Entries For: May 2012
Trails Forever had a big celebration yesterday at Clingmans Dome in the Smokies. The occasion was big, though the celebration itself was very low-key.
Trails Forever is a program that will fund a trail crew in Great Smoky Mountains National Park - forever. Friends of the Smokies received $2 million from the Aslan Foundation, a Knoxville foundation, and has worked hard to match it. With the four millions and more that will need to be donated, the Trails Forever program will fund a third crew to work on big, big trail projects.
Last year, Forney Ridge Trail was the first trail to be rehabilitated with this funding. See the before and after picture on National Parks Traveler. This year, Chimney Top Trail will receive this deluxe treatment.
Although Forney Ridge Trail was finished last year, Friends of the Smokies and the Park officially cut the ribbon yesterday. See the picture above.
Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of the Smokies, spoke about the importance of this project in perpetuity.
In addition to officials of various groups, Tobias Miller and Christine Hoyer were there.
They're the folks who actually plan and work on the trail and organize volunteers. They showed off their maintenance truck, which houses all their tools. It's like a garage, with much better organization.
As I'm writing my book Walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail: a 1000 miles through North Carolina, I want and need to revisit certain places on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. And besides, that gives me a chance to hike.
So I went on the Carolina Mountain Club half-day hike yesterday. We hiked 5.3 miles from FS 816 to Looking Glass Rock Overlook, mostly downhill. Lots of changes from the last time I did it. Even before we hit the trail, we noticed changes.
The major change is that the Blue Ridge Parkway is not mowing the sides of the road. All the National Parks have suspended mowing since the death of a Parkway worker. The grass is lush and tall and will get taller while the Park Service reviews its procedures.
They are not allowing weed whacking on trails either. So the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will be harder to navigate through the summer. So please be understanding as you walk the trail. Our CMC volunteers will get to it as soon as we're given the word that we can weed whack again.
None of that was apparent on the section of the trail that we walked. It's a rocky section. We started high off of FS 816 in Pisgah National Forest, admiring the view. See above.
A mother and two adventurous boys joined us. We rarely get children on any of our hikes, but there's no reason that families can't join us. They had fun, even though they probably would have wanted to go faster.
I told them that if they followed the white circles, they would eventually get to the ocean. I would see their imagination going.
The highlight was Skinny dip Falls. I have been there several times but for the first time, I had the time to look around, photograph and even take off my boots. That water is cold.
What a day.
A group from Friends of the Smokies went up to Hemphill Bald today. At 5,000 feet, we had sun and a cool breeze. We thought we were past all the spring flowers but we saw quite a few - brook lettuce, violets, mayflowers, umbrella plants and toothworts. See the picture below.
But it's the view at Hemphill Bald which makes this hike a classic. You can see down into Maggie Valley, across to a mountain range and views to the left and right.
Judy Coker, owner of Cataloochee Ranch, greeted us and spoke about the history of the ranch. Her father started the ranch in 1939 and it's going strong today. In addition, the land has been put in a conservation easement so it won't be developed. You won't see a lot of huge houses on top of Hemphill Bald in a few years.
I heard the history last year but each year, I learn a bit more about Cataloochee Ranch.
We walked down through her property, a grassy meadow with buttercups lighting the way.
When we got back to the car, I took the group to the Masonic marker at Black Camp Gap. I thought I had found a real gem but four hikers had already been there. This marker has been on the Blue Ridge Parkway since 1938.
If you want to know more about this marker, including how to get there, see my article at National Parks Traveler.
Sign up for the next Friends of the Smokies hike!
Sometimes the legislature has to do something only to undo it. I have several examples of that in mind - think how we finally got Dupont State Forest. But this is all about our North Carolina license plates.
I couldn't imagine that I'd be worried about what's on the back of my car but I am. A specialty plate says that you care about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the A.T. or the Blue Ridge Parkway and so many other worthwhile organizations that protect the coast and the arts.
Right now, if the NC legislature does nothing, all those full-color tags will go away in 2015. Now why would a Republican legislature want to prevent their constituents from donating $30 a year to help a nonprofit group? I have no idea. Read my article in National Parks Traveler and make up your own mind.
But in the meantime, we need to call, email or even write a letter to our North Carolina senators and representatives and let them know to undo this harmful law. Friends of the Smokies explains how to do this. But no matter what kind of specialty tag you have, you can use their hints on how to contact your legislators.
I was not able to be part of Diane Van Deren's cheering squad but for a few minutes, I was. And so were the Carolina Mountain Club hikers who did the Coffee Pot Mountain Loop.
Diane is an ultra runner who is running the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. She's trying to beat the record that Matt Kirk established of 24 days. She started at Clingmans Dome on Thursday May 10. For the last couple of days, she ran through CMC territory. She has a compelling story which you can read at the Great Outdoor Provision Co., one of her sponsors.
I, on the other end, plodded up Coffee Pot with several other CMC members. We reached the Blue Ridge Parkway at Beaver Dam Gap Overlook and had lunch at the picnic table.
While we were eating, who should come down but Diane and one of her helper, a WNC top runner? According to the schedule on the web, she ended up at Pisgah Inn last night and was scheduled to run to the Folk Art Center.
We applauded as the two women came down. I was able to get a couple of pictures taken and off they went.
And so did we. We went down Trace Ridge Trail, crossing the stream several times. Mountain laurel were in bloom and so were many wildflowers, including firepinks.
A good hike with a great surprise.
Turn back time to the cool springtime breezes of years gone by with a guided hike to the high-elevation and history-rich trail to Hemphill Bald.
I'm leading a hike on Hemphill Bald on Thursday, May 17 - 8.4 mile hike and 1,500 ft. of elevation. This is one of the "Classic Hikes of North Carolina Smokies", sponsored by Friends of the Smokies.
Judy Coker of Cataloochee Ranch, which borders the park along the trail, will join the group. Coker will share stories about the relationship of her family over generations with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, conserving land, and entertaining mountain guests.
The Hemphill Bald Trail follows the spine of the Cataloochee Divide, affording stunning vistas on a clear day and spring wildflowers long gone at lower elevations.
Participants may gather to depart from Asheville at 8:30 a.m. or Waynesville at 9:00 a.m. Meeting locations specified upon registration. Hikers should come prepared with food, water and appropriate hiking gear for the all day excursion. A donation of $35 to go to the Friends’ Smokies Trails Forever program is requested, and includes a complimentary membership to Friends of the Smokies. A donation of $10 is requested from current Friends of the Smokies members. Members who bring a friend hike for free.
“Classic Hikes of the Smokies” occur on the third Thursday of every month. Other hikes in the 2012 series include the Appalachian Trail and Andrews Bald in June, and Purchase Knob in July.
To register for any of the hikes, contact Friends of the Smokies at 828-452-0720.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is full of Revolutionary War sites. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Piedmont.
The Revolutionary War-era Rock House was built by John Martin, an American patriot. The foundation was laid in the 1770s and the house was finished around 1785. It's now owned by The Stokes County Historical Society. They put a fence around it so that rocks would not fall on people's head.
A little further down Rock House Road is the tiny cemetery where John Martin and his wife are buried.
In Hanging Rock State Park, we walked several trails including going up to the Hanging Rock.
But we also had to walk the MST from the Visitor Center to two waterfalls.
But the clincher was going back to Tory's Den.
This put the whole story together, between the Rock House and Tory's Den.
Tory's Den was home to about 100 British sympathizers who lost their property to the Whigs. See the cave to the right.
I don't know how a hundred men could have stayed in this cave. They may have stored their gunpowder here and just camped out.
As the story goes, a skirmish occurred one night in 1778 when Tories raided the house of Colonel John Martin, stole supplies, and may have kidnapped Martin's daughter. The next morning Martin and his men attacked Tory's Den and took most of the residents of the cave prisoner.
That's the end of the story and was the end of our weekend. But now my granddaughter knows a little about the MST.
Got to get that next generation on the trail.
I'm continuing my trek on a new section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
So where does the MST go after the Corridor Trail? It crosses Pinnacle Hotel Road, which separates two sections of Pilot Mountain State Park.
If you go there right now, it gets confusing.
In Pilot Mountain State Park, two trails come off Pinnacle Hotel Road, a hundred feet apart or so.
Grassy Ridge Trail has white markers but that's not the continuation of the MST. Huh??
The white circles on Grassy Ridge Trail are part of the park blazing system. The MST continues on Mountain Trail, which right now has no blazes. It connects with Ledge Springs Trail and down Grindstone Trail. The trail comes down between campsite 16 and 17 and continues close to the road to the Park Office, across the road and eventually out of the park and onto the Sauratown Trail.
My son, Neil and granddaughter, Hannah, had come from Chapel Hill for a couple of days of hiking in the Sauratown Mountains.
None of these MST details were important to them. We all marveled at the view, the rocks and talked to several rock climbers. Hannah, who's nine, was particularly impressed by a seven-year old girl who was rock climbing with her father.
After the hike and a stop at Nana's in the town of Pilot Mountain, we discovered a historic oddity just off the Sauratown Trail. Stay tuned!
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail changes all the time.
Since I finished last year, almost to the day, the trail was relocated to take in Pilot Mountain State Park. Why this iconic park was not included in the first place has always puzzled me. But better now than not at all.
Three active members of Friends of Sauratown Mountains and Friends of the MST helped me walk the Corridor Trail. I've done the Mountain section of Pilot Mountain several times but never the section south that connects to the River part.
Jay, Susan and Ron met me at the eastern end of the Corridor Trail and we shuttled to the western end. That's western in MST terms, really it's south.
The corridor trail is 5.5 miles on the trail, 6.5 according to the Superintendent and 6 miles on written documentation. Unfortunately I didn't think to take my GPS. After all, I'm not writing a hiking guide. But I did use my altimeter to measure the total ascent - 1,050 ft.
The trail is wide and undulating. It might look like it's abused land without much life but looks are deceiving. We saw a black snake, "shoelace" snake and two turtles.
Lots of mountain laurel blooming, and even one lonely lady slipper.
The land was probably farm land and logged over. It crossed three roads and at this point, there are no MST signs on those roads. But the trail was well-blazed and I had to get my picture taken with an MST circle.
State Parks are very concerned about safety.
What if someone needs to be evacuated off the trail? So they put in mileage posts every 1/4 mile. It's nice to know where you are but this is a little too much. The idea is that if you're having trouble and you call in, you'll know what mileage you're at.
Jay, who organized the day, explained the relationship between all the groups he's involved in. Friends of Sauratown Trail cares about Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain State Parks. His Friends of the MST task force cares about the MST.
Then there's the Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club, the local hiking club in the area. Jay manages to get all those parties involved in working on the new MST sections.
Friends of the MST is one big family. We know that it's difficult to complete the trail by yourself, though not impossible, so members are willing to help others out of the area. Thanks Jay!
I'm sure that those of you who keep up with changes in Western North Carolina trails know that the trailhead to Horsepasture River has changed. My first hiking guide, Hiking the Carolina Mountains, is being reprinted again and I have to update this hike.
So I checked it out. Gorges State Park is getting a new visitor center soon and has a new loop road.
Now onto the hike.
Previously, hikers parked at Gorges State Park and walked on the road to the entrance to Nantahala National Forest.
Now, there's a brand new trailhead in Gorges, Grassy Ridge. Like all state parks, this trail is immaculate. It's lined with pebbles, for less erosion.
We hit four waterfalls.
Rainbow Falls and Turtleback (see the top photo) are the most popular because they're right on the trail. At the far end of the trail, you can only look at Drift Falls through a screen of Private Property signs. And if you keep a sharp eye out for a trail wand, you'll find a sign to Stairway Falls - see the picture to the left.
The most difficult one to reach, Windy Falls, is down a trail in Nantahala Forest that is no longer maintained. It's a 1,000 feet down, which means a 1,000 feet back up. Several blowdowns block the trail. A couple of people died when they slid down the rocks. So this waterfall is not recommended.
But you have four beautiful waterfalls all in 5.1 miles and 1,000 easy feet of ascent. You can't ask for anything more.
Recently I was asked to review a flashlight. Coast light and tools liked my blog and sent me their HP 7 flashlight.
Funny thing to review - a flashlight. But after I put it together, I saw that this was no ordinary flashlight. Coast HP7 LED Flashlight is a high powered flashlight that offers spot light and flood light. In technical terms, you can choose between a high output setting of 251 lumens or a low output of 58 lumens.
It feels sturdy in my hand but it's not lightweight - 7.2 ounces including batteries. Maybe you can't make a serious flashlight like this for backpackers. I wouldn't put it in my daypack or my backpack. The best use is in my car glove compartment or around the house. In the mountains, we lose power a lot.
Their website shows that they have a big fan base. I was surprised that customers would go to the trouble of praising their flashlight but it's impressive. People pointed out that they used them around the house and in their fishing tackle box.
It comes with a canvas case that attaches to your belt. That's handy.
A couple of suggestions for improvement.
I had a heck of a time putting in the 4 AAA batteries - included, thanks folks. There was no + or - markings on the casing so I had to put them in several ways before I got it to work. I know that if you're real handy you're supposed to know these things but I like the extra help.
Also, the fancy box and rubber piece separating the flashlight from the case are not necessary. Just extra trash that cannot be recycled easily.
But all together, the Coast HP7 is one serious flashlight.
Last Saturday, Carolina Mountain Club had its annual Spring barbeque at the North Carolina Arboretum. We offered two short hikes, had a barbeque dinner and a program about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It was a full, full day.
But as I walked around the arboretum, I thought that it might make a good half-day excursion for our Appalachian Trail Conservancy Biennial Conference.
OK, if it sounds like I'm always thinking about the Biennial Conference, it's because I have to plan about 30 excursions; some active, other cultural. The Arboretum is definitely cultural.
The arboretum has 65 acres of cultivated gardens and amazing outdoor sculptures. In addition, you can check out their bonsai collection.
There are two buildings. One always has special exhibits. The one right now is on ferns of the Smokies. Also it shows "wicked plants" - now I know that got your attention. Of course, I have no idea what they'll have in July, 2013 but it will be interesting and of high quality.
They only charge $8 parking fee for a carful of people. So I'm planning to make this a half-day excursion. My only concern is that a half-day may be too short.
What do you think?