I went on a seven-mile hike with my pals Andy and Bob. This would have been a most confusing hike if my son had come along, as then there would have been two different Andys and Bobs along. But my son, Andy, chose to stay home when he learned the hike involved a vertical climb of about 3300 feet in less than four miles. “Screw that,” he said. Wise words, perhaps.
The trip began eventfully, for as we left I-40 and took the Forest Service Road leading to the Curtis Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest, we spied the largest flock of wild turkeys any of us had ever seen. I suspect about fifty birds. Andy pulled to the side of the road where we could gawk, take photos and videos and keep exclaiming how it was the most wild turkeys any of us had ever seen in one spot.
We then continued the short drive to Curtis Creek where the National Forest has an excellent campground suitable for tents and travel trailers. Several trails lead into the high country from this spot, including the one we were going to use: The Snooks Nose Trail.
While the temperature was quite comfortable at the trailhead, I had asked Andy if he thought I’d need a scarf. He thought not and I agreed and left it in my truck. Alas.
The trail begins innocently enough, climbing the slopes above the Curtis Creek Campground at a reasonable angle, but soon it becomes apparent that the trail engineers were either mountain goats or insane or diabolical; perhaps all three. For the track soon begins to tackle the mountain head on with no switchbacks or an attempt to find a milder gradient.
We passed through forests of beech and hemlock and poplar and oak and pines. A strange and oddly spectacular waterfall lies to the right of the trail on the way up—consisting of what is, for all practical purposes, a natural waterslide well over one hundred feet in height. However, due to the close growing vegetation (mainly rhododendron), we found it virtually impossible to take a good photograph of the feature.
Did I mention that the trail is steep? Indeed, it is extremely steep. But there was nothing to do for it but put your face into the mountain and slog upwards. Ever upwards. We discovered that there were two extremely long and steep pulls with only a short distance of mild hiking between them. Otherwise it was just a thigh-burning, lung-bursting effort to achieve the ridgeline. After some time, we made it to the first of the peaks—a rocky outcropping called Snooks Nose, and the namesake of the trail. This was a really grand place to see the surrounding peaks. To our right was the huge double peak of Mackey Mountain, and to our left was the Blue Ridge Parkway and the beginning of the Black Mountains visible beyond it.
The open area at Snooks Nose.
After taking several dozen photos we pushed on, achieving the top of Laurel Knob after a long and arduous climb. By this time, we had climbed 2,500 feet. Laurel Knob is a relatively prominent peak of roughly pyramidal shape, but there’s not much of a view from the summit. Its main claim to fame is that it is home to quite a number of acres of old growth forests with some truly impressive specimens within those groves. I hope to return to this area in the future to bushwhack to some of these trees—one of them being a poplar that is said to the be the largest of its species in the entire Pisgah National Forest.
The cool observation tower on Green Knob.
At the end of the climb of a couple of hundred vertical feet, the observation tower of Green Knob came into view. It’s quite an attractive structure of simple design. It once had a series of large glass windows in it, but these of course have been shattered out by assholes and idiots. As we climbed the tower stairs we felt the biting wind and realized that we had not merely hiked about 3,300 vertical feet, but had also hiked from early spring into late winter. Standing on the catwalk of the tower I peered across at the looming mass of the Black Mountains, shrouded in clouds, and realized that the upper elevations across the gulf were frozen in rime ice.
It was cold!We hunkered down inside the tower room and got out the lunches we’d brought along. I drank lemonade and ate a roast beef sandwich. I fed our canine companion, Saucony, some cheese and we poured her a couple of dishes of water while Andy fed her some yummy dog biscuits.
Trying to stay warm in the observation tower.
Our intention had been to linger on the summit for about an hour, but it was so cold none of us felt comfortable up there. The wind was biting and the temperature was just too damned low. Even my hands, beneath my gloves, were growing numb with the cold. So we packed up and headed back down to lower elevations and warmer temperatures.
The hike back down was a bit dicey, as we all slipped several times on the extremely steep slopes. These kinds of trails are actually easier hiking up than down. They’re hard on your toes and the risk of falling is high. In fact, Andy fell twice and I came close to tumbling several times.But, in short order, we were down the mountain and back at Curtis Creek where I scoped out the campground for the probability of a future trip with my travel trailer. I look forward to returning to that area to search for big trees as soon as I can make it back there.