Pisgah National Forest
How much effort would you expand to see a view like the one above? Here I'm at Point Misery, looking at the Mt. Mitchell range, also known as the Death March when you're walking it.
The Big Butt Trail goes from NC 197 outside of Barnardsville to the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 359.8.
Carroll, Bruce and I started on the trail at Cane River Gap on NC 197. The trail has been completely redone. The Forest Service has switched back the trail beautifully. They also put in steps, lots and lots of steps.
We had a hard time finding Point Misery. First we walked to Big Butt, a bump with no views. Then we blew past Point Misery to Little Butt. On the way out, we climbed 308 steps - yes Bruce counted them.
Point Misery Overlook was a short way off the left.
On the way back, we found it and enjoyed the view. There's a similar view on the Barnardsville side. A couple of outlandish mushrooms, tons and tones of jewel weed and Bowmans Root and that's it.
So how far did we walk? Carroll's GPS said 9.2 miles round trip. But from Point Misery it was only 3.5 miles back, so it's 7 miles round trip, 2000 feet of ascent.
The Forest Service website calls this Trail #161 and says that the whole trail, one way, is six miles. Confusing!
I'm leading this hike on Sunday September 2 for Carolina Mountain Club. Come and see the view for yourself.
Biltmore could be made to prove what America did not yet understand - that trees could be cut and the forest preserved
That was a quote from Dr. Carl Schenck, a German forester who came to work for George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s. He brought with him the seeds of what became the first school of forestry in the United States. This history and the concept of sustainable forestry is captured at the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest.
I took my two granddaughters to the Cradle of Forestry mostly because I hadn't been there for a long time. It consists of a building and two one-mile trails.
The Biltmore Campus Trail winds through the Biltmore Forest School where Schenck held his classes. This shows Schenck's office, house and the student quarters. From what I can surmise, he was the only teacher. He lectured, held hands-on "labs" and even preached on Sundays. His was the ultimate one-room, one-teacher school house for college-aged students.
The Forest Festival trail shows how Pisgah was managed. But, let's be real - as they say - all the kids and their adults flock to the portable sawmill and the logging train.
The plaques around the sawmill point out how dangerous a sawmill was. You could lose a finger or even a whole hand. Isn't that gruesome? And my older granddaughter had to take a picture of the sign.
In the building, there are serious and fun exhibits on managing forests today. But I noticed that most visitors came without children.
This excursion would be coupled with a visit to Looking Glass Falls and other Blue Ridge Parkway sites.
So would a visit to the Cradle of Forestry be a good excursion for the ATC Biennial, next year?
Today I had the privilege to hike with a woman who finished all the trails in Pisgah National Forest.
Sawako J. should really be proud of this accomplishment. The trails in the Pisgah District are rugged, steep and not always well-marked. But it is only by finishing a hiking challenge like the Pisgah 400 that you really learn the area.
According to her records,
"There are 122 trails on the latest P400 list and the total is 456.9 miles."
But of course, to finish 456.9 miles, you must repeat many sections that you've already done, so she may have hiked 600 miles.
Sawako reports that "the first trail I did was #358 Graveyard Field Loop trail on September 27, 2007."
Today's hike, her last, took us up Club Gap Trail and on Black Mountain Trail - 10.6 miles and 1,800 feet of ascent. This is a typical all-day hike in Pisgah. Of course, one of the challenges and joys of doing all the trails is that there are short bits of trail that you would never do unless you're doing all the trails.
Her favorite summer hike was #102 Big Creek to #353 North Mills River where she enjoyed many wet creek crossings.
Her favorite winter hike was # 117 Slick Rock Falls, #601 Sunwall and #132 North Face trails to see three different faces of Looking Glass Rock up close. If you are lucky
you can see rock climbers in action.
Carolina Mountain Club administers several hiking challenges. For the Pisgah 400, it's real simple. Buy the National Geographic map #780 for the Pisgah Ranger District and hike all the trails on the map. There's a form on the CMC site which lists all the trails. Keeping good records is key to success.
When you're done, let the contact person for this challenge know that you've done them. No one checks. It's all on the honor system.
Catawba Falls opens to the public - April 17, 2012
If all went according to plans, Catawba Falls opened today. I know - it's been open for quite a while. It's even in my second book - Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Forest Service announced the completion of a parking lot and the opening of the Catawba Falls area to the public this week.
Catawba Falls, a 100-foot lower and 70-foot upper falls on the Catawba River near Old Fort in the Pisgah National Forest, was acquired by the Foothills Conservancy in 2005 and 2007 after 20 years of work. The Forest Service bought the 88-acre tract in 2010.
The parking lot provides visitors easy access to the scenic waterway, the Forest Service news release says.
Another excursion for the Appalachian Trail Biennial 2013. I took two Australian friends, Barrie and Joy, on a Pisgah District drive and short walk to test out a Pisgah excursion.
We visited several Pisgah "top of the pops".
First we went to Looking Glass Falls, an icon of Western North Carolina on US 276 in Pisgah Forest. See the picture above. Then further north to Sliding Rock - no one was sliding in the water since it was about 50 degrees but in the summer, there are lines of people queueing up to slide down into the pool.
The Cradle of Forestry was still closed for the season but we walked around the first school of Forestry in the country. Carl Schenck's original buildings have been preserved in a one-mile walk on a paved trail. Hopefully, walking a mile will still be counted as an excursion.
We reached the Blue Ridge Parkway and turned east to the Pisgah Inn. We ate lunch there which won't be part of the excursion, but maybe it should be. Then on the MST to Buck Spring Lodge, George Vanderbilt's hunting lodge. We found the root cellar and the spring house. The Aussie couple is sitting on a bench on the Lodge property. I didn't suggest that they hike up Mt. Pisgah.
We drove back south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a view of Looking Glass Rock, another Western North Carolina icon.
All this while, Barrie was photographing flowers and views. He's going to have a hard time figuring out where he was and which view he's looking at.
So here's the question - would this make a good ATC Biennial excursion?
What goes on at the Bent Creek Experimental Station? A group of Carolina Mountain Club members decided to find out. We had a tour and walk with Julia Murphy, interpretive guide for the Forest.
The 6,000 acres has been an experimental forest since 1925, the oldest experimental forest in the east. The general mission of Bent Creek is to study hardwood regeneration. They have data sets going back to the Vanderbilt area. Long and large data sets from over 100 years are their greatest assets.
We went on the half-mile Centennial trail. But first we had to get a safety lecture from Julia.
"There could be roots on the trail that you might trip on. Wind could blow branches in your face. And there is poison ivy, tics, snakes, bees, and wasps."
Still we all decided to go. Julia then gave us a hard hat. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they don't do any of that when you go on a ranger-led hike.
About 100 families lived in the Bent Creek area before George Vanderbilt came down. The land was burned every year to clear out the underbrush. The field started filling in with pine, then hardwoods like oaks. Now many trees were numbered in white paint, part of their study.
Julia showed us several plots that had been clear-cut. She pointed out the USFS hardly ever clear cut anymore because the public outcry. Yet, clear cutting in the Southern Appalachians doesn't bring on bare soil and erosion. The forest regenerates itself within a year.
Julia also pointed out oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant. from Japan and Korea. It wraps itself around trees and takes over native vegetation. Yet crafters still use it to make decorative wreaths.
After we returned our hardhats and thanked Julia, we went over to Hard Times Trailhead to walk a 6.5 mile loop. We had lunch on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail overlooking the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since the Parkway is closed from 191 to NC 151, it was quiet. Cyclists were having a ball.
Spring flowers abounded: violets of all colors, star chickweeds, and bloodroot. But the most amazing were the fire pinks. They're at least a month early.
We started up the Coontree Loop and over Bennet Gap to a forest service road. The trees are almost completely bare now, leaving us to see the mountains, rocks and even fungus. The FS Road was full of pickup trucks, though we couldn't hear any shots. We were outfitted in orange vests and orange hats.
I felt funny in the woods because hunters only get a couple of weeks - deer season lasts until Dec. 10 - while hikers get to hike year round. Maybe we should have scouted this before and left the woods to them for their fun.
But the geocachers we met didn't have such qualms. They didn't even know that it was hunting season. The Pisgah Hikers, a group out of Brevard, were also on the trail for five miles and they didn't care either.
At one point, coming down the Coontree Loop Trail, we saw a piece of flagging tape with "escape route" written on it. See the picture above. What was that all about?
Come on Lenny's hike on Sunday Dec. 3. Check it out on the CMC website.
The Carolina Mountain Club hike today (Wednesday) was an extended Coontree Loop in the Pisgah District of Pisgah National Forest. The hike was about 8.5 miles and 2,500 feet of ascent.
Like most of Pisgah, the area was logged. The trails are mostly those left over from logging days - logging roads and logging railroad.
There were the usual stream crossings but the bridges were very good; a sign that this area is a popular one. On sunny Sundays, the Coontree parking area on US 276 is full.
But we did more than the loop. We climbed to Bennett Gap and then on the Pressley Cove Trail. That's where we found a chimney.
It was well-maintained and even had a "don't destroy this antiquity" sign.
I've not seen this sign any place else, certainly not in the Smokies. It is assumed that you aren't going to deface or destroy an artifact.
So at least, the staff at Pisgah know that the chimney is there.
It was a very hot and humid day. We saw few flowers but we did see spiderworts which means that summer is really here.
Carolina Mountain Club has discovered the Shope Creek area of Pisgah National Forest.
On Sunday, we went on a five-mile hike through the forest.
The area is located above Riceville near the Oteen area of Asheville. If you take Riceville Rd. past the VA Hospital, turn left on Bull Gap Rd. and right on Shope Rd., you'll eventually come to a dead end. That's the beginning of the Shope section.
The area doesn't have any public parking at this time, though that's in the works eventually.
The only way we got in was because Tim Forrest, a biology professor at UNCA, had the key. Tim does entomology research in the area and he came with us. When we passed the fall above, we named it after him: Forrest Falls.
The area has certainly been lived in and is now being logged by the Forest Service. That's the cadaver of a vehicle left here, years and years ago.
The trails are mostly old roads, which in spring, is supposed to have a display of showy orchis. But the primary purpose of the area is for logging. We passed bundles of large downed logs and walked through ground flattened by the saw.
Sometimes a short winter hike is all that's needed to revive the spirit or keep us moving in the cold.
Yesterday's Carolina Mountain Club hike in Pisgah National Forest promised 10 miles of moderate hiking in winter weather. Since we're close to the Winter Solstisce, the day was almost the shortest of the year.
We were on the trail at about 9:30 A.M. but had to walk over a mile more since the Forest Service was doing construction on the road leading to the trailhead.
We walked on a road going over and around large construction equipment.
Finally on Buckhorn Gap Trail.
We headed to Twin Falls which were magnificent. Icicles dripped off the falling water. Both falls could be seen without the distraction of leaf cover.
We found turkey and deer prints. See the turkey feet at the top of this post.
This trail has numerous creek crossings, most with bridges. But the log bridges were icy and precarious. We took it slowly. Some preferred to try their luck by rockhopping. Wet boots, even in this weather, is better than the thought of falling.
We missed a turn on our loop hike. By the time we realized it, we discussed whether we wanted to go back up, resulting in a 13 mile hike or just go down and finish much earlier. It was about 1:30 P.M.. The sun was already starting its downward slide and we were cold. So we opted for the shorter hike.
But we didn't waste our extra time. Some headed back to Asheville, probably to finish their Christmas preparations. A couple went to a restaurant.
But four us went to Kiwi Gelato in Brevard. Great gelato in a fun, friendly atmosphere.
Our hike to Catawba Falls was supposed to be short and simple. Catawba Falls, near Old Fort, is the headwaters of the Catawba River which offers water to many cities in North Carolina.
The first falls is easy to get to; the second one is difficult - you have to use a rope to get up there and then it's steep from there on.
Today's mission was to find an easier way to get up to the second falls. If any one could find it, it would be super bushwhacker, Dave Wetmore. Catawba Falls is now fully part of the Pisgah National Forest, Grandfather District.
When we parked at the end of the road, Margaret, the woman who lives in the last house, came out with a beautiful black lab. She told us that Spot - that was his name - leads hikers to the falls. Now if you've been following my hiking adventures, you know that I don't like dogs on trails. Most dogs are out of control, jump on strangers and bark without cause.
But Spot, now that was a hiker's dream dog. He is going to redeem me and turn me into a dog lover.
Dave accepted some snacks for Spot from Margaret and off we went on the trail. Spot just walked ahead, scampered back and forth and enjoyed the water. No barking, no jumping on me with wet paws.
The first falls are very easy to get to - about one flat mile. See the picture to the right of the first falls.
The second falls are another matter. First you have to climb up a steep incline, so steep that someone has put up a serious rope to get up there.
Then we climbed up hand over hand up a sidehill. We missed a left turn somehow and went way higher than the falls. I went up on my hands and knees and came down on my butt and ate a lot of dirt. But we didn't give up.
On the way down, we found the proper turn and got to the upper falls where we had lunch. Spot looked at us with a sad expression - give me some of your lunch, it said. That's when I took his picture. This was the only time he stopped moving. Finally I convinced Dave to give Spot some of his snacks.
We used the rope to climb down. See Dave coming down.
When we arrived back to the car, we found two U.S. Forest Service trucks and four employees getting out. They were surveying how they were going to build a larger visitor parking area. Margaret told them that on nice summer weekends, over 40 visitors try to park across from her house. She knew that the new parking lot was going to save her grass from being trampled on but she was wistful about losing all those visitors. Now she knows when hikers comes by and she invites them to take Spot. Once the new parking lot is built, she'll lose all contact. Maybe we ought to give her a volunteer uniform and have her rove the trail.
And for the easier way up to the second falls? No way. This is a very rocky, spot area and there's no other obvious path up there.