Thursday, January 21, 2010

Montreat Trails, A Sample

For years when I was looking at my trail maps I would see trails that went out of the National Forest and into an area called "Montreat". I later learned that Montreat was a private community featuring high-dollar houses, vacation cabins, a Christian-based liberal arts college, a community center, and the home of evangelist Billy Graham. I figured the area was off limits and that those trails were meant only for the residents and their guests.

Panorama from just below the summit of Brushy Mountain. (Click to embiggen this photo.)

Well, I was wrong. The trails are open to all who are willing to be courteous and who obey the rules. They're foot trails only, which means no bikes, no horses, and absolutely no motorized vehicles.

The thousands of acres that are locked up in conservation easements around the community are really good hiking territory. These lands encompass some great streams, forests, and peaks. Some of the mountains here soar well over a mile above sea level and lead up toward Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern USA.

There was still a lot of snow on the ground as we climbed higher.

After Jack and I had hiked to Catawba Falls we headed over to Montreat to see what it had to offer. Neither of us was up for a long hike, so we opted for a shorter, simpler one. We finally settled on a loop hike that would take us to the summit of Brushy Mountain and then down and back to where we'd parked our vehicles. We drove through Montreat admiring the college, parks, homes and facilities. It would be a very nice place to live if you have the money to afford it. (I don't.) Eventually we drove up to the trail head and parked our trucks and headed up.

The hike we took was relatively short and brisk. It gained a fair amount of elevation in quick order and around lunch time we found ourselves at the top of Brushy Mountain. We took this opportunity to sit on the summit and have something to eat. After that we slogged through the snow toward a gap and then to the trail that would make a our hike into a loop that would take us back to our vehicles. The snow on the western facing slopes was a lot deeper than I had figured--in some places it was shin-deep. It felt weird to be hiking through snow so deep when the temperatures were warm enough for shorts.

The west facing slopes still had a substantial snow cover.

After we climbed down from the summit we began to encounter quite a lot of deadfall. Apparently the recent ice, snow, and wind storms have been too much for the trees. There were lots of downed oaks. Every few meters we found ourselves detouring around large trees and branches that had collapsed from the recent severe weather. It made the going slow and the progress frustrating. I feel sure that these trails are maintained purely by volunteer efforts, so there is going to have to be quite many hours put in to get them straight when Spring rolls around. As it is, hiking them is really tough, and I wouldn't recommend it to any casual hikers.

This was an easy patch of deadfall. It was everywhere and some of it was tough to negotiate.

We did find that the area is nice enough and the welcome open enough so that we'll both go back to try other hikes. Next on my list at Montreat is to hike to the summit of Graybeard Mountain. It rises to over 5,400 feet, so it's definitely on my peak-bagging list.

The summit of Brushy Mountain, where we had lunch. The white coloring behind me are from snow covered shadowed slopes.

And a last, lingering video of the Upper Catawba Falls. The sound of water rushing down the gravity well is soothing.

No comments: