Hickory Nut Gorge Offers New Hiking Trails

Throughout the last few years, hiking opportunities in the Hickory Nut Gorge area southeast of Asheville, NC have slowly been expanding. While locals have been hiking in the area for decades, there haven’t been a lot of publicly sanctioned trails, except for the few inside the privately owned Chimney Rock Park. But those come with an admission price.

Spurred by the purchase of Chimney Rock Park by the state of North Carolina for the subsequent creation of Chimney Rock State Park as the Gorge’s centerpiece, and aided by other purchases and easements through local land conservation organizations, the amount of space officially open to public recreation in and around the Gorge has increased dramatically over the last decade. And along with new protected lands have come some new trails, which have started to allow people to experience the beauty found in this section of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Long-range plans for the area include a long-distance trail that encircles the entire perimeter of the gorge. But that trail is being built in smaller pieces, which have their own names. Three of those pieces are now complete and open to the public: the Bearwallow MountainLittle Bearwallow and Trombatore trails. We explored the latter two in December 2014, and below are our trip reports from those hikes.

Bearwallow Mountain: Crown of the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge

Before the trip reports, let’s talk a bit about the first trail to be constructed in the area. Bearwallow Mountain sits near the upper end of the gorge, on its southwest side, and is one of the highest peaks in the area at 4232 ft. in elevation. The Eastern Continental Divide splits the summit, then loops around the upper gorge before connecting to Little Pisgah Mountain on the other (northwest) side. At 4412 ft., Little Pisgah is the higher of the gorge’s two ramparts, but Bearwallow is better known than its higher neighbor because of its accessibility.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-view-bearwallow
image-858
Bearwallow Mountain, as seen from the destination on the Trombatore Trail described below.

For years, locals have parked at bottom of the service road that leads to its summit and hiked to the top, where a forest of trees disappears and is replaced by a forest of communications towers. I’ve been visiting it myself with my family as a kid since the early 90’s. Now, with the summit under a conservation easement and an official trail leading to the top, everyone can comfortably enjoy Bearwallow’s open meadows and the splendid views they provide.

The meadow at the top of Bearwallow Mountain, with its cows grazing and communications towers bristling, exemplifies the typical environment in the Hickory Nut Gorge. Rather than having a wilderness or backcountry feel to it, the areas these trails bring you to feel more rural. Pockets of exceptional natural beauty remain, tied together by more developed or disturbed areas in between.

Bearwallow Mountain was the first of the three trail segments to open and we have given it its own trailhead page on HikeWNC.info.

Trip Report 1: Little Bearwallow Trail, from US 74-A to Little Bearwallow Falls

A chunk of conserved land, called the Florence Preserve (which also has its own trailhead page on HikeWNC) sits on the edge of the gorge northeast of Hickory Creek, on a lower ridge of Little Pisgah Mountain. It has its own little trail network inside it, and it is accessed from the new Upper Hickory Nut Gorge parking area along US 74-A.

From the same parking area, you can now access a trail leading in the opposite direction, to a waterfall on the side of Little Bearwallow Mountain. The trail passes over private and conserved lands, and ascends quickly up the slopes of the gorge to the bottom of a cliff band. A tiny stream flows over the cliff to form Little Bearwallow Falls.

On a beautiful warm day in late December, 2014, a group of us hiked the new trail to check it out!

2014-12-27_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_little-bearwallow-hickory-creek-bridge
image-859
Crossing Hickory Creek at the start of the Little Bearwallow trail.

It was a varied group of hikers, so I’d say the trail up to the falls is accessible to most folks with some hiking experience. It’s about 1.1 miles from the parking area to the falls, with a 650 ft. elevation gain. The newly-rebuilt trail is in great condition and is well constructed, with few obstacles along its first part. The forest is nice, and contains an understory of the less-common rhododendron minus (as opposed to the more typical Catawba and Rosebay rhododendron, some of which grow here also).

After crossing the small stream well below the falls, the trail gets a bit steeper and passes though some rock steps. Still, I wouldn’t call it “rocky” because the steps are quite artfully arranged. I’d rate it moderate overall – everyone in our group was able to keep up.

2014-12-27_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_little-bearwallow-falls
image-860
Little Bearwallow Falls

 

When you arrive at the falls, you may wonder if you’re actually there. It’s very high (I’d estimate well over 100 ft.), but there is only a tiny drainage area above the cliff, meaning it’ll have to be a rather wet period for there to be any water going over it. It’s scenic when the water is flowing, but that might not be the case for most of the year. Still, the cliff is impressive and worth a look even if it were dry.

From the falls, the trail is still under construction as of January 2015, but it will eventually continue along the bottom of the cliff band, past an overlook called Wildcat Rock (expected late 2015), up to the summit of Little Bearwallow Mountain, and then up Bearwallow Mountain proper. We hiked that bit as well, but I wouldn’t recommend it just yet.

Trip Report 2: The Trombatore Trail, Bearwallow Gap to Blue Ridge Pastures

The Trombatore Trail was the most recent segment of trail to be constructed. At Bearwallow Gap – which is also the starting point for the Bearwallow Mountain trail – there is enough room to park along the road, and that’s where I started a solo hike out to Blue Ridge Pastures. The trail begins on a new set of steps on the northwest side of the gap opposite the Bearwallow Mountain trail, and a sign board is there to give you more information about the trail.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-road-steps
image-861
Start of the Trombatore Trail on Bearwallow Mountain Road

The first section of the trail is hand-built tread, and it quickly showcases some of the beautiful work that has been done to make the path complete. The trail approaches some of the impressive cliffs that line this part of Bearwallow Mountain, then swings away through a few switchbacks. Icicles lined the rocks on my hike, and frost heaved the trail surface, which will be common in winter months. Sunlit areas were slick as the melted water collected on top of the frozen ground underneath.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-rock-steps
image-862
Nice rock work along the first part of the Trombatore Trail.

The trail winds downhill on the northeast slope of the uppermost part of the Brush Creek drainage. The forest is a bit older here than it is further on. You start out right in the transition area between a Northern Hardwood and Cove Hardwood forest, and gradually descend into the Cove Hardwoods. Only a couple of trees of significant size are present, but at least one is quite large and burly. Another curls up from the ground like a pig’s tail.

No water was present in the rocky washes and gullies the trail crosses at first, but as the trail begins a longer northwesterly jaunt, I passed the source of Brush Creek, which I could start to hear off to the right. I’m not sure if it was a spring, but it looked like it from my vantage point on the trail. Past that, the trail took me down into a maze of old logging roads where the forest becomes filled with younger trees.

The trail swings right onto one of the old roads, then climbs uphill through the same drainage, before swinging left across the only real creek crossing on the hike. The water is piped under the road and it’s only a small trickle, so you’ll stay dry. There is obviously a buckeye tree growing here – buckeyes were lying in the stream next to these mossy rocks and I couldn’t resist getting a shot of them.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-stream-buckeyes
image-863
Buckeyes in the stream beside the Trombatore Trail

Next, the trail started climbing back toward the ridge, which it approaches closely a couple of times. Old logging roads swung off in all directions, but signs kept me on the correct path. I passed a house on the right around the halfway point, then entered a gap about 2.0 miles from the start. Here, a short section of hand-built trail delivers you back onto an old logging road. Follow the signs.

The trail crossed a small flowing spring branch just before arriving at a stone pile on the right, which marks an old home site. The spring was likely the water source for the old homestead. From here, the hand-built trail reappears, which I followed up to the summit & pastures.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-invasive-woods
image-864
Forest choked with invasive vines

The forest in this area is struggling. It’s choked with invasives, and many of the native trees are dead – including what used to be a significant population of Carolina Hemlocks. Native vines have also taken advantage of openings in the forest created by the invasives, and they climb all over each other. I noticed several creepy poison ivy “zombie trees” – dead trunks still standing (usually locust) covered in the noxious vine, which has climbed to the top and spread out its own canopy of branches. Some of the poison ivy vines are so thick and old they’ve died of old age! A few larger “landscape trees” – mostly oaks – poke out of the thickets in places. All in all, this area looks for the most part like reclaimed pasture land.

As you approach the still-maintained pastures, you’ll reach a stile which takes you over the barbed wire fence.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-cattle-stile
image-865
Ladder stile taking the hiker into Blue Ridge Pastures

On the other side, the trail winds through some brambles and young trees before popping out in the grassy area where a magnificent view awaits! The air was fairly clear New Year’s Eve, so I was able to see all the way from Bearwallow Mountain, down the Hickory Nut Gorge to a small sliver of the Piedmont region, across to Little Pisgah and beyond, up to the Craggy and Black Mountains.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-pasture-gorge-view
image-866
Pastures with Little Bearwallow Mountain and Hickory Nut Gorge in the background

 

SONY DSC
image-867
Close up view down the Hickory Nut Gorge

 

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-blue-ridge-pastures
image-868
Looking back up through the pastures toward the top

At the top of the pasture was a modular pen, but with no animals in it. The grass was trodden down so it looks like they’d been there earlier in the year. It looked kind of neat with the pasture and mountains as a backdrop.

2014-12-31_upper-hickory-nut-gorge_trombatore-trail-pen-pasture-view
image-869

After a satisfying pack lunch in the pasture, I met a couple who rode their horses up from Hickory Nut Gap on US 74-A. Plans for the trail call for its continuation from the pastures down to that point, but that’s currently not an official trail. So, I headed back the way I came to wind up a great hike in Bearwallow Gap where I parked.

While the new trails in Hickory Nut Gorge are not complete, the trail network is coming along beautifully and it now makes a compelling destination – especially for us Ashevillians, considering how close the trailheads are from the city.

We’ll be adding these trails to the HikeWNC site soon, but until then check out these resources to get you to the trailhead and out hiking:

Two New GPS Maps Added

We’ve added two new GPS maps of big area trail systems: Wilson Creek, in the Pisgah National Forest near Grandfather Mountain, and Panthertown, in the Nantahala National Forest near Lake Toxaway. Both of these trail systems, although very different, have two common types of destinations within them: waterfalls and trails cliff-top views. And both trail systems have trails open to both bikes and hikers!

Schoolhouse Falls in the Panthertown Valley
Schoolhouse Falls in the Panthertown Valley

Harper Creek Falls is in the Wilson Creek area and the centerpiece of a Best Hike in that area. Several other falls exist in the area as well. In Panthertown, choose from Schoolhouse Falls, Greenland Creek Falls, Wilderness Falls, and several more!

View from Big Lost Cove Cliffs in the Wilson Creek Area
View from Big Lost Cove Cliffs in the Wilson Creek Area

Cliff top views in the Wilson Creek Area include overlooks at Big and Little Lost Cove Cliffs, affording panoramas up to Grandfather Mountain. And in Panthertown, you get Big and Little Green Mountains, as well as the more subtle Salt Rock, among others. Both areas are prime destinations for hiking in the area, so we hope these maps will help you get out there and explore them! Links to the maps, where you can view and download to Google Earth or your GPS, are below.

GPS Map of the Wilson Creek Area

GPS Map of the Panthertown Valley

Map ToolTips

We’ve published a change to the GPS maps, which enables tool tips as you hover over trails and markers. It’s hard to label trails on a dynamic map like you would on a printed one, so we feel like this is a good alternative. Click the highlighted trail to open a window with all the trail details, and download it to your computer or GPS.

We hope you like it, and let us know what other things you’d like to see improved as we continue to build the new maps!


An example hovering over the Camp Alice trail,
in Mt. Mitchell State Park.

 

Representing the Internet Community to the Forest Service

On Thursday, January 19, I attended the Trails Strategy Workshop with the National Forests in North Carolina in Mars Hill. Overall, the event was very encouraging and informative. Thanks to Alice Cohen, Trails Strategy Coordinator; Diane Rubiaco, Acting Supervisor; Michael Hutchins, Acting Appalachian District Ranger; Erik Crews; Dispersed Recreation Program Manager; and all the others with National Forest in North Carolina for working late to give us the opportunity to be heard. This is a huge deal, and it’s obvious that the Forest Service is coming around to the idea of getting plenty of input before making big, long-lasting decisions that affect our trails.

It’s great to see the land managers reaching out for public involvement in this way, and they did a great job of bringing everyone onto the same page in understanding what they’re trying to do. Throughout the various sessions in the workshop, they were able to demonstrate what common goals disparate trail user groups all have when it comes to trail system planning. They also quashed the inevitable suspicion that the Forest Service is out to just close as many trails as they possibly can (it was repeatedly emphasized that this was not the case).  There were over 40 people in attendance by my count, representing a variety of groups such as the Carolina Mountain Club (hikers), Pisgah SORBA (mountain bikers), equestrians, private camps, eco-tourism outfits, and many more. They also did a good job outlining the next steps going forward

The upcoming Working Meetings take place from February to September and will focus more on the specifics of what needs to happen in the trail system. Their stated outcomes include pursuing sustainability; establishing links, connectors, and loops; realistically prioritizing maintenance; coming up with criteria for consideration of future trail system change requests by the public; increasing volunteer contributions and efficiency in the face of dwindling budgets; and monitoring progress in implementing the plan. Although the meetings are open to the public, the Forest Service has asked organizations to send one representative each to keep the groups at a reasonable size, which seems like a good idea given how energized people get about this topic (as they should).

So although I’m not with any established group of the kind mentioned above, what I’d like to do is ask to be a representative for WNCOutdoors.info and its users. I know a lot of our visitors are those who live in the area but perhaps aren’t affiliated with any particular group or can’t attend meetings, and also those who visit from outside the immediate area but have a stake in the future of the trails system here. Please send me email, leave comments on the blog or our Facebook or Google+ pages, tweet to us on Twitter - just send us your input as to what you’d like to see happen to the trails in the National Forests in NC! I’ll try to bring those considerations to the table and ensure that every angle is explored as this important strategy is developed.

Likewise, I look forward to sharing more information back with everyone about what we learn might come out of this. I’ll also be encouraging the Forest Service to continue to be transparent and consistent in disseminating official information (such as potential new trails, change of trail designations, trail closures, and trail map data) as quickly as possible. They’ve been doing a great job at this so far, especially with their new web site (and the Trail Strategy Page), but we want to ensure that this continues so we can pass the information along to you in a way that matters most: boiled down to just the information you need to plan your next hike or ride!

Spring Hiking at Connemara

You don’t have to be a great appreciator of the arts, poetry, or even Carl Sandburg to enjoy a visit to Connemara – the poet’s historic homestead at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. From the moment you start down the path to Front Lake, it’s hard not to feel the peacefulness that pervades the land that the Sandburg’s called home.

image-240
A View of the Home from Front Lake

To the right of Front Lake, there’s a wonderful picnic area where you can enjoy a meal with family or friends before beginning a tour of the vast grounds. Kids are welcome to feed the fish in the lake, as they travel over an idyllic white bridge and up an easy trail to the main house. In early spring, there’s bold yellow forsythia to stroke along the way, and lusty pink and white magnolia blossoms beckon you close to the house like a spell.

image-241
The bridge over the dam at Front Lake

It’s likely that young children won’t yet have much interest in taking a tour of the home itself. That’s okay, because there is a simple, circular pond directly out front that is full of music making toads. You can also take the kids down to Lilian Sandburg’s famous goat dairy (they breed the same varieties that she once did).

One of the biggest surprises at Connemara is the intricate network of trails that start at the main entrance and end at the top of Glassy Mountain. Both the Memminger (named after the 1st Confederate States Secretary of the Treasury, Charles Memminger) and the Glassy Trail climb gently and smoothly and are in good condition. There are several signed detours along the Glassy Trail that lead back to the main house if you don’t want to climb to the top of the mountain. There’s even one sign that simply reads, “home”.

image-242
The Trail Home

It’s easy to spend the entire day at Connemara. I recommend reading some of Sandburg’s poems to your kids in the car, so that they arrive with their imaginations full. It really is a magical place that you’ll want to visit over and over again.

We’ll be adding the trails at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site as a new Trailhead to hikewnc.info, so look for more details there before you plan your very own trip to the Carl Sandburg Home! Here are a few more pictures from around the area to get you started.

Article by guest blogger Tasha Mitchell

image-243
Trails at Carl Sandburg Home are great for kids!
image-244
The View from Glassy Mountain
image-245
The Memminger Trailhead
image-246
S. Trailhead for Little Glassy Mountain
March 20, 2011Permalink 1 Comment

Visit to Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls is located just off of I-40 in the Pisgah National Forest, near Old Fort, in McDowell County. Despite its’ being on National Forest property, however, the falls has long since been off-limits to the general public due to the only reasonable access trail being on private property. But good news! Recently, the Foothills Conservancy bought the 23-acre tract over which the access trail passes for $400,000.00, on a loan. A temporary access agreement with the County was put in place, and since then the public has been allowed to access the fails simply by parking at the end of the road and walking up the trail.

More recently, a Federal house bill has been passed that will allocate the funds for the US Forest Service to acquire the land from the Nature Conservancy, thereby paying off the loan, and possibly develop a larger parking area for public access. Since this news was released mid and late last year, I’ve put the falls high on my list for a visit – and it was well worth the wait. Catawba Falls is a beautiful, multi-charactered falls with two distinct sections – a wonderful addition to the selection of trails and hikes available in Western North Carolina.

The trail begins at the end of Catawba River Road off of I-40, at the bottom of the Old Fort grade (directions on Google Maps). On the day of my most recent hike, there was still a good 6″ of ice and snow on the ground from two recent winter storms in late 2009 (the major snow of December 18th and the big ice storm Christmas morning). The trail was muddy where there was no snow, and it was actually easier to walk on the crunchy snow than the places where the trail was clear!

The trail is mostly level at first, and I noticed that it followed an old power line (which is down in places). The trail starts on the left side of the creek but eventually you must cross to the right side where it continues. There is one place where it is possible to rock-hop, but it was above boot level with the high water. Upstream from that, at the old powerhouse, was a slippery log which I was able to use as a makeshift bridge. It still had snow and ice on it, so it was tricky at best. Expect to get wet on this crossing if you come after wet weather!

After you cross, the trail follows the creek upstream on a gentle grade at first, then a moderate climb. You will pass by the ruins of the dam that supplied the old power house (seen here). The trail drops off steeply to a cascade below the dam, so be careful. This creek used to be the sole power source for the town of Old Fort.

Beyond the dam, the trail climbs a bit more steeply before making another creek crossing. That crossing is an easy rockhop. Next, the trail comes out in a dry wash. Cross to a rocky “island” in between the wash and another creek crossing, and cross that as well. This second crossing was tricky again on my last hike – a big hemlock log makes a good bridge but it too was snow and ice covered.

The trail then continues uphill a short distance through an area of very large boulders to the lower falls, seen below (from a prior trip with no snow). There is a good bit of room for hanging out an enjoying the scenery. The uppermost parts of the falls might be obscured from view when the leaves are on the trees, so I’d recommend going before the winter is over. In very cold weather, I bet lots of ice forms on and around the falls:


Lower Catawba Falls

Now from here, there is a scramble path that leads up the right side of the falls. There is a sign warning you not to go that way and let me tell you – heed the sign. It starts out steep, gets steeper, and eventually gets so steep up some rocks that there is a rope in place to help numbskulls (like me) who go up there anyways keep from getting killed. Because that’s what will happen if you slip – you’ll tumble down the path and off the falls. Not only is it steep, but it’s narrow, with a sheer drop-off into the creek.

So why would anyone even bother climbing this path? There are some pretty neat (scary?) views of the lower falls from up there, but the real reason is to reach the upper falls – which are about 5 minutes upstream from the top of the lower falls. The upper falls is really nice, but until a better path is established, I can’t recommend anyone attempting to reach them. So I got a photo for you:


Upper Catawba Falls

So from the photo you can probably see why people would want to haul themselves up the mountain. It is such a beautiful waterfall, but the trail up there is so bad that I’m torn as to whether I’d even go back that way to reach them.

I’ve added Catawba Falls to NorthCarolinaWaterfalls.info, and I’m considering adding it to HikeWNC.info as a Best Hike also. But for that, I’ll probably wait until the Forest Service buys the land near the trailhead, making the “temporary” access more permanent.

December 27, 2009Permalink 1 Comment

A New Battle Between Mt. Mitchell and Clingman’s Dome?

In response to my post about the new observation platform atop Mt. Mitchell, Allen said:

“Now that the old 45 tower has been replaced by the observation deck on Mt. Mitchell, is a person standing on the Clingmans Dome tower in the Smokies at a higher elevation, or does the Mt. Mitchell deck still put you at a higher level? In other words, how tall is the deck above the mountain top?”

Good question! I figured this one was worth a little bit of research.

The summit elevation at Mt. Mitchell is 6,684 ft. and the deck of the new Mt. Mitchell platform is 12 ft. above the mountaintop (according to the Asheville Citizen-Times), so the elevation of your feet when standing on the platform would be 6,696 ft. Now the summit of Clingman’s Dome is said to be 6,643 ft. According to Brittanica, the deck of that tower is 54 ft. high. So if the base of the tower is right at summit elevation, that puts the deck at 6697 ft. Which means that you’re now standing 1 foot higher on the Clingman’s Dome tower than the Mt. Mitchell observation platform!

 

Clingman's Dome tower on a snowy day

Are these folks now standing higher than people on the platform atop Mt. Mitchell?

That would be a bit of justice finally to Mr. Clingman, I guess, considering the famous dispute between he and Dr. Mitchell regarding which mountain in the region was higher. But of course, the figures above might be just a hair off. In fact, I recently read that one new satellite-based measurement of Mt. Mitchell put the actual summit elevation at closer to 6,710 feet. (I need to find that article again, so don’t quote me on it).

Now these figures are so close, in the age of data and technology I think we need a better way to come up with a winner than just adding up numbers that “The Officials” have told us to be true. So let the new quest to find the highest tower begin! If anyone cares to get some GPS or altimeter readings on both towers, I’d be interested in seeing what they said. The more readings, the better. Both barometric altimeters, and actual GPS measurements. Make sure the unit is on the deck of the tower (the part you stand on, not the railing) when getting the reading. Come back and post it in the comments here, along with as much info as you can – device used, date, time, and other information such as calibration point. If we could get multiple readings by multiple people that we could average together, that’d help correct any aberration in any given unit at the time the measurement was taken. And use the same device for both readings, calibrated to the closest USGS benchmark or known elevation you can find. And if anyone wants to pull a tape up there and confirm the heights of the decks, that’d help too. We’ll collect the readings and start to see which one looks like it’s coming out the winner!

Regardless, of the exact measurements, they’re both literally within a stone’s throw of each other in height (as is Mt. Craig at 6,645′, and it has *no* tower at its top, making it my favorite).  Best to go to each one and enjoy them all so no matter what, you can say you were standing at the highest possible (albeit man-made) point in the Appalachians!

March 26, 2009Permalink 4 Comments

How a Bear Made Me Sick

One fine Saturday in June, 2007, I decided to take a short hike up to the waterfall on Hickey Fork Creek. It’s a fairly easy hike, and I decided to leave my water in the car for this one. After 20 minutes on the trail I arrived at the falls, soaked in the scene for a few minutes, and then started heading back to the trailhead. Only a few hundred yards down the trail on a very steep downhill section, I was stopped dead in my tracks: there, ahead of me and shooting rapidly up a tree, was a young bear cub. Down below, on the trail itself, was the mother.

Now, normally, one does not simply walk past a mother black bear and her cubs. She took a curious stance, and looked in my direction, but didn’t move very much. I made a little noise and slowly retreated, feeling the adrenaline, while the bear watched me moving away. After a short time, I was back at the falls and what I felt was a safe distance from her and her cub.

But was my biggest concern at that point being attacked by the bear? Apparently not, seeing as she didn’t even move. I was much more likely to see her disappearing away from me through the rhododendron than to get attacked. Even if she did charge my way, the chances of an actual attack are pretty low. Not absent, but low. But this encounter left me with another dilemma.

Between me and my vehicle was a family of bears that I did not want to disturb any further. The falls is located in a steep, rugged valley, making the possibility of finding a safe bypass a slim one. Looking at the map (which I thankfully did bring) and weighing my options as afternoon wore on, I spied another trail that joined with the one I was on further up the mountain and looped back down the next valley to reach the trailhead where I was parked. I quickly decided to take this route. But not until I was on the dry ridgeline searching for the connecting trail, after climbing 1500′ up an insanely steep ridge on a windy, hot day, did I realize that I had no water, and was quite thirsty – dehydrated, even.

The connecting trail did not appear soon, and when I finally found it, it was not heading in the right direction. It was wildly overgrown and difficult to follow. I was beginning to think I might have to spend the night on the mountain. With…no…water.

So, you see, the bear gave me a much bigger problem without so much as making a move. My only choice at this point was to return the way I came and hope that the bear had gone on her way, which I did, and she had. However, by the time I reached the falls again I was completely parched,  had stopped sweating and was feeling nauseous (classic signs of dehydration).

To make it the rest of the way back to the car, I was forced to take a nice, long, refreshing drink out of the creek. After all, bad water is better than no water when it’s getting dark, you still have a mile and a half to hike, and it’s getting dark. This water wasn’t so bad – it was cold, clear, and tasted great, even – but drinking straight from a stream is not really a good idea due to the various bacteria and flagellated protozoa which may inhabit the waters. These nasty bugs can do a number on a human digestive system, which is why purification is always recommended.

Luckily, I only came down with a mild upset stomach which lasted about 3 days. But it could have been worse. For me, it was a lesson learned and proves that the most dangerous animals in the woods might be the ones you can’t even see.

March 21, 2008Permalink 3 Comments

A Call To Action: Hemlocks Threatened by Tiny Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

Majestic hemlock forest at Linville Falls. This was taken several years ago. Today, the forest is much thinner and less healthy looking. But new growth was spotted on many trees as of September, 2006!

Update 8/7/07: Hemlocks which still appear to be healthy along the Parkway and Linville Falls are likely ones which have been chemically treated, rather than helped by the predator beetles. Hemlocks are dying rapidly where untreated or treated only by the predator beetles, and it appears that the biological control method will be ineffective. Since chemical treatment is difficult to do large-scale, it looks like we’re losing the war. Article originally posted Sept. 11, 2004.

Original article (edits marked in red):

Spears of morning light shoot through the forest as tiny, winged seeds spin down through the beams like flying insects, or a light snowfall. Continue reading

August 7, 2007Permalink 8 Comments