Hiking the Black Mountain Crest Trail

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The Black Mountain range

The Black Mountain Crest Trail is legendary among hikers in the southeast. It is the highest trail east of the Mississippi, as it traverses the summit of several peaks over 6,000 feet. It is also widely acknowledged as one of the most punishing and strenuous hikes you’ll find anywhere. To begin with, the trail immediately ascends over 3,000 feet in just 4 miles up Celo Knob. After a short respite at Horse Rock Meadows, the rest of the trail is a relentless up and down with precious few switchbacks. Several sections are so rugged they require climbing ropes and/or basic rock climbing/bouldering skills. Other sections are narrow and hug cliffs with sheer drop-offs. It’s no wonder the BMCT is nicknamed “The March of Death”!

 

Despite all the blood, sweat, and tears (they’ll be plenty of each on this hike), by completing this trek you’ll be rewarded with perhaps the most amazing scenery and views anywhere. You’ll also have the personal satisfaction of knowing you came, saw, and conquered one of the premier hiking trails in the United States. The entire hike runs above or near 6,000 ft., with the notable exception being the primitive campground at Deep Gap. There are views throughout, as well as alpine wilderness beauty galore. If you’re into peakbagging, there are six recognized SB6K summits along the trail. The SB6K stands for South Beyond 6000, which comprises 40 mountain peaks 6,000’ or higher in the Southern Appalachians as recognized by the Carolina Mountain Club.

When researching this hike, which began over a year ago, I was struck by the relative lack of information regarding it. There are a couple of good, detailed trail reports online, but not much else. My aim in writing this piece is to provide a brief, yet comprehensive trail review and guide to hiking the Black Mountain Crest Trail (BMCT) from Bolens Creek to Mount Mitchell.

The Trailhead. The best way to hike the BMCT is to shuttle it, as it is a tough point-to-point trek. We left a vehicle at Mount Mitchell State Park at the Deep Gap picnic area. Registration is required to leave your vehicle overnight, but it’s free. We loaded all our gear and drove to the Bolens Creek trailhead. I’ve heard some hikers say they paid for a shuttle service to and from, so that is also an option.

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Locked and loaded

Confusion abounds in finding the trailhead proper at Bolens Creek. The first thing you need to know is parking is not allowed at the small cemetery near the trailhead. There are signs posted forbidding parking. Several online sources direct hikers to park their car at the cemetery. Please respect the wishes of the cemetery owner(s) and don’t park there. Just off Highway 19E, look for the Bolens Creek Road Sign. Turn here. After a short drive, you’ll come to a hairpin turn. Just before reaching the turn, there is a sign for WATER SHED RD next to a house upon a hill at the curb.

 

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Even though the sign says this is a private drive, turn here anyway. There is a small, muddy parking area on the right a few yards down the road. There is room for 3-4 vehicles. Park and leave your car here, being mindful not to block any residential driveways. You’ll also see a sign for “Entering Pisgah National Forest” at the far end of the parking area. This begins the hike.

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The Hike. Carry plenty of water. You need to know this up front. There are two main reasons: 1. This is a tough hike, and you’re going to probably drink more water than you normally would; 2. there is only one reliable water source once you leave the Bolens Creek area. If you undertake this hike during a wet season, as we did, you could carry a filtration device as there are a couple of run-off springs on the way up. I don’t drink much during hikes, but I drank almost all the water out of my 3 liter Camelbak bladder, plus a couple of extra bottles I stashed in my pack. There is a small spring off the Colbert Ridge Trail near Deep Gap, but it requires a short hike to reach. By the time you reach Deep Gap, you probably won’t feel much like hiking to find water, though.

Also, begin this hike early in the morning. We started at around 10:00am, and in retrospect, we should’ve started out at 7:00am. Because of the relentless climbing and the slower pace, this would’ve given us more time to explore. Also, we probably could’ve avoided late afternoon thunderstorms that are so common to the Black Mountains, and set up camp earlier at Deep Gap.

After leaving your vehicle, hike past the PNF sign up a once-paved forest service road. 

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Shortly, you’ll see a wand marker on the far side of a rickety bridge letting you know you’re on the correct trail. Cross around an iron gate. The BMCT is blazed in orange triangles, and the trail is well-marked. Bolens Creek cascades pastorally to your right.

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Almost immediately, the trail begins to ascend through a dense hardwood forest. This is a sign of things to come, but thankfully there are switchbacks, so you’re not plowing straight up and down like you’ll be doing later on. We stopped for a breather after every 3-4 switchbacks. The going is slow, but if you hike smart you’ll get through it. Remember, you’ll be gaining over 3,000 feet over the next 4 miles. We joked that the trail should be renamed “Trail False Hope” because several times it seemed the climbing had subsided, only to begin again. For the first 4 miles, there are no views or sights of note, just quad and lung-busting climbing.

 

The trail leaves Bolens Creek after a while, and if you’re following your map, you can gauge your distance based on this. As you reach a couple of thousand feet, the hardwoods start to thin and evergreens start to appear. There is a fairly long, level stretch of trail after you pass another BMCT wand, and a peculiar cairn lodged in a tree trunk. This is a beautiful area and was helpful in allowing our legs and lungs to rest.

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You’ll begin catching small glimpses through the trees and bushes of the Black Mountain ridgeline to your right, but there are no good views. You’ll also intermittently see the shoulder of Celo Knob rising up ahead. The last mile or so of this section is a tough climb, even with switchbacks. I caught a leg cramp here, but thankfully one of my kind hiking partners introduced me to the wonders of Emergen-C for staving off cramps!

 

The trail opens up and levels off noticeably as you enter a high-mountain meadow called Horse Rock Meadows. You will catch amazing views of the entire Black Mountain range and the Cane River Valley here. Be careful of your footing. The trail here is somewhat overgrown, and there are numerous potholes and drop-offs concealed beneath the grass and shrubs. You’ll make your way around the shoulder of Celo Knob enjoying the great views.

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We took a break and had lunch at a trail wand just below the summit. There is an obvious scramble trail to the left that takes you to the true summit of Celo Knob. It’s steep and rugged, but there is a great opening for views about halfway up.

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We spotted Linville Gorge and the iconic summits of Hawksbill and Table Rock mountains from this vantage, even with haze. Further up the trail the summit of Celo Knob (6,327’) is uneventful, being marked only with a couple of pieces of orange tape.

The trail is easy and restful through Horse Rock Meadows. Turk’s Cap lilies were in full bloom everywhere.

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Peaceful and level Horse Rock Meadows

Gibbs Mountain is in front of you. The hike up Gibbs is a foreshadowing of the rest of the Black Mountain Crest Trail: narrow, rocky trail, no real switchbacks, and steep climbs and plunges between peaks. The trail goes beside the summit of Gibbs Mountain (6,224’), which is located just off the trail at the unmarked highest point.

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Horse Rock Meadows with Gibbs Mountain in the distance

 

A fierce thunderstorm blew in bringing rain and fog after we reached the summit of Gibbs. You can count on inclimate weather at some point almost 100% of the time when hiking the Blacks. Pack accordingly. I didn’t get many pictures from this point, as the rain was coming down too hard. The rough weather stayed with us as we crossed over to Winter Star Mountain.

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Thunderstorm bearing down on us at 6,000′

After the grueling climb from Bolens Creek to the summit of Celo Knob, the rain and cooler temps were not unwelcome! Even with the rain and clouds dropping down on us, we could see we were traveling along a narrow, rocky ridgeline with sheer drop-offs. Take caution here. The trail climbs and crosses over the summit of Winter Star (6,212’), where there is a benchmark. There is also at least one campsite.

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The trail looked like this most of the way

Along the way, be sure to look behind you at the peaks you just crossed. You’ll feel amazed, if not accomplished. We descended steeply from Winter Star down to the Deep Creek primitive camping area at around mile 8, still under rain and fog. We were drenched and considered attempting finishing the BMCT, but thought better of it. The storm was beginning to subside, but left high winds in its wake. This helped us dry off somewhat. We pitched our tents and hammocks and enjoyed the sunset and much needed rest at Deep Creek. The four of us were snoozing before the sun had fully set. The temps dropped into the low 40s during the night. It was an uncomfortable night as the temperatures plunged and the air was damp. The wind howled all night long. The rest was welcomed.

 

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We awoke to clear skies with fog and a gentle breeze. After packing up camp, we hit the trail again.

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Headed for the light

After leaving Deep Gap, you’re 4 miles from reaching the end goal of Mount Mitchell. In my opinion, these were the most difficult miles of all. Immediately after leaving Deep Gap, you’ll enter the boundaries of Mount Mitchell State Park. The first ascent is up Potato Hill (6,475’). It’s a long, narrow climb, with great views to the east.

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Juan Carlos being awed and amazed

There are a couple of sections of trail on Potato Hill that are very narrow and skirt sheer cliffs. The summit is located off an obvious short path to the right. Potato Hill, being a sub-peak of Cattail Peak, is no longer a recognized SB6K peak.

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Amazing eastern views

The descent of Potato Hill is rocky, slick, and almost vertical in places. Each time we thought we’d reached the gap below, there was another section of descent. There are no ropes, so use careful footing and take your time.

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The gap between Potato Hill and Cattail Peak is more level, and passes through a dense Tolkienesque, moss-covered spruce-fir forest. Sunlight is almost nonexistent in places here, it’s very dark and damp.

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After a half mile, you’ll pass a wooden sign indicating the summit of Cattail Peak (6,580’). This is not the true summit. You’ll have to hike a little further to the obvious high point to reach the true summit, which is benchmarked. This area also has camping spots.

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The not-really-the-summit-summit-marker

After another half mile or so, the BMCT passes over the summit of Balsam Cone (6,611’). You’ll then begin descending into Big Tom Gap. This section is another long, sharp downhill trek that requires sure footing and a deliberate pace. Just before reaching the gap, there is a junction with the Big Tom Gap Trail, plus a sign marker letting you know the Black Mountain Crest Trail is now called the Deep Gap Trail. I can’t imagine this causing confusion, but it might. Continue straight ahead on the orange-blazed BMCT.

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Profound beauty

Before you is Big Tom (6,579’), named for local bear hunter, tracker, and storyteller Big Tom Wilson. Wilson famously recovered the body of Dr. Elisha Mitchell, who’d fallen to his death while exploring the Black Mountains. In my opinion, this is the toughest section of the entire hike. You’ll be ascending the north face, which is exposed and rugged.

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Whenever you think you’ve reached the top, there’s always more

Thankfully, there are climbing ropes to help with the ascent. Because of the heavy rains the night before, the trail was extra wet and muddy. We began passing other a few other hikers at this point, all of them heading down to Deep Gap. I gathered not too many attempt the route we’d just taken, hiking up from Bolens Creek.

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Grab ya rope!

 

After several steep, rope-assisted sections, the summit of Big Tom is marked with an obvious plaque and geological benchmark. This is a great spot to rest. There is a semi-view here. The area is flat and boggy, and has obvious signs of acid rain and invasive pest decimation.

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The Cane River Valley from atop Big Tom. Notice the map. Always carry one and know how to read it

 

After leaving Big Tom, there is a short descent, then the BMCT begins to ascend Mt. Craig (6,647’), the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mt. Craig’s summit is rocky and beautiful, with some of the best views you’ll find anywhere. Be careful to stay on the marked trail, as several rare species of plants grow on Craig’s rocky outcrops.

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The summit of Mt. Craig is marked by a plaque honoring the late Sen. Locke Craig, for whom the mountain is named. After a short ascent through an open meadow, there is an outcropping to the right which is a great place to rest and enjoy the views. It’s one of my favorite places in Pisgah, actually. We talked to several other hikers here who asked about the Black Mountain Crest Trail. You will also begin to notice tourists or leisure hikers who’ve taken the moderate hike from the parking area to this point. This is a great place for pictures.

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The best trail team I could ever ask for

 

The hike from Mt. Craig to the parking area at Deep Gap/Mount Mitchell is around 1.5 mile sin length, and moderate in difficulty. It follows a rocky spine, and has nice views on clear days. The last hurrah before reaching the end of the hike involves climbing several sections of stone steps. 

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Almost as if the BMCT was letting us know she wasn’t quite finished with us

You’ll notice the trail becomes less steep and graded with pebbles. After a short while through another dense section of spruce-fir, the Deep Gap campground comes into view with picnic tables, restrooms, and a paved parking area. Like most any hike that reaches the summit of Mt. Mitchell (6,684’), the whole scene can be anti-climatic.

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We had a small celebration in the parking lot, high-fiving and congratulating each other on accomplishing what is widely regarded as the most grueling, difficult hike on the east coast. We’d just spent two days together climbing, sweating, cramping, and laughing our way up and down the highest mountain range east of the Mississippi. We garnered a few stares, mostly from people who were probably wondering why we were so happy and muddy.       

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See you on the trail!

07/28/2017        

 

If you’ve completed (or survived) the Black Mountain Crest Trail, and would like something to commemorate your accomplishment, I have designed a couple of stickers for purchase. These would look great on your water bottle, car, or anywhere else you can think of. Available for purchase in my online store! See link below.

Carolina Trekker Stickers!

 

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Linville Gorge Wilderness Hiking Meet-Up

Meet Up september 9

 

Linville Gorge Wilderness Hiking Meet-Up

September 9, 2017

Time: Meet and depart from the Pinch-In trailhead at 7:30 a.m.

Directions: From US 221, turn RIGHT onto Highway 183 into the Linville Gorge area. Pass the turn-off for Linville Falls. Drive 1 mile and turn RIGHT onto  SR 1238, also known as Kistler Memorial Highway (and before that Old NC 105), at the LINVILLE GORGE sign. The road is unpaved, but passable. A point of reference is you’ll continue past the turn-off for popular Wiseman’s View area, which is about 4 miles into the drive. Depending on where you’re traveling from, Google the directions for Kistler Memorial Highway (again, a dirt road into the wilderness). From the turn-off onto KMH/SR 1238, the drive is roughly 7.5 miles to the Pinch-In trailhead.

Trail route: #228 Pinch In Trail > #231 Linville Gorge Trail > #229 Conley Cove Trail > #247 Rock Jock Trail (the last 4 miles of Rock Jock is unmapped). We might consider hiking the above directions backwards in order to take in the more scenic views from Rock Jock earlier in the day. The entire loop is about 11.5 miles.

Need to know: This route is rated as a VERY STRENUOUS by every source of information I could find. Be ready to climb, grunt, and sweat. We’re not in a race, so we’ll take frequent breaks, especially at scenic overlooks. However, consider your hiking experience and physical condition before undertaking this hike!

Bring plenty of water. There are water sources along the trail, especially along the Linville River, but you’ll most likely consume more water than normal for this hike, especially if it’s hot.

The last (or first, depending on our route) 4 miles of this hike are not on the official map. The trail becomes spotty in places, and there is the chance of getting lost. I’m being real and transparent. As a designated Wilderness Area, trails are not blazed. I have not hiked this entire route before, so I’ll be relying on my map skills, as will you.

Portions of the trail are overgrown, steep, and rocky. Wear appropriate gear.

The weather can change in a moment in the Gorge. Pack accordingly.

Pack as if you’ll be spending 2 days in the Gorge (Hey, you never know).

You assume full responsibility for yourself and your well-being on this hike. Linville Gorge Wilderness is rugged, remote, and can throw a lot at you. Use best safe hiking practices at all times.

Meet at the trailhead promptly by 7:30 am. We will begin the hike no later than 7:45 am. Sorry, but we cannot wait for anyone.

There is always a chance of rain in the Gorge. The hike will continue as planned in rain or shine unless conditions are above normal for lightning, flash flooding, etc. At that time, this hike will be rescheduled in the interest of safety.

You will be hiking in black bear and rattlesnake country.

I have one place left in my Jeep. I’ll be leaving from the Macedonia area in Gaffney, SC. If you want the last spot, DM me via Instagram ONLY.

 

Black Mountain Crest Trail Hike Itinerary

Meet Up july 8-9

 

Black Mountain Crest Trail Hike Itinerary
July 8-9 2017

 

Trail Length: 11 – 12.5 miles.

Trail Rating: Most Strenuous

Beginning hike time: 9:00 am

Day One: From Bowlens Creek to Deep Gap (8 miles).

Day Two: From Deep Gap to the summit of Mount Mitchell (4 miles).

Where are we meeting? Mount Mitchell State Park. Park in the visitors center parking lot. I’ll have a sign that says “Carolina Trekker” or “Will Hike for Food”. From there we’ll carpool to the Bowlens Creek trailhead, around an hour away.

Time of departure: I expect to be on the trail no later than 9:00 am. It is an hour drive from Mount Mitchell State Park to Bowlens Creek trailhead. This means we’ll need to depart the state park at 8:00 a.m. (Sorry, we are unable to hold up the hike for you, please arrive on time.)

Parking: There is unlimited space at Mount Mitchell State Park. Bowlens Creek has room for 1-2 vehicles at the trailhead, but there is more parking at a cemetery a short distance up the road. An overnight pass is required for MMSP parking, for which there is no charge.

Driving/Carpooling: I’ll be leaving from the Spartanburg, SC area. Let me know your driving situation. I have room for up to 4 people and our gear. If anyone would like to carpool w/ me, which is environmentally responsible, let me know. (If you do carpool with anyone, consider helping with gas money.)

We’ll finalize who’s driving where by the day of the hike.

The Hike: Regarded by many to be THE most challenging/technical hike on the entire east coast. We’ll cross over five 6,000’ peaks. The first part of the hike is the most difficult, gaining over 3,000 ft. in the first four miles. My sources tell me there may be bushwhacking involved the first mile or so at Bowlens Creek. Not too many hikers tackle the BMCT from this trailhead, apparently!

I have a goal of bagging the true summit of all 5 peaks.

There are three water supplies, with the most reliable being an intermittent spring that is 7 miles from the Bowlens Creek trailhead near Deep Gap, where we’ll camp for the night. In other words, bring plenty of H20, a way to boil, or a filtration device.

Camping: There are two places to camp on the BMCT, and both are backcountry – A single site on Celo Knob, and a larger campground at Deep Gap. There is no charge to camp here, because both sites are technically outside the state park boundary. The campsites are primitive. Bear activity is a possibility. A ranger told me there were no food poles/cables that he knew of. He also said the area was good for tents and hammocks, with fire rings. I’ve hiked down to Deep Gap from Mount Mitchell, but couldn’t tell you much about it from memory.

Safety: You assume responsibility for your own safety and well-being. This is bear country, so store your food properly. (If you need more direction about that, ask me.) The Black Mountains range is the highest on the east coast. The weather can (and probably will) change rapidly. Consider sunscreen. There are technical sections of the trail that involves cliffs, rocks, scrambling, and climbing. Be safe + responsible!

What to pack: Bring extra socks at the very least. If we have to early morning bushwhack, or if there are overgrown sections of the trail, you’ll get soaked. Tent or hammock (consider sharing a tent to decrease our footprint). Food. Plenty of fluid to stay hydrated.

Let’s have a great time on the trail!

“Born to Wander”

 

 

June Hiking Meet-Up: Linville Gorge

Meet Up 623

What: Hiking Meet Up

When: Friday, June 23 2017 @ 8:00 a.m. sharp.

Where: Hawksbill Mountain, Table Rock Mountain, Linville Gorge Wilderness, NC

Directions: (From Spartanburg area) U.S. Highway 221 north to the Linville Falls area, then Highway 183 to Highway 181. Drive south three miles on Highway 181 to Gingercake Road (the second intersection with Gingercake Rd). It’s about four miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway intersection with Highway 181. One half mile down Gingercake Rd, stay left (follow Table Rock sign) on road 1264. The pavement ends in a mile. Continue about 2.8 miles to the Hawksbill parking area on left. Trail starts on right side of road (look for the trail sign there).

Please consider car-pooling. I’ll be leaving from the Spartanburg area if anyone would like to car-pool. Contact information below.

We will all meet at the trail head to Hawksbill at 8:00 am sharp. (Sorry, but I won’t wait on anyone.) 

Description: First we’ll hike the 1.5 mile roundtrip hike to Hawksbill Mountain. Be prepared for some climbing towards the end. Also, Hawksbill has powerful updrafts – STAY AWAY FROM THE EDGE. After taking in the amazing views, we’ll drive down the road a a few miles to the Table Rock Mountain trailhead and hike the 2.2 mile roundtrip trail to its summit. This trail is a bit more strenuous than Hawksbill, but still very doable for most hikers.

We can have lunch here, explore, take pics, etc. As always, stay away from the edge.

Need To Know: This meet up is ONLY for those who’ve indicated they’re going.

This is a “first come, first serve” meet up.

Pets are allowed, but must be leashed at ALL times in accordance with wilderness regulations.

You ares responsible for bringing your own food and water. Be sure to pack enough.

You assume responsibility for your own safety and well-being on the hike. Be safe!

Much of the hike is across exposed, rocky mountaintops. If the sun is shining, sunscreen should be considered.

The weather in Linville Gorge will be cooler and can change suddenly. Pack accordingly.

Message or call me with any questions: @carolinatrekker (Instagram) or 864-921-2769 (prefer texts).

This will be a great time! See you there!

 

Shining Rock Wilderness Hike Info

Meet Up Template

What: Hiking Meet Up

When: Thursday, May 11 2017 @ 9:00 a.m. sharp.

Where: Shining Rock Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest

Directions: Turn off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 420 onto FS 816 (Black Balsam Road). Drive up Black Balsam Road until you reach the obvious pull-off on the right at the Art Loeb trailhead. If there is no place to park, continue driving ahead to the parking area at Flat Laurel Creek/Little Sam Knob and walk back down to the trailhead.

Description: After departing from the Art Loeb trailhead, we’ll be crossing Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain before entering the Shining Rock Wilderness. From here we’ll hike around Grassy Cove Top through Flower Gap, and to Shining Rock. After leaving Shining Rock, we’ll take the Ivestor Gap Trail which ends at the Sam Knob parking area.

This hike is around 10 miles in length. It is considered strenuous, but only because of the length plus a few areas of elevation gain. Otherwise, it’s not a very difficult trail at all.

Need To Know: This meet up is ONLY for those who’ve indicated via Instagram they’re going.

Because we’ll be hiking into a designated wilderness area, groups are limited to 10 hikers or less. So, this is a “first come, first serve” meet up.

Pets are allowed, but must be leashed at ALL times in accordance with wilderness regulations.

You ares responsible for bringing your own food and water. Be sure to pack enough.

You assume responsibility for your own safety and well-being on the hike. Be safe!

There are no facilities on the hike, except at the Flat Laurel/Little Sam Knob parking area.

Much of the hike is across exposed balds. If the sun is shining, sunscreen should be considered.

This entire hike is above 5,000′, the weather will be cooler and can change suddenly. Pack accordingly.

I will be driving from the Spartanburg area up I-85/I-26 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’m more than happy to let you carpool with me. I have space for 3 hikers and their packs. Message me via Instagram @carolinatrekker if you want to carpool (or if you have any other questions).

This will be a great time! See you there!

Rocktop Trail > Little Mountain > Crowder’s Mountain

Synopsis: Strenuous hike through boulder fields to the summits of Little Mountain and Crowders Mountain in Crowders Mountain State Park, NC.

Total Mileage: 6mi round-trip according to the sign, but I added another 2mi for a total of 8 miles.

Blaze Color: Red (Rocktop); White (Crowders Trail); Blue (Tower Trail); Orange (Backside Trail)

Hike Rating: Very Strenuous/Technical

The Trailhead: Park at the Sparrow Springs Access area. Follow the Crowders Mountain Trail to the sign and bear right. Be careful as you’ll have to cross busy  NC 161. After a short hike, you’ll see another sign indicating the trail splits. Bear right and this becomes the Rocktop Trail.

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The Hike: Your introduction to the Rocktop Trail is the sight of a huge boulder field you’re about to traverse. Not only will you begin a steep ascent, you will also have to climb over boulders. There is the option of working your way around the boulders, but what fun is that? Follow the red blazes up and through the field. I could imagine a novice hiker losing the trail immediately in this area because he’ll be asking himself, “Where’s the trail?” – the boulders ARE the trail.

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Once this portion of the climb is over, and after reaching a relatively level area, you’ll be greeted with great views to the right.

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It won’t take long to realize you’re on a “knife’s edge” ridge line – a narrow, rocky stretch of exposed rock. In places there are steep cliffs on either side of the narrow trail. Use caution.

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Several times throughout this hike, you’ll have to climb over boulders to keep the trail. I noticed some had went around the boulders, but following these side trails will take you even closer to the cliff’s edge.

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Toward the end of the hike, you’ll reach the “summit”, a large, flat area of exposed rock. There are good views on either side. This is a good spot to rest. The remainder of the trail is relatively level.

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I enjoyed the solitude of the Rocktop Trail. I only passed one other group of three hikers about halfway up, and they were thinking of turning back. Yes, this trail can be that tough.

At the trail’s terminus, you’ll come to a gravel road. Continue straight ahead. This becomes the Tower/Crowders Trail. It leads to the broadcasting tower of WSOC-TV. You’ll know you’re at Crowders Mountain because this is a very popular destination in the park. It was almost shocking that I’d spent the last couple of hours huffing and puffing up and over boulders in solitude, only to be greeted with a crowd up ahead.

I avoided the crowds by going off trail to the right. There is a manway here that leads to the summit of Little Mountain. You’ll have to negotiate briars and thorns, as well as more jagged boulders. The summit is wooded but narrow, so use extreme caution.

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I found a nice spot here on the cliff’s edge, took of my shoes, and enjoyed a quiet lunch and tremendous views. I could see Charlotte, NC clearly.

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After eating and resting, I started back toward Crowders Mountain and took the Backside Trail at the base of the Crowders Mountain overlook. The trail offers more great views and a towering, vertical cliff above you. From here the trail climbs up through more boulders, then winds left to the summit of Crowders Mountain.

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It will not escape you at just how ignorant people can be. The area below the Crowders overlook was littered with water bottles and trash. I noticed water bottles and food containers throughout my hike. Please, pack out whatever you pack in!

After dodging the crowds, you have the option of taking the Crowders Trail back to the parking area, or you can retrace your steps on the Rock Top Trail. I chose to retrace my steps.

Overall, I loved this hike. It is a technical hike, meaning there are challenges above and beyond a normal walk in the woods.

See you on the trail!

Upper Creek Falls – Pisgah National Forest

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Synopsis: Loop hike down into and back out of scenic Upper Creek Gorge to a beautiful 80-foot waterfall, as well as a couple of smaller ones.

Total Mileage: 1.7 miles (possibly more if you explore).

Blaze Color: Yellow/Orange; Blue/Orange ribbons

Hike Rating: Moderate to Strenuous

The Trailhead: The trailhead is located off the right side of NC Highway 181 if you’re coming from Boone, in the Jonas Ridge community. Look for the sign about 5 miles inside Pisgah National Forest, past the Brown Mountain Overlook, and just across the highway from Linville Gorge. Turn right and pull into the gravel parking area. The trailhead will be obvious. You’ll see signs for both upper and lower falls on each side of the parking area. If you like a more challenging hike, start with the upper trailhead.

The Hike: The first thing I noticed was the amount of litter in the parking area and at both trailheads. It wasn’t excessive, but the fact that it was there at all disgusted me. What part of “Leave No Trace” and “Pack In, Pack Out” don’t you understand? End of mini rant.

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For this hike, to get the full effect, my suggestion would be to start at the upper trailhead and hiking clockwise through the loop. I say this because at the trail at the base of Upper Creek Falls, there are several heard paths that make holding the main trail difficult. I wouldn’t want to get lost in this area of Pisgah (or any), especially so close to Brown Mountain. That place is creepy.

As you start out at the upper trail, you’ll notice it runs parallel to NC 181. You’ll also be struck at just how beautiful the terrain is here, if not somewhat rocky and rooty. You’ll forget you’re near a major highway for the entire hike.

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The blazes are orange and yellow, with the occasional ribbon marker. The trail descends gently down into the gorge. As you near Upper Creek, you’ll come to a wooden bridge and stairs which allows you to survey a smaller waterfall and swimming hole and get the the creek safely.

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After climbing down, the trail continues on the far side of the creek. Rock hopping is the only way to get across unless you wade. In high water, I wouldn’t attempt it. You’ll want to get pics here before continuing. The waterfall is nice, as is the view of the gorge in the opposite direction.

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Please be aware that you are standing directly above a roaring 80-foot waterfall. The rocks are smooth and slick. One slip and there’s no chance you’d live going over the lower falls. Don’t allow children to get too close. People have died here.

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As you ford the creek and climb up the other side of the bank, the trail is obvious. There is a campsite on the left. Continue down the trail ignoring all the steep herd paths off to your right. A switchback will lead you down to the base of the waterfall. It is slightly off the main trail. Again, ignore the herd paths and phantom trails. I thought it’d be relatively easy for an inexperienced hiker to get lost in this area. There are trails everywhere and not many blazes. Stay on the blazed trail and/or the obvious trail.

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Upper Creek Falls is one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve seen. It tumbles vertically over the cliff and sluices through huge boulders and further down into the gorge below. The rocks here are slick with moisture and algae, so use caution. This area makes for a great picnic and rest spot. We hiked here on a Saturday at about 2:30pm and did not encounter another hiker after leaving the smaller upper falls.

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The trail continues up and out of the gorge on the far side of the creek. You’ll either have to wade or rock hop again. In high water, I wouldn’t risk it.

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This part of the trail did not appear to be as heavily used as the upper portion. Maybe because the ascent out seems much longer than a mile.

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Numerous switchbacks will lead you past a huge boulder/overhang where rock climbers had anchored their leads. I stopped and did a little bouldering before continuing on, as a storm was threatening.

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The main trail will also carry you to the top of the boulder where you can get a dizzying winter view of the creek and gorge below.

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Follow the trail back to the parking area to complete this great hike.

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See you on the trail!

02/12/2017