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