Monday, October 17, 2016



Mt. Craig is the second highest mountain east of the Mississippi.  Second only to its immediate neighbor, Mt. Mitchell.  It is from the parking lot of the Mt. Mitchell summit, that this picture is taken.  From this location, on a clear day you can see the trail to the Mt. Craig summit....only a mile from the Mt. Mitchell picnic area....yeah we can do this!

The trail begins as a very pedestrian walk through one of the most idyllic picnic areas in the nation.  Many folks joined us on the trail this pleasant Sunday afternoon.  I thought the trail would not be challenging but I was wrong.  It is one mile to the Mt. Craig summit cliffs half of which is downhill on well constructed steps 

The other half is a steep climb over and through rocks.  And since we had completed another mile climb at Green Knob...I was not ready for surprise the ascent to Mt. Craig gave me....but we soon saw a sign which I soon learned signifying that we made it.  Just beyond the sign are the cliffs of Mt. Craig.   There we rested our dogs and ate our power bar lunch and took in the amazing scenery.
A series of cliffs provide a southwesterly view.  A sea of mountains rose endlessly in the distance, spotted with the emerging color of autumn.
The trail is very popular.  Many friendly hikers of all shapes and sizes shared the trail with us and each found their own comfortable place on the cliffs that seem to stretch over 200 yards. 

Each glimpse of the distant peaks was a post card view.  One mountain was of special interest.  On the westward slope, the mountain was covered with colorful hardwoods in peak color.  But on the other sides were high mountain evergreens.  It was a like a patch in a quilt.  As if someone had planted a colorful flower garden on one side of the mountain.

Looking back toward Mt. Mitchell, not only could we see the distance we had hiked but we could also see clouds moving from the north nearly enveloping the peak.
The white line on the side of the summit is the reflection off the roof of the vehicles in the parking lot.  It sure looks like it is more than a mile sure felt like it too!

A view from the upper cliffs must provide a view all the way to Tennessee. 

Hiking out was a tricky downhill scramble along a rocky trail to the bottom of the gap separating the slope of Mt. Craig with the slope of Mt. Mitchell.  The trek up to the Mt. Mitchell parking lot consisted of hundreds of steps!
The trail is one of the best trails I have hiked.  It is a tough two miler as you have two steep half mile climbs.  Still the view is outstanding. But standing on the peak of the second tallest mountain east of the Mississippi is a special treat.  The trail access is a 10...great access off the lower Mt Mitchell Summit Parking is well managed but well used trail but is steep and rocky and has stairs...9....the scenery is a solid 9 as well...the effort to view ratio is perfect...overall a solid 9 hike.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped to take in some breathtaking scenery of the Grande Dame of the Black Mountains.
A great Christmas Tree is ready for decorations against a backdrop of distant colorful mountains. I named this photograph "Evergreen".  We ate a wonderful fresh rainbow trout supper at the Mt. Mitchell Sky View Restaurant.  As we left, clouds hovered low over the peak of Mt. Mitchell
But the best picture of the day was at the Ridge Junction Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway beside the entrance to the park.  I jumped out of my vehicle and hurriedly snapped two pictures of a great display of sun and shadows. The result is a painting quality photograph..."Ridge Junction Color"
You have to make a visit to Mt. Mitchell a bucket list item....this old mountain is alive...I think it has a soul....or at least the active presence of ghost of Elias Mitchell who is interned at the summit of his mountain.
Mt. Mitchell State Park was the state's first park....and it remains its most majestic.  Visit there soon!

Black Mountains- Green Knob Tower


Driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the intersection with NC 80, you will come upon a popular overlook - Green Knob Overlook.  I counted 10 photographers in this one spot!  They forced me to take my picture from beneath a tree!

For the second weekend of October, the leaves were yet to peak but the color provided was enough to make for some nice pictures nonetheless.
Looking south the color of autumn was beginning to brightly show against the background of distant peaks.
In a couple of weeks this entire mountain would be splashed with color, but today the bright red of maples dotted the oak covered ridge.

We did not travel to this overlook for the view. We parked there so that we could hike the Green Knob Tower Trail.  On top of this colorful knob is an abandoned fire tower from which we were promised a view of the Mt. Mitchell and the Black Mountains.

Donning our hiking gear we set off to find the unmarked trail head.  Our directions were to walk north on the parkway for 100 yards and look across the road.  About where this motorcycle is in the picture, we found a well worn but unmarked trail just as our trail research promised.

The trail is a narrow switchback trail that quickly rises above the Parkway.  It is a forest trail while well worn, is obviously not regularly used.  Some of the steep parts are festooned with my favorite trail adornment....steps!

The trail is billed to be 3/4 quarters of a mile and I judged that to be about right but it is a 3/4 of a mile climb. We soon saw the fire tower and I quickly climbed the stairs eagerly seeking the promised 360 degree view....only to be disappointed as a sturdy lock confined me to the top steps.  Still the view to the west was amazing!

The contrast of color and shifting sunlight, together with moving clouds made the view change with each look.  Disappointed to find Mt. Mitchell covered with clouds, I nevertheless was able to snap some nice shots of her sister peaks.

As I awaited clouds to move I heard the familiar sound of hikers and their dogs coming down the trail. Appearing was three huffing and puffing young people who had trudged up the Green Knob Trail from the South Toe River.  We saw this trail head when we hiked the South Toe River loop and had considered taking the trail this time...boy we are glad we didn't as these kids are in the flower of their youth and they said it was a grueling 3.5 mile climb with few switchbacks.  Their names were Paul, Wyman and Lindsey.  Their dogs were named Balto and Lucy....great folks!

Fearing the clouds would soon spoil our planned trip to Mt. Mitchell, we left the Green Knob Tower to our young friends and moved down the trail. But we paused at the Green Knob Trail head from which the young folks had emerged and marveled at the late blooming blue bells.

If you want to visit the Green Knob Tower, don't take the trail from the South Toe River.  It is too grueling and has no views.  The Green Knob Tower Trail accessed from the Parkway is the best way to visit this place.  The trail access is a 9....only because we followed the directions so well....park at the Green Knob Overlook....walk 100 yards north on the

parkway and look for the trail head...if you get to the big oak overhanging the Parkway you have missed it.  The trail is a great trail....steep and short with plenty of switchbacks...but it is narrow and unmarked...rate that an 8....The scenery is nice but because there is no access to the top of the tower, it is limited to a westward view.  Rate this an 8...could be a 10 if you could get to the top of the tower.  Effort to view is about right...the overall trail is a solid 8.

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