Entries For: June 2010
The 30 min. film concentrated on the history of the Parkway and its current problems, namely lack of funding. But there was a minute or two on hiking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Check it out on the web or on other stations later on.
What are the odds of meeting someone from my birthplace on top of Clingmans Dome? Actually, pretty good, since you can meet people from all over the world on "top of old Smoky"?
After two hours behind the desk at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, I drove up to Clingmans Dome. It was a long ride on a crowded road, so crowded that I had to wait for a while in the left turn lane on Newfound Gap Rd. Traffic had backed up on the Dome Rd. It was also busy on top, but that's what you want. Lots of shoppers in the Clingmans Dome Information Center.
At the end of the parking lot, kids and adults were climbing the rocks, right on top of the "Climbing Prohibited" sign. What part of the sign didn't they understand? I asked visitors to get down off the rocks and that they were welcome to walk to the tower as many times as they wanted.
If you've been a regular reader, you know that I think that people in parks look for artificial thrills, like climbing rocks in full view of the parking lot or climbing slippery waterfalls because they don't really want to go into the woods. I encouraged a family with very energetic children to hike down to Andrews Bald. It's a rocky trail and the kids will get their thrills.
Most questions centered around the dying balsams; spruce and firs, together, are referred to as balsams.
"Are they doing anything about the trees?" The trees on top of Clingmans Dome (see the top photo) have been attacked by the balsam woolly adelgid since the 1950s. The park has moved some firs to Purchase Knob near Cataloochee to save the genetic pool. Also, they are studying balsams on top of Mt. LeConte, which have not been affected as much from the adelgid.
Dogs are not allowed on Clingmans Dome Trail even though it's paved. Ranger Julie warned me about confronting visitors because in 1999, a ranger was killed in a National Park in Hawaii over dogs. Julie found the original posting on the case - a man with three dogs who grabbed the ranger's gun and shot him multiple times. Who says that being a Volunteer in the Parks (VIP, they call us) is not exciting.
I don't expect to see a bear on my walks, especially not on Clingmans Dome because there are too many people. The Cherokee Statue Bears are the only thing I saw.
The most "exciting" thing that happened was that a child threw his show over the railing. It landed on a tree top and "No, I was not going to retrieve it for him."
Wind and rain will bring the shoe down soon enough and someone will pick it up as garbage. Speaking of garbage, I pick up a lot of that, as well, on the trail.
I talked to 72 visitors today. And, ultimately, visitor contacts is what's it's all about.
Starting with 332.3 miles, 50,550 ft. ascent
Black Mountain Campground to NC 80
7.8 miles, 1,300 ft. ascent
We each had a copy of the page from Scot Ward's book - from now on, we'll be depending on him and any maps we can get. On this stretch, we had the USDA Forest Service map of the South Toe River, Mount Mitchell & Big Ivy Trail.
We walked on a dirt road and up FR-2074 where we saw several stone and brick remains. Two low structures were obviously fish ponds. A woman camper told us that it was a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) site. They had built the first fish hatchery in North Carolina along Neils Creek (Yancey County).
The building pictured with Sharon (left) was the bathroom. On the other side of the road is an archway, with me coming through, shown above. The site also had the remains of a chimney.
I was not able to verify what this woman said. I searched the web in several different ways and looked at That Magnificent Army of Youth and Peace: the Civilian Conservation Corps in North Carolina, 1933-1942 by Harley E. Jolley - but nothing. If anyone knows more about this site, I sure would appreciate it.
The trail then turned into the woods and switchbacked beautifully. For a couple of miles, we enjoyed well-signed, cleared trail until the bottom dropped out - literally in one place. The trail was littered with blowdowns and in one place, dipped dangerously down. After a half-mile of slow-going, the trail improved and was back to its old, maintained self until it reached the Blue Ridge Parkway.
At one point, steps were cut into a fallen tree. The maintenance team must have come in from both ends and had not yet reached the middle.
Once we got to the Parkway, we could not find the trail. Did it go back into the woods or follow the road for a while? After much discussion, we walked the Parkway until Singecat Ridge Overlook where we found the trail again. Sharon was bothered and wanted to go back and find that (maybe) half-mile and do it. I wasn't bothered. We weren't going to skip a section or drive a section but if we can't find the trail and walk on the road for a short while, I think it's OK.
We got back into the woods with its rosebay rhododendrons and pipsissewa, small white flowers with variegated leaves.
The trail went over a tunnel and down to NC 80. Here I am just plopping down in the sun.
My first thought back into civilization was "Who won the NC Democratic Senate Runoff Race?" You did vote, didn't you?
Cumulative after day 29, 340.1 miles, 51,850 ft. ascent
Starting with 320.9 miles, 48,950 ft. ascent
NC 128 to Black Mountain Campground
11.4 miles, 1,600 ft. ascent
Sharon and I are now far enough along the MST that we can no longer stay at my house in Asheville. From now on, we'll be camping, backpacking and motelling to continue our MST hike. On this section, we camped.
I arrived at Black Mountain Campground at 5 P.M. on Tuesday and started looking for a campsite. Once over the bridge, I made a left turn and ended up at the group campsites. I asked a worker where the individual sites were.
I told him that "I was not really interested in atmosphere or privacy since we were here to hike the MST." When I said MST, his eyes lit up and he started telling me his whole MST life story of 20 years ago.
Tom Braxton, retired from AIG, started volunteering for the MST. He explained that 20 years ago, he worked on the MST in Carteret County in Croatan National Forest in Eastern North Carolina. " What happened to the trail?" he wanted to know.
"Well, it became a state park in 2000. You know the trail graduated." Also, "There's now a Friends of the MST, which does the actual trail building." I thought he was looking for a job on the MST. "Only volunteers work on the trail." I showed him Walter Weber's book. He was happy to have been updated.
Wednesday, we started on the trail at 7:30 A.M. and enjoyed the cool wet grass on the flat section of the MST on our way to Mt. Mitchell. The trail stayed flat and shaded for almost four miles. There were plenty of purple-fringed orchids, past their prime. None of the pictures were as glorious as the ones on Lunch Rocks, last week.
Once at Camp Alice, the trail climbed steeply through the spruce-fir eastern Canadian environment. Camp Alice, built around 1914, was a tourist destination for people who wanted to see Mt. Mitchell. It had a dining tent and several sleeping tents. Tourists came up by railroad to Camp Alice and then climbed to the top. Once logging stopped, the railroad was no longer profitable for just visitors and Camp Alice closed as well.
We're now in Mt. Mitchell State Park and, though steep, the trails are well maintained and signed. We reached the top at about 10 A.M. and headed straight to the snack bar. I was hot and sweaty but a cup of hot tea with my granola bar was a great luxury. I was surprised that the snack bar was run by the State Parks themselves and not a concession.
We climbed to the tower (see picture above) and saw one group of visitors, the first we had seen today. It was just too early for the masses.
As the plaque on the left says, Mt. Mitchell is the highest point in the East (6,684 ft.). The new tower was opened at the end of 2007. It requires less climbing than the old tower and will need less maintenance. Elisha Mitchell, for whom the mountain is named, is buried at the tower site.
It was a long down from here but not necessarily easy. The trail was in the woods most of the time, though we did get a few wonderful views. We met one trail runner and, further down, two backpackers coming up. We reached the campground at 2:30 P.M. and actually relaxed some and put our feet in the South Toe River, which ran alongside the campground.
After a shower, we drove back to the park to eat dinner in the restaurant. Their main courses were the usual park foods - hamburger, spaghetti, trout and fried chicken - but they had pies. We celebrated with pie.
This is the end of the Carolina Mountain Club maintenance area. We were very comfortable with the high level of trail maintenance that the club provides. We also finished Walt Weber's Trail Profiles and Maps book.
To review, we hiked the Smokies and the CMC section of the MST. Both provided good trails and great documentation. Now, we'll have to prepare more and trust that the white circles will be there. Stay tuned.
Cumulative after day 28, 332.3 miles, 50,550 ft. ascent
I'm back at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center after missing two weeks. The big news was that Clingmans Dome road was opening at noon. That was the most asked question at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
The road was repaved this year with stimulus money - it usually opens on April 1. Construction is not finished and some sections of the road are only one lane. Even though the drive is slow-going, hundreds of visitors drove the road as soon as it opened - and I added to the traffic.
I was checked out on the park radio, just in case I met an emergency I couldn't handle myself and went up to Clingmans Dome to rove. I believe I was the first person in uniform to rove the trail up to the tower. Not much in the "first" category but I was quite pleased about that.
Clingmans Dome on the North Carolina/Tennessee border, at 6,643 ft., is the highest point in the park, in Tennessee and on the Appalachian Trail. Most visitors walk the half-mile paved trail (330 ft. ascent) to the observation tower. It's a steep trail but parents push strollers or carry babies in a backpack, determined to get to the top.
On clear days, the effort is rewarded with a 360 degree view of the Smokies and beyond, including five states. Plaques in the four compass directions explain the landmarks below. Sometimes, air pollution reduces the magnificent views by as much as 80%.
Because of its height and exposure, the weather and environment on Clingmans Dome is similar to spruce-fir forests of eastern Canadian. Fraser firs, planted and sold as Christmas trees, grow wild on the mountain. Unfortunately, from the top of Clingmans Dome, visitors also see an ocean of dead Fraser firs that look like matchsticks. The trees were killed by balsam wooly adelgid, an aphid-like insect accidentally imported from European nursery stock. This process started in the 1950s - acid rain didn't help either.
A little way up the paved trail, a Civilian Conservation Corp structure housed the comfort stations. While Clingmans Dome Road was closed, the building was remodeled into an information center which holds a bookstore and park literature. The bookstore opens today - it was controlled chaos when I popped in the building and I left quickly in case they asked me to shift some boxes.
Now you'll be able to buy books (including Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage), maps and bottled water on the way to the tower. Great Smoky Mountains Association, the cooperating partner in the Smokies which manages the bookstores in the Park, funded the remodeling. The bathrooms were moved below to the parking area.
The most common question I was asked was "How many times do you do this a day?"
"Well," I answered. "It depends on how many nice visitors like you I talk to." The point is not to exercise on Smokies time but to interact with visitors. Yesterday, I went up and down twice.
"What's with the trees?" See above.
"Am I in North Carolina or Tennessee?" "Where's the A.T.?" And my favorite, "How do I get to volunteer?"
I talked to 70 people on the trail and the parking area. It will be a busy summer on "top of old Smoky".
Starting with 312.2 miles, 46,650 ft. ascent
Greybeard Overlook to NC 128
8.7 miles, 2,300 ft. ascent
Up at 6 a.m., out at 7 and at the trailhead by 8 a.m. to walk another piece of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The Blue Ridge Parkway construction slowed us down. I didn't think that they would be out working so early.
It was foggy and windy as Sharon and I started out on the MST.
This section of the trail had not yet been mowed and the wet grass lapped at our feet. We got up to Lunch Rocks quickly enough but there were no views of the surrounding mountains.
We found one Gray's lily, one lonely stalk with two flowers (shown left). What was it doing there? Yes, the climate was right - high altitude, wet and cool - but I had never heard of Gray's lily here. They are mostly associated with the Roans though I did see some at Wilson Creek.
Just around the corner, we discovered a patch of purple-fringed orchid. These are also globally rare plants, though I have seen them there before, but no place else. These were pale purple, violets really. Though they are considered rare, at the right time and the right place, they bloom abundantly. I no longer complained about the lack of view.
Of course, I had seen the views several times, but Sharon is just going to have to come back.
The next stretch from Glassmine to Balsam Gap started with wet, wobbly steps. I went down sideways, like an old man. Sharon took my picture and I asked her to delete it. She thought that it would show how bad the stairs were. I thought it showed how poor my balance was. Yes, I could blame my splint but I didn't want my slow, halting walk to be recorded.
By now we were at over 5,000 ft. and the foliage was a mixture of spring and summer. Plenty of rue anemones and one lonely spring beauty. Talk about late bloomers.
At Balsam Gap, we crossed the Parkway and started our long climb up to Blackstock Knob, about 900 ft. in less than two miles.
The trail was good and the footing was excellent. The thick spruces had blocked out all the light and there was little undergrowth other than ferns. The trail, carpeted with needles, was soft and springy. After all the concern about slippery rocks in the last stretches, I didn't mind the climb. Blackstock Knob is an SB6K which made it 21 for Sharon; I had finished all 40 several years ago. No view on top, no fantastic flowers; the mountain would have been dismissed if it wasn't a SB6K. We celebrated the top with a break.
It should have been down, down, down from here but we had several climbs punctuated by more rocky, wobbly sections.
Finally we reached Sharon's car on the Mt. Mitchell road. She took me back to mine and we said goodbye. This was the last stretch we were going to do while staying in Asheville. From now on, it was camping, backpacking and motelling.
But our days were not over. Sharon headed for Green Knob Tower. "It's a beautiful day and I'm not getting any younger," she said. That's an argument that could be used for doing anything.
I was meeting Jim, a Carolina Mountain Club member from Marion, who was going to show me a trailhead close to Linville Gorge. While waiting for him, I had a dish of ice cream at the C&J Roadside Cafe in Nebo - no, they don't have a website.
Jim took me to an obscure trailhead which I would have never found on my own, or even from a written description. We climbed a rockface (I had to put on my wet boots and socks again) and saw the whole of Linville. Views of coming attractions!
Cumulative after day 27, 320.9 miles, 48,950 ft. ascent
Starting with 300.8 miles, 42,750 ft.
Bull Gap to Greybeard Overlook
11.4 miles, 3,900 ft. ascent
We started at Bull Gap where we ended last December. It seems like a
long time ago when the MST project was just an idea. Now we've done more
than 300 miles and it looks like we will complete the trail.
I'm wearing my colorful splint and using only one pole but I was not going to give up these two days of hiking. We had it planned for weeks. Canceling the backpack was bad enough. Yes, my wrist was declared broken on Tuesday and the hand specialist said I need to wear the splint when I did "perilous" activities. I never thought of hiking as perilous but he was concerned about my falling again on the wrist.
We quickly arrived at Rattlesnake Lodge, the summer home of Asheville physician and Carolina Mountain Club member Chase Ambler.
The home, built in 1903, was occupied until it burned to the ground in the late 1920s. You can see the retaining walls, and the foundations for the tennis courts, swimming pool (shown above) and cabins. Ambler's wife and children went up to their summer home as soon as school let out and Dr. Ambler came up on weekends. Ambler owned land from Bull Gap to Lane Pinnacle and supervised the building of a horse trail from his property to Mt. Mitchell. It was supposed to be part of the "Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway", the precursor of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We continued up to Lane Pinnacle where we could see Beetree Reservoir, Asheville's water supply. Fire pinks, columbines, spiderworts lined the trail. So did multiflora roses, an exotic invasive. We saw a few spectacular flame azaleas, shown below.
Catawba rhododendrons were way past their prime and the trail was covered with their pink flowers. The day was very humid and we were dripping wet. The trail went down to cross Beetree Gap, which was filled with construction equipment. Craggy Gardens picnic area was closed because of construction and we had the trail to ourselves.
We went through the Civilian Conservation Corps shelter which had been rehabilitated since I wrote Hiking the Carolina Mountains.
Then we started the really perilous section. From the nature trail to Greybeard Overlook, the trail was wet, rocky and uneven. Rocks were wobbly and roots protruded every which way. Sharon slipped and fell on her knee. I was overcautious and went slow. The trail seemed like it would never end. But it did.
Cumulative after day 26, 312.2 miles, 46,650 ft. ascent
Just came back from the Great Smoky Mountains Association retreat.
I'm on the board and we spent yesterday and today talking about the many ways the Association helps the Smokies.
The Association published lots of educational material about the park, including Hiking Trails of the Smokies, affectionately known as the "Brown Book". They also run the bookstores at the visitor centers and sell a lot more than the books and maps they produce. They sell clothing and other books, including my two books. Thank you! A portion of all sales goes to the Park for various projects.
Publishing and selling are their core activities but they funded the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center that is now being built. They also funded the new Clingmans Dome visitor center, which will open any day now.
I never know whether to say "they" or "we"; "we" probably since I'm part of the Association. And you can also become a member.
I missed going to Oconaluftee Visitor Center for two Mondays, now, but I'll be back next week.
Chimney Rock State Park, authorized in 2005, comprises more than 4,300 acres in Rutherford, Polk, Henderson and Buncombe counties, including Hickory Nut Gorge. The private Chimney Rock park was added to the state's property in 2007, and is the primary public access to the state park.
A state park’s master plan is essentially a blueprint for long-term development of facilities and recreation opportunities and a guide for protection of natural resources. It is meant to be an organic document, evolving as the park grows and as knowledge is gained about a park’s natural resources and public use.
Greenways Inc., a Durham-based environmental planning and landscape architecture firm, is completing the plan. The design proposals will be available at www.greenways.com/chimneyrock.
Written comments can be submitted through June 23 through the Greenways website or by mail to: General Management Plan Coordinator, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, 1615 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699-1615.
On Monday, a woman was killed when she slipped in the water at the bottom of Rainbow Falls.
Rainbow Falls is one of several waterfalls on a wonderful hike along Horsepasture River. You enter through Gorges State Park, North Carolina's westernmost state park on NC 281 and walk to several waterfalls. It's a safe and easy hike.
It only becomes a problem when people do stupid things. Do people really not know that they shouldn't climb above waterfalls or wade in swift water? Or is it that they crave adventure and a couple of miles of hiking is not going to satisfy that craving? If so, there are thousands of miles of trails in Western North Carolina. People can challenge themselves by hiking long and steep trails.
Recently a man and woman were seriously injured when they climbed Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall in North Carolina.
Again, this couple walked down less than two miles when they could have walked miles in Nantahala National Forest.
What do you think? How can we encourage folks to get more thrills without doing foolish things?
With a splint on my right hand, I led eight other eager Carolina Mountain Club hikers on a loop from the "Road to Nowhere" tunnel in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This area, though beautiful and green, shines because of its history. See this National Park Traveler piece on the background on the Road to Nowhere. Most of the folks that came on the hike were there to see the "Road to Nowhere" for themselves.
First we stopped at the signboard funded by locals which shows the bitterness that still persists. I don't know how long this board will be up.
We entered the park and drove another six miles to the tunnel. See the picture at the top of this entry. On a combination of trails, we met backpackers going or coming back from campsite #74 on Forney Creek.
The highlight for me was the visit to Woody Cemetery off Lake Shore Trail - it was a good climb. We talked about what goes on at Decoration Days. Anyone can go and you'll be treated with the utmost respect.
Toward the end of the hike, we took the Tunnel By-pass trail. The sign had been turned 90 deg. the wrong way and was confusing to the group. We tried to pull it out of the ground and turn it but we couldn't.
I plan to let the Smokies maintenance people know about it.