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