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.

1 comment:

  1. "bad weather route", more like "bad attitude route". Great report, great trip!