Sunday, October 26, 2014



Late one Saturday in October, with the Fat Bald White Guy wanting to break in a new pair of hiking boots, we set out to one of our favorite nearby spots for a sunset hike.  I have featured this park in several previous blogs.

The feature peak is the Hanging Bluff upon which the Hanging Rock draws thousands of visitors each year.  Today was no exception as even as we began our hike late in the day we passed more than 50 other hikers descending the trail! 

  You access the trail from the main parking lot on the other side of the visitors' center.  It is a 2.6 mile round trip.  The trail is initially paved gravel and about a quarter of mile into the trek becomes crushed gravel. It is moderately steep until you reach the ridge top about halfway up the trail.  The ridge top trail leads to the summit trail which consists of steps....lots of steps!  When I first hiked this trail decades ago the original trail was a nice mountain switchback but it was too narrow to accommodate the popularity of the hike and these steps were constructed. I tried to count the total number of steps but I lost count at step 250!  My guess is that the total is around 275.

At step 80 there is a nice rock where you can step to the side of the trail and catch your breath. If you look back you can see the a nice view of Cook's Wall Mountain.  Proceeding up the steps, at step 130 the trail emerges beneath a rock overhang.  Looking up I got a nice pic of a chimney rock .

The trail beneath the rock ridge gives a brief respite from the steps but soon the trail returns to the original route....and more steps.  The summit trail ends on the back side of the ridge top and leads to the breathtaking views of the Hanging Rock cliffs.  Most folks proceed straight out to the signature overlook.  I chose to rock scramble to the right and found my self on the southwest side of the peak on a rock cliff I have named "Balanced Rock Cliff"....why....because of a wonderfully balanced rock sentry on its ledge. 

From this ledge the Piedmont foothills unfold before the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

The big sister of Hanging Bluff  Mountain is Moore's Knob the tallest of the Saura Mountain chain is profiled against the evening sky. On top of Moore's Knob is an observation tower and I captured a shot of someone looking at me!  

 And beneath its gaze is a nice horse farm whose white buildings gleamed in the setting sunlight. 

Leaving the Balanced Rock ledge, my Hiking Companion pointed out a nice window view framed by the rock.

Making our way around the rock cliffs, both my Hiking Companion and I snapped some nice shots of the colorful landscape.

The sun was rapidly sinking and we made our way over to the signature cliff to get the best view.  But  we had to wait our turn as many others wanted to be pictured against the setting sun from this spot.  On the way I ran into a nice couple, Clarence and Ashley whom I told I would make famous by picturing them in my blog...apologies for the bad pic....promise to do better next time!

But we made our way to the Hanging Rock ledge and found a nice seat to watch nature's best display of colors end the day.  The setting of the sun over Huckleberry Ridge between Cook's Wall Mountain and Moore's Knob Mountain was spectacular as the sun seemed to dance behind the cloud teasing us as it emerged with bolts of color.
The setting sun provided so many great shots it is hard to pick the best so I will do my best to display the spectacular sunset with a series of pictures.
As the sun played peek a boo with the clouds, the mountain provided a nice silhouette to portray the display of colors not imaginable to the finest of painters.

As we left the edge of the cliff, the sunset kept drawing us back for more pictures as the colors seemed to change every moment.

We met a nice family, Sandy, Julie and Darwin who recently moved from Colorado to Camden, NC and had yet to experience the wonderful beauty of the North Carolina Mountains.  We decided to make them famous too!

 While we were talking with them a strange couple took our place on the Hanging Rock cliff.  We watched in both amazement and trepidation as the man began to light the ends of two ropes and performed some kind of ceremonial dance on the ridge.  With the wind blowing and the surrounding countryside dry with fallen leaves, I was sure Smokey the Bear would appear any moment and admonish this young man for his foolish behavior.

This hike was a real treat mostly because it was not planned.  Hanging Rock State Park is so close that we can visit without much advanced planning.  We caught the autumn sunset on a clear evening and were entertained by a show of nature that cannot be duplicated by man.

 So how can I rate this trail?  The trail is a solid tourist hike.  Many people will join you on this hike so be prepared.  The trail is a 7 because of this in spite of the fact it is well maintained and marked.  Access is a 10...parking right next to the trail head.  Scenery is an 8.  Great cliff views of the surrounding Piedmont foothills and the Saura Mountains.  Effort to view ratio is about right as it is a 1.3 mile uphill steep step climb.  Overall this is a solid 8 trail. If you live in the area, try to catch a makes the trail experience a 10+!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pisgah Mountain Range - Fryingpan Mountain


On the way down the Mt. Pisgah trail I spied a sign indicating that a side trail led to Fryingpan Mountain...three miles away.  Remembering some trail research that on top of the mountain was an abandoned fire tower....and that it could be accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway....we set out for a second hike of the day.  
Having seen the peak of Fryingpan Mountain from the Mt. Pisgah trail I knew that the views would be tremendous.  And like most of the views in the Pisgah Mountains....they were tremendous.

The trail head is the gravel access road to the fire tower. It is located about a mile south of the Pisgah Inn.  It is a locked gate with no signs restricting access that we noticed. I assume the gate is to prevent vehicle traffic.
On the way up we got a good look of  Mt. Pisgah in the distance.  Dang that mountain looks a lot bigger than I thought it was when I climbed it earlier in the day.   The hike up is nearly a mile and is a steady climb along a well maintained gravel access road that winds around the summit. 

The summit consists of a number of communication towers and the abandoned fire tower.

When we arrived we found that two other pairs of visitors had already arrived . One pair was a nice young couple with whom we spoke when we arrived a the trail head....the other pair were...let's say...more interesting.  

To get the best view you have to climb the tower steps to the landings.  Though the access to the top of the tower is locked off, folks have free access to the rest of the tower. This is how I met Vlad and his photographer pal.

It seems that Vlad was chilling in a hammock tied off to the support beams of the tower while his photographer friend was free climbing while web streaming his exploits via a GoPro Hero camera. Vlad was a nice enough chap.  Happy to tell me that last weekend he had free climbed the adjacent communication tower.  Either you will see him in the next Jackass Movie or read about him when the Darwin Awards are made.  As we talked I snapped some of the best pictures of the day.

Looking to the north I captured the Blue Ridge Parkway snaking around the ridge leading to the Pisgah Ridge.

To the south, the Blue Ridge Parkway snaked its way into the Black Balsam Mountain Range and in the distance you can seen the distinctive balds of Looking Glass Mountain.

While I was getting to know Vlad, my Hiking Companion made friends with Kelsey and Charles, two members of the US Air Force who hoped to share a quiet moment watching the sunset over the mountains until the Fat Bald White Guy and Vlad showed up to spoil it all!

By manipulating the lens to my camera I was able to screen out the metal beams of the tower and the results were fantastic.

Looking northeast the parkway is in the afternoon shadows but the distant mountains are golden in the sunlight.  The French Broad River Valley communities dot the landscape in the distance.  The setting sun was shaded by clouds remnants of a previous storm and the occasional sunbeams bursting through provided many artistic scenes never imagined by the best painters.
The fading sun shined from the parting clouds like a spotlight on the mountains to the east.  But as nice as these shots were, the real treat was the scene unfolding to the west.  The sun was covered by a dark cloud, the last remnants of a storm which passed through the night before.

Just like the good book says...."Light will dispel the darkness" ... and try as it might that dark cloud could not cover the sunlight!  The pictures remind me of the observation of C.S. Lewis who said: "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

The many and changing variations of color on the landscape caused by the sunlight as it forced its way through breaks in the cloud changed the scenery with every glance.
        When I descended from the tower, 
my Hiking Companion introduced me to Kelsey and Charles who were engaged earlier in the day on top of Mt. Pisgah....and they asked the Fat Bald White Guy to make their engagement pictures as they hung in a hammock off the side of an abandoned fire tower....yeah right!  But how could I say no?
How can you top that....prayers of blessings of love to Kelsey and Charles for a long and happy life together.   May they remember that "the best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, and plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds" (Nicholas Sparks)
Rating this hike is easy too.  Access is a 10 as it is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 409.6 at Forest Road 450.  Elevation at the summit is 5340 feet. The tower constructed in 1941 is 70 feet tall.  1.65 mile round trip hike.

The trail is a 7....good roadbed but it is a trail with limited views of interests and is steadily steep for a 400' elevation gain in 3/4 miles....scenery is an 8 without the tower...with the tower it is a 9...  effort to view is lopsided as the view greatly exceeds the effort needed to enjoy it....overall rating 8+.  Now when you add an engagement and two free spirited have to add a point to the over all rating.