Friday, January 2, 2015

Linville Gorge - Celestial Point


Talk to any Gorge Rat and they will tell you the best view of the Linville Gorge can be found at the Celestial Point.   Over the years I have seen pictures of the views and added this hike to my bucket why not New Year's Day 2015?!

We were joined on this hike by my pal, Mike Jacobs and his ten year old granddaughter, Madison Spruill, a student at Caleb's Creek Elementary School......yep.....Crocs Rock!

Foregoing an easier route to Celestial Point via Gingercake Mountain (because I could not find the trail head)...we decided to hike Sitting Bear Mountain aka Da Bear.  Da Bear is a 4026 foot peak along the eastern rim of the Linville Gorge.  We had hiked the peak on the way to Devil's Cliff a couple of years back.  We remembered it as a brutal climb on a summer day. Since it was 37 degrees we thought the climb would be easier.....what were we thinking?!

Maddie and Mike were real troopers and climbed 19% slope of the mountain with little problem. 

They were nice to wait on the FBWG who was often huffing and puffing behind them.  The climb up Da Bear is not for the faint of heart.  It is a real mountain climb along a narrow slippery trail.  

When we started, I pointed to a large rock as the halfway point and Maddie and Mike had to pose for a picture to memorialize their accomplishment.

A little further up the side of the mountain we encountered Da Bear.  Standing like a silent sentry guarding his mountain, Da Bear is a 70' rock balanced on the mountain in a manner which only nature could create.  The summit trail is only a mile long and the elevation change is about 800 feet.  The fact that Da Bear is about 2/3 of the way up makes it a great place to rest and catch your breath.  

Asking why the rock was called "Sitting Bear", I pointed out to Maddie the features of the bear head which most folks can see.  I even think I see Da Bear smiling...what do you think?
On the way back down the mountain, I asked Maddie and Mike to pose next to Da Bear just to illustrate how large and unusual this rock is. Nature sure has a sense of humor at times.  This rock defies explanation as to how it got here or how it continues to stand erect.

From the Sitting Bear Rock, the trail is much steeper but allows for occasional window views which are obscured by the summer foliage. Reaching the summit we found many trails which access some nice views in every direction.
Hiking in the winter, I am often concerned that there will not be enough color to make for good pictures.  On this day I did not have to worry as the blue sky mingling with a variety of clouds provided a nice color back drop to every photograph. 

 From the eastern side of the summit we got our first glimpse of the Hawksbill Mountain our destination last New Year's Day. 
These views were teasers to the views we would experience at this year's destination. 

Celestial Point has been on my bucket list for some time. I have marveled at the photographs of the views from this place.  But the trail seems to be elusive to some. I will do my best to help out.  To get there you must find the Midcliff/Devils Cliff trail intersection on the Jonas Ridge Trail.  Coming from Sitting Bear Summit, it is easy to find.  The trail is to the left. There are six rocks, three on each side of the trail forming a sidewalk of sorts.   You will find these rocks after you pass by some interesting ice cube rocks on the trail.  We erected a cairn on one of the six rocks, as much to signify our praise to our Creator for the beauty of the day as to mark the way for future travelers.  

Proceeding on the Devils Cliff/Midcliff trail, there is a "Y" the left is Devils Cliff trail.  Looking back from the "Y", you can see the six rocks and understand the split is not very far down the trail.  

The Devil's Cliff Trail runs along the ridge line above the Hurricane Wall and terminates at Devil's Cliff.  About a quarter of a mile down the trail, there is a tree with lichen on the right followed by a log on the left.  


The trail head for Celestial Point is to the left about 20 paces past the tree/log trail marker.  In the summer it is less well defined but on New Year's Day it was easy to find.  It is a down hill trail of about 250 yards to the Celestial Point Cliff.  

You will know you are almost there when you pass by a large rock under which is a nice cave.   

Leaving the rock there is a scramble of sorts down to the cliff. 

 The view there is breathtaking.  
As advertised by Gorge Rats, this is the best view of the southern end of the Linville Gorge.  You can see all the peaks as well as the river winding its way to Lake James. 

The clouds provided interesting shadows and lights on the gorge.  While I missed the lush green of the summer time gorge or the colorful autumn, the view was stunning none the less.  

Maddie was amazed by the view and added her beauty to the scene.  There is something special to watch the beauty of God's creation be reflected in the eyes of a child as she sees for the first time its majesty.  Besides Maddie smiles all the time and is such a joy to hike with.  Except that she has the hiking ability of a mountain goat and put the FBWG and his Hiking Companion to shame with her agility....oh, youth is so wasted on the youth!
If you want the best view of the Linville Gorge, then Celestial Point is the place to go.  I suspect the hike from Gingercake Mountain is a longer but easier hike.  As hard as the climb up Sitting Bear is, it is a real treat.  The many and varied views along the way provide a stunning display of the beauty of the Gorge and its surrounding mountains.  

But especially nice was the fact that we had the trail to ourselves only seeing people on the way out. Proving that the Fat Bald White Guy has become famous, I met a fellow named "Will" who was looking for Celestial Point.  After describing to him the trail, he said: "No way, you are the Fat Bald White Guy?!"  Well....with that kind of endorsement I had to make him and his girlfriend Selena famous too.  You meet the nicest people on the trail.

So how do I rate this hike.....Trail access along Forest Road 210 is great and easy to Gingercake trail head needs some work!  9;  The Jonas Ridge Trail up Sitting Bear Mountain is the eastern rim boulevard trail and easily trekked.  The Devil's Cliff trail and the Celestial Point trail also proved easy to find and well defined...9;  the effort to view ratio is good...the hike up the mountain is steep and hard but the views are outstanding....the views are 10....they do not get any better in the Linville Gorge than on this hike.  Overall a 9+ trail rating....but hiking with Maddie makes it a 10+!

People constantly ask me and my Hiking Companion why we do this.  We have found the observation of John Muir at the turn of the 20th Century so very true.  "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are finding that going to the mountains is going home....that wilderness is a necessity"  This is why we hike.  The reason I blog is to provide an incentive to other folks to get out into the wilderness too.  Heck if a fat, bald, white guy can do this maybe you can too!  I try to provide a trail review for folks wanting to hike a trail that we have hiked.  Finally, I know that some folks just can't hike. The blog is a virtual hike for them.   

" The Beauty of the Mountain is hidden for all those who try to discover it from the top, supposing that, one way or an other, one can reach this place directly. The Beauty of the Mountain reveals only to those who climbed it..."
 - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Happy New Year....and go take a hike in 2015 and if you find me on the trail I will take a photograph of you and make you famous too!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Black Mountain Range - Craggy Pinnacle and Mt. Mitchell

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 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 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 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!


About 10 miles north of Craggy Pinnacle is Mt. Mitchell (6684') 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 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.