Monday, September 24, 2018

Bartram Trail to Cheoah Bald

Bartram Trail to Cheoah Bald – 1/20/18 – 14 Miles

I found myself tagging along with Cathy and Anonymous as part of a large group renting a cabin at Nantahala Outdoor Center out in western North Carolina on a frozen winter weekend retreat.  Folks arrived Friday afternoon and evening, and as the pot luck chili and adult beverages flowed, Saturday hiking plans were proposed and debated.  I was on board mainly for the camaraderie, but I had done some prior research and hoped to hike the Bartram Trail from the Winding Stairs access up to its intersection with the Appalachian Trail, then the AT back to the NOC.  This is a popular backpacking route requiring a short shuttle, but it’s also a reasonable dayhike.  I held onto my thoughts, though, to see if something more interesting came up.

It didn’t.  One promising idea was abandoned once it was determined that an essential forest road connection was seasonally closed.  I floated the Bartram/AT idea and suddenly we had ourselves a bunch of hikers and a shuttle plan.  Turned out to be a grand day.

The Winding Stairs parking area is on Highway 19/74 just a few miles west of the NOC.  The Bartram Trail is blazed with easy-to-see yellow rectangles.  It crosses the road, then the railroad tracks, and goes steeply up the mountain for 4.8 miles to the AT.  On the ascent the trail winds in and out of coves, some shady and snowy, a few sunny and bare.  Here we go!

We faced at last half a dozen creek crossings that normally would be a quick hop, but the presence of ice made us stop and think before taking steps.  It’s good to be last in line to see how everyone else does it. Just make sure someone stops to watch you, too, in case you do slip and fall!

Rhododendrons and icicles

Bartram Falls

At the AT intersection, taking a breather, but still .2 miles of climbing to reach Cheoah Bald.   
The bald is a prime camping spot and large enough for lots of people (good or bad?).  I hiked over it a couple of years ago on a backpacking trip but didn’t spend the night.  Keeping it on the list for another time.

Note:  Cheoah Bald is the northern terminus of the Bartram Trail. Hmmmm….I'll bet there's a trail guide and a website...

Mighty chilly on the bald so we didn’t stay long.  Cathy and Anonymous put it in high gear and I didn’t see them again.  Since I was hiking back to our cabin, I didn’t mind (really enjoyed) the solitary 8-mile walk in the woods. All that elevation gain to the bald was now going back down, though, and slippery snow is less fun on that downhill. 

Looking down at the Nantahala River in the Gorge

A trailside memorial reminder to be grateful

A hot shower and hot chocolate: ahhhh

Monday, September 17, 2018

Frozen at Dupont State Forest

Frozen At Dupont State Forest – 1/6/18 – 9 miles

What could be better than four frozen lakes and three icy waterfalls on a teeth-chattering arctic day?  Add a covered bridge and one of my favorite hiking partners for an exceptionally rewarding hiking experience.

Carolina Mountain Club hikes every Saturday, so I signed up for the first one of 2018 to kick off an active new year. They start early, so I traveled on Friday to my friend Danny Bernstein’s home for a long overdue sleepover visit, enjoying dinner and dessert and a long stroll in West Asheville.

The weather forecast was for bitter cold and the club’s hike venue was changed to a lower elevation to hopefully gain a couple of degrees.  Dupont State Forest is always a favorite and we were intrigued to see what impact the sustained sub-freezing temperatures had rendered upon its water features. 

Sub-freezing gained a new context for me:  six degrees as we drove alongside the French Broad River, noticing ice chunks clinging to its banks.  We joined hikers at a group meeting place, then set up a short shuttle from Dupont’s visitor center. My car’s interior reached a merely chilly comfort zone as we arrived at the Lake Imaging parking lot. 

I didn’t have a map of Dupont so it was imperative to keep up with the group today.  Dupont’s maze of trails and tricky intersections can confuse a hiker any day even with a map, and today we walked on a dozen (more?) trails. Since the hike location had changed just the day before, the exact route hadn’t been scouted and the hike leader frequently consulted the map for turns.  Fortunately, she and other group members were very familiar with Dupont and kept us on track.  My usual practice is to carry a map and understand the route, so this letting go of control and responsibility was uncomfortable for me.

Tightly rolled rhododendron leaves confirmed that it was C-O-L-D

We had a frigid start as expected but warmed up quickly.  My fingers were the last body parts to “thaw” and I was reluctant to take off gloves for photos.  The sky was clear, no wind, and the trails were dry. We noted Lake Imaging’s frozen surface but no one volunteered to test its thickness.  See the blurred reflection of the trees.

We walked along Lake Imaging Road to Grassy Creek Falls Trail. Grassy Creek Falls is a long sliding cascade that looks inviting in the summer but bone-chilling today. 

From the falls we worked our way along several trails (Chestnut Oak Road, Joanna Road, Pitch Pine Trail, Three Lakes Trail) to reach the edge of Lake Dense.  We stopped for lunch at the picnic shelter by a small dock. A muffled groaning emanated from beneath the ice as it cracked and shifted, sounding like a moaning cow in a distant pasture.

Mountain bikers having fun parking a bike on the ice just because they could

Even sitting in the strong sun during lunch could not stave off the chill and we started off again with frozen fingers and noses.  We continued on Three Lakes Trail past Lake Alford, which was tiny (a half-acre) and underwhelming.  I wonder what it looks like when it’s not frozen? 
Just a glimpse of a small cove of Lake Julia, the third on the Three Lakes Trail

Conservation Road to Buck Forest Road to Covered Bridge Trail, only half a mile of walking but woe to the hiker who doesn’t know the intersections.  Covered bridges are romantic and charming, aren’t they?  This one spans a tranquil vantage point of Little River that belies the massive waterfalls downstream.

We descended along High Falls Trail with its dramatic view of High Falls, spectacular on any given day, now alternating surreal strands of ice and flowing water. Some of us took River Bend Trail to get closer to the base of the falls.  Traversing the large ice rocks was risky but compelling – we may never see this again!


We continued on High Falls Trail as it followed Little River downstream. The temperature had warmed up to freezing and more people were venturing out. [Triple Falls and High Falls are easily accessible from the Hooker Falls parking area.] Triple Falls, as dramatic as High Falls, was also partially frozen.  We walked out onto the expansive rock face at the bottom of Second Falls.  Water was still flowing down the center but the largest part of the pool was frozen. 

Triple Falls from top to bottom:

Takeaway from today’s hike:  Don’t let the cold keep you inside.  Get the right gear to be warm in bitter cold temperatures and go explore a winter wonderland!

Learn more about Dupont State Forest at the Friends of Dupont Forest website.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” ~John Steinbeck