Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I really haven't done that much backpacking this year. Mostly day hikes and usually just quick solo trips and if I were to hazard a guess I'd say I've done less than 500 miles this year. I tend to get out at least once a week and usually don't bring a camera and if I do my day hikes often don't end up on here.  Maybe in the future I need to be a bit more disciplined with updating this little blog here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Indian Summer in the Shining Rock Wilderness

The timing of this trip just worked out with the warm weather, the cloudless skies, the leaves, and every detail.  I knew I wanted to do something outside for my birthday and I knew I wanted to get a least one of the 6,000 ft peaks done. It all worked out much better than I had planned.

Boring details: I parked on Black Balsam Rd off of the Blue Ridge Pkwy. I took the Mountains to Sea trail east, then the Bridges Camp Gap trail which turns into the Big East Fork Trail. At the end of that trail I did an insignificantly short (like 75 yards) road walk to the Shining Creek Trail. I camped maybe a half mile from the road. Next day was the Shining Creek Trail to the Art Loeb then back to the truck with a small detour to bag Black Balsam Knob. 

It was a pretty sweet loop most of it next to East Pigeon Fork River the first day and it was great dropping down from 5,500 ft and late Autumn to the lower elevations where the colors where much brighter in the thicker forests. The one thing I'd do differently would be taking the Old Butt Knob Trail the second day to add a little distance and from the looks of it much more open ridge walking.

I left my Aqua-Mira drops at the house (whoops!), but luckily I always keep some A-M tabs in my food bag for things like this. The only problem is I had to conserve and only got less than 3 liters of water each day.

The small section of the Mountains to Sea Trail that I did was amazing. I loved it. Lots of waterfalls and plenty of great camping spots.

The Big East Fork Trail was really a good walk. Easy walking along the river. Lots of pools, flumes and waterfalls that made me wish it was summer so I could swim, but the leaves were quick to remind me that autumn (while too cold to swim) has its own greatness.

It was a pretty chilly night next to the river, but I had my 20deg bag and was pretty toasty. In fact I slept in because I was so cozy and warm and didn't want to get up before the sun warmed things up a bit.

The forecast said no chance of rain, but I'm glad I set my tarp up just to keep the falling leaves from waking me up.

It was my birthday so I packed out a sweet treat and a candle to have a birthday breakfast. This Texas cinnamon roll was so sickly and unnaturally sweet it sort of turned my stomach after two bites and I couldn't suffer through the rest.

Shining Creek Trail was quite a climb going up around 2,000 ft, but it was long and nothing real harsh. Easy going with a light pack and strong legs. You really don't need to carry hardly any water for the most of it since you're right along Shining Creek.

A touch of warm colors up high. The weather was great. I'd say high 60's to low 70's. I hiked in nothing but shoes and running shorts the whole time. It was ridiculously windy up high and when I got closer to the road and started running into day hikers with their long pants and hoods cinched around their faces I got some odd looks. I did manage to get a little sunburned though.

The visibility was unreal that day. Not a cloud in the sky and you could see as far as humanly possible. You can click on the photos to get the larger size to really take it in.

Art Loeb Trail looking back north to Tennet Mtn.

Can anyone identify these guys for me? They were everywhere the entire trip (except the most exposed balds and ridges) with entire fields down around 2,000 ft.

All in all I would totally recommend this hike to anyone else in the area and it was a great way to celebrate my birthday. I love Shining Rock more and more each time I visit. You get the views and the experience of the Smokies, but without the crowds as long as you stay away from the parkway. Just bear in mind that there are no signs or blazes inside the Wilderness area and most of the trail junctions can be pretty confusing so bring a map and compass. Just don't use the National Geographic map. I cannot stress how much I hate their maps. I like the map you can get from www.cradleofforestry.com

Friday, October 15, 2010

Those solo nights

There is something special about hiking alone. No distractions, but on the flip side nobody to share the fun. Hiking alone brings a lot out of you that you don't normally get. If you're pushing your limits and going beyond your comfort zone then you learn a lot more of what your capable of, but thats not what I'm getting into right now. On the other side of the solo trip you're doing a trail that maybe you've done before (or a million times before) or a well maintained and blazed trail and you're not distracted with conversation or navigation. You're not worrying about mileage or where the next water source will be. You get into that rhythm of the hike, the quietness of the high altitude or the mountain nights. You're moving to the rhythm of the mountain at the same pace the winds are pushing the grass, the pines and the rhododendron around you. Its all very meditative and you get into your head. Its time to think and enjoy. Hiking helps me focus, work things out, and it re-energizes me. There is a lot to be said about hiking with yourself.

I love the mornings in the mountains of North Carolina with the ocean of fog turn the mountains into islands.

I fell asleep counting the shooting stars. I often feel an urgency to enjoy the rare clear nights in the highest of elevation around here where its usually full of clouds. 

I could see my breath as I hiked in that night and woke up to some ice and frost on the trail, but the first warmth of the sunrise does a lot to energize you for the day ahead.

Jane and Round bald off the the left leading trail south on the AT towards Roan High Knob on the far left.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mt LaConte

After almost a year of trying to get someone to day hike Mt LaConte I decided to just suck it up and go alone. I like hiking alone, but I don't like the idea of driving 2 hours and hiking 17ish miles then a 2 hour drive home alone.

  Due to some road closure I had to park at Ogle Homestead site and do a half mile road walk (ugh all road walks are too long) to the Rainbow Falls trailhead. After about 6 miles the trail hits the LaConte spur trail and go about .6 to the lodge for some water and another little .5ish to the summit. I did a little loop to Cliff Top for lunch and some views. Plus some good talks with a couple other hikers. After that I took the LaConte Spur back and then the Bull Head Trail for about 6 miles down another ridge then a horse trail (Old Sugarlands) back to the road for a walk back to the truck.

Rainbow Falls trail is pretty sweet. I had it to myself for the most part (even on a Friday) due to the road work. The trail cuts back and forth over the LaConte Creek and by a few falls. I didn't get any good photos of Rainbow Falls due to a hornets nest and me being stung way too many times on my last several hikes. But I'll be back.

I was lucky enough to get up the same time as the Llamas. I don't really like the idea of huts and inns on mountains, but I wouldn't mind working there. Plus I have some really good memories of the Hut Croos in the Whites of NH.

Boring summit shot. This summer I was trying to get all the South Beyond 6,000 footers bagged, but due to working so much I only got 5 or 6.  The good news is that leaves plenty left to do!

In this shot you can really see how an invasive species of beetles have reeked havoc on the high altitude fir forests around here. They still smell amazing for the time being, but its noticeable for sure.

On the way down I spent some time with this guy who was enjoying the stinging nettles a lot more than my legs were.

The Bull Head Trail has lots of really cool rock formations when you get down to the mixed deciduous forest and below the pines. 

There were a few of these really cool overhangs and even though I felt fresh I have a rule where I always sit down on a good sitting rock.

Over all the trail was a lot easier than I expected. Its 4,000 ft of elevation difference from the trail head to the peak, but spread that over the miles and its a piece of cake for someone in decent shape. I spent a few hours on the summit and took several long snack breaks on the way down and the whole day took maybe 8-9 hours. It just left me wanting a bit more and my mind on other peaks to bag.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shining Rock Wilderness

So here's the plan: get to the Black Balsam Trail head around noon, follow the northern bit of the Art Loeb Trail north, camp near Cold Mtn and summit first thing for a sunrise before heading south on the Ivestor Trail to the truck. So much for plans...  hikers are laid back people, relaxed, flexible and these are good things. We all know uptight people make bad hikers right? 

I hit the trail closer to 1:30, but made good time. Its pretty easy going at first. Just over ridges filled with wild flowers and good views. Some elevation changes, but if you hike in western NC you're used to that and used to a lot worse than this.

Weather was not ideal, but not terrible. The forecast was for sunny and clear in the towns and a chance of afternoon t-storms in the mountains. What really happened was off and on light rain all day. Enough to keep you cool and the springs full, but still pretty wet going through tall overgrown trail. 

The bees were loving all the flowers, and the bugs were out in full force, but stayed away from me. I didn't have to deal with a single insect pest mostly butterflies. 

This is pretty much what the trail turned into north of Ivestor Gap. Blue berries. Tons of them as far as the eye can see, because thats all you can see. Sometimes a good foot over my head and always covering up the trail. Believe it or not thats a picture of the actual trail and not even the worst of it.

Things got a bit cold and wet fighting through the wet blueberry bushes.

The overgrown trail and lack of blazes, trail signs or markers on any of the trails made for some confusing junctions. I'm pretty happy I brought my compass along instead of just the map. Once I dropped down north of Shining Rock is when things started getting frustrating. The trail basically petered out to nothing. I spent a good hour going back and forth following game trails to nowhere and trying over and over again to find the trail hoping that I just missed a switchback or something. No such luck so I turned around and scrapped my Cold Mountain plans. I filled up on water near Shining Rock Gap and hiked south back to Ivestor Gap for the night.

After I turned around I couldn't get my mind off my Ramen, salmon and broccoli dinner I had waiting for me in my pack.

Relaxing and drying my feet out. Taking the views in while waiting on supper.

Looking south at Ivestor Gap with my tarp and campsite. 

We may not have the scale and space of the American west, but I still love southern Appalachia.

Nice sunset before bed.

I should've used a flatter rock as my tripod. I promise I wasn't camping on that steep of an incline.

I pitched my tarp low and tight expecting some late night thunderstorms, but the forecast was wrong again. Its the clearest night I've ever had in the southeast. Definitely the starriest night I've witnessed in the southern Appalachias. After some star gazing I crawled into bed for a pretty good night's sleep.

Overall it was a good quick little overnight. A good blow to my hiking pride having to change plans after misplacing the trail (I wasn't lost I knew exactly where I was just not where the trail was! right?).  Oddly enough a few years ago when I was on my 3rd backpacking trip it was an Art Loeb attempt and we had to bail after one night. Cold Mountain being an easy and accessible 6,000 footer is still haunting me.