Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pisgah 400: Twin Falls Loop

Pisgah 400 – Twin Falls Loop and Perry Cove Trail – 1/14/17 – 9.8 miles

When planning winter hikes on public lands it’s prudent to determine seasonal access and other road closures, but sometimes the staff person who answers the phone at the ranger station doesn’t know about every gate on every forest road.  Be prepared for extra walking if the parking area you’re aiming for is not accessible.  Like today.

My plan was a loop hike to Twin Falls in Pisgah National Forest as described in Danny Bernstein’s book, Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, with a couple of add-ons. Early morning mist enveloped the trees as I drove up a forest road to the horse rental stables, my checkpoint to start looking for trailhead parking further up the road.  But a closed gate at the stables greeted me; looks like it’s boots on the ground and an extra mile from there.  No other cars, a bit eerie on a winter morning, so so quiet, a remote feeling.  I sure hope this hike is as simple as Danny says it is.

Buckhorn Gap Trail crosses Avery Creek a couple of times and then ascends alongside Henry Creek.  The woods were barren, no flowers in the bleak midwinter, but the continuous sound of water was lovely.  Several times I crossed the water on primitive log bridges – since this is a horse trail, remember to look beyond the horse crossings and there is usually a footbridge. 

Twin Falls Trail is a short left-hand side of a loop and the waterfall on the left was the first one that caught my eye. The trail to the base was difficult to discern but I found a way.

There is supposed to be a narrow trail from that base over to the second waterfall, but again I had trouble figuring it out, so I backtracked a bit and found a clearer trail to its base, then worked my way up the right-hand side to the rock overhang.  The mist was denser at the falls, of course, and I felt the isolation breathing on the hairs on the back of my neck. I stood in the cave as water trickled down in front of my face. 

From that vantage point I could see a larger cave farther to the right and slightly higher than this one.  The splashing water muffled all other sound and I had the thought that a deer, a bear or a dinosaur could walk up and tap me on the shoulder.  Time.To.Go.  Let’s do this again real soon with other people.

As a Pisgah 400 hiking challenge enthusiast, I took the five minutes necessary to complete the little loop for the falls, then backtracked to the intersection of Twin Falls Trail and Buckhorn Gap Trail, which is a large horse camping site with tie-ups and multiple fire rings.  After a brief break, I continued on my clockwise loop. At the next intersection, I diverged from Danny’s narrative to cover another loose end by turning left and following a trail (is it still Buckhorn Gap Trail?) out to its terminus at FS 5058.  This detour took longer than I expected, a steep and narrow trail, little used, probably gets quite overgrown in summer.

But it did take me past this interesting broken tree.  Winter is a time for bark, bare limbs, and the skeletons of trees.  Fascinating what you see when you really look.

Retracing those steps brought me back to the same intersection, where I turned left again (still on Buckhorn Gap Trail) and hiked to the next encounter with the same forest road.  Yes, it’s confusing - no, you don’t have to do it this way – welcome to Pisgah National Forest.

After a mile of a gentle downhill on the forest road, my loop turned back into the woods on Clawhammer Cove Trail, a nice little ramble following the creek of the same name.  When I reached Avery Creek Trail, I turned onto it for the quickest exit back to the main forest road.  From there I walked back to the stables.

What time is it anyway?  Do I have enough time for an out-and-back trail?  After all, I’m right here right now.  I tackled Perry Cove Trail, a decision I briefly regretted at the beginning – that spooky feeling was back.  What was the matter with me today? 

Then two hunters materialized in a misty clearing alongside the trail, holding guns across their chests.  They saw me but didn’t speak, and the adrenaline pushed me up that steep trail.  In fact, this was the most strenuous challenge of the day, and consequently the feeling of greatest accomplishment when I returned triumphant to the stables parking area.  Whew!

“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pisgah 400: Looking Glass Rock

Pisgah 400 – Looking Glass Rock – 1/13/17 – 6.2 Miles

New Year’s Resolutions lists?  Hikers make New Year’s lists of hiking goals that include long trails, national parks, famous views.  I’ve got all kinds of lists I’m “working on” like the Pisgah 400 Challenge and completing the AT in North Carolina. One of my 2017 goals is camping in January and December, something I’ve never done because those two months are filled with family activities and work obligations.  I have now checked the January box when I slipped away for an overnight at Pisgah National Forest (kinda cheating because the weather forecast was mild.)

Can you believe I’ve never hiked at Looking Glass Rock?  I have gazed upon it from many vantage points.

 From John Rock

 From the Coontree Loop Trail, Pisgah NF

From the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at Milepost 417

But every time I thought about hiking on Looking Glass Rock itself, the idea of the crowds marching ant-like up the lone trail to it seemed downright unappealing, given that there are so many other choices in the rich wilderness areas of Pisgah National Forest.  Elitist?  I suppose.

Or maybe the universe was just patiently awaiting a crisp, not-too-chilly January Friday afternoon.

I pitched a tent at Davidson River Campground, then found the trailhead on Forest Road 475 (aka Fish Hatchery Road).  Only one car parked there, a good sign, and I met the owners descending as I hiked up. The trail winds around switchbacks, crosses a nice stream, levels out briefly and then climbs again.  The rock face is beyond the actual summit of the mountain and I knew not to be disappointed when the trail began descending.

No surprise:  the trail was wide and rutted, suffering from overuse that the Forest Service tries its best to mitigate.  I silently passed judgment on all the visitors who perpetuate the shortcuts when there is a perfectly good trail in place.

The rock face is vast and intimidating, not much level surface before the slope gets steeper and I didn’t trust my feet not to slip.  I inched from tree to tree, looking for the perfect viewpoint, which was silly since I had the place completely to myself and the wilderness was rolled out before me. 

A young couple arrived but didn’t see me in my nook beside some small trees.  The woman was a daredevil but the man was cautious, and he watched with uncertainty as she walked unhesitatingly down the curving rock face.  I hoped I wasn’t witnessing a fatality unfold (it would not be the first one there.) Along with the young man, I felt relieved when she returned to sit with him.

I sat for more than an hour, watching as the sun’s rays pierced the cloud cover like spotlights on a stage.  The light moved across the mountain tops and dipped into the valleys, followed by shadows flowing into the same spaces.

One of the things I appreciate about hiking alone is going at my own pace and not talking.  When I hike with others, the focus is on conversation as well as the scenery, the attention span is shorter, and the group is ready to move along to the next thing, all okay factors among friends.  The appreciation for the surroundings is still there.  But the contemplative silence of sitting and observing, then walking back down the trail in silence, has a calming effect on me.  I feel introspective and reverent – big words for big feelings.

My favorite pic of the day

When I camp alone for one night, I don’t bother to cook.  I may bring a cold supper or even go to a restaurant in the nearest town.  I looked forward all day to indulging at a wonderful Chinese mega-buffet – and felt very “fortunate”!

“To be alone by being part of the universe – fitting in completely to an environment of woods and silence and peace. Everything you do becomes a unity and a prayer.”  ~Thomas Merton

Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at Milepost 417

Monday, September 18, 2017

New Year's Day 2017 - Stone Mountain State Park

Stone Mountain State Park – New Year’s Day Hike – 1/1/17 - 9 Miles

I’ve blogged about Stone Mountain State Park several times, so I’ll keep this hike report simple.  The Carolina Berg Wanderers, my local Charlotte hiking club, spent a terrific day celebrating the start of a new year at one of my favorite North Carolina state parks.

Our route from the upper trailhead parking lot: Stone Mountain Loop, Wolf Rock Trail to Cedar Rock, Black Jack Trail, took a brief detour to the meadow to see the base of the rock face, then took another detour out-and-back to Middle Falls and Lower Falls, then completed the Stone Mountain Loop including Stone Mountain Falls.  All together, about 9 miles of chills and thrills to begin 2017!

These first photos are taken as we were walking on the top of Stone Mountain, looking over at Cedar Rock.  Halfway through our hike we looked from there back to here. Very cool, am I right?

 Our intrepid hike leader, Barbara

Wolf Rock moonscape 

Looking at Stone Mountain from Cedar Rock

View from the meadow at the base of Stone Mountain

On the stairs to the waterfall we met Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, probably looking for a little peace and inspiration for the New Year
Stone Mountain Waterfall

First Day Hiking with my sweetie

 “We all get the exact same 365 days. The only difference is what we do with them.” ~Hillary DePiano