Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thunderstorm

View from the top of Little Pisgah Mountain, looking at Chimney Rock cliffs at far left.
Photo by Spencer Clary

I spent many days hiking on Little Pisgah Mountain, and had some great experiences, but one particular day has stayed in my memory for 40 years as an especially amazing time.  It was a beautiful clear summer day in about 1975.   I was with my good friend and hiking buddy Michael.  (I recently got in touch with him to fact-check this story, and of all the adventures we shared it still stands out to him too!)

We parked on the lower part of the mountain and spent most of the day exploring and just soaking in the beauty.  We rambled the pastures, visited my favorite cliff overlooking the Garren Creek valley, and explored some new areas and routes where we hadn't been before.  Found a tree or two that needed climbing.  Just enjoying the time!  By early afternoon we made our way to the top of the mountain.

At that time it was still unspoiled.  If you go now there are houses scattered around, a road to the top, and an ugly steel tower right on top of the mountain.  It makes me sick.  But this was before all that, and it was just a grass bald on top of a mountain 4450 feet tall.  Beautiful views of Shumont Mountain and Hickory Nut Gorge.  I loved that place!

 The top of Little Pisgah Mountain.
Photo by Spencer Clary


While we were enjoying the view we heard a jeep grinding its way up the mountain.  It pulled up to where we were and a couple of rednecks climbed out.  One of them said: "Look what we killed on the way up here!"  He reached into the back of the jeep and pulled out the longest rattlesnake I ever saw.  He was holding the head about even with the top of his head, and the tail touched the ground.  Close to six feet long!  Michael says he remembers looking at the tail and seeing 10 or 11 buttons.  The guys were obviously impressed with what they'd done, while Michael and I were just wishing they had let it live.  But we didn't say anything.  They were after all rednecks, and armed, and maybe a little drunk.  They didn't stay long, and we were glad to see them go.

That kind of messed with our peaceful mood, so we walked a little way back down the mountain and found a few more trees to climb.  That was fun!  There was this one tree...  We climbed up 25 or 30 feet and found a couple of comfortable branches to sit on.  After 10 minutes we were ready to climb down.  But when we looked the next branch below us was a loooong way down, and neither of us could remember how we got up the spot where we were!  We kept being polite and saying: "Go ahead, you first".  Finally one of us got up the nerve to try a sketchy move, and we both made it down.

It was getting later in the afternoon, but we decided to go back up to the top for a while before we left.  I'm glad we did because we got to see something amazing. There was a thunderstorm coming up the Gorge at Chimney Rock.  (At the far left end of the top photo.)  What made it unique was that the whole storm was trapped down inside the gorge.  The top of the thunderheads were even with the top of the cliffs.  Above and all around was sunshine and clear blue sky.  But down in that gorge was a monster!  It was jet black, and lightning was zapping through it from one side to the other.  The most concentrated storm I ever saw.  We could hear thunder echoing off the cliffs, and we knew the people in that gorge were getting bombed!

We sat there watching, and we had a ringside seat.  We were in sunshine with a perfect view.  There was a breeze coming off the storm with a fine mist in it, just right to be refreshing.  But there was one nagging worry.  That monster was moving up the gorge towards us.  And we were on the very top of a bald mountain, with our heads the highest point east of Asheville.  I remember some discussion like: "How close are we going to let that thing get, and how fast can you run?"  I admit I was getting edgy.  We knew it was crazy to be where we were, but this was a once in a lifetime experience, and we didn't want to miss it.  I just didn't want it to be a last in a lifetime experience!  We were lucky though, just when I was ready to bolt (Like lightning!) the storm got to where highway 64 splits off and heads up towards Edneyville. It turned away, and went up that valley.  (You can see the valley angling from left to right in the center of the top photo.) 

It faded out of sight and the show was over.  But what a show it had been!  In our recent discussion Michael and I agreed it was one of the most spectacular things we ever experienced.  Exhilarated and exhausted we made our way back down the mountain.  It was a good day to be alive!   












 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cold front


One beautiful afternoon back in the mid '70s a good friend and I went hiking on Shumont Mountain.  It was winter, but the temperature was in the low 50s, and the sunshine felt warm to us in our lightweight jackets.  We made our first stop at Eagle Rock (You have to!) but then continued up the mountain.  Going up the old jeep road we took the right hand fork that goes around the Northwest side of the mountain to the Western end.  There is a little rabbit trail there that goes down to the top of a big sloping cliff.  (It's the one you can catch a glimpse of as you're driving up Shumont Rd.)



 That is a beautiful spot!  You have views of Little Pisgah & Bearwallow Mountains and all the upper Hickory Nut Gorge.  It was always quiet and peaceful, I don't think I ever met another hiker there.  
We spent a long time just hanging out, and of course exploring a little bit.  Then in the late afternoon it was time to head back down.  The sun was getting low and it was starting to feel colder.

When we got back to the Eagle Rock area the sun was setting, so we had to go back up on the rock to watch, even though it was getting cold really fast and we were dressed for warmer temperatures.  Eagle Rock faces the wrong way for a great sunset view, but we could see it through the trees, and the sky was lit up beautifully.  But as the sun went down so did the temperature.  Probably the fastest drop I ever experienced!  A major cold front was moving in, and wasn't wasting any time.  From where it had been around 50 degrees it went down through the 40s, the 30s, and on down into the 20s.  And of course the wind started blowing across that exposed rock.  Some other hikers came up to watch the sunset, and they were wearing parkas with the hoods up, gloves, the whole bit, and they looked cold!  They were looking at us like we were crazy for being there dressed the way we were, and we were trying to pretend we weren't freezing.  Of course we were, but we were in the midst of a spectacular event and couldn't leave.

I wish I'd had a thermometer with me, I guarantee you could have seen it dropping.  But what we did see was even more amazing.  There were potholes in the rock that had water in them from the last rain.  And that water started to freeze.  I've never seen anything like it!  You could see the white ice crystals form around the outside rim of the water and then start creeping in towards the center.  We could actually see it moving as we watched in amazement.  "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"  It looked like time-lapse photography.  

Finally as the sunset was fading we surrendered to the cold and did a fast hike back down to my van.  It sure felt good when it warmed up enough for the heater to kick in!  When we got back down the mountain and to my parents house in Fairview, a thousand feet lower, the thermometer was on 15 degrees.  That was one serious cold front!






Friday, January 22, 2016

Little Snowball Mountain - an unintended adventure

I don't remember the date of this hike, but I think it was back in the late '70s before I got very smart about being prepared for hiking, and before I learned some of my limitations.  

I didn't have a camera for the trip, but two blogger friends have graciously allowed me to use their photos.  Jeff Clark of Meanderthals and Dana Koogler the Cumberland Gal Thank you!  Plus I've used a couple of my pics taken at other times.

I had been exploring the Craggy Gardens area for some time, and had found the trail that starts on the road to the Craggy Picnic Area (Now also an access point for the MST), climbs across Snowball Mountain, and goes on to Hawkbill Rock. I could see on my topo map that the trail continued to Little Snowball Mountain, where a fire tower was located, so I was interested in that.

 
  Trail to Little Snowball

I had been to Hawkbill Rock a couple of times, and that's all I had in mind for this particular day.  It was already mid afternoon on a cold winter day, and I didn't have much time.  But Hawkbill is a beautiful spot with a fine view, and was worth the trip.  The trail is moderately steep as it goes over Snowball, down the back side, and up the ridge to Hawkbill.  It's a clear trail, but lots of roots & rocks, so you have to watch your step.  
There's a good description of the whole trail on Meanderthals Hiking Blog here: 
Snowball Trail at Craggy Gardens


 View from Hawkbill Rock.  Photo by Jeff Clark




 Another view from Hawkbill Rock.  Photo by Jeff Clark

 But this particular day I wasn't satisfied.  I wanted to explore more of the trail beyond Hawkbill "just to see what it's like".  I wouldn't go far, it was too late in the day.  But once I got started I couldn't stop!  "Just a little farther to see what's over the next hill"  "I've got time, that next part looks interesting."  The whole trail out to the fire tower is 4 miles, and Hawkbill Rock, where I meant to turn around, was less than half the way there.  But I somehow reached a point where "just a little farther" turned into "it would be a shame to come this far and not go on to the tower".  Never mind that the sun was going down and it was getting colder.  Never mind that I wasn't carrying any gear at all besides the canteen on my belt.  "I must be nearly there, get moving and I'll get there soon."  Except it was farther than I thought, and there were more hills to go over.  The trail turned into a four wheel drive road with confusing intersections.  I kept telling myself how stupid I was being but I only walked faster.  Sometimes I just won't listen to common sense!  Finally I made it up to the tower.

 
The fire tower that used to be on Little Snowball Mountain,
now refurbished and situated at the Big Ivy Historical Park.
Photo by Dana Koogler

When I got there the sun was already down.  I climbed the tower, and since it was unlocked I went in.  The view was great, and the sky was covered by a gorgeous sunset.

 
The kind of sunset I saw from the fire tower

I spent about 5 minutes catching my breath, looking around inside the tower, and admiring the sunset.  But my enjoyment was marred by the growing feeling that I could be in some real trouble here.  I was 4 strenuous miles from my van, and I had maybe 20 minutes of twilight to get there.  The math just wasn't working, and I decided it was time to get moving!  I went back down the steps and hit the trail at my best speed.  I had gotten myself into some fine messes before, but this one was serious!  I was hiking alone, and no one knew where I was.   Of course this was years before the days of cell phones or GPS.  I wasn't carrying a pack, and had no flashlight, headlamp, food, extra clothing, fire starting materials, or any of the whole list of things I was starting to wish I had.  I was wearing jeans & a flannel shirt with cotton long johns.  My coat was pretty warm but had a nylon shell which was not breathable.  I had on a knit "toboggan" hat and had a pair of gloves in my back pocket.  I had a half full quart canteen on my belt, and that was the extent of my resources.  The temperature, which had been around 40 degrees, started dropping through the 30s and the wind came up.  I won't say I was worried, but was getting concerned, and definitely motivated to get out of there!

One thing I should emphasize is that the trail is never flat, but goes up and down hill relentlessly.  Meanderthals calls it a roller coaster, and that's a good description.  He cites the total elevation gain for the round trip as 2300 feet, so I had my work cut out for me. 

I was pushing myself as hard as I could go, but daylight was fading faster than the miles.  When I finally got back to Hawkbill Rock it was pretty dark to be scrambling down those rocks, but I had no choice, so I did.  It was encouraging to be back in familiar territory, but I knew how far there was ahead of me, and didn't know how I was going to make it.

 
 Looking from Hawkbill Rock at the ridge going up the backside of Snowball Mountain.
The trail follows the ridge-top and turns left across the top of Snowball. 
Photo by Jeff Clark

 As I was climbing the ridge up Snowball Mountain I was getting tired from how hard I'd been pushing.  I tried stopping to rest for a minute, but realized I couldn't.  In spite of the decreasing temperature and increasing wind I was sweating from exertion.  If I stopped moving that cold wind cut me like a knife, and I had to keep moving to keep from freezing.  There is a reason they call cotton "dead men's clothes"!  Finally near the top of Snowball I found a spot to rest.  There was a big log lying next to the trail.  I lay on the ground behind it so that it sheltered me from the wind.  I knew I couldn't spare the time, but was I exhausted, and it felt so good to be out of that wind.  After about 5 minutes I remember feeling like "this isn't so bad, I could stay here and..."  That gave me a cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather.  I recognized that as the kind of thoughts a person has just before the final mistake that leads to their death in the mountains.  That got me back on my feet and stumbling up the trail!

Stumbling was the operative word.  It was almost completely dark, and it was hard to follow the trail.  By the time I started down Snowball I couldn't see all those roots & rocks, and was having trouble walking.  In spite of my desire to hurry I had to slow down and feel my way along.  I was very aware that at this point a broken ankle could prove fatal!  About that time I reached for the gloves in my back pocket, and they were gone.  Probably fell out when I was lying behind that log.   Of course by then I was cussing myself out for ever getting in such a situation. It felt like it would never end.  "I hope you enjoyed that sunset, it may be the last one you ever see!"   

But as you may have guessed I did survive.  I came staggering out of the woods to where my van was parked in pitch black darkness.  I was so glad to get in it out of the wind, and when the heater kicked in it felt like heaven!

As a postscript to this story, the next morning when I was driving to work I came to a place where I could see that whole range of mountains where I had been.  They all were covered with ice!

 
 Rime ice on the Craggys

And it wasn't fluffy rime ice like in this picture.  The sun was shining, and that ice had a cold hard glitter.  There had been a real ice storm up there during the night.  There is no question in my mind that if I hadn't made it off those mountains I would have died.

I think that marked a turning point in my style of hiking.  I can't say I never did anything stupid again, but I was more careful.  I started carrying a pack with emergency supplies.  I recognized my mortality, and let it guide my decisions a little better.  Altogether it was an experience I'm glad I had, and very thankful to never have had again!
 








Monday, April 27, 2015

Little Pisgah - Part 3: Peak Experience

This is part 3 in my series of stories about rambling on Little Pisgah Mountain.
Part 1 is at:  http://sakikahn.blogspot.com/2015/04/little-pisgah-part-1-beginnings.html
Part 2 is at:  http://sakikahn.blogspot.com/2015/04/little-pisgah-part-2-shortcuts.html 

 
 
 Rime ice on the lower slope of Little Pisgah.  You can see the top of the mountain, with its hated tower, peeking out from behind the ridge.

I think it was 1975.  My parents had driven their camper to Mexico for the Winter, and I was staying in their house on Garren Creek.  I had a a second dog named Pearl to keep Fonzie company, and we had spent many days together exploring and enjoying Little Pisgah.  It still hadn't been developed much, and there was no tower on top.  It was a hiker's Paradise!

On this Saturday morning it was cold and damp, with clouds hanging down over the mountain, and I was staying inside.  Later in the day I went outside and realized that things had changed!  The wind had come up, the sky was bright blue, and the top of the ridge was covered in rime ice.  It took me about two seconds to get motivated.  I had to get up on the mountain to see that rime ice, and I knew that as bright as the sun was shining it would melt soon.  Time to get moving!  I ran inside and threw on my cold weather hiking clothes & boots.

When I came back out the dogs were excited and frisking around, they knew we were going somewhere.  We were soon down the driveway and hit that ridge hard.  I took every shortcut I knew, (not the near disastrous ones from my last story!) and made the best speed I could.  I wasn't going to miss this chance if I could help it!  When I topped the 1000 foot ridge the ice I had seen from the house was already gone.  Now I really had to pour it on.  I had one more good shortcut left, a steep ridge-line that cut off a big loop of the logging road.  It was too overgrown to use in Summer but was clear enough in Winter.  Where it came out into the open I could look across at Craggy and Mitchel, and they had ice on them.  That encouraged me, and I made a push for the top.  To my relief as I got closer I came into the rime ice - I was going to make it in time!  When I got to the top I glanced at my watch.  I had made the 1800 foot climb in exactly one hour, a personal record.  Later when I told my Mother this story she believed it all except the time.  She had hiked that mountain, and didn't think I could do it that fast!

I didn't waste much time looking at my watch, there was too much else to see.  There was several inches of snow on the ground.  Every twig of every tree and shrub was thickly coated in rime ice, which to me is one of the most beautiful things in the world.  The sky was deep cobalt blue and the intense sunlight made all the snow and ice sparkle like diamonds,  It looked magical!

And then there was the wind...  Coming up the mountain I had been sheltered from it, but no more.  It was blowing out of the Southeast, which is unusual to start with.  And this was the strongest steady wind I have experienced to this day.  A monster cold front must have been coming through, and the wind was roaring!.  I was standing on the highest point around and was exposed to the full blast.  I couldn't stand straight up, but had to lean forward and brace myself to keep from being knocked over!  I was being shaken and buffeted, and looking around in amazement at the sparkling wonderland and the gorgeous view.

Then I took a good look at the horizon.  Always, even on the clearest days, when you look towards the horizon the view fades into the haze at some point, however far away.  Not this time!  The wind had blown all the haze away, and the line of the horizon was razor sharp.  For the only time in my life I was looking at the true horizon, and I could clearly see the curve.  I can testify - the earth is round, and I saw it!

I stood there entranced for a long time, but the wind was cutting through my clothes, and it was cold!  I had to get back into the relative shelter of the North side of the mountain.  I was too pumped up to go home yet, and ended up exploring over to Blue Rock Knob, where I hadn't been before.  I had to slip past a couple of houses once I got there, but found a rock outcrop with a view back down the Garren Creek valley from its head.  I could see where it cut between Little Pisgah and Garren Mountain, and it looked more like a canyon than a valley.  One more beautiful vista to cap the day!  From there I went back over to Little Pisgah and down to the house.  I think I was floating all the way home!

For your sake I wish I'd had a camera to capture images of what I saw, I know my words can't do it justice.  But I don't think pictures could even come close to capturing the experience.  As for myself, I treasure the memory of the most memorable day I ever spent in the mountains.





















Friday, April 24, 2015

Little Pisgah - Part 2: Shortcuts

This is the second part of my stories about rambling on Little Pisgah Mountain.  If you haven't read the first part it is at:  http://sakikahn.blogspot.com/2015/04/little-pisgah-part-1-beginnings.html
(Disclaimer:  these memories, and some of the photos, are over 40 years old and may be a little fuzzy.  I've done my best to be accurate with locations and measurements, but I may not be reliable.)


The lower 1000 feet or so of Little Pisgah seen from Sugar Hollow Rd.

I started out my exploring by driving to Little Pisgah Road on Hickory Nut Gap and going up from there.  But I couldn't escape the fact that I lived at the base of the mountain.  Every time I looked out the living room window or from the front deck there it was!  Or at least I was looking at the first 1000 feet of it, and knew there was 800 feet more behind that.  It was beautiful ridge, so steep it looked like a wall.  I loved watching it in the Spring when the green would climb a little higher each day, and in the Fall when the colors would descend.


Our house and the Wall


 From the yard and the deck


 Panorama stitched from the above pics.

It was taunting me to climb it, and it had to be done.  So one Saturday my trusty trail dog Fonzie and I walked down the driveway and across the road.  On the other side we went up a driveway past a couple of houses, stopping to introduce myself and get permission.  Soon after the second house we came across an old logging road, just what I'd been hoping to find. It zig-zagged around  to where the terrain wasn't so severe and then started winding up the mountain, probably following the same route used now by some of the roads that have been built from the Fairview Point housing development.  It was a pretty path, and wasn't as hard as I'd feared.
I finally topped out that first ridge, and came out on a small level area.  I was exploring around it and discovered a rock outcrop that had a gorgeous view looking down the Garren Creek Valley and out to the mountains beyond Asheville to the North-west.  It was beautiful and secluded, and I claimed it for my own.  I'll call it my sittin' spot, and I never passed by without stopping to enjoy the view and peace.  (There's a house sitting there now, which makes me want to cry and curse.)

From there the logging road ran fairly level around the side of the mountain through a beautiful grove of hemlocks and came out into the pastures I was already familiar with.  I went farther up, and noticed a logging road heading back down the mountain.  Being in full explorer mode I followed it down to see where it came out.  I ended up coming back down to Garren Creek Road again, about a half mile up from my house.  I could have gone home then, but I wasn't ready to quit so I turned around and went back up the mountain, explored some more, and finally came back down the way I'd gone up to start with.  A long day, with a combined elevation gain of over 2500 feet.  I was so tired when I got home I just collapsed, but was very satisfied with what I'd accomplished.

After that I hiked up that ridge often exploring the mountain all the way to the top.  I was always on the lookout for shortcuts, and found a few places I could bushwhack, usually following ridge-lines.  But I wasn't satisfied, I wanted a more direct route from the house to my sittin' spot that bypassed the long and winding logging road.

The maze of ravines and ridges going up Little Pisgah.
My parent's property outlined in red with a red dot where the house was.
A little blue X at my sittin' spot.

So one day as I was headed home I thought I'd give it a try.  Near my spot was a large ravine that headed down the mountain in the right direction.  I figured I couldn't get lost, all I had to do was follow it.  Easier said than done!  It wasn't too bad at first, but got really steep and rugged.  I should have turned around then, but never claimed to have good sense.  I hated to back away from a challenge!

That sucker was steep!  Scaling it out on the map it looks like an 800 foot descent in about 0.3 mile.  That's quick!  The sides were nearly vertical, too steep to climb out, so I had to stay in the bottom, which was covered with rocks.  All kinds of rocks that had fallen down the sides and collected there.  All shapes and sizes, and loosely piled so that when you stepped on one it would roll or slide or a combination of both.  And just to keep it interesting the rocks were covered with a foot of dry leaves, so I couldn't see where I was putting my feet!  Every step was an ordeal.  Stick my foot down in the leaves, trying not to think about snakes.  Put my weight down on the rocks and try to stay balanced as they rolled and shifted.  Try not to break an ankle, and try not to think what would happen if I did. Then repeat.  And again.  This was the least fun and most dangerous place I'd ever got myself into, and I was making the usual promises: "God, if you'll get me out of here I'll never try this again, and I'll be more careful, and..."  I don't know how long I was in Hell's ravine, but I finally stumbled out the bottom and could walk back home, exhausted and my nerves shattered. 

I spent more time studying the ridge from our deck, especially one ridge that looked like the most direct route.  (No more shortcut ravines for me!)  It was narrow and steep, but looked doable.

 Red arrows pointing to the ridge,
Purple arrows pointing down towards the ravine.

I studied where the bottom of the ridge would intersect my logging road, and the next Saturday morning Fonzie and I set out.   It was pretty easy to find, and we headed up.  It started out steep and overgrown, and it got worse.   Underbrush and briars gave way to laurel thickets and briars. Soon the only way to continue was to get down and crawl.  Those who have spent any time in a laurel hell will know what I mean!  This was becoming less fun than I'd hoped, but I was too stubborn to turn around.  Before too long the monotony was broken by a 10 foot rock-face blocking the way.  It wasn't too hard to scramble up, and I was back on my hands and knees crawling again.  Then I came to a 15 foot rock.  It was a little harder to climb, and I didn't think I'd like to try going back down it.  So I continued my crawl until I met a 20 foot cliff.  I was beginning to see a pattern here!  I managed to climb it - barely.  The footholds were small and far between, and I was trying to steady myself holding onto laurel branches the size of my little finger.  I knew there was no way I was going back down this one, I was committed to going ahead.  

The ridge was a true knife-edge.  Very narrow on top, and the sides too steep to climb down.  Not that I wanted to; on my left was the ravine from Hell, I wasn't going back in there!  When I looked off on the right there was a ravine that looked even worse, with jagged boulders that looked like teeth.  My path was set, so I crawled on up to see what was next.  I didn't have to go far.  A 35 foot cliff that looked unclimbable!  I wasn't happy about it, but knew I had to try.  I should probably explain my situation a little clearer.  I was hiking from my parents house, but they were out of town for the Winter.  No one knew I was hiking, or where.  This was years before the first cellphone, and I carried no gear besides a canteen.  I was on a rugged and remote part of the mountain where no sane person would ever go.  If I got hurt and couldn't get out I could die there, and the body never be found.  I was very aware of all that as I looked at that cliff!

I finally picked a spot at the left hand end and started climbing.  The farther up I went the harder it got.  I wasn't sure about this at all.  With my head just coming up to the top I got stuck.  I was teetering on the verge of falling and couldn't find the next step.  I couldn't get down, and was afraid to move up.  The tiny laurel branch I was hanging on to was about to pull out of the two inches of dirt it was growing in.  Meanwhile Fonzie, who of course had run to the top like a mountain goat, came over and started sniffing the top of my head and trying to lick my face!  I told him that wasn't helpful, but maybe it was so ridiculous it gave me one last bit of strength to grab another handhold and pull myself over the top.  That was too close, and I knew that if I came to a worse spot I'd be trapped.

But in the meantime I stood on top of the cliff to catch my breath.  It was high enough to see out from, and the view was breathtaking!  I wish I'd had a camera, I can't find words to describe it.  And the next thing I saw was almost beyond believing.  In the center of the cliff, right at the edge, was an old-growth Hemlock tree, about 40 inch diameter.  I don't know what freak accident had shaped it, but from the edge of the cliff it stuck out horizontally for about 4 feet, then turned and grew straight up for maybe 60 feet.  It was a perfectly shaped tree, one of the most beautiful I ever saw, and was suspended in mid air.  I didn't care how much trouble I was in, I had to investigate this!  I could easily step out on the horizontal section of the trunk and get hold of the vertical part.  I looked up and saw that the limbs were sturdy and evenly spaced - perfect for climbing.  Did I mention how much I enjoyed climbing trees?  I know how crazy it was, but I had to.  I knew I'd never be back there again, and couldn't pass up the chance.  It was easy to climb, just like going up a ladder.  I could have gone to the top, but about 25 feet up I made the mistake of looking down and realized I was 60 feet above the jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff.  My stupidity does have some limits, and I regretfully climbed down.

I hated to leave that spot, one of the most awesome I've ever seen, but I didn't know what I might face next and needed to get on with it.  So it was back to crawling again.  All the way up that ridge (about 800 feet elevation gain) was either crawling through laurel or rock climbing!  The rest of the way was steep and rugged, but there were no more major obstacles.  Finally it started rounding off and opening up, and I could walk upright again.  I came out into the open next to my sittin' spot, right where I meant to.  I was tired, scratched and dirty, but still buzzing from the adrenaline I'd been burning.

40 years later I have to say that was the most difficult, dangerous, and rewarding hike I ever took.  I wouldn't take a million dollars for the experience, but never had any desire to try it again!












Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Little Pisgah - Part 1: Beginnings

I fell in love with Little Pisgah Mountain in 1971 when I was 20 years old.  It was love at first sight, but that day was years in the making.

 Lower slopes of Little Pisgah seen from Fairview
Almost half of the mountain is hidden behind the ridge you can see.

Some time around 1960 my parents began a search for land out in the country with plenty of woods and a spot to build a house.  After several years they found a place they liked, 11 acres of wooded land on Garren Creek Rd in Fairview, and as I later learned, just across the road from the base of Little Pisgah Mountain.  Steep as a horse's face, and beautiful.  It fronted on Garren Creek, which at that point is cascades, pools, and a 10 foot waterfall.  The land went up the side of the mountain from there, with a couple of good sized ravines cutting into the mountainside.  These contained babbling branches flowing with sweet tasting ice cold water.  

After they bought the property we continued to live in Asheville for a several more years.  They looked at house plans, and when they couldn't find what they wanted my Dad sat down and drew a set himself.  That was my Dad, if something needed to be done he just did it.  He was a radar technician in WWII, and after the war he did radio and TV repair.  He was a master carpenter and woodworker.  He was foreman of the finishing department for a local furniture factory, and did furniture refinishing in his basement workshop, specializing in rebuilding antique pianos and pump organs.  If the plumbing leaked he replaced it. He did electrical wiring.  If the car broke down he took it apart and fixed it. The list goes on, and every job he tackled was done as a craftsman.  He was an amazing man!

During those years we'd go out to Garren Creek on weekends to explore the woods and picnic by the creek. My Mother hunted out the wildflowers and my Dad spotted birds.  (They both loved nature, and I grew up hiking and exploring with them and my sister.)  On hot summer evenings we'd go out there and eat watermelon with our feet in the creek to cool off.  It was already starting to feel like home!

In 1970 Dad started building the new house.It was located on a ridge in the center of their property where it would always remain private, and with a spectacular sunset view back down the Garren Creek valley.  He did almost all the work, with my inexpert help doing framing and some of the other two-person jobs.  It was my first attempt at real carpentry, and the quality of work my Dad taught me became my guide for a 30+ year career as a carpenter.

As soon as the house was finished we moved in.  I was just finishing high school and living with my parents.  (When I was 17 I had run away to California to join the hippies and missed a year of school.  But that's a whole 'nuther story!)

We hadn't lived there long when my parents decided it was time we went up on Little Pisgah Mountain.  The base of it was just across the road from us, and we had a beautiful view of the lower half from our deck.  We were looking at a 1000 foot wall of beautiful woods, and it was another 1000 feet from there to the top. (4450 feet)  But so far we hadn't been on it at all.  

My parents picked a Saturday morning for the hike. (I have to confess that I had been out too late the night before, had a headache, and tried to weasel out on hiking.  My Mother finally shamed me into going.)  We drove highway 74  to the top of Hickory Nut Gap and parked at the turnoff of Little Pisgah Road.  Now a decent gravel road, it was then just a rutted, rocky, and narrow 4 wheel drive track up the mountain. 

It was a beautiful hike!  The road is steady uphill, but not steep.  The terrain and woods were gorgeous.  At that time it was undeveloped, with no houses, no ugly towers on top, no recent logging.  Just some cows grazing in the pastures, with maybe a couple of grouchy bulls.   The whole mountain was like a giant park!  

As we went up we passed a couple of smaller logging roads turning off to either side.  But eventually there was a well worn road turning left, and the main road going on in in a more Eastern direction.  I don't remember the discussion, but we continued for a while on the right fork.  I do remember finding an old grave off the side of the road.  It had an obvious headstone, but we couldn't find any markings on the rough rock.  An interesting story there I'll bet!

About that point we turned back to investigate that other fork in the road.  Maybe because it went more towards the Fairview side of the mountain, nearer where we lived.  For whatever reason, it was a good choice.  It didn't take us to the top of the mountain, but lead to a huge area of pastures on the North-west side.  The lower part was fairly level, with a small stream flowing out of one side.  (That later became a favorite campsite.)   From there the fields swept up the side of the mountain, with ever-widening views. There were sweeping vistas to the South and West, and it was an altogether beautiful place.  We thoroughly enjoyed our hike, and I was hooked.  (I forgot all about that headache!)

Bearwallow Mt and beyond from the Little Pisgah pastures

Before long I went back on my own to explore.  I discovered if I very carefully took ridiculous chances, I could navigate my little Fiat sports car up Little Pisgah Road.  Straddling ditches and squeezing around rocks, it's a wonder I didn't tear the bottom out from under that car.  But it was fun!  I was still hanging around those lower pastures, and hadn't yet been to the top of the mountain.  It was soon time for that to change!

One Saturday night I camped with a couple of friends at that pretty spot beside the stream.  The next morning after breakfast Jerry said he knew the way from there to the top, and we should go.  Good idea!    We walked up through the meadows, and continued up around the North side of the mountain.  From there we had a magnificent view of Mt Mitchel and the ranges of mountains around it.  From there we followed more old Jeep roads til at last we came out at the top.  At 4450 feet it's the highest point East of Asheville.  Bald at the top, it is a spectacular viewpoint.  Or at least Jerry said it was.  That morning it was socked-in with low hanging clouds, and we couldn't see a thing!  We sat on a rock for an hour or so, but it never cleared up and we finally had to leave.  You can be sure that it wasn't long before I went back, and I wasn't disappointed.  Looking down into Hickory Nut Gorge, across beautiful Shumont Mountain, and as far to the East as the atmosphere will allow.  I spent some wonderful days up there!

Here's a map showing the area I've been talking about:

 The blue line is the hike I took with my parents,
the purple is the route from the lower pastures to the top.
The white areas are the pastures.

Disclaimer: I'm showing a map for informational purposes only.  The whole area is private property, and I can't recommend trespassing.

(Here's where I wish I had some good photos taken from the top.  Maybe I can get some later and add them.  In the meantime here's one more on the way up.)



If you've made it this far with me, thank you!  Stay tuned for part 2 where the death defying adventures begin!





Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fonzie

I love the ridge that runs from Shumont Mt out to Rumbling Bald. It is one of the most seriously rugged places in these mountains!

I remember the scouting trip I took to investigate the first section of it, back in the early '70s. I was with a couple of friends at Eagle Rock, and we decided to explore a bit. We climbed the old logging road going up Shumont to where it forks in three directions. My friends decided to hang out in that area, but I wanted to explore a little farther. I took the left fork, thinking it had to be the one going out that ridge. It is, in fact it follows the top of the ridge all the way to Rumbling Bald and on down to Lake Lure.

On this day I had just started out the ridge and was in the area marked by an arrow in my photo. Just above that big cliff.


 
I was accompanied by my trusty trail dog Fonzie.

 
He had been with me over miles of trails, and through places so rough I wasn't sure I could get out alive. He was a great companion, but had one bad habit. If he caught a whiff of where some animal had been he would take off running as fast as he could to investigate. That's what he proceeded to do here, running off the side of the ridge right towards where I knew that cliff was! I tried to call him back, but once he got on a run there was no stopping him til he was done with his investigation. I was used to the behavior, and he always came back, but this time the location was making me nervous!

So I waited, and called, and clapped, and whistled. No Fonzie. I tried finding a way down to the cliff, but it was too steep and dangerous, and I gave up. Waited some more, trying not to worry. He would be back any time now... I'm not sure how long it was, probably close to half an hour. Way too long!

Finally he came running back up the hill to me. I never saw him in such a state! He was panting as hard as I had ever seen. His muzzle was covered in froth. I grabbed him in a big hug, and he was trembling all over. He acted like he had been through the ordeal of a lifetime! And this was the same dog who would frolic all over Eagle Rock with no fear. Who later went through the Bonas Defeat Gorge like it was a walk in the park!

All I can do is guess what happened. I think he pulled a “Bonas” and ran off the top of the cliff. Fell and / or slid no telling how far down. And then took a half hour to fight his way back up somehow. I wish I knew the details, but I do know how scared he was, and how happy he was to see me again. And I was glad to see him too!