Sunday, July 15, 2018

AT in NC/TN: Hump Mountain Never Disappoints

Appalachian Trail in NC/TN:  Hump Mountain – 8/28/17 – 8 Miles

A few Carolina Berg Wanderers went hiking on a Monday – because we could.  At this stage in life, you arrange things to do what you want.  Ignoring the ominous weather forecast, Mike, Brian, Ann and I escaped the muggy late-summer Piedmont heat to enjoy Hump Mountain, a prominent bald along the Appalachian Trail straddling the state line of North Carolina and Tennessee.  A cloudy day plus high elevation plus a little wind equals long sleeves.

We started from an access point that I hadn’t used before, driving up gravel FR 5545 to an old road access to Overmountain Shelter (now gated).  This is a common parking area for people overnighting at the shelter who want to avoid the long hike from Carvers Gap.  Heck, you could carry your coolers and Dutch ovens and tailgate chairs (but please don’t!)

We hiked up the old road to Yellow Mountain Gap, where six paths appear, so pay close attention to signage.  The AT and the Overmountain Victory Trail intersect there, plus the old road, and then a side trail leads down to the shelter.  A visit to the shelter is mandatory whether you plan to stay there or not.  A big old red barn that sleeps 20, its picturesque setting and romantic view out across the valley, it’s an iconic feature of the NC/TN trail. 

Hiking northbound, the AT ascends, weaving in and out of trees along the edge of an open field.

Looking down at Overmountain Shelter

Looking northwest into Tennessee – I see those clouds

Looking east across a carpet of yellow

About 1.5 miles north of Yellow Mountain Gap a large rock formation sits on a rise, a good place to pause, rest, regroup, or just be still.

Little Hump Mountain (elev. 5,459 feet) is not so very little, but the climb is so gradual and the views so extensive that you (hardly) notice the exertion.

Near the top the AT passes through a forested area of Tolkien-inspired trees, twisted trunks and a thick canopy.

On the other side of the trees, the trail descends the north slope of Little Hump, in and out of trees and knee high scrub.  The trail is a deeply worn trench. Near the base it passes through a scattering of trees in a small gap with a maze of side trails and campsites. 

A little further along we crossed Bradley Gap, a wide saddle with more campsites, very inviting IF you don’t expect any bad weather.  Pretty awesome view of the big guy.

Hump Mountain (elev. 5,587 feet)

The finest view in the Southern Appalachian Highlands:   
Grandfather Mountain from the summit of Hump Mountain

The hike back was just as thrilling, looking at things from a different viewpoint

 Hawksbill and Table Rock on the horizon

On the return, we passed the side trail to the summit of Yellow Mountain.  I skipped it on our epic Hump Mountain Sherpa Hike back in 2011 and I skipped it again today.  Mike and Brian explored some faint old trails with a GPS track while Ann and I stuck to the script (not interested in bushwhacking).  All ways converged in the field above Overmountain Shelter at about the same time.  New flowers had sprung up after we passed through!

Back again at Yellow Mountain Gap where the AT bisects the Overmountain Victory Trail, the OVT goes northbound to Hampton Creek State Natural Area.  Southbound, the OVT parallels the old road bed and beyond.  Both directions looked overgrown and seldom used.  Again Ann and I took the path more traveled, Mike and Brian took the other.  Their way was longer, probably more interesting…

Methinks a hike to Hump Mountain should be an annual summer’s-end event.

“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pisgah 400: Pilot Cove-Slate Rock & Laurel Mountain Loop

Pisgah 400: Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail & Laurel Mountain Trail – 8/19/17 - 10 Miles

Why does Pisgah Ranger District hold such interest for me?  Is it because of its proximity to where I live (2 hours drive rather than 3, 4, 5 for the Smokies)?  Is it because it has gems of waterfalls, overlooks and rock outcroppings if you can get through the confusion of intersecting unmarked trails?  Is it the challenge of hiking the “Pisgah 400” miles that some of my hiking buddies have completed ahead of me?  All three contribute to the obsession.  Still, I can’t get ‘er done in the methodical, expedient fashion that I hiked the Smokies.  The national forest is not a place I like to go alone.  So…Jim got tapped to join me today.

The bait was a whole weekend so that Jim could get in a bike ride too, and a unique experience to round out the trip. In a departure from our usual remote cabin fever, we found an Airbnb cottage in the town of Hendersonville, walking distance from Main Street, and spent Friday touristing among shops, restaurants, breweries and – my favorite – a cidery.  Yes, I’m a cider girl!

Saturday morning dawned hot and hazy as we drove to the hike route I’d chosen, a loop of obscure trails to finish out an area of the trail map in the North Mills River Recreation Area.  My last time in this neck of the woods was with Jeff and other Berg friends on a very wet hike up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and back that included a delicious lunch at the Pisgah Inn. 

Difficulty finding the trailhead can set a bad tone for a hike.  Jim was wary of the time we were being delayed and I reminded him more than once that it would stay light out longer than he thought…but I was anxious to get started, too.  We drove back and forth on a bumpy two-mile section of the forest road three times, counting bridges and curves, before we found our trailhead – a reminder to me that often you just can’t see the sign markers until you get out and walk up the trail a little bit.

Subtle points of interest and beauty along the Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail

Green tunnel

Ghostly Indian Pipe

The success of our loop depended on my recognizing a manway connector (not on the map) between Pilot Cove-Slate Rock Trail and Laurel Mountain Trail.  I’d learned about it on that previous hike with Jeff & Co. and we were approaching it this time from the opposite direction.  I thought this was it – and breathed a little sigh of satisfaction when we hit the trail sign confirming it.  However, as Jim says (constantly) there’s no backslappin’ until it’s all over.

Laurel Mountain Trail was a gentle, undulating, long descent, a few fungi to stop and ponder, relaxing to just trip along at a good pace.

We closed our loop via a last mile back on the forest road, ending with a fine finish soaking our feet in Yellow Gap Creek. 

That unique experience to round out the trip?  Just a big old solar eclipse.  Despite the clouds, we had a grand time with half the nation lying back and witnessing an event that surely awed the native peoples long ago.

“You need the dark in order to show the light.” ~Bob Ross, artist