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
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