Sunday, July 13, 2014

GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK

THREE TRAILS AT GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK

Early in our hiking career, the FBWG and his faithful Hiking Companion attempted the summit of Mt. Rogers, the tallest mountain in the State of Virginia. (http://fbwg-hiking.blogspot.com/2012/07/rogers-on-appalachian-trail-we-decided.html).  On this hike we discovered the magnificent wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park and vowed to return one day....and that day came.  We hiked three trails for a total of 5.5 miles...great day in the Old Dominion State.


              TWIN PINNACLES LOOP


We started the day at the Visitors Center where the trail head of Twin Pinnacles Trail begins.  The Vistors Center is located near the summit of the Haw Orchard Mountain, the highest peak in the park.  The trail
is a moderate loop out to Big Pinnacle (5089') on the way there are nice overlooks known as the Twin Pinnacles. 



But before taking the hike, we spent time in the Vistors Center and enjoyed the museum detailing the early American history of the area and the wildlife currently residing in the park.




Some really nice stuffed animals allowed us an up close look at creatures we hope never to encounter on the trail and the history exhibit reminded us of the hard life the settlers of these remote mountains would have endured.






The trail was a wonderfully maintained path through a neat forest.  At this elevation trees tend to be less tall and the undergrowth rich and varied.  Haw Orchard Mountain was once timbered and the ridge was used as a pasture.  So there are few remnants of the original forest but the new growth is lush, green and almost primeval in appearance.  My Hiking Companion expected to see Harry Potter fly through at any moment.

At the first overlook we got to glimpse the peak of Mt. Rogers (5729') in the distance and the incoming rain storm which would soon interrupt our hike.
A view of WIlburn Ridge, a place we had trekked on our Mt. Rogers hike gave us a better understanding of the difficulty of our first venture to this area of the Blue Ridge.





Leaving the smaller pinnacles we headed to the peak, Big Pinnacle, the last ascent being up a steep rock stairway.



Emerging on the Big Pinnacle we discovered an expansive series of rock cliffs which on a clear day would have provided some magnificent views of the surrounding mountains in at least a 180 degree vista.
One view was of the popular Massie Gap Trail.  From this trail folks can interact with the famous wild ponies that roam the Massie Gap ridge.  Zooming in on the trail I captured the image of two horse riders enjoying one of  the many bridle trails that the Grayson Highlands State Park offers. 

Scrambling down to a lower ridge I was able to capture a picture of the incoming rain storm moving from the southeast.  The rain it brought drove us from the rock pinnacle and sent us looking for shelter.
On our way up to the Big Pinnacle we passed a shelter and my Hiking Companion remarked that it looked like a Hogwarts Bus Stop....so we scampered to the shelter and waited out the storm, thankfully much drier that we might have been but for the shelter.
Fearing the weather we decided not to venture down to Cabin Creek and returned to the Visitors Center....electing to drive to the Massie Gap Parking Lot and go visit the Wild Ponies....

      RHODODENDRON TRIAL TO MASSIE GAP
BIG PINNACLE FROM RHODODENDRON TRAIL 

The Rhododendron Trail is a the most popular hike in the park.  It is a 1 mile round trip from the Massie Gap parking lot to the grass pasture of Massie Gap where the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park are normally the feature attraction.




The ponies are not indigenous to the Highlands but were introduced there in 1975 as a means to keep the wild grasslands under control and prevent wild fires from destroying the natural beauty of the mountain balds.  The ponies are part of the wild herd of  Assateague Island off the Virginia Coast.



The ponies are wild to the extent that they are left to forage on an open range but they are cared for by the Park and are very fond of the visitors to the park and are occasionally a nuisance to campers who find them unexpectedly inviting themselves to breakfast.


When we arrived at the grassy pasture that forms the Massie Gap several families were already enjoying the affections the Wild Ponies. The magic of these creatures are best reflected in the eyes of children.








     








   CABIN CREEK TRAIL




The weather cleared and we elected to end the day by hiking the Cabin Creek Loop Trail a 2 mile loop which took us to the Cabin Creek Waterfall....and if you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know how the Fat Bald White Guy feels about waterfalls! 








The trail follows a feeder stream for about 3/4 of a mile to Cabin Creek.  The trail is a deep forest hike surrounded by lush greenery, blooming rhodies and occasional burst of light. 



The downhill trail ends at Cabin Creek marked by a three-sided wooden shelter and a nice rhododendron adorned rapid.  


From this point, the trial begins a steep climb and the roar of the falls just out of sight gets increasingly louder...then we saw the Cabin Creek Falls. 


Lower Cascades Cabin Creek Falls

The falls are two cascades which each have multiple falls streaming off the rock ledges.


Upper Cascades Cabin Creek Falls










Thankfully the trail back was along the ridge line and was really a pleasant forest walk.  We covered about 400 feet in elevation change and got to see a really nice waterfall.  Don't miss this hike when you visit the Park as it is a nice change of pace from the mountain trails over the many ridges of the park.  


As is my custom I stopped to reconstruct a cairn created to point the direction to the trail head of the Cabin Creek loop. In so doing I once again gave thanks for the beauty of the day, and the glory of God's creation. Note the cairn points the hiker to the "narrow gate".  (Matthew 7:13-14)

Rating the trails here are pretty easy.  Access is great.  Travel up I-77 to the Galax exit Va Highway 58.  Follow 58 through Galax, Independence and Mouth of Wilson....then watch for the signs to the Park....entrance fee of $5 is a bargain.



Parking at the trail heads are close and well marked...9 .The trails are well blazed and well constructed. Though not very long, you can easily link several trails as we did for a 5 mile hike....and if you have a horse. ..well that has to be a treat....9  The scenery is harder to gauge as the horses add to otherwise great vistas....8
 The effort to view ratio is also very good....overall a solid 9 hike...And if you are lucky...you may get a wild pony to smile for your camera!




On the way out would could not resist stopping to photograph the New River...at rest in the evening sun.

"When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be -- I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into peace of the wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.  I come to the presences of still water." 


 "And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world and I am free." 

 Wendell Berry.

This is why the Fat Bald White Guy hikes!




Sunday, July 6, 2014

Babel Towers

BABEL TOWERS in the Linville Gorge

View of Linville Gorge from top of Babel Towers

 

The Linville Gorge never disappoints.  I like to think that it appears today as it once did to Native Americans who roamed these trails in hunt of game...or to early explorers like William Linville who lost his life exploring the gorge....or Andre Michaux who chronicled botanical studies of plants in the gorge....for the Fat Bald White Guy and his Hiking Companion each time we visit the Gorge, we marvel at the handiwork of the Almighty.....today was no different.  Babel Tower Trail off the Kistler Highway may be one of the longest 2.5 mile trails I have ever hiked and provided some of the most stunning vistas I could have ever imagined. The Gorge never disappoints but occasionally offers a few surprises!

 

We were greeted by a display of blossoming summer whites.  Everywhere were blossoming Rhododendrons.  They lined the path and entertained us during rest breaks....and provided a much needed trail marker.

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of their character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning. ~Lydia M. Child

 

Of the hundreds of photographs I have taken on the trail over the last two years.....this photograph above is the best.  Note the spider...and its shadow....the colors and shadows are stunning and it was all a total accident....I thought I saw a pretty flower and just snapped away....No Bride ever held a bouquet as beautiful as this.... it speaks a language only angels understand.


The destination of the hike was the Babel Towers, a rock precipice guarding the Linville River like an ancient fort of old. 



The Babel Towers rise 400 feet above the Linville River and is in the center of a rock formation which diverts the river into a "U" shaped path.  The Towers rise some 100 feet or more from the trail and offer both a challenging climb and a stunning view of the Linville Gorge.



The trail getting there is quite steep and rocky. Even going downhill for only 1.25 miles is not an easy walk as you must constantly vary your gait to avoid rocks roots and a couple of downed trees.  The trail is narrow and made narrower by the summer growth.



About a quarter of a mile down the trail the trail emerges on a rock cliff and we got the first view of Sitting Bear Mountain and Gingercake Mountain. 



Our destination though covered by a shadow could be seen within and it sure does look like it is further than a mile away! 




Along the way we got many teaser view from the forest windows opening to the distinctive landscape of the Gorge.





The Grand Dame of the Gorge, Table Rock Mountain is a central feature of the southern vistas of this trail...as well as her sister mountain Hawksbill.

The Babel Tower trail intersects with the Linville Gorge Trail at the base of the rock and there is where it gets a little confusing as there are three choices.  

 

My trail research said to take a right turn on the Linville Gorge Trail but we heard the happy voices of a family and thankfully a cute little girl, aptly named Laurel, gave us the right directions. 

We continued straight on Babel Tower Trial and found ourselves on a rock cliff below the towers.



From these rocky cliffs we got our first look at the Linville River looping around the Babel Tower rock formation.  Laurel and her family left us to scramble around the rocks and we searched without much success for a way to the top of the Tower....so what does a FBWG do when he is confused...he sits to rests his dogs in the shade....we found a great place to do that.  Shade, cool breeze, and rock bench, this rock formation was made for the FBWG to take a break.


 


Beside us was a beautiful rhododendron covered with pink blossoms.

 

My hiking companion and I were stumped...there had to be a trail to the top of the towers...heck Little Laurel and her family had just been there.  Then another pair of trail angels appeared....from behind the pink rhododendron bush next to where we were sitting, a young couple emerged from a trail which was nearly hidden by the bush.  They confirmed that the way to the top was by the trail behind the pink bush!

 









The trail was even more narrow than we had previously encountered and it hugged the base of the tower rock.  Then it went straight up.....yep....hand over hand rock climbing type of trail...some 100 feet worth or more.  What is a Fat Bald White Guy to do....but climb to the top!
The climb was more treacherous than we probably thought at the time but emerging on the top of the Babel Tower proved our efforts worthwhile as the views are spectacular.

Standing on top of the Babel Tower, some 400 feet above the Linville River, we had a 360 degree of the Gorge.


Looking south a cool breeze helped illuminate a view of the Linville River snaking toward the base of Table Rock Mountain in the distance.

The peak of Hawksbill Mountan peaked around the slopes of Sitting Bear Mountain.



Looking north we could clearly see the mountain ridge that encloses the north end of the Gorge at the Linville Falls.
 Looking to the west, we saw the ridge of Linville Mountain near Wiseman's view.

The river surrounds the Babel Tower rock formation on three sides.
We lingered for over a half hour on top of the tower.  The views, the gentle breeze and the simple majesty of the Gorge was a lot to take in.  






We made the climb down, thankfully without incident.  





And I paused to erect a cairn to commemorate our adventure and God's blessing.   And I paused to record my Gorge tattoo as well.


The walk out was the toughest mile I have hiked in a very long time.  There is 1000 feet of elevation to cover in 1.25 miles.  That is hard enough for a Fat Bald White Guy but add to that a rock strewn narrow path and you have a one tough climb. 

So how do I rate this trail.....the access is off Kistler Highway and is clearly marked with good parking....9.....the trails are rough and narrow ...7....the scenery is spectacular....9....and the effort to view ratio is about what it should be...for to see the things you see from a top Babel Tower you really need to work for it....over all a solid 9 trail....