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Max Patch

Max Patch.  It’s one of those places you learn about, either in backpacking magazines or from AT hikers who talk about how refreshing it is after miles of endless woods to emerge on such a high, windswept plateau where the sun shines and the grass seems to stretch like Kansas prairie.

After about two weeks of deliberation, my husband and I decide that we just can’t wait any longer before hitting the famous Max Patch.  After a three hour drive, we finally land in the parking lot at the base of the mountain’s grassy foot.  Grabbing our sticks and gear, we head up the trail on the north side of the loop that leads to the mountaintop.

The trail is peppered with tangerine-colored azaleas, and I’m delighted that our hike coincides with the annual bloom.

Above: flame azaleas on loop around Max Patch 

At the summit of Max Patch (which is named after the farmer who cleared the mountain for cattle grazing), we feel like we can see the entire world.  Lolling clouds play with the mountains below, casting shadows whimsically in and out of deep valleys.  Birds soar overhead, and I can see why birders enjoy visiting this area as it’s home to Canada Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Goldfinches, just to name a few.

Above: views from Max Patch

After some well-deserved gawking, Charles and I leave the loop and head south down the Appalachian Trail toward Brown Gap.

This is classic AT terrain—sylvan glades, decaying trillium, and a well-trodden footpath.  Along the way, we spot a turkey vulture as well as a coopers hawk flying low through the trees.  The presence of the birds makes the woods seem all the more untamed and my only disappointment is that they’re too quick for my camera.

Above: AT south toward Brown Gap

After about 2.5 miles, we begin what feels like a gradual decent down the mountain toward Brown Gap. (I’ll later learn that the ascent does not feel gradual, but more like a full-scale cardio workout.)  I’m glad I have my hiking stick as it helps me keep my footing as we traverse tree roots and packed leaf litter.  Charles and I are alone the entire time we follow the AT and we savor the solitude, especially since we’re on the most popular hiking trail in the east.

Once at Brown Gap, we linger only long enough to snap a picture of the campsite and to eat a snack of trail mix and salty jerky.

Above: campsite at Brown Gap

After finally making our way back to Max Patch, I’m relieved to see the sunshine on the grassy fields once more.  I tell myself the three hour drive was worth it.  The only downside is that we didn’t bring our overnight packs.  Somehow I feel jealous of all those lucky folks who get to sleep along the AT, under the night’s restless stars.

Hike it:  Want to experience Max Patch?  Here’s how to get there:

  • Head toward Hot Springs, turning south on 209 (there will be signs directing you toward Max Patch)
  • From there, turn right on Meadow Fork road
  • Turn right on Little Creek Road and eventually right on Max Patch road

Charles and I hiked south toward Brown Gap (3.5 miles from Max Patch, there’s a campsite at the gap), but hikers more commonly head north toward Roaring Fork and Lemon Gap.  If you’re down for a real hike, you can go all the way to Hot Springs.

There are numerous campsites in either direction and AT hikers commonly crowd the Roaring Fork shelter during the high season, so bring your tent just in case.  Since this is the AT, the trail is conspicuously marked, so it would be hard to get lost.  In terms of difficulty, the hardest part of this hike was coming back out of Brown gap.

From what I’ve heard, there is no camping on Max Patch as it’s extremely exposed.  As someone who shrivels at the thought of a lightning storm, I can’t say this is a bad idea.

For additional insights and information on Max Patch, please visit the following:

If you’re interesting in birding, you won’t be disappointed with what Max Patch has to offer.  Check out the following sight for detailed information on birding in the area: Wildlife South.

Entry by Lori Beth

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The Boone Fork Trail is one of the best day hikes in the area.  Beginning and ending in Julian Price Memorial Park, this five mile loop covers dynamic territory.  Rolling hills and cow pastures segue to mountain brooks and marshes; after crossing the Boone Fork as a calm, flat stream, it reappears nearly halfway through the trail as a rowdy plunge through primeval boulders.  The trail culminates in a floodplain meadow with the river mild and circumspect before its wilder descent.

We like to hike this loop clockwise, which means striking out west from Price Park.  You’ll have to spear through the park and wander through the campgrounds that ring the lake (often crowded in the summertime), which might wrongly lead you to believe this is a simple car-camper path.

Experienced hikers should suspend their disbelief.  The Boone Fork Trail is as vibrant as a Mahler symphony, and the first movement is deceptively simple:  after you leave the camping area, you’ll walk up briefly into the woods to emerge in an expansive pasture.  Lori Beth and I ate a lovely picnic on one of these knolls looking south toward the Tanawa Trail.  These pastures will give you great views of Grandfather Mountain and Hanging Rock before they funnel you back into the more immediate hills.

The second movement takes you literally down into fold of the mountains; you will have to bounce across wet stones, rivulets, and fallen logs.  The only problem with the trail comes at this point: the path often becomes a quagmire, and it seems unevenly maintained in places.  Intrepid hikers have blazed useful side trails to circumvent the sludge, but a few particular parts require forethought (e.g., one can weave carefully through the rhododendron to avoid the mud).

After wallowing briefly in the mire, you come to the third movement.  The streams become fordable, the path drier and steadier.  Suddenly, you hear the river’s rush on your left, then it emerges:  immediate, imperative, and very present.  The river is stunning when it finally appears; it crashes through cracked granite and roars perpetually on its frothy course. 

Above: view of Boone Fork River

We often tend to stop near here for lunch; there are several little paths down to the river from the main trail.  We’ll sit on the rocks and eat a sandwich amid the spray.  We’ve seen lots of wildlife around here (a frog, a jumping trout—one of our friends saw a bear).  At this point, the trail is close to Old Turnpike Road on the other side of the river, and one may see other wildlife (i.e., drunken frat boys).

The trail will eventually wind up and away from the river and lead into the fourth movement:  a slow and stately walk back to the placid river you crossed initially.  As the river flows down, you walk back up; overall, you’ll follow its course obliquely.  The end of the trail leads you through floodplains, erstwhile beaver dams, and waist-high wildflowers.  The river’s peaceful beginning belies its stormy progress.

Above: view of river near picnic areas– some evidence of beaver construction can be seen when hiking this area

A dynamic loop trail (like a Mahler symphony) can be a transformative experience.  At the end, you have been brought back to where you started, yet changed through the process.  In saecula saeculorum.

Hike it:  To access the Boone Fork Trail, visit the Julian Price Memorial Park around mile marker 295.  (The Memorial park extends from mile marker 295-298).  Once in the park, cross the wooden bridge and you’ll be on the trail.

The entire loop is 5 miles in length and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on your pace, fitness level, etc.)  For novice hikers, it may be a little strenuous, but it’s still a hike that almost anyone in generally good physical condition can do.  While I have often seen children on the trail, I would personally recommend that your little one be old and fit enough to tackle the diverse landscapes the trail has to offer (wooded trails, stream crossings, some rock hopping, a ladder).  The trail is extremely well-marked and you’ll see a mile post every 0.5 mile.  There are also several lovely swimming spots along the river.

Entry by Charles

A few weeks ago, the hubby and I were looking for a quick, local hike on a sunny spring day.  So we decided to drive out to the Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, a place we had somehow bypassed during all of our local adventures.

The Natural Area itself is small and the trails short and few (once you see the park map, you’ll know just what I mean).  This is not one of those places you visit for a hardcore, leg burning hike or to get away from the chattering crowds.  It is, however, an ideal get-a-way for families with children, folks who enjoy exploring rare plant life, or people who want to be rewarded with remarkable views after only a short walk.

So instead of talking trails, let me share what I think is the strongest feature of  the park—the views from the top.  Enjoy!~

Above: views from Luther Rock Overlook

See it:  To visit the park, hit 221 toward West Jefferson.  After about 13-15 miles, start looking for the brown park signs on the right that will guide you to the Natural Area.  Restroom facilities, a water fountain, and picnic tables are provided.  No special equipment is required.  Just a good pair of anti-slip tennis shoes if you decide to brave the rock outcroppings for a view.

For additional information on the park , please visit the following:  Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area

Entry by Lori Beth

Standing atop Wiseman’s View at night is a little scary.  The moonlit canyon inspires feelings of smallness, ineptitude, and a general sense of insecurity at one’s own ability to survive in such a place.  Yet in spite of these feelings, people such as myself are repeatedly drawn to this spot and to the Linville Gorge which plummets over a thousand feet below it.

Charles and I are on our way home, driving up from a long day of enjoying the sights and sounds of Asheville.  The moon hangs like a polished orb above us and is so bright we can almost see without the car’s headlights.  As we drive, a wood cock dashes across the road and I almost wreck the car trying to get a look at this seldom-seen bird.

It’s about the time we get to North Cove that I blurt out “Hey babe, let’s drive up to Wiseman’s View on our way to Boone.  The moon will be amazing and we may even see the brown mountain lights.”  I know that Charles, in his obsession with the Gorge and unquenchable moon-lust, won’t be able to say no.

And so we find ourselves driving up a narrow, gravelly, wet road on the west rim of the gorge.  On our way up, we enjoy views of Hawksbill as the leaves are not yet able to obstruct our view.  Surprisingly, quite a number of car campers have braved the wet roads and cool, windy night to stake out campsites along the road.

At the top, we park the car, throw on our jackets and walk out to Wiseman’s View.  Charles has a flashlight, but because the moon is so luminous, he stashes it in his coat pocket.  As we stand on the windswept overlook, Charles and I are bathed in moonlight and the sound of the rushing river below.  An enormous rainstorm the night before has risen the water level several feet and it sounds like a raging bull beneath us.  Looking out into the Gorge, we see two small campfires twinkle along the river; Charles and I muse about what it would be like to camp so deep in the Gorge on such a raw spring night.

We stand a while longer on the outlook, silently hoping to see a glimpse of the famous Brown Mountain lights that we were lucky enough to spot one weekend while camping along the river.  The lights are most commonly seen just along Table Rock.  Because it’s such a beautiful and mysterious night, I feel sure we’ve got a good chance.

See it:  The Linville Gorge is mysterious, dangerous, wild, and even mythical.  That’s why year after year so many people visit it.  Wiseman’s View is especially popular as it affords fantastic views of the Gorge just minutes after stepping out of your vehicle.

To get to Wiseman’s View, turn onto the Kistler Memorial Hwy. (formerly NC 105) from Hwy 183.  On your way up, you’ll pass the following places:

1. Alternate parking area for Linville Falls
2. Information Cabin (on your right)
3. Parking area for Pine Gap Trail
4. Parking area for Bynum Bluff Trail
5. Parking area Cabin Trail
6. Parking area for Babel Tower Trail
7. A sign will point the way (to the left) for Wiseman’s View.

You’ll also pass numerous car campsites.  These sites usually operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The campsites are easy to access, relatively large, and some can accommodate more than one vehicle.  Fires are permitted.

If you’re interested in the Gorge in general, you might enjoy the following links, which offer additional information on the Gorge as well as the Brown Mountain Lights:  Tips on Linville Gorge, Linville Gorge & Brown Mountain Lights.

Charles, inspired by our experience, wrote the following poem:

________________________________________
Wiseman’s View

We live here on the cusp of tame and wild:

civilization’s trappings (gaudy signs,

bright lights to mend the darkness, barking dogs

to insulate a house) can disappear

in seconds from a simple change of course.

We spent a day in artful buildings cast

by clever men:

before us lay their bright

ingenious pinnacles, and we drove home

through dynamited corridors of granite.

At last, we turned away from the perfection

and shame of man’s devices on a road

into the gorge.

Before us now lies darkness,

the cenotaph of Table Rock, the plunging

reality of cliffs and river pure,

two token campfires in the scary wild.

There are many trails in the Moses Cone system that are well worth your time, but the trail leading up to Flat Top Tower is one of my favorites.  That’s because this trail offers something that will please almost any type of hiker.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and Charles and I are in no rush. We walk up the Flat Top trail at our leisure, stopping to snap photos and admire wildlife.  While the entire trail is beautiful, it’s the first few hundred feet that I love best.  Not only do I find the rolling meadows and views of Grandfather aesthetically inspiring, but more importantly, these views remind me of the childhood days I spent hiking the Moses Cone system with my grandparents.  It was these two wonderful people who taught me how to love the Blue Ridge mountains.

Above: view of Grandfather from trail

As we work our way up the trail, we move through wooded copses and out onto an open field.  The sun is high overhead and it’s one of those spring days where all you want to do is lie in the sun and not move.  Charles and I somehow resist this urge and continue up the trail, knowing the best is yet to come.

Above: meadow adjacent to Cone Manor graves

After moving through a mile and half of gravely, switch-backed trails, we make it to the top of the mountain where the fire tower rests.  I’m initially hesitate to climb the tower as it seems thin and shaky, but the sound of voices from the top boosts my confidence and I head up.  (Plus, I know I can’t wimp out after coming this far; what would my fellow hikers think of me?)

At the top, it feels like I can see the whole world.  To the north, Boone stretches out before me and to the south lies Blowing Rock.  In the distance, I can even see Table Rock, Price Lake, and Mt. Mitchell.  Knowing that common words are a poor substitute for scenes such as this, I record the vista, hoping to in some way preserve its magnitude.

Above: panorama from fire tower

Hike it: The Moses Cone Trail systems are among the most popular in the High Country.  Most of the trails are extremely accessible as they were once carriage trails commissioned by Mr. Cone.  Today thousands of walkers, joggers, hikers, and horseback riders frequent these trails and rest assured that should you hit one during the high season, you won’t be alone!  But if you’re comfortable with a general lack of solitude, then one of the many Moses Cone trails is for you.

The Flat Top Tower trail, in particular, is very popular.  From the Cone Manor to the top is 2.8 miles.  The trail is listed as “moderate” and you’ll gain a good bit of altitude as you hike.  The trail itself, however, is very accessible as it is switch-backed and gravelled.  The trail also offers a wide variety of experiences from meadows to woods to vistas, making it the perfect “please all” kind of hike.

For more information on the Moses Cone Trail system, please visit the following:  CNY Hiking & Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

The best thing about the first hike of the season is that it lets you know you’re alive—

and soft from the long winter months you spent eating girl scout cookies next to the fireplace.  But despite the physical complaints, there is something invigorating about plugging quietly over a mountain trail for the first time in months—and hiking to Storyteller’s Rock on Grandfather Mountain is the perfect place in which to do just that.

After squeezing into a parking space in the Boone Fork Parking lot, Charles and I sling on our packs and head up the Tanawha trail toward its intersection with the Nuwati, which is only 0.4 miles ahead.

As we hike, I’m reminded that the trail names reflect the heritage of the Cherokee Indians who lived in these mountains for thousands of years.  They believed that Grandfather was a sacred mountain where visionaries could interact with spirits of the underworld and gain insight into things to come.  The trail name, Tanawha, means “Fabulous Eagle” and the Cherokee believed that the eagle had claimed the mountain as his sacred home.  As we trek over loose rocks, tree roots, and rushing streams, I imagine that I’m treading the paths of those who once believed in the mountain’s magic and its great eagle spirit.

After just under an hour, Charles and I reach our destination—Storyteller’s Rock.  This high outcropping offers us splendid views of the Boone Bowl and surrounding areas.  As we snack on trail mix and chocolate bars, hawks surf the thermal uprisings and scan the dense woods for prey.  The sun is high overhead and trees sparkle on distant ridge lines.  And it is during these moments of observation that I realize why they call this Storyteller’s Rock—there is something about the high, windswept outcropping that asks the visitor not to speak, but to instead listen to the story that Grandfather—the Great Eagle—has to tell.

Above: views of Boone Bowl and ridge line toward Calloway Peak from Storyteller’s Rock

Hike it: The Nuwati trail (blue blaze) to Storyteller’s Rock is interesting and accessible.  It can be accessed via the Tanawha trail from the Boone Fork Parking lot at mile marker 300.  Once on the trail, you’ll run into a permit box where you’ll fill out a form that includes your name, number of people in your party, your license plate number, etc. You don’t need any specialized equipment and the trails are well-marked.  Toward the last part of the trail, you will have to navigate several streams using only your wits and a few dry rocks, but it’s really more fun than difficult.  (In fact, you can try to spot the rare Hellbender as you hop across.)

As you approach Storyteller’s Rock, you will notice several campsites just off the trail.  These sites are frequented by campers during the high season, so if you want to secure a spot (especially on a weekend), it’s a good idea to get there early.  The campsites are accessible enough that it’s not uncommon to see casual hikers pack in comfy pillows, bags of food, and even collapsible chairs.

On your way either to or from Storyteller’s Rock, you have the option to take the Cragway Trail (orange blaze).  This trail links the Nuwati and Daniel Boone Scout Trails.  It is difficult and you’ll gain altitude quickly, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Boone Bowl from the Top Crag View and, higher up, the Flat Rock View.

For more information, please visit the following:  Tips on Grandfather Mountain

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

The most marvelous thing about the Linville Gorge is that so few people know it’s there.

Anyone driving around the High Country can hardly miss the prominent massifs of Table Rock and Hawksbill on the gorge’s eastern rim; a drive through Avery County will likely cross the lazy headwaters of the Linville River several times.   However, the casual tourist will have no idea that the Linville River has carved a primordial chasm in the earth.  We have built our roads around it in the spaces it allows, and none of these roads conveys the briefest glimpse of the terrifying beauty the lies just over the ridge.

Above: view of Gorge from Table Rock

The popular Parkway stop at Linville Falls conveys a sense of the river’s grand course, and anyone wishing to fully experience the gorge should stop there first.  Its casual trails will lead you to several dramatic perspectives of the formerly gentle Linville River plummeting down immense granite boulders and carving its initial course through the gorge.  Exploring deeper into the gorge requires:

  • good equipment,
  • good maps, and
  • a desire to commit yourself to the wilderness.

This place is indeed wilderness; you can expect no clearly-marked trails or easy access points.  The terrain is perpetually rugged—walking a mile in the Linville Gorge is invariably more strenuous than walking a mile on any other trail in the High Country.

During one of our hikes, Lori Beth and I explored the Western rim of the gorge from the Cabin Trail, which descends nearly 1000 feet (in only .75 miles) to the Linville Gorge Trail.  Going down the trail with 30lb packs is exhausting; coming back up can be downright scary.  We’re both seasoned hikers, and we both found this short trail to be among the most difficult we had ever attempted.

We continued south on the Linville Gorge Trail to Sandy Flats.  This is where a former west rim trail intersects with the Linville Gorge trail in a (rare!) flat area.  The river is only a short walk below, and we made use of it over the course of two days  to bathe, purify water, and look for wildlife.   During our two days at camp, we saw four human beings pass by on the trail.

Above: view of river from bottom of Gorge

Hike it: There is no easy hike in the gorge.  This is a wilderness, and all hikers should be well-equipped with the essential  matériel and skills. As with any wilderness area, you should always have plenty of water and food, as well as adequate clothing.  If you plan to be near the river, a water filtration unit is very useful, as it can help significantly lighten your load.  You must also carry a topographic map of the area and a compass, and have the requisite skills to use them.  Some trails in the gorge are well-marked, but most are very primitive—plenty of people get lost here every year.  If you hike here, you are truly at the mercy of nature; do not underestimate its power.  If immersion in the wilderness sounds like your kind of hiking experience, the Linville Gorge will not disappoint!

The Eastern rim is accessible from NC181 via Gingercake Road (it’s a long drive on dirt roads, but ultimately worth the effort).  From the Table Rock parking area you can hike to the top of the namesake massif or head south to Shortoff Mountain for views of the south end of the gorge.

The Western rim can be reached by driving down NC 183; it’s a short distance from the Linville Falls community to the road (Kistler Memorial Highway) that traverses the Western rim.  All of the Western rim access trails are located on this road, which will ultimately lead you to Lake James (the terminus of the river that carved the gorge).  The Pine Gap and Babel Tower trails are more generous in terms of elevation gain over a distance than the Cabin trail or the Pinch In trail.

For additional tips, information, and useful links, please visit the following:  Tips on Linville Gorge

Entry by Charles

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.