Monday, February 20, 2012

Laurel-Shelton Backcountry Loop

Starting Point: Jerry Miller Trail Head, Flagpond NC
Distance: 22 mile loop Including road walk
Date: Februrary 18-20th 2012
Trip highlights: Waterfall on Jerry Miller Trail, Views from Blackstack Cliffs, somewhat technical climbing while enjoying nonstop views over Firescald Ridge.

When Jon, Nick and I were planning this trip we required several things. First, we required winter conditions and preferably snow. Second, we needed plenty of great views from mountain ridgelines. Third, we needed our final day's hike to be short enough to get us to the car by eleven, to get Jon to work on time. We altered a popular hike in the Shelton-Laurel Backcountry Area of Pisgah National Forest to meet all of these retirements. The loop would take us up Jerry Miller Trail to the Appalachian Trail at Bear Wallow Gap. We would then drop our packs and take a short loop around Jone's Meadow back to our packs and hike to a Forest service Road by Flint Mountain Shelter which would take us to a 4 mile road walk back to the car, making this a 22 mile loop.

We stopped at Biscuitville in Greensboro on the way out of town and made it to the trail head at around 12:3-, almost exactly 3.5 hours. The trail head was easy to access but it should be noted that a small creek ford is required. My fairly low clearance front wheel drive Mazda Made it just fine.

The trail head offers enough parking for several cars next to the creek. The trail is clearly marked with yellow blazes and the trail head has an information board and a plaque dedicated to he trail's namesake.

Jerry Miller doesn't mess around. Almost immediately after crossing a small bridge the trail sent us straight up --and fast. After skirting up to a low ridge line, the trail becomes more level, before meeting up with a creek. There's a pretty impressive water fall followed by several insignificant creek crossings. One of these crossings has a log bridge and we had no problem rock-hopping over the rest. We then hiked on to White Oak Flats. The trail in this area became a Fairly wide road bed as it traversed the meadow and we made really good time during this section. This area is more reminiscent of Uwharie National forest than Pisgah as the the trail had gentle elevation changes and low ridgelines dominated the ladscape. However beyond the low ridges, we caught our first glimpse at the crests we were about the climb. We stopped for a quick snack at a rock formation before the final ascent. I took off an unneeded layer and with our packs back on we began the intense climb up to the ridge. After several switchbacks the trail takes a sharp turn off the road bed. We continued following yellow blazes up the side of the mountain.

After 4.5 miles of intense hiking, victory came in the form of white blazes. I sat on a rock at the intersection of Jerry Miller and the AT and enjoyed some grub as I waited for Jon and Nick. Jon gave a celebratory "Whoooa!" as he came to the trail , and Nick was close behind.

We found a good spot to ditch our packs and started our short lolly-pop-loop to around Jone's Meadow. At about a quarter mile in we spotted a side trail to blackstack cliffs. This was one of the spots we had looked forward to so we headed down the side trail. Offering extraordinary views in three directions, Blackstack was definitely one of the highlights of this trip. The rocks that jet out let you walk out away from the mountain and toward the horizon.

Not very much further down the trail we passed Whitecliff Rocks. We were running a little low on daylight so we decided to brush passed. We then followed the AT down About a Mile of switchbacks, taking us under Whiterock Cliffs, towards Jones meadow. We decided to trim a little bit of time by taking a side trail to the meadow, instead of looping around. The trail climbs fairly directly to the meadow, where we were surprised to see an access road on witch several sight-seers had driven up to the meadow. The view from here was quite rewarding, but we had little time to stop and enjoy it, as we still had another five miles to hike before sundown.

A local family was drinking beers around a fire just past Jone's Meadow. They pointed us to a Forest Service Road that took us back the the AT near BlackStack Cliffs. We reached Bear Wallow Gap and reunited with out packs. From there it was a short 3.3 miles to Jerry's Cabin Shelter.

After less than a mile, we came to a fork in the trail. The blue blazed trail offered a "Bad Weather Route" and the white blazes offered "Ridgeline Trail." We went with the white Blazes.

The trail goes over Fire Scald Ridge where it demands some near-technical climbing but offers some of the best views imaginable. From open rock faces and rigid trail sections we had great visibility in all directions. after coming down from the ridge the trail reconnects with the bad weather rout and starts climbing toward Jerry's Cabin. Jon blazed on ahead and Nick and I slowed our pace a bit. After some steep climbing we found Jon waiting at the shelter with Joe, A section hiker from Bowling Green.

We filtered water from a spring just above the shelter and started a small fire in the shelter's fireplace. After swapping trail-tales with Joe we went to sleep around 9:30.

We woke to the sound of rain hitting the shelter roof. Joe hit the trail early but since we had all day to walk six miles, we decided to wait around the shelter for a break in the rain, or possibly for it to turn into snow. We filled up on water and enjoyed a slow morning around the shelter. At around eleven, the rain slowed and we decided to start hiking. The trail wasted no time taking us back up to the ridgeline where we trekked through forests, over a meadow and passed a plaque noting the location where the ashes of a thru-hiker were buried.

The hike up Cold Spring Mountain is a rocky one with several scrambles. we made it up the mountain in good time and started toward Big Butt.

The trail takes a sharp turn towards Gravel Gap just before Big Butt. We made it to the Butt just as it began to snow. The snow was getting thicker and was starting to lightly cover the ground. This is the February hike we had been looking for!

We made it back to the AT and started down To Gravel Gap. The snow temporarily turned back into rain, and we stopped to eat lunch under a tarp. Back on the trail, the woods became more open and we located several great potential campsites. A hundred yards further we found Shelton's Grave, The burial place of three young boys who were of the 13 victims of the 1863 Shelton Laurel Massacre.

Passed the graves, The forest got thicker and the trail took up down quickly descending switchbacks for about a mile. We reached the bottom of Flint Gap and were faced with the trail ahead taunting us as it went straight up the side of the mountain.

After some intense elevation gain I spotted the tin roof of the shelter through the woods. a short drop to a road bed and a guick hill clime put me at Flint Mountain Shelter. Nick wasn't far behind and we started getting situated for the night.

The shelter has two sleeping pads separated by a small table. We designated one pad for gear and one for sleeping. The shelter had bear cables, a privy, and a good water source but lacked a fireplace. A fire pit in front of the shelter had a stack of cut wood next to it, but the day's rain had left it soaking wet. This in no way hindered Nick's ability to get a respectable fire roaring.

Jon and Nick enjoyed the fire and I made a quick dinner, hung my food and called it a night early. Snow continued to fall throughout the night and after a couple of hours Nick and Jon put out the fire and went bed. The night was much colder than the previous one but we managed to stay warm.

We woke up before the sun and packed up. The plan was to get on the road by eleven so Jon could make it to work in Greensboro by 3:30, so time was of the essence. We backtracked to the Forrest Service Road we had crossed the day before and took it down to the road.

The wide, gravel road winded down into a valley before once again gaining elevation. The final decent to Mill Creek Rd. Passes forested land, stripped to only a few dying hemlocks. Through the break in the trees, we could see the road. We kept moving towards the road which we could see was so close.

Once we reached Mill Creek Rd. We started walking toward Highway 212. We thumbed the first truck to pass us by and he gladly took us to 212 and to the Church at Big Creek Road. We all Dropped our packs and I volunteered to walk the final 2 miles solo and pull the car back around. I made it to the church at a quarter to ten, more than an hour ahead of schedule.

On our way back to Greensboro we were scouring exit signs for Mexican Restaurants to round out the trip in true Rhythm n Boots fashion. On our search, we located a Bavarian Dining Restaurant. We decided to forgo Mexican food for some satisfying schnitzel. We pulled into the parking lot to read the sigh "geschlossen Montag"--Closed Monday.

I guess it was meant to be because the same Asheville-exit housed an authentic Mexican Restaurant. We stopped there and destroyed their delicious tacos.

We made it to Greensboro at 2:30, allowing Jon ample time to get to work.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Trip report: Carver's Gap-Highway 19E Appalachian Trail on the


Starting Point: Carver's Gap, TN
Ending Point: Highway 19E NC
Distance: 14.3 Miles one way
Date: November 3rd, 4th 2011
Trip highlights: Hump Mountain at Night, Four of the best Southern Appalachian Balds, Hiking in open terrain, Amazing views of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia

It was 12:59 for an hour and a half. The clock finally hit one and I clocked out, ripped off my name tag and walked out to my car. My pack was already in my back seat so I was ready to hit the road to Carvers Gap. I met Katei at Yum Yum's for a quick hot dog and shake and then began the journey to the Tennessee Border.

A wrong turn in Blowing Rock, NC set my already late starting hike back even later. It was a beautiful Saturday in November, which means highway 105 was jammed with mini vans on their way to an afternoon at Grandfather Mountain--picnics and yuppies and toddlers; oh My! After more than an hour of stand-still traffic I was finally past the obstacle and quickly got back on the right track.

I finally arrived at Carver's Gap at around 6:00--about two hours later than I had planned. The parking lot was very nice, with a privy and ample parking, and was quite full. lacing up my boots and stretching; I strapped on my pack, crossed the road and headed North. My plan, originally, was to hike to Bradley gap, (about 7 miles in) set up camp for the night, wake up and do some day hiking before picking up my pack and hiking out. My late start changed my plans a bit but as I started hiking I had no concrete plans.

This section begins with a pretty easy clime up to Round Bald. The trail winds through some small patches of Ash forest, but for the most part remains fairly open. Day hikers heading back to Carvers Gap made up the bulk of trail traffic, although there were a couple small groups of weekenders and one group of SOBO thru-hikers headed the Roan high Knob Shelter. After a quick easy hike, I reached the 5,826 foot summit of Round Bald. I had no time to really stop and "take it all in" but the views were fantastic. The sun was already falling quickly and I needed to keep going, as I still wasn't sure how far I was going to hike.

I hiked down Round Bald, across Engine Gap and up to Jane Bald. Although lower the Round Bald, Jane Bald had equally as great views and I decided to stop and enjoy the sunset, eat a quick snack and figure out what my plan would be for the night. I consulted my map and determined that Stan Murry shelter would be a decent spot to camp for the night. I was disappointed that I would only be hiking less than 3.5 miles that day, but figured that would leave me well rested for a tomorrow of exploring the area.

Hiking down Jane Bald I ran into a group of middle-aged weekend hikers scrambling to find water and a place to camp. I told them that I didn't know of any campsites in that area but let them know that there was a spring not too far ahead on Grassy Ridge. They asked me where I was planning to camp. Feeling a burst of energy from my snack on Jane Bald, I explained to them that my plans had changed and I was looking at Stan Murray Shelter but was now thinking about trekking considerably further to Applehouse Shelter; given that I had walked the last mile or so with no sun in the sky and the moon was offering enough light that I had not yet even realized that I wasn't using my headlamp. Thus, Apple House became my new goal for the night. 14 miles sounded much better than a mere 3.4.

The trail leads down Jane Bald and enters its first real stretch of forest. Although the forest was aptly illuminated by the almost-full moon, I decided to finally pull out my head lamp. The trail gently looses elevation on the way through the woods towards Stan Murray Shelter and I was making pretty good time on this section of trail. I ran into a mapless and quite clueless group of high school kids looking for a spot to set up camp. I told them that they probably wouldn't find an established campsite big enough for their group but suggested going on to Over Mountain shelter which sleeps around 30. The group, who appeared to be dressed straight out of CCS Magazine, weren't up for very much more hiking. I breezed on and continued down the trail. I reached Stan Murray Shelter at around 7:15. Its two occupants were cooking dinner out in front of the shelter. They had hiked from Iron Mountain Gap and stayed at Clyde Smith Shelter the night before. I warned them about the clan on cotton-clad youths that were headed in their direction and continued towards Little Hump Mountain.

Yellow Mountain Gap was not too exciting in the dark except for a placard with a story from the Revolutionary War near the blue-blazed trail that lead to Over Mountain Shelter.

The forest opened up into grassy meadows and I again found myself without the need of my headlamp. I reached Little Hump Mountain and decided to cook Dinner behind a large rock formation which presented itself as an effective windbreak. I put on a layer of two and cooked my Minestrone and Cous Cous. I started hiking and the wind started picking up.

I traversed Bradley Gap which was wooded andoffered a nice break from the wind. I spotted several groups camping in this area. I passed several great unclaimed hammock spots and considered stoping short of my goal and staying in Bradley Gap. I kept Going. I also passed several springs and stopped at one to fill up. A small fence with a horse gate was situated right beyond the woods where the terrain opened up once again to a beautiful mountain meadow.

The hike up Hump Mountain was dominated by the wind. The trail was clearly marked through this open area but the wind was doing its best to keep me off of it. However, the summit of The Hump brought a change. The wind curiously stopped blowing as I reached the top and allowed me a chance to sit on The Hump and enjoy the summit. City lights from Roan Mountain, TN shined as brightly as the stars. Hump Mountain at night is a rarity worth investigating, and I highly recommend that you, at some point, experience it. I ate another quick snack and started down the trail at around 9:30 towards Doll Flatts--which was another pleasant surprise

After quite a while of rocky trail through the woods, the trail passes through one last open meadow. Even at night, the views from here are impressive. Past Doll flatts is more forest. A side trail to a spring is just beyond the Flatt and there was ample room for tents in this area. After about 3 miles of switchbacks, forest and several large rock formations I reached Apple House Shelter just at midnight.

The Shelter was full and several tents surrounded it. I set up my hammock behind the shelter, hung my food and went to bed under a clear sky--no need for a rain fly.

In the morning I awoke to the shelter coming to life. An older local man was cooking breakfast and talking to a young group of SOBO thru-hikers. It was their first night back on the trail after having spent two night in town, where they had had a great time with the locals. I made coffee and oatmeal and packed up me hammock. The thru-hikers started off before I did and I stayed and chatted a while with the local man. I was excited to repeat the previous day's hike with the benefit of sunlight.

I started back up the trail towards Hump Mountain. I reached Doll Flatts and stopped to take in the view. The night before offered great views but the daytime views blew them away.

I reached The summit of Hump Mountain. The thru-hikers from the shelter were on top eating lunch so I joined them. There was a clear view or Roan Mountain which is where they were planning to stay that night. The sky was so clear we could see as far south as Watauga Lake and far into Virginia to the North.

The thru-hikers continued on and I finished my lunch. A local family reached the top and we chatted for a bit. I told them that I was headed back to my car at Carver's Gap and they offered that I follow them though a short-cut to Highway-19 where the assured me hitchhiking to Carver's gap would be easy. I took them up on their offer and followed them back down the north side of hump mountain. We entered the woods and took a trail that headed onto private property that their neighbors owned. We walked for maybe 3 or 4 miles through the woods and then through a couple Christmas tree farms. We piled into the bed of a truck that was waiting at one of the tree farms and we headed towards 19. The dropped me off at a convenient store on the highway and wished me luck. As soon as they pulled off, A couple pulled over and offered a ride.

Zeke and Trish were two of the nicest strangers I've ever met. They had hiked a 500 mile section of the trail in the late 80s and soon after relocated to Damascus, VA. Zeke had planned to open up an outfitter is Damascus that sold gear and "took novice hikers into the woods to show them how to not be idiots," to use his own words. Unfortunately, sickness had prevented them from pursuing this dream. I told them I was from Greensboro and they Told me about Wild Foods Weekend in near by Oar Ridge...I'm looking forward to this in April.

They dropped me off at Carver's Gap, which was quite a ways out of their way. I offered to give them money for gas but they refused. I loaded up my car and headed back to Greensboro. TRIP PHOTOS