Sunday, September 11, 2016



Nestled off South Toe River Road, near the Mt. Mitchell Country Club is a wonderful campground.  The Black Mountain Campground is the trail head for several trails.  We chose to hike the River Loop Trail which was billed as a 3.5 mile moderate loop trail.  We hoped to visit a waterfall we read about as well. Turned out we hiked 5 miles but found a truly magnificent waterfall too! 

Across the road from the entrance to the campground is the trail head. Parking along the road is limited. There must have been 15 cars and we secured the last spot. There you can view maps of the many trails that can be accessed from this place.  The Mountain to Sea Trail, The Green Knob Trail and the Mt Mitchell Trail are all access from the South Toe River Loop.
The trail begins with a very sharp incline which made me question the labeling of the trail as "moderate" but after about a quarter of a mile the Mountain to Sea Trail veered north and the trail turned to hug the side of the ridge some 200 feet above the South Toe River.  Still inclining less steeply the trail continued laterally until the intersection of the Green Knob Trail veered eastward.  At this point the trail begins a gentle decline to the river.

About a mile into the trail there is a couple of clearings that finally provided us a view of the mountains rising above the narrow valley created by the South Toe River.

Despite the fact that the views of the river and mountainsides were obscured by the foliage, we did marvel at some of the natural oddities along the trail.  This tree seems to have grown stair steps of mushrooms.

At the two mile mark, the trail emerges from the woods at a roadway bridge that crosses the South Toe River. 

Hoping to finally be on a riverside trail we crossed the road and hurried down a wide level forest trail only to find that the trail began to rise above the river into thick woods.  But the last flower blossoms of the season dotted a forest meadow and one beautiful blue butterfly entertained us as it flew from blossom to blossom.  We also noticed the first signs of fall.

We also saw a nice display of mushrooms....some orange ones on a green mossy log....another that seemed to have a smiley face!

The trail looped over a ridge and we had to negotiate a recently fallen tree but soon emerged on the river side where we found a lone fly fisherman casting for river trout.

The path along the river ended as we emerged from the woods into the back of the Black Mountain Campground.  At this point we saw the Mt Mitchell trail.  We only imagine how strenuous that trail must be.  Still from the campground there were several spur trails to the riverside
Soon we spied a wooden bridge ahead and my Faithful Hiking Companion pointed out the trail to Step Rock Falls.  It was a 2/10th of a mile incline crossing the campground to the base of a magnificent rock mountainside upon which flowed a steady stream of spring fed water.  It was the Step Rock Falls.

At the base of the falls is a small shallow pool.  Of course the Fat Bald White Guy could not resist playing in the water. 

Walking up to the lower cascade, I could feel the power of the waterfall and felt the cool mist on my face.
The cold water was creating an icicle like formation of water in the crack in the rock.
Someday I would like to return and climb to the top of the falls.  This place will be a nice place to return in the fall as well.  As we left I took a picture of the small creek that flowed from the base of the pool.

We trudged back to the river loop trail and crossed the wooden bridge and found several spur trails that took us to the river.
The trail then took us back into the campground and as we crossed the bridge heading to our car, I took one last picture of the South Toe River.
This is really a nice hike....but it is five miles long if you take in the Step Rock Falls.  The access is great.  South Toe River Road is just off NC 80 at the Mt Mitchell Golf Course, but parking is limited...rate that an 8...Trail is well marked and maintained....rate that a 9....the scenery for the most part of the trail consisted of forest trail views...would be better in the fall....8....effort to view is about right.  Overall rating of 8.5.

Leaving the trailhead, I paused to take in a scene that I could not resist.
On the way to nearby Crabtree Falls, we also paused at the Black Mountain overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I believe this is Mt. Mitchell.
"The mountain has left me feeling renewed, more content and positive than I've been for weeks as if something has been given back after a long absence, as if my eyes had be opened once again. For this time at least, I've let myself be rooted in the unshakeable sanity of senses, spared my mind the burden of too much thinking, turned myself outward to experience the world and inward to savor the pleasures it has given me"  Richard Nelson



If you follow this blog, you know how much the Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion love waterfalls.  Crabtree Falls has been on the list to visit for sometime.  It is a truly a spectacular waterfall.  Located at Milepost 340 on the Blue Ridge Parkway you can get there by traveling one of two crooked roads up the mountain from Marion.  NC 80 is located to the north and NC 221 is located to the south.  Crabtree Campground is located halfway between.  It is a wonderful campground from which a path leads to one of the most idyllic scenes I have experienced.

The trail head is about a half mile from the parking lot to the visitor's center.           

It is located in the center of the campground. As with all mountain trails, distances are deceiving but the notation of the difficulty of a trail is not.  This is a one mile hike down....and I mean down to the falls. 

The trail is well marked and maintained. It is a very popular hike for those who visit the Blue Ridge Parkway.  And the steep portions of the trail are augmented with stairs...and you know how the FBWG hates stairs!

The trail as some nice switch backs too!  It is at this point that we began to hear the roar of the waterfall. The trail at this point becomes much rockier.

At the bottom of the trail a wooden bridge crosses Crabtree Creek.  To the right a nice downstream view but to the left are the falls.

From the center of the bridge, the full effect of the falls can not only be seen but felt.  The water crashes with such force down the 70 foot cascade that the air temperature is noticeably cooler and a slight breeze, like a breath of cold air, embraces you.  Still it is the visual effect that overwhelms you.  The Crabtree Falls are magnificent!

The falls cover the rock side of the mountain like a water curtain, the roar loud enough that it makes it hard to talk.  I resisted the temptation to rock scramble to the base as I was not wanting to photo bomb the many photographs being taken.  But one couple did not mind as they took a selfie with the falls as the background, not knowing the FBWG was snapping a shot to make them famous!
Still seeing them in the foreground of this picture allows you to see just how big the falls are. From a higher vantage point across the bridge I got what I think is the best shot of the falls.
I have a new camera and it has features that are really more complicated than is required for my use.  But I played around with them nonetheless and captured two interesting views of the falls. The first is an enhanced black and white close up of the base of the cascade.
The second is a focal mix of color and black and white.
The hike out is a choice.  The trail is a loop and from the bridge it is a 1.7 gradual climb back to the trail head.  Going back the way we came, is a 9/10ths of a mile climb out.  Being that we had already hiked 7 miles, we chose the shorter steeper route....and it was painful.  If I had it to do again I would have completed the loop.

On the way out, we were greeted by one of the season's last butterflies....a wonderful black beauty. 

This is a great trail....easy access off the Blue Ridge Parkway between MP 339 and 340. 

Great parking at the trail head too.....rate that a 10.

The trails at well maintained and marked, about half the trail is crushed rock.  But the last part of the trail is rocky root that creates a trip hazard as my Faithful Hiking Companion found out.  Rate that a 9.

The scenery is a real treat.  One real feature of a 3 mile trail is one of the best waterfalls in the state....rate that a 10.  The effort to view ratio is good too...the climb out makes you appreciate your effort to view this magnificent creation of the Almighty....overall a 9.5 hike...a bucket list hike for those who love waterfalls!
"There is a waterfall in every dream. Cool and crystal clear, it falls gently on the sleeper, cleansing the mind and soothing the soul." - Virginia Allison

Sunday, June 26, 2016



Wilson Creek is a wonderful gem of wilderness. Today we set out to find two waterfalls on the North Harper Creek Trail...and saw but two other hikers on the trail all kind of place!
The trail is a former roadbed eroded over time to a wide path through the woods down to the creek.  The trail is #239 on you handy Wilson Creek Map and can be a bit confusing when you get to the creek.

We were greeted by blooming Summer White Rhododendrons sprinkled all along the trail.  These late blooming rhodies are always a treat to find on a hot summer trail and today was no exception. 
Trail #239 is a 1.3 mile gently sloping trail which intersects with Trail #266 which is the North Harper Creek Trail that runs the length of North Harper Creek, portions of which are an old logging railroad bed.  Where #239 intersects there are many red flags to designate the blue blazed North Harper Creek Trail.  I assumed #239 ended here....I was wrong...but none the less dutifully followed the blue blazed North Harper Creek trail...what I should have done was keep going straight down to the creek...the hike would have been shorter but we would not have discovered a nice secluded waterfall!
All along the trail we got glimpses of the creek but aside from the occasional creek crossing we could only hear the roar of the creek as the trail is a ridge trail above the creek bed.  We encountered a couple and asked how far to the falls...."What falls?"  Uh oh...we checked our map and our GPS still convinced that there was a waterfall ahead...and turns out there was one!
Just up the hill from the creek crossing we found the familiar roar of a water fall some fifty feet below the trail....and off we went finding a secluded waterfall and accompanying rock beach...great place to rest our dawgs and grab a powerbar lunch.

We thought the waterfall was the Chestnut Grove Branch Falls....but truth is we really don't know the name of these "Secluded Falls".  The Secluded Falls is a twenty-five foot emerald rock waterfall.  The water flows into a small reflective pool, pausing before it flows down the mountainside.
Feeling the need to give thanks for the beauty of this day and the natural wonder before me, I constructed a small cairn, with each rock a separate prayer of thanksgiving.
Deciding that we missed the Chestnut Branch and the North Harper Creek Falls as we bypassed side trails, we decided to backtrack up the trail but this time taking the side trails to the creek.  The first one we chose yielded spectacular results.  We emerged from the trail on the top of the rock face of the North Harper Trail Falls.

Carefully walking down the rock face seemed the right thing to do.  About halfway down I considered it safer to stop and take a picture looking back. I want to return when the water levels are up as this must be a nice scene.
Leaving the rock face top of the falls, we returned to the blue blazed North Harper Creek Trail attempting to find the bottom of the falls.  We came to the intersection of Trail #239 and realized that at this point #239 did not stop but merged with North Harper Creek Trail.  The map was right....imagine that ...and the Chestnut Branch Falls was just right ahead.

What we found did not look much like a major waterfall and again consulting the map and GPS I remained confused and decided to follow the creek downstream looking for a waterfall.

Turns out had we chosen to head upstream we would have found this wonderful waterfall, just a couple of hundred yards bad...but thankfully others found the waterfall and took great pics.
The trip downstream was not without views...just lacking in waterfalls...but I did stop and take in this small beauty.

Great hiking...figure we took in over six was hot and we were tired but the unexpected flora seemed to help the disappointment in not finding the waterfall.

The trail if taken correctly is a moderate trail...all I had to do was walk from the trailhead to the creek and then take a side trail upstream...but because I didn't I found Secluded Falls and added about four miles of wonderful hiking to the trek.

Rating the trail is hard because the route I took and my failure to lay eyes on the North Harper Creek Falls...access is 7...way back in the Wilson Creek Natural Scenic Forest Road 464...aka Pineola Road...we got there via Mortimer Road at Jonas Ridge....get a map; the trail is an 8...great trail well marked but at times confusing...scenery an 8...effort to view is about right....over all a solid 8 trail.