Sunday, September 25, 2011

Panthertown Panoramas

I was supposed to go hiking with Andy Kunkle and Jack Thyen today. However, because of the side effects of the tetanus shot I received from a dog bite I got on the job I was just too sick to do that. I'm not even sure I could have made the drive, let alone hike in Linville Gorge.

It's been so long since I've been on a long, epic day hike that I'm beginning to forget what that's like. The constant battles with poor health are really getting to me. In memory of one of my favorite multi-day backpacks, I here post some photos from a trip into the Panthertown Valley here in North Carolina. This was in the days before it became totally surrounded by development and still had a kind of wilderness aspect about it. Sadly, that's no longer the case.

Click to embiggen each of these stitched panoramas for a good look at the innards of Panthertown Valley.

When I went into Panthertown Valley for this three-day backpack, a hurricane had just dropped untold amounts of water on the NC mountains. Thus, Panthertown Valley had been closed by the Forest Service. Signs were up denying entrance into the protected forest. However, I had stopped at the ranger station on the way up, and the ranger there told me that the ban had been lifted and that I could proceed. But if the signs were still up, and if you hadn't visited the ranger station you would have to conclude that the ban was still in effect. Thus, I had the valley and peaks all to myself for three days. I found true solitude in there, and encountered not one other human at all. This is rare in Panthertown, as it's a very popular hiking and backpacking destination.

This is where I camped for the duration. I didn't use the old A-frame shelter here, but set up my tent nearby instead. Every night I was there, a pack of coyotes would come down to the edge of the campsite and sing for precisely 30 minutes. From 7:30 pm until 8:00 pm. If you haven't heard a pack of coyotes sing, you're missing a great experience. It's nothing like the howl of a wolf, and the only way I could describe it would be as a dozen or so out-of-sync ambulance sirens going off. Each night I hung my food bag from a tall pine tree so that I wouldn't have to worry about coyotes, skunks, mice, and bears.

Panthertown Valley is a rare U-shaped, high elevation valley. The valley itself averages over 3,000 feet and the highest peaks surrounding it anywhere from 4,000 to 4,800 feet. Many of the peaks are classic plutons and there is a huge amount of exposed rock and cliff faces in Panthertown. Many rock climbers venture here to test their skills on the vertical faces of granite.

Views like this one are to be found on the heights throughout the valley.

On the day I took this panorama, my hiking goal was the large, dome-shaped mountain behind me (on the left side of the photo). I got to the mountain's slopes, but the trail vanished in the brush and I encountered rattlesnakes there and turned back. So I never did reach the very summit of Cold Mountain. (No, this is not the Cold Mountain made famous by the novel of that name. Here in the South, many mountains share the same name.)

I did so much off-trail bushwhacking that I've forgotten exactly where I was when I made some of these panoramas.

This is Granny Burrel Falls (behind me). I achieved this panorama by setting the camera on a solid tripod and taking about ten shots which were pieced together showing the falls, the main part of the creek, the bend in the creek, and the pool at the base of the slope and the stream beyond.

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