Entries For: September 2010
Starting with 389.8 miles, 61,950 ft. ascent
Wolff Pit Rd. up Shortoff Mt. to Table Rock
9.0 miles 3,100 ft. ascent
It rained all night. I heard water pattering on the roof of the cabin in Ginger Cake Acres but Sharon, Kate and I are persevering. The weather is awful - no other word to use but we're here so we're hiking.
The next Mountains-to-Sea Trail section in question is from NC 126 on an access trail up to Table Rock in Linville Gorge. I suggest that we go down and back up to Table Rock, saving a lot of driving. But it would be 15 miles of walking and a long uphill at the end of the day. The other alternative is to drive down to NC 126 near Lake James State Park to Wolff Pit Rd. After I say "15 miles", there's no question - we're driving more and hiking less.
We drive down to NC 126 to start the trail up to Table Rock. From NC 181 South, we take Rose Creek Rd. a gravel road, then Fish Hatchery Rd. to NC 126. Wolff Pit Rd. is not obvious because the sign is turned around but we finally find it and go to the end of the road. We've entered Linville Gorge Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest.
We climb up a blue blazed trail for 1.1 miles to the MST. It's raining but it’s warm so I leave my rain pants off.
This area was burned in summer 2007 and flowers are reclaiming the area. White snakeroot, milkweed, goldenrod (above) and yellow asters - Sharon takes pictures of them all while my camera stays protected in my pack for half the hike.
We know it’s going to be a lot of climbing.
Shortoff Mt., with its wonderful views of Lake James, Linville Gorge and even the Blacks, is just fog.
To my surprise, after Shortoff Mt., the trail is flat and even goes down a bit. We’re skirting the wilderness but there are blazes here and there.
At one point, Sharon in the lead is unsure of the trail. Kate finds a trail on the left and we take it happily for a while. But the trail keeps going down sharply and becomes more and more obstructed. Blue ribbons mark the trail haphazardly. As we keep going down more steeply, I wonder aloud if we’re not heading into Linville Gorge itself. I really do want to correct a possible mistake before we see the Linville River.
My compass says we’re going west when we should be going north but Chimney Gap is at 2,500 feet and we're not that low yet. We decide that if we go down lower than 2,500 feet, we need to turn around.
A few minutes later, we're on our way back up. As we climb, I hope that we actually have made a mistake because if we didn’t, then what do we do? We will have blown the day and not learned anything. It's early in the day so we're not concerned about our safety, just those miles.
We struggle to go up through blowdowns and rocky stretches. When we get back up to our known MST spot, sure enough, we see a trail going right which we should have taken. But the mileage in Scot's book for the Chimbric Ridge Trail, the blue cross trail, was wrong; we should not have been this close to the blue trail. Once we go down the correct MST trail, there are white circles a plenty. Sharon keeps yelling out “a blaze” for each one. “She’s not blaze about the blazes.”
We’re all tired and wet. We reach Chimney Gap, a wide flat area where the wind whistles through. It’s now 2 P.M. and we haven’t stopped for lunch. I have a packet of tuna, mayonnaise and crackers – not a quick trail lunch; it’s a poor choice on a wet day. We continue climbing into the woods and eat standing up on the trail.
The trail is now really steep. We struggle up but I don’t care – we’re on the trail.
No views, though. I feel sorry for Kate and Sharon. I’ve seen the wonderful views when I hiked here for my book and also with Carolina Mountain Club but they're seeing a lot of fog.
The Chimneys Rock formations are outstanding even in the fog. We're back at 3:50 P.M. and now have to drive back down in the fog to NC 126 to pick up my car. We've hiked for 6:45 hrs. which included getting lost and drove for three hours.
How much do you need to know?
How much do you want to know about your trail?
We have now left the Linville Gorge Mount Mitchell National Geographic map. Once back at the cabin, Sharon and I spread out a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Scot's book and the North Carolina road map. In desperation, we check Alan De Hart's book, Hiking North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail as a last resort - it's dated but we want to see if anything jives for the next two days.
If you need to know every challenge, every ascent, stream ford, and blowdown, the MST is not for you. You know to go with the flow, sometimes literally.
Cumulative after Day 34, 398.8 miles, 65,050 ft. ascent
Starting with 379.9 miles, 59,950 ft. ascent
Table Rock Picnic Area to NC 181
9.9 miles, 2,000 ft. ascent
It was a mishmash of a day from the beginning on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Two Carolina Mountain Club hike leaders Jim and Jacob, had planned this Linville hike for months. Sharon and I wanted to cross the Linville River with a group and this was our chance. Since the hike was going to be in Linville Gorge, a wilderness area, the groups were limited to 10 hikers going both ways. Sharon and I signed up in May. Then Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, decided to join us. And Janet who hikes with CMC thought it would be fun to join “the girls”.
Sharon and Kate stayed over at my house in Asheville. The next morning, Sunday, we woke up to rain – hard rain. But the leaders had said they were going rain or shine. At 7 A.M., Jim called from Marion. It was thundering in Marion and the Linville river was going to be flooded. He canceled the hike.
Janet backed out of our cabin hiking trip. We decided to brave it. We had the people, the days, even a cabin in Linville Gorge. Sharon is well-connected and has friends with cabins in the right places.
The drive to Table Rock was very wet and windy. It was not a good beginning and we had a late start. We didn't get on the trail until 11 A.M. But when we started out hiking from Table Rock, it was only drizzling.
The MST leaves Table Rock Trail very quickly and starts down on a rocky trail. It's slow going only for a short while. Much of the trail is a railroad grade – wide and soft underfoot.
We cross Steels Creek several times. It's challenging but I do it without getting my boots wet on the inside.
We pass an outstanding waterfall down below.
The last crossing is a tough one with a useless rope. See Kate below crossing.
At least the rope tells you it's going to be a dangerous crossing. One slip and you're out of the world. But the three of us made it.
We get to our car at 5 P.M. but then have to go to Table Rock to pick up Sharon’s car.
Cumulative after Day 33, 389.8 miles, 61,950 ft. ascent
Many people say that Fall is their favorite time of year for hiking. Temperatures are cooler (but not this year). Views are clearer than in the summer and there's more chance to see animals as they prepare for winter.
One of these creatures is yellow jackets. Unlike the bumble bee of spring that flits from flower to flower and avoids people, yellow jackets in fall seem to look for people to sting. They nest in the ground or under rocks and just wait for me to pass them on the trail.
Yesterday I got stung several times on both legs and now my right leg looks like it belongs on a small elephant. I am pulling all the stops - taking benedryl, icing and elevating my foot, and trying to stay off my feet. The area itches badly and I keep lathering myself with Hydrocortosone cream. I really need to get the swelling down as I have several days of hard MST hiking coming up.
But every incident, no matter how unpleasant, reveals some truth. I am miserable, itchy and swollen but I can't wait to get back on the trail. I'm not thinking that I should stay out of the woods in autumn.
If I had a similar incident biking, I might decide that biking was unsafe and just pack it in. Obviously, I've had years and years of hiking pleasure and just started biking again and right now it's not a pleasure.
But, hey, look on the bright side, I'm unlikely to get stung by yellow jackets biking the road.
Every time I drive out to Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I think I'm going to do the same thing - and I'm surprised every week.
Yesterday, I left before 8 A.M. so I could check out Mac's Teepees Cabins in Cherokee. Last week, a visitor called in to find out if the cabins were still in business. The teepee-like cabins were the site of an obscure movie Digging to China. I told her I had no idea but I was going to find out.
The business is closed. The cabins on the left of the abandoned house have been covered with kudzu. There are a fresh set of similar cabins that look as empty.
The Visitor Center was hopping. Though it was only the first day of fall, maybe they wanted to get a jump on fall colors. I understand the colors are going to be spectacular. International visitors from Switzerland, Germany and even a French speaker from Quebec stood out.
After my four hour stint, I roved the Farm Museum. Dan was cutting sorghum preparing for the sorghum crushing in a couple of weeks.
I met Gee Phillips. See her picture above.
Gee lives in Dayton, OH but has been volunteering in the Smokies for several weeks since 1992. She dresses as if she lives in the beginning of the 20th Century, sits on the porch of the Davis house and talks to visitors.
Gee grew up on a farm in east Tennessee so she feels this is like coming home. She'll cook on the open fire, make soap and do other crafts appropriate to the time period.
While she's here, she works a full 32-hour week. She lives in a staff apartment with a seasonal ranger. What a great lady and an inspiration to us all.
I'd like to end on a positive note but after I left Gee, I noticed that three elk had moved into the field just past the entrance of the park. Visitors had also noticed and parked themselves right in front of the elk. This was not good.
I rushed over across the field, south of the construction entrance. By then two elk had fled but not the people. I put on my Elk Bugle Corps attitude from last year and got the people and the traffic moving. The third elk bounded across the field and into the woods.
On a beautiful Sunday, when I should have been hiking my feet off, I went to a bicycle course. This Traffic Safety Course was designed by the League of American Bicyclists and given by Claudia Nix of Liberty Bicycles (on the left) and Gwen Wisler (on the right).
The course was about three hours of classroom work and three hours of biking skills on the ground. The main message was that "bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." That means riding with confidence and competence. Yes, I know - that's what I'm still working on.
The other students in the class - and there were only five of us - were way ahead of me. I took this class because it was offered now.
The course started from basics on how to check your bike before a ride to proper posture to where a bike belongs in traffic. Gwen talked about the death grip which will give you pain in your wrists and hands. That describes exactly the way I'm holding the bike right now - and after a ride, it's my hands that hurt the most.
Then we went outside to learn how to fix a flat tire. Claudia took off her back wheel - quite a complicated procedure since the chain and your derailleurs are there. She proceeded to take out her inner tube, flatten it, replace it and pump it up again.
I had to leave after that but the rest of the class learned several emergency maneuvers. I could say that I was sorry to leave but frankly I was not ready to practice evasive actions if a driver cuts you off when I'm still not comfortable on my bike.
The most surprising thing was that they didn't have 50 people on this course. I hope they offer it again next spring before I'm ready to ride on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Let's not forget why I'm doing all this.
Starting with 369.9 miles, 56,950 ft. ascent
FR 464 to Beacon Heights Blue Ridge Parkway MP 305.2
10 miles, 3,000 ft. ascent
The second day of hiking on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Wilson Creek was varied. Waterfalls, road walk and a long pull on a forest trail. The trail on both days was well-maintained and well-blazed. Maintenance is important but even more important is good blazing, so hikers can follow the white circles with confidence.
The trail, from FR-464 climbs down to Hunt-Fish Falls. The MST sign says that it's maintained by Tim Johnson. I wonder if it's the same Tim Johnson who works for the North Carolina State Park System and is responsible for the MST.
One picture can't do justice to the various pools, cascades and waterfalls of this section. In the summer, Hunt-Fish Falls attracts people who go no further on the trail - they swim, wade and hang out.
After the falls and our first water crossing, my shoes are already wet and it's not even 9 A.M. Cardinal flowers (see the red flower below), turtle heads, and white wood asters grow around the creek. Again, no hemlock for a while. Maybe the land here was too rocky and steep.
The second and third fall and swimming hole are magical. We spend some quiet time watching the water fall.
After 3.8 miles, we reach a parking area in Roseborough and the end of the section of hike I had designed as Lost Cove Loop in my second hiking guide.
We turn right on a car bridge and onto FR 192. This forest road has seen much better days. It's wide and clear of vegetation but is so rocky and rough I couldn't see driving it. Maybe it's used by mountain bikers and ATV.
Everywhere acorns drop on our heads, like rain - it's fall after all. The road offers three miles of uphill walking but I enjoy it. We start at 2,000 feet and know we have a long climb up to Beacon Heights on the Parkway, which is at 4,200 feet.
The road climbs gently for 1,000 feet. We can walk two abreast and talk. Purple asters grow in clumps at the higher elevation and we even see a small twin waterfall that we name SharonDanny falls - see the picture at the beginning of this entry. Why not? I bet it doesn't have a name.
At Old House Gap, the MST gets off the road and back into the woods. Then the climb gets serious - over 1,200 feet in three miles. Each time the trail goes down, we know we'll have to climb back up some more to compensate. Some of the trail feels new, other sections old and maybe affected by a hurricane.
Rhododendrons are bent over all in one direction like they've been flattened by high winds. About a half-mile from the end, a fantastic view unfolds. We can see the characteristic layers upon layers of mountains and Grandmother Mountain to our right - let's hear it for grandmothers.
As we come down, we pass the side trail to Beacon Heights. Though it's less than a mile round-trip, we give it a miss. We've both been there and we're ready to see the car.
We also see where our next section east is - the Tanawha Trail. But if you've been following us, you know that we haven't done Linville Gorge - that's our next goal.
Cumulative after Day 32, 379.9 miles, 59,950 ft. ascent
Starting with 355.6 miles, 54,950 ft. ascent
NC 181 to Fr-464
14.3 miles, 2,000 ft. ascent
It feels so good to hike a defined section in one shot. Sharon and I just finished the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on Wilson Creek - about 24 miles in two days. To be most efficient, we probably should have backpacked it but this project is not just about efficiency. After all, if we wanted to get to the North Carolina coast efficiently and quickly, we could just fly. It's about seeing back roads, small stores and meeting North Carolinians and we sure did this.
My destination on Tuesday is Mortimer Campground in Wilson Creek off NC 90. To do that, I drive to Morganton and then north on Brown Mountain Beach Road. I understand the Brown Mountain part - people have seen mysterious, magical lights off Brown Mountain for decades. But what's with the beach? We're hours away from a beach.
I stop at Wilson Creek Outfitters on Brown Mountain Beach Road because they're advertising ice cream. Though I haven't done much exercise today, I'm thinking ahead. Joe, the owner, explains that there's a natural beach on Wilson Creek in back of his property. The area was a swimming hole, picnic area and general family fun place until the past owner sold the land to developers. Now they're going to build environmentally friendly cabins to summer people. Joe buys two copies of Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage and gives me a free ice cream bar. It was a good stop.
The road turns to gravel right after the store. The Creek, on the left, has many pull-outs and steps down to the water. Wilson Creek has been protected as a Wild and Scenic River since Aug. 18, 2000. The river flows from Grandfather Mountain for 23.3 miles to Johns River. The area is not a wilderness but seems more remote and isolated than Linville Gorge.
By the time I drive past Wilson Creek Visitor Center, the building is closed. But a sign puzzles me. No NADAR - on a sign at Wilson Creek Visitor Center. Any idea what that is?
Just before I get to the campground, I pass a large ruin of a boiler house. It's the remains of the logging industry in this area. Mortimer was a logging camp, then a CCC camp. The white building outside the campground dates back from the CCC days.
The trail from NC 181 to FR 464 (Hunt Fish Falls) is a combination of trails and old roads. Scot's MST book warned us of many creek crossings and we count 21 - any crossing where water is flowing was counted as a crossing. But ten of them are serious water fords - even Sharon gets her feet wet today. One is a crotch crossing for me - see the picture above. The trail crisscrosses Harper Creek and climbs on rocks. Harper Creek Falls is the highlight.
The area is lush with pines, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and sourwoods that have already turned red.
What is also interesting is what we don't see - no hemlocks, one small patch of poison ivy and galax only at the end of our 14 miles. Summer flowers hang on - cardinal flowers, jewelweed, cone flowers - and autumn asters line the trail.
We meet only one person, Bob from Fort Bragg who's camping and taking day trips from his base camp. If you want solitude, Wilson Creek is it.
Cumulative after day 31, 369.9 miles, 56,950 ft. ascent
Yesterday, the phone rang at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I picked it up and a woman from Alabama was on the line.
"You're having the Mountain Life Festival on Saturday?"
I confirmed that it was still happening even though the new construction will be cutting down on the parking.
"Have you ever heard of a movie, Digging to China?"
Mam, I felt like telling her, you're lucky you got me on the phone. "Yes, I've seen it."
"Well, I stayed in the motel and the room where it was filmed in Cherokee. Do you know if the motel is still around? It had tepees in front."
"I'm sorry, I have no idea." Though I'm in Cherokee every week, I stick to the main roads and I've never seen it - I would have recognize it.
At about one o'clock, Libby Kephart Hargrove walked in the visitor center. She's the woman I interviewed on Saturday at the Great Smoky Mountains Association meeting. She and her husband were still in Bryson City. He wasn't feeling well so she was exploring the park.
She had her big 40% off on $150 coupon and she was going to spend it all. (If you're a member of the GSMA, you get a once-a-year coupon for 40% off on $150 of merchandise - It's a good way to get all your gifts.) Libby bought a print of the newly discovered Masa pictures.
Then I took her on my roving tour of Bradley Fork trail. See above. Fall is definitely here. A few jewelweeds, here and there, but mostly the only color were in the changing leaves.
The fall theme was even more pronounced when I drove back on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Autumn blooming clematis, ragweed and of course, the start of changing color.
It's going to be a spectacular fall.
I stopped at the Big Witch Overlook, just to look. See below.
Once I got home, I searched for the mysterious motel. Not so mysterious. It's opposite Food Lion.The motel is Mac's Indian Village
at 60 Teepee Drive.
Here are the directions: It's a mile or so south of town. There is a traffic light at the intersection of US-441 and Business 441 outside of downtown Cherokee, opposite Food Lion.
Some websites report it closed. I'll check it out next week.
This year, the Great Smoky Mountains Association had its members weekend in Bryson City. The classic place to stay in Bryson City in the Calhoun House, on Everett St. I have been there for events but have never stayed there.
So I searched for Calhoun House and made a reservations months ago. I thought I had the right place but got another Calhoun House a few streets away. It was a fine place to stay but not the right place.
Lenny met me in Bryson City after the GSMA board meeting and we went to a barbecue, the first event of the weekend. Above is a picture of the "high table", Starting the right are Suzanne Ditmanson and Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, Dan Pierce, history professor at UNCA and author of Real Nascar and Terry Maddox, Executive Director of GSMA. Continuing country-clockwise, I don't know who the boy is but then, we have Cin Slater and her husband, Deputy Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald. I don't know the next couple.
On Saturday, I led a hike from the Tunnel to Nowhere. Sixteen hardy and eager hikers came. It started raining as we drove out there. I got one photo in the one moment the rain stopped. Then the rain really bucketed as we went down to Fontana Lake and back up again.
As I looked up from my feet, in a really dark section of the trail, I saw a feral hog. I had never seen a hog in the Smokies before. Wow! It didn't stick around for long. I pointed to it to the couple just behind me but by then, it was gone. But I saw it!
In the afternoon, I went to the indoor programs. The highlight was one given by Libby Kephart Hargrove about her great-grandfather, Horace Kephart. She told the story of Horace Kephart's life, sang and played the piano.
I had the privilege of interviewing her, not about Horace Kephart but about her - her life and her passion to tell the story of her famous ancestor.
Good meeting. You should come next year.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park announces that Clingmans Dome Road will be closed for construction work from Monday, September 13 until Saturday morning, September 18. I hope no one is thinking of starting the MST or of hiking from the top of Clingmans Dome next week.
Since the Park has been blessed with stimulus money, they are building and repairing like mad. Other trails are affected as well. Check all the closings.
I seemed to have spent most of my week shopping for a bicycle. I felt like a "bike bum". At each bike store, I learned a few more things about biking. I saw more equipment and features that I wanted on my bike.
I had settled on a hybrid bike for our Mountains-to-Sea trek past the mountains. Let's not forget why I'm doing this.
Of course, it was not that simple. Within that category, there are fitness, comfort, commuter bikes and others, I'm sure. With each new bike I rode, I got more confused.
Then I went to Pro-Bikes in West Asheville. Marti, the owner, introduced me to disk brakes. Unlike rim brakes, disk brakes are a sealed unit and are not as affected by rain and dirt. They sounded much safer to me. This feature has moved down from mountain bikes and of course raises the price. Each time, I learn something new, the price goes up.
So armed with this new requirement - disc brakes - I continued my search. The next place I went to said "Disc brakes are good. There are two types of disc brakes. Do you want hydrolic brakes?" Up went the price again.
I called up Jim, my publisher at Milestone Press and the author of several bike books. Though he is a bike expert, he said that I didn't need hydrolic brakes. Good.
I went to a bookstore and browsed through several books on biking. All these experts tell you to buy what feels comfortable but you don't test ride all the bikes under the same condition. Some shops will let you go out in a parking lot, others on the streets. Some will rent bikes, others don't.
Today, I rented a bike from Pro-Bike and took it to Carrier Park. They outfitted my car with a bike rack and off I went.
The Park has to be the easiest, flattest place to ride but still I wasn't comfortable. I tried to avoid children and other riders. Of course, almost everyone had a dog, some on leashes, other off.
I bobbed and weaved for two hours on a Fuji Absolute, the closest bike to one I was considering. The brakes were too far for me but I didn't realize that until I really got exhausted. When I went to put the bike back on the rack, I just couldn't do it. I wasn't using the straps properly. So I put the seat down on my hatchback and put the bike in the car. Then I realized I didn't want a heavier bike. No way!
At the store, I told Marti about the brakes and she let me ride the 2.0 with a different brake combination. What a difference! I went around and around in the huge and empty parking lot a couple of blocks from the store.
My analysis paralysis lifted. I ordered a bike - finally. I still have a lot of equipment to get but I made the big decision. Now I have to practice. Sharon, I'm making progress.
Is the average person taking global warming seriously?
I parked, got out and walked into the fast food joint. You can see my car at the far end to the left.
I was served right away. In the meantime, the drive-thru line was getting longer and longer. Everyone had their engines on, waiting to give their breakfast order and then waiting to get their fast food.
Why didn't they park and get out? Is it all about the physical effort of getting out of their car and walking a few steps? People talk about organic cotton, recycling and growing their own food but they can't bother to turn off their engine and get out of their car.
Rough Creek Watershed is Canton's old watershed. Instead of selling the land to developers, they kept it and put in under conservation easement. The property has about 10 miles of biking and hiking trails.It is being protected by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.