Sunday, June 24, 2018


The Saura Natives that inhabited this area long before the white man settled here, called this mountain "Jomeokee"  which means "great guide".  It is easy to see why it became known as Pilot Mountain.  It was used by early settlers as a point of navigation as early natives before them.  It was an early tourist attraction. Moravian records note many visits there by the brethren, including female students from Salem College.  As a young boy, I recall stairs leading to the summit. Only in the 21st century has the domed summit of Pilot Mountain been denied to man. Now a home for birds, it can best be viewed from Little Pinnacle overlook.  In the distance are the Suara Sisters Sauratown Mountain, Cooks Wall Mountain and Moore's Knob.  On a hot summer afternoon, the Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion hiked a trail not normally frequented by visitors: The Mountain Trail, a loop around the base of the mountain
The Mountain Trail is a loop trail around the base of Pilot Mountain.  We began at the visitor's center just inside the gate.  From there the Mountain Trail runs with the Grindstone Trail.  The Grindstone Trail is the 3-mile ascent trail to the top of the mountain.  For 1.5 miles, the two trails wind together along many well-designed switchbacks through a forest.
The trail is well marked and maintained.  It is moderately strenuous as it snakes along the road which goes to the summit.  Along the way there are many nice rock formations to remind you of the age of this mountain. Each serves as silent sentinels to the millenniums.  One of the first we encountered had a nice summer growth of grass, growing atop the rock like hair on a person's head.
The trail surprisingly is not a constant ascent, rather it is a series of switchbacks which at one point descends alarmingly before the steep climb begins.  On this descent there are some more rock formations worthy of note.  One I thought looked like a biscuit fresh from the oven.  But my Faithful Hiking Companion saw a face with wide eyes, narrow nose and mouth.
What do you think?

Of course,  the Fat Bald White Guy is always looking for a good trail bench and the Grindstone Trail did not disappoint.  There was a nice tree arch as well.  With the birds chirping, the wooded trail is very serene.  

As the Grindstone Trail leaves the rock garden, a steep ascent begins, the trail opens at the intersection where the Mountain Loop Trail diverges from the Grindstone Trail.  Go straight here and the summit is 1.5 miles away.  We chose to take the trail to the right. The Mountain Loop Trail is part of the Mountain to Sea trail and is blazed with both red and white circles.

The trail heads southeast and soon emerges into a splendid rock garden that looks as if it was recently exposed by a forest fire.  The forest cover gives way and the heat of the day beats down.  But there were a few nice rock formations.  

There is also a few forest windows opening up a view to the surrounding countryside.

The trail which was a fire road narrows considerably as we trekked to the northeast.

The tree canopy was a welcome relief from the sun as the narrow trail snaked up and down and around the base of the mountain.  We encountered a rock cairn.  As I have stopped building cairns, I still paused and placed a small rock on the cairn and said my prayer of thanksgiving for the day and the beauty that surrounded me.

At 4.5 mile mark of the hike, we emerged at an intersection of the Mountain Trail and the Corridor Trail.  The Corridor trail connects the mountain section of the park with the Yadkin River section.  Several helpful signs pointed the way and gave encouraging distance calculations.
It was nice to know that we were only one mile from the visitor's center as I had calculated at least 1.5 miles were left.  One of the signs indicated 2.5 miles to the campground and pointed left.  I think it would be about 2.0 miles following the trail to the right toward the visitor's center.

It was a 5.75-mile trek around the base of Pilot Mountain.  The access to the trail is a 10. Park at the visitor's center and walk across the road.  The trail was well marked and maintained.  It is listed as strenuous but I believe moderately strenuous is the correct description. Rate the trail as an 9.  The scenery was disappointing but then again it is a forest trail.  Rate it an 8.  Overall an 8+ trail.  Great workout better views in the fall I bet.

    Little Pinnacle Overlook

Not wanting to leave the mountain without experiencing the incredible view from the Little Pinnacle overlook, we drove to the top of the mountain and trudged the very sociable quarter-mile trail to the Little Pinnacle overlook.  Fortunately, the crowds had left and we got a very nice view of the surrounding countryside.  
From the various overlooks along the trail, my Faithful Hiking Companion got a number of nice shots.  The knob is a bird sanctuary and falcons and turkey buzzards can be seen floating on the air currents around the pinnacles.  
The overlook is surrounded by a sturdy wooden fence and I really like the shot she made looking through the slats.
Take a trip to Pilot Mountain State Park.  There are many nice hikes, great places to camp and wonderful views.  Be it an afternoon or a weekend, you will have a wonderful time.

Monday, January 8, 2018



During the first week of 2018, the temperature in the Linville Gorge rarely rose above 20 degrees.  In a week's time, the Linville River froze to the point that the Linville Falls became a frozen white column of ice.  Hearing that this is the first time in over 30 years that the falls had frozen, Easy Jake and the Fat Bald White Guy set off to hike the falls

 My Faithful Hiking Companion and I hiked the Linville Falls twice. The first time was June of 2012 when we visited the Upper Falls, Chimney View and Erwin view on the western side of the Gorge. June 2012 hike In the winter of 2013, we hiked Plunge Basin starting at the visitor center accessed off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was 27 degrees that day but the river was far from frozen.  Plunge Basin  It was a mere 19 degrees when Easy Jake and I started our hike in January of 2018.  The Parkway was closed so we parked on the western side off Kistler Highway near the village of Linville Falls.  We soon discovered that the Linville River was frozen.

Hiking about a half mile from the parking lot, we arrived at the trail to the Upper Falls overlook. There we got our first glimpse of the frozen falls of Linville Gorge.  The Linville Falls are two distinct cascades. The Upper Falls are twin cascades.  Both were nearly frozen completely.
The roar of the water that was rushing through the narrow unfrozen channel echoed throughout the woods.  A close up of one of the cascades is a beautifully crafted ice sculpture.  The cold rushing water struggled to push through the ice flow forming a small ice-less pool at the base of the cascade.
The Linville River pauses at the foot of the Upper Cascades forming a large pool.  The river is forced at this point into a narrow channel that flows around the overlook.  Here the river again freezes.  The river at this point is reduced to a large pipe size flow of rushing water slowed but not deterred by large blocks of ice.  The tubular flow of the river is forced around the rocks of the Lower Cascade.
The narrow crevices at the top of the Lower Cascade blast the water out the other side like an enormous fire hose nozzle.  We would have to wait to see the full fury of the Lower Cascade.  One has to hike down the Plunge Basin Trail to get the best view of one of the best waterfalls on the east coast. 
Leaving the Upper Cascade overlook, we proceeded down the riverside trail to the visitors' center about a mile away.  The trail followed the Linville River upstream.  Along the way we paused to take in the majestic scenery of this frozen waterway.
From the beach along the river, we could not help looking back to see the river flowing into the Upper Falls cascades.
Ice completely encased the large granite rock in the middle of the river.  It really looks like the rock is being squeezed by the ice flow.
About a mile down a wide graveled trail we arrived at the bridge at the visitors' center and crossed to the eastern side of the river.  The Plunge Basin trailhead is adjacent to the visitors' center on the parking lot side of the building.  As we crossed the bridge we got another look at the ice-covered flow.  Crossing the bridge you could feel the temperature lower as you stood over the ice.  The visitors' center is a great place to rest your dawgs, but we only paused to speak to another hiker before we set off up the Plunge Basin trail.
The Plunge Basin Trail is a typical mountain trail.  It is a bit wider and more worn than other trails in the Gorge but is a far cry from the pedestrian gravel trail that leads from the visitors' center along the western side of the river.  About a third of a mile the uphill slog crests and the trail forks.  Taking the right fork takes you to the Plunge Basin Overlook.  The left fork takes you to the river. 
We visited the overlook first and found a crowd of folks taking in the view.  But there is a good reason for this.  It may be the best view of the Lower Cascade.  We waited our turn and took a few stunning photographs.
Leaving the overlook we trudged up to the Gorge fork and proceeded down the trail to the river.  The trail is well marked and maintained and has a nice set of steps (I know I hate steps but this is the exception)  to help you navigate the steep drop off the rock wall that forms the eastern side of Plunge Basin. Easy Jake posed next to the rock wall to illustrate just how large it is.  

Not far from the rock wall, the trail descends to the river bank and the first glimpses of the frozen river can be seen.  When we emerged from the trees onto the river, we found it nearly completely frozen over.  The temperature reminded us of stepping into a meat locker.  It was easily ten degrees cooler in the gorge.  We could hear the roar of the Lower Cascade and soon was able to get our first glimpse of a truly surreal sight.  I thought I had traveled to Narnia.

Aside from a small pool of water at the base of the Lower Cascade, the entire Plunge Basin was frozen.  The ice nestled up to a projecting rock formation and prevented us from getting close to the falls as we did in 2013.  So we settled on viewing the falls and the basin from a large rock in the sitting on the eastern side of the river.  Joining us atop this river rock is was a nice lady who was hiking alone.  Her name was Dianne, and I promised to make her famous by taking her picture and putting it in the blog.  What do you think....postcard? 

We took our time on the rock and took many photographs of the Lower Cascade and the Plunge Basin.  

The ice greatly restricted the flow of the water off the rock wall that forms the Lower Cascade. Restricting the water increased the flow and created a roaring frothy blast of water from the side of the mountain in the basin.    
We left the Plunge Basin.  We had hiked 2.5 miles and decided to take in the Chimney View Overlook which is on the western side of the Gorge about a third of a mile south of the Upper Cascade Overlook.  The trek out is a steep slog but because the trail is just a mile long the steep part of the trail is only about a third of a mile.  Before we left, we took one last look at the Lower Cascade.    
Trudging up the trail to the Chimney View Overlook we followed the river downstream.  We found a creek feeding the river completely frozen over.

The trail above the Upper Cascade Overlook spur trail is deceptively steep.  It is a wide pedestrian trail that leads to the top of some steep stairs that leads to one of the more scenic overlooks in the Gorge.  From a distance, we could see the ice-covered Upper and Lower Cascades.   Some of the best pictures of the day were taken there.  We were glad we saved this overlook for last as we could see the Upper Cascade Overlook, the Plunge Basin Overlook and the river rock where we stood taking in Plunge Basin alongside the river. 
Spying our river rock, we noticed that a brave soul had ventured across the rock outcropping and did not fall into the icy river.  The river rock seemed so far away.  

We also got a great view of the Linville River flowing downstream from the falls.   
Another scenic overlook that revealed the majesty of the creation laid before us.  Easy Jake looked at me and simply said: "How can someone look at this and not believe in God?"  
What can you say about a five-mile hike in 20-degree weather?  The access was a 9....the trails were well marked and easily traveled...9... the scenery was a 10+....understand this may be a once in a lifetime scene....Effort to View ratio was perfect...on this day...this was a 10 rated hike...
The Linville Gorge never disappoints.  This day was special.  The majesty of the scenery.  The beauty of the day.  A walk in the mountains with a good friend, the world stopped and we enjoyed the moment. 

"Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and to pray in where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike."- John Muir