Pisgah 400: Lollipop Hike At Turkeypen Gap– 8/24/18 – 6 Miles
South Mills River Trail/Pounding Mill Trail/Squirrel Gap Trail/Mullinax Gap Trail/South Mills River Trail
The orthopedist said the cartilage in my right knee is now just a memory and my running days (pain free) are over. Hiking and backpacking, however, are still thumbs up. Fresh from a cortisone shot, I tried a short hike in Pisgah National Forest on a hot August Friday morning.
I chose the short route out of caution for not overdoing my knee, but also because I still don’t trust Pisgah – hiking there is wonky sometimes when my map doesn’t match real life. Yadda yadda yadda, I’ve said it many times before. Going anyway.
Turkeypen Gap trailhead was new to me and I’m glad to make its acquaintance because many loops start from that point. I met an older guy in the parking lot also getting ready to hike. He expressed mild surprise that I was hiking alone, but when I asked him if he was alone he said yes. I did not express surprise. Two questions: why the difference? And should I have told him? He may have been up to no good. Which answers question #1.
I started out on wide South Mills River Trail (hiking/biking/horses), which drops down to a large swinging bridge across the South Fork. [Note: "drops down" means "uphill" on the return.] On the far side of the bridge I encountered the first confusing intersection of the day. I quickly figured out that there is a horse option to crossing South Fork, then a sharp elbow left turn to continue on the SMR Trail (directed by an old wooden sign). I also noted the T-intersection with Mullinax Trail where my clockwise loop begins/ends.
Still on the South Mills River Trail, another intersection and a horse camp, no signage. My first instinct was to turn left to stay close to the river, but the trail to the right looked significant too, so I followed it and saw a faint blaze. The trail eventually swings left and back to following upriver, now flowing deep in a gorge. It eventually becomes level with the water again at a rock outcrop that invited me to pause.
Intersection with Poundingmill Trail, hikers-only, and I see by the topo that it goes straight up a draingage to Poundingstone Mountain. The trail was slim and surprisingly not too overgrown, very enjoyable, orange blazes in all the right places. I crossed Poundingstone Branch 13 times, all rock hops but not one-steps. The last quarter mile was quite steep.
I felt energized and not yet in need of a break, but the junction with Squirrel Gap Trail invited hikers to stop. (Question: what happened to the "S" in Squirrel on the signpost?) As I ate my apple, a lone hiker came through with a fishing pole sticking up out of his backpack.
Squirrel Gap Trail (hiking/biking/horses) followed the ridge, another enjoyable trail, signage at the next intersection. My wariness of Pisgah was fading as I skipped merrily along. Then I came upon two large campsites at Mullinax Gap and was reminded: stay on the trail, don’t go through the campsites, or you will get confused and miss the intersection. By now I knew to nose around all the options for a few minutes. I found my correct turn onto Mullinax Gap Trail.
Running cedar, aka fan clubmoss, reproduces by spores
Mullinax Gap Trail (hiking/biking/horses, emphasis on mountain bikers) descends to the river
Thumbnail size pieces of mica rock caught my eye in the dappled sunshine, then I noticed flecks of mica in the sandy soil like diamonds, silver glitter, a long stretch of mica dust. A year or so ago on Spencer Branch Trail in Pisgah NF I discovered an enormous hunk of mica rock. A reminder that when you’re hiking, be sure to look up, down and all around – you’ll be amazed!
At the intersection of Mullinax Gap Trail and South Mills River my loop was completed and I was back in familiar territory. I turned left, crossed the swinging bridge again, and began the moderate uphill.
About a hundred yards from the parking lot, I came upon a mother carrying a very tiny infant in a Snuglie and two little girls (3 or 4 years old) walking in the same direction, so obviously they had ventured a little ways out. One of the girls was fussy. I shouted hello from a distance so as not to startle them as I approached. Mom said they are discussing their favorite desserts (cupcakes) to distract them from the difficulty of the walk and the heat. Kudos to Mom!
All in all, a long drive for a short hike, but a triumph on two fronts: my knee felt fine and I chipped away at my intimidation of hiking in Pisgah. I’ll take the win! If only returning to Charlotte was easy…
“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” ~G.M. Trevelyan