Friday, January 16, 2015

Chambers Mountain Lookout Tower

Chambers Mountain Lookout Tower – 3.8 Miles – 1/2/15

On New Year’s Day I like to hang around the house with my blanket and a cup of coffee and the newspaper.  I break out my new calendar, writing in birthdays and anniversaries and other activities already planned.  I daydream about travel and projects, looking at last year’s list and creating new lists.  It’s a very chill day. 

On January 2, though, I’m ready for a little adventure.  Let’s pull out that lookout tower challenge list.  Chambers Mountain looks like a long-ish drive and a short hike, but that’s okay with me. 

The goal of these lookout tower hikes isn’t necessarily the hike but the view and I have found the rewards to be mixed.  Sometimes all you get is a bunch of communication towers cluttered around.  Sometimes the view is just phenomenal (like Panther Top).  Well, Chambers Mountain is worth the hike on the gravel road – heck, even the hike is worth the hike. 

The Chambers Mountain fire tower was erected in 1934 and is one of only two in western NC that is still routinely staffed.  The operator lives in a small house at the base of the tower.  

Lookout Point, the gravel access road to the tower, is just a few miles from Clyde, NC.  I wedged my car into the single wide spot near the locked gate and prepared for a solitary walk up the mountain on this chilly Friday.  As I shouldered my pack, I heard a car – wait, make that three minivans loaded with people.  They pulled up and a cheerful woman hopped out and unlocked the gate.  She said that they had a cabin nearby and asked for the key to the gate so many times that the Forest Service finally just gave them one.  They were going to drive up to the tower and walk down.  Huh.

I ate their dust as I slowly walked up the road cutting through open pastures.  I haven’t hiked since early November.  The last couple of months involved more work hours and eating large quantities of holiday food.  Moving at a sustainable pace, breathing the crisp air, lost in my thoughts, I finally remembered to lift my head and take a look around. 

Cow corral

I walked backwards until the road dipped back into the trees, soaking in the view.  How can you get enough of this? 

Near the summit I encountered the crowd that had driven up, must have been a dozen of them, an extended family of grandparents, parents, children.  They cheerfully greeted me and I told them that they weren’t working hard enough, a good laugh all around…but I meant it.  At least I had the place to myself again. 

When the tower farm came into view I could see the lowly fire tower towards the back of the bunch as I walked the curving road. The resident dog began to bark with all his might from his chain link pen.  He was just doing his job as guard dog, but this fellow seemed capable of getting over that fence – which was between me and the tower steps.  I didn’t want to antagonize him further by walking within five feet of him.  A truck was parked at the house and I waited for the tower operator to come out to check the alarm being raised, but after several minutes no one appeared.  Either he wasn’t there or he saw me from a window and didn’t perceive me to be a problem. 

I didn’t try to go up the tower, but instead enjoyed the view with the incessant barking soundtrack. 

Walking back down the road was equally awesome.  At one of the switchbacks I saw an old fence with an opening and steps and some extra barbed wire. 

Some locals had moved into the pasture while I was up top.  They didn’t mind posing.

All queued up

A four-mile hike and a four-hour drive, not something I would do every day, but it was a great kick-off to a new year.  I’d like to visit this place again in spring or fall (definitely not summer).  One more fire tower to go to finish the challenge! 

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson