Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Epic Hike

On Sunday, I joined up with Andy Kunkle, Jack Thyen, Johnny Corn, and Myron & Dorcas for a ten-mile hike that would take us to a couple of major Pisgah National Forest summits and two nice waterfalls. I'd hiked some of this big trail loop in years past, but never the entire distance. Much of this was going to be new territory for me, including the waterfalls and the summit of Cedar Rock.

I met up with Andy at the Wal-Mart parking lot in Gastonia where we generally hook up for our hikes. We left my car at the Wal-Mart and took his car to the trailhead at the Pisgah National Forest Fish Hatchery not far above the Davidson River Campground near Brevard. Generally we take my truck, but Andy wanted to hear some football game on the way back and he knew he could listen on his satellite radio in his car, so we took that instead of my truck. Boone sat in the back seat and tended to try to drag his huge, clumsy ass into the front seat to sit in my lap. He is one lovable, but very heavy, dawg.

We were the firs to arrive at the Fish Hatchery. Soon, though, Jack and Johnny arrived in one vehicle, and this Myron and Dorcas (retired couple) arrived with their own dog, Matilda. I used to get annoyed when I'd encounter dogs on the hiking trails, but now that I've hiked with dogs a few times I really enjoy it. You miss seeing wildlife with dogs along, but there's something about the enthusiasm of a dog in the woods that's charming and fun to witness.

In short order we were all hiking along the trail toward John Rock. As usual, the younger (and better conditioned) Jack and Andy took the lead. I followed next with Johnny, Myron, and Dorcas bringing up the rear of the line. I used to be able to keep up with Jack and Andy, but after pneumonia, surgery, and many weeks of inactivity this year I can no longer do that. Plus, I'm just getting old. C'est la vie.

In a few miles and about one thousand vertical feet, we came out on the cliff tops of the famous John Rock. The views from the top are really impressive and if you're in that area, I highly recommend that hike. Even if that's all you do, it's worth the calories to hike up there to look across at the very high country across the valley. From that peak you can see some of the highest mountains in the eastern USA--many peaks that stand well over 6,000 feet above sea level. And you can look down on the toy cars that you drove in with sitting tiny and insignificant in the fish hatchery parking lot.

After braving the cold winds tearing at us on the cliffs, we pushed on past the summit and descended to Cat Gap. From there, we took another trail (the Art Loeb Trail) toward Cedar Rock. A steady climb took us to a saddle below the summit of that mountain. There is no official trail to the top, but rock climbers have pounded out a really good trail to the summit. That trail is well maintained and easy to follow. Someone has even blazed it in several places with red paint and triangular metal markers nailed to some trees--so it's very simple to stay on target.

After a climb of about half a mile and 400 feet of pretty steep vertical, we found ourselves at the top of the mountain. We encountered a very nice fellow who was setting up a table with wine, food, and flowers for his best friend who was climbing the cliffs with his girlfriend. He expected his friends to arrive within the hour and he was setting everything up for his best pal so that his buddy could have the proper ambiance to propose to his girlfriend. How cool is that? He asked us to be careful not to dislodge any of the roses tied to trees from the cliff top to the mountain's summit. So we were careful not to do that. We took out photos and quickly left the mountain before the couple could arrive via one of the rock climbing routes. We wanted to respect their romantic moment.

This is the Pisgah Fish Hatchery and the high country looming beyond. A number of high country trails begin here at the hatchery parking lot.

Some grand Fall color as we begin our ascent of the mountains.

After a while and some climbing, we came to the cliff tops of John Rock. This place offers one of the best views anywhere of the famous Looking Glass Rock which most people see from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Braving the cold and blasting wind for a self-portrait at the cliff edge. You can see the fish hatchery parking lot far below.

The really high country was covered in snowfall. These peaks are around Black Balsam Knob and Mount Hardy. Much of that terrain is over 6,000 feet above sea level. Among the highest mountains in the eastern USA.

The wind was really brisk and made it feel even colder. My fingers quickly became numb and I had to retreat back into the forest to warm up.

After we passed by John Rock, we were back in the forest with only occasional views through the tree cover. Classic southern high country hiking.

Jack and Andy and I take a break at a trail junction and wait for the rest of the group to catch up to us.

Jack and Andy passing under a recent dead fall across the trail.

This was our first view as we approached the summit of Cedar Rock.

More Fall color as I lay on my back, resting on the relatively warm rock.

Matilda and Boone, our canine hiking pals. Boone (the Weimeraner) lives with Andy. Matilda (the Australian sheepdog) lives with Myron and Dorcas.

The mountaintop proposal. True Romance:

The view the rock climbing couple would have when they reached the top.

One of the many roses strung from the cliff top along the trail through the woods to the summit.

Where a table, food, wine, and flowers were waiting for the rock climbing couple's moment. How romantic is THAT?

This is the guy who lugged all of that stuff five miles from the nearest trail head up 1800 very rugged vertical feet. We should all have friends one-tenth so cool.

Part II of the trip tomorrow...

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