that you don’t “win” hiking.
And we had enough time for an exploratory trip to Sierra Nevada Brewery in Fletcher, NC on our drive home… so maybe we DID win hiking today!
PS – A post-hike Google revealed this blog post about our planned route. Great information and a blueprint for a future attempt (hiking in the counterclockwise direction).