Monday, December 8, 2014

Pisgah Mountains - Craggy Pinnacle and Mt. Mitchell

CRAGGY PINNACLE
Eighteen miles north of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most accessible 5800 foot peaks in the Pisgah Mountain Range - Craggy Pinnacle.  

Looming over the Craggy Gardens Visitors Center is a 1.5 mile round trip tourist hike to the peak of Craggy Pinnacle.  



Be prepared during peak leaf season to be social as there is a continuous stream of "hikers" trudging up and down this trail. The trail is moderately steep 252 foot climb to two nice observation areas.









The trail winds through wonderfully old and craggy trees and rhododendrons on the way to one of the most stunning views along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.  









On the way up there are places to take a well needed break to catch your breath and enjoy the surrounding scenery.  A storm packing 50 mph winds blew much of the foliage from the trees above 5000 feet but color in the distance painted the forest below.



Accessing the lower observation area we got to view the Craggy Garden Meadow that we hiked earlier in the day. 



The Parkway and the visitors center is seen below....packed with cars!  The lower observation area was far less crowded and provided many nice views of the surrounding mountains.



Looking up at the upper observation deck, we could see the other "hikers" enjoying the 360 degree view.  
Climbing to the top, we were treated to one of the most amazing panorama views on the Blue Ridge Parkway!  We caught the last of the color of the season.
A wonderful mountain lake seemed so small in comparison to the mountain range surrounding it.



The mountains to the north rise to 6000 feet or more!  They seem to span out around us like we are a boat in a large ocean of waves.   

Remembering we were at 5800 feet in elevation, I took note of Mt. Mitchell and Mt. Craig looming large in the background.  These two peaks are the highest mountains east of the Rocky Mountains....majestic peaks rising above the sea of mountain waves!


This trail is almost too easy to rate....the access is a 9....drive right up to the trail head off the Parkway....the trails are well marked and maintained...a little too sociable though....8.....the scenery is the best in the Blue Ridge Parkway....so the effort to view ratio is low....the best view for the least amount of effort....perfect for those riding the Blue Ridge in the Fall....a "hike" you have to take....overall 8 graded hike....I just like to work harder for a view!  Speaking of which on the way to visit Mt Mitchell....I stopped to get a pic of a distant waterfall....





Glassmine Falls


Glassmine Falls is but a few miles north of Craggy Pinnacle....and it is a good one.  The falls are 800 feet high at an elevation over 5000 feet...got to find a way to hike there some day! But most reports say there is no hiking trail to the base of the fall....maybe someone will create one!



MT. MITCHELL



About 10 miles north of Craggy Pinnacle is Mt. Mitchell (6684')..you can drive to the summit and walk a short distance to the peak....all I can say is that there is a certain majesty to this mountain....if the mountain has a soul...it is a proud creature.

From the highest parking lot on the eastern seaboard, we got a good look at Mt Craig ( 6647')   and Big Tom (6581').  Mt Craig is the second highest peak east of the Mississippi and is named after North Carolina Governor  Locke Craig.   Big Tom is the fifth highest peak and is named after Big Tom Wilson, a legendary bear hunter and mountain man who lived in the region.   We had planned to hike both Mt. Craig and Big Tom the previous day but they were fogged in....we will return...the hike from the Mt Mitchell summit is about a four mile round trip and we could see the trails to the summit of Mt Craig from the parking lot.  The view from the parking lot to the west was stunning.




The story of Mt. Mitchell really should be a movie. Rev. Elisha Mitchell was a professor at UNC who set out to prove that Mt Mitchell was the highest mountain on the United States in 1835!   Imagine how remote this mountain peak must have been. How could you travel from Chapel Hill to Mt. Mitchell in 1835!  You get the point.  After declaring Mt. Mitchell to be the highest peak, his claim was disputed by Congressman Thomas Clingman...who wanted his mountain, now named Clingman's Dome to be considered the highest peak..... So what does Elisha Mitchell do....he travels back to the peak in 1857 at age 64.....
He gets lost and dies from a fall from a water fall while trying to get down the mountain at night.   Big Tom Wilson found him....He is buried at the summit of his mountain!
On the day we visited, we were joined by hikers from Outward Bound who were on the 47th day of a 50 day hike...they had hiked only 12 miles this day but had covered over 4000 feet in elevation. It is fitting they took their supper while sitting on the tomb of Elisha Mitchell and marveling at the mountain spread before them.
The haze in the distance prevented my camera from capturing what my eyes saw....displayed in the distance were the familiar peaks of Linville Gorge...Table Rock, Hawksbill and Shortoff and the blue water of Lake James were clearly seen...small and distant.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit this living mountain....cause you can feel its majesty.







Monday, December 1, 2014

Greensboro Watershed Trails: Natty Greene & Laural Bluff

NATTY GREENE TRAIL AT SUNSET










The trails along the lakes that make up the Greensboro watershed are hidden gems in the triad.  The Nathaniel Greene Trail runs along the southeast shoreline of Lake Brandt from Old Battleground Road to the Lake Brandt Marina.  To do the entire trail will be a 6 mile round trip.  Hiking from the Old Battleground trail head, you will encounter bike traffic on the Lake Brandt Greenway and will cross a busy mountain bike trail.  




The trail is a shaded stroll through the forest along a well marked path.  This end of the trail is very popular so be prepared to be sociable.  Strangely though the good views of the lake are not seen until you reach the shore line of a cove some 2.5 miles into the trail. 




Views of the lake can be seen but only through the trees.

 Of course the FBWG never forsakes a trail bench with a view of a sparkling lake on a hot Autumn afternoon.  


But the best views of the lake are from the cove.   The still water produces a natural mirror reflecting the trees and sky in a marvelous display of optic synchronicity.










Hiking the Natty Greene at sunset is a real treat but to get the best view, you really need to access the trail from the Marina trail head and walk to the cove which is about a 3/4 mile hike.  


Then take the spur trail along the shoreline.  If you hit it at the right time.....this is the view you will get!




No sunset is the same.  On the afternoon we hiked the Natty Greene at sunset it was cold and clear. The light reflecting off the still lake intermingled with the blue sky and the pink clouds to produce colors likened to that on an artist's palette. 

The best place to watch the sunset in the triad is the Lake Brandt Marina.  And on the day we hiked the Natty Greene we were entertained with a spectacular show of nature's original light show. Reminding me of  what the good book says: 

"The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where the morning dawns, where the evening fades, you call forth songs of joy" (Psalm 65:8)





Moving to the floating dock and scaring a sleeping duck, I got the last and one of best views of the day.













The sun's reflection on the water and within the clouds caused the color to change time and again as the sun set.



The trail is hard to rate.  The path is well marked and the trail head is easy to find - 8;  the scenery is best at the end of the trail and if you hike the Natty Greene in the summer you are likely to catch heat and mosquitoes - 8; the effort to view ratio is lopsided as it is an easy trail and the view especially at sunset is spectacular - 8.   If you want a short hike with good views access the trail from the marina and hike to the cove.....a longer trek and a better workout would be from the Old Battleground Road....but if you wish to catch the sunset you will hike out in the dark. Overall rating is an 8 at sunset ....a 7 at any other time.



LAUREL BLUFF TRAIL











Across from the Lake Brandt marina, next to a water power plant is the trail head to the Laurel Bluff Trail.   The trail is wooded 3.5 mile out and 3.5 mile back trail along the Reedy Fork Creek tributary leading from the Lake Brandt spillway to Lake Townsend.  The trail begins with a walk through a bamboo tunnel.

The path leads through the woods an on a small bluff above the creek which meanders through the wetlands.  









At the 1.25 mile mark the trail rises to a bluff that is covered with laurel.  When the laurel is in bloom, this would be a pretty place to visit.  The trail otherwise is unremarkable.  It is an easy trail with a couple of small climbs but other than the distance, it is an easy walk through the woods.



Just after the 1.75 mile marker, you crest a kudzu covered bluff.  To the right is the end of a small airstrip which cannot be seen but when a plane takes off while you are on the trail....it will be very apparent where the airstrip is!  Just past the bluff we got the first glimpse at Lake Townsend through the trees...a sight which will not be available in the summer.  

At the bottom of the hill below the kudzu bluff the trail leads to a lakeside tree from which we got a better view of the lake and two magnificent Blue Herons....














I was ready to snap a picture when hunters across the lake erupted in fusillade of gun fire....that chased the Blue Heron away.....dang it!  But I did capture them in the distance grazing on a mudflat.
I climbed down to the shoreline and walked out on a mudflat to get a better view of the Blue Herons and found instead a better view of the sun setting over the lake.
Looking downstream, the sun provided a nice color to the lakeside landscape.




Bushwhacking off the mud flat onto the wooded embankment, I turned to take a shot of two evergreen trees nearly standing in the water.
Owing to the lateness of the day, we turned back at the two mile mark.  The Laurel Bluff Trail can be accessed from Church Street trail head to get a shorter hike and a better view of the lake. 


Rating the trail is similar to the Natty Greene....it is a long hike for limited views.  Nice for a winter hike but I bet in the summer it would be brutal.  Access is a 9....the trail is a 7 ...well marked but not very interesting.....scenery is a 7....of course the trail gets deducts for the many gunshots and the two airplanes that scared the bejesus out of us! Overall rated 7 trail because it is an easy walk with a few nice climbs but a hard trail to enjoy if you are looking for views of the lake.


Next time I will leave early and do the loop!