Essentials for Your Backpack

Backpack Essentials

What should I pack for a hike? This is one of the best questions any hiker could ask. Everyone has a different opinion, and there are probably a million lists online about which items should be essential pack items. I don’t claim to have THE definitive answer to the question posed, but I do believe there are a few pack essentials that every hiker should carry, regardless if it’s a long or short hike. Obviously, the season, terrain, distance of the trail, etc. will cause you to adjust the contents of your pack to fit the hike. But, here is my list of essentials that I carry in my pack at ALL times, and you should have them in yours, too.

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A good backpack.

This goes without saying. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or newest model, but starting out with a good pack is a given. I use the Osprey Kestrel 28 most of the time. It’s a smaller, lighter pack, but it’s very durable and has tons of room. The Kestrel 28 is good for a day hike, but it’s sufficient for a three day hike. It comfortably carries all that’s shown in the pic, plus more. Some of the things I suggest looking for in a good, serviceable pack is:

– Correct size. You need to get a pack that can adjust to fit your body size and type. Most outfitters can help you with this, and there are Youtube videos to show you how to properly size a pack. This is important both for personal comfort and to be able to get all you need in it for the hike you’re undertaking.

– Well-made. A durable pack will pay for itself over and over again. The last thing you want is a backpack strap breaking while you’re miles from anywhere, or a zipper breaking so you can’t zip up and protect your gear. Again, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive pack. But it does need to be durable and well-made. Read pack reviews online, or ask a seasoned hiker for his/her recommendations before making your choice. Then you’ll most likely make the right choice.

– Waterproof/resistant. Most good packs come with a rain cover included. Some backpacks are made of waterproof material. This is important if you get caught in a storm and need to keep your supplies dry. Or, you might fall into a stream. Some hikers treat their packs with a water-resistant spray. I know I was once caught coming down Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains when a sudden massive rainstorm blew in. I had a relatively cheap backpack that was not waterproof/resistant, and everything I had in it got soaked. Plus it made the pack heavier, which wasn’t fun, either.

A first-aid kit.

I carry a simple, small kit that’s in a hard case. The inside contents are in a zip-lock bag also to keep everything dry. Some of the things I have in my basic first-aid kit are: band-aids, burn/rash cream, gauze, Advil, iodine, alcohol wipes, and a needle/thread.

Cutting tools.

I have a wilderness knife and a multi-purpose knife. Both are relatively small. The wilderness knife is a Gerber, and its tang (handle) is wrapped in nylon paracord in case I need more rope. It can also be mounted to a stick and used as a spear. I also have a Victorinox “Swiss Army knife” multi-tool that I like to keep with me at all times on a hike. It stays in my pack, while the larger wilderness knife normally stays on my hip. Keep your blades sharp.

Light source.

A small, waterproof flashlight is what I carry. I also have a small LED flashlight. If I knew for certain I’d be hiking at night, I’d take along a headlamp.

Multi-purpose bag.

I pack a small ziplock bag containing toilet paper, lotion, wet wipes, waterproof matches, tinder, water purifying tablets, lighter, a couple of extra zip-lock bags, and an emergency blanket. Plus, I include an extra, cheapie poncho.

Rain gear.

I have a waterproof poncho that packs into itself and becomes a pillow or floatation device. You should always have some type of rain gear, even when the weather forecast is clear. If you’re hiking at higher elevations, storms can form quickly. The last thing you want is to be drenched with miles to go.

Extra rope.

It’s good to have extra rope in case you need to string up your pack, build a shelter, splint a broken bone, etc. I’ll carry about 4 feet of utility rope in my pack at all times.

Tape.

I get laughed at about this. I never go on a hike without some kind of durable duct tape or packaging tape in my backpack. It’s amazing how it’ll repair gear, dress wounds, or help hold together a shelter in a pinch. I once saw a guy on the trail whose boot sole had ripped off, and he had secured it back on with duct tape!

Extra socks.

This is another one I get laughed at. But, have you ever tried to complete a hike with wet socks? Blister city. Very uncomfortable. Walking in wet socks will blister your feet and incapacitate you, and I’m not carrying you out. I always keep a durable pair of Columbia weatherproof socks in my pack just in case. You should, too.

Extra water + food.

I don’t use a pack bladder because I don’t like the bulge it creates in my back. If you do, that’s fine. I carry an extra water bottle. My bottle is sturdy enough that water can be boiled or food can be heated in it if need be. You can never have too much water on a hike. And having a way to boil water if needed is an added bonus. I also keep a couple of calorie dense protein bars in my pack. I like the ProBar peanut butter and chocolate bars.

Compass/Map.

I realize many people don’t know how to read a compass and map, but it’s definitely something a hiker will want to learn to do before he or she begins longer, more challenging hikes. Knowing how to use a map and compass is a non-negotiable. Even if I’m going on a short hike, I will at least carry a photocopy of the trail route (in a ziplock bag) and a copy downloaded on my phone. My compass is built into a nifty bear whistle. That way I can scare off a bear, signal for help, or find my way out. I like items that serve more than one purpose.

Cell phone.

This is a given. Have a charged phone with you. Granted, I’m usually somewhere with no signal, but even if I can’t make a call, my cellphone has a compass, extra copy of a map downloaded, and a homing device. The screen can also be used as a signal or a mirror to start a fire.

So, that was my non-exhaustive list of backpack packing essentials. Again, this is not a be-all/end-all list. But, in my experience, I won’t hike without them. I know some people might laugh and say it’s just a day hike, but too many day hikes have turned into cold nights alone in the wilderness when a hiker took a wrong turn or broke an ankle. You never know what the wilderness will throw at you. We must always remember that any time we’re in nature, we’re at a disadvantage. It’s best to try and even the odds as much as we can. I think you’d be surprised at how light these items turn out to be also. I can get them all in my backpack with room for extra clothes, hammock, etc.

What are some things you might add or subtract to your essential backpack gear?

Let me know. See you on the trail!

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Shining Rock Mountain via Art Loeb/Ivestor Gap Trail

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Synopsis

Hike the peaks of 3 mountains that are over 6,000 ft. on your way to Shining Rock Mountain, whose summit is jeweled by giant boulders of white quartz.

Features

6,000 ft. summits, Appalachian balds, amazing views, Shining Rock.

Length

11+ miles round trip.

Rating

Strenuous; Very rugged and remote in places.

Description

I can’t say enough about this hike. It has it all. Rugged and remote wilderness, high mountain peaks, breath taking views, and so many other goodies. The rub is you’ve got to work for it.

I’m going to issue a few words of caution up front. Have a map of Pisgah National Forest/Shining Rock Wilderness and a compass. Know how to use them both. There are numerous side and phantom trails and except for trail wands, none of the trails in the Shining Rock Wilderness are marked. Don’t attempt this hike if you’re inexperienced and unfamiliar with the area. It’s a beautiful and rewarding trek, but physically demanding. Know your physical limitations. Be sure you carry enough water/filtration system, and wear supportive footwear.

This is my hiking route on this day: Black Balsam > Tennent Mountain > Ivestor Gap > Grassy Cove Top > Flower Knob > Shining Rock Gap > Old Butt Knob Tail > Shining Rock Mountain > Ivestor Gap. This hike follows the Art Loeb Trail and Ivestor Gap Trail in a loop.

To begin this hike, turn off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420 onto FR 816. Drive to the end and park at the parking area at Ivestor Gap. There is also a pull-off on the right at the Art Loeb trailhead, parking permitting. If you park at the parking area you’ll have to hike back down the road to the trailhead, about .5 mile.

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The first part of the hike follows the Art Loeb Trail and takes you up to the summit of Black Balsam Knob (6,240’). From here you can enjoy 360 vistas that will take your breath. You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields, and Sam Knob.

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Continue along the ridge and down around Black Balsam Knob. You’ll catch views of Big East Fork and Same Knob, as well as Ivestor Gap on your left. Wind down through thickets. Since I was hiking in the morning, the dew off the bushes literally soaked my clothing. Tennent Mountain and its hooked summit will come into view. After a while you’ll come to the first of 3 of what I call “chicken feet.” This is an area where the trail splits three ways off a main trail. Take the obvious trail that heads up Tennent Mountain, this is still the Art Loeb Trail. It bears to the right.

Once you’re at the summit of Tennent Mountain (6,040‘), enjoy even more amazing views. Looking Glass Rock is very visible from here. You’ll also catch a glimpse of Shining Rock Mountain gleaming in the distance.

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Follow the trail down Tennent Mountain to the next “chicken foot”. This is an open area that is an obvious “gap” between mountains. From here, you can take the trail to the right, which is the Art Loeb Trail, and has a wand. It leads you up over the hill. The left trail, which looks like an very old road (because it is), is Ivestor Gap Trail. Both trails will wind up at the entrance to the Shining Rock Wilderness. You’ll know you’re at the entrance because there is a wooden sign saying so. There are several fences here. This is a good place to rest and get your bearings. The mountain in front of you is Grassy Cove Top. There were signs that trails to the summit were closed due to erosion. You probably don’t want to climb here, anyway.

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This is another “chicken foot”. Pay close attention here, because this is where I became disoriented and added a couple of miles to my hike that I didn’t need to. The far left trail is still Ivestor Gap Trail. You could take it and wind up at Shining Rock Gap. It’s relatively flat. You can see Big East Fork area to the left of it. I took the trail right, which is the Art Loeb Trail. The trail winds around Grassy Cove Top, then climbs the far side of it. Ignore all other side trails here! There seems like hundreds of them. Wind a narrow path until you come to another (surprise!) “chicken foot”. This one is probably the most confusing gap on the hike.

The right trail heads down and toward Cold Mountain. The trail straight ahead skirts Grassy Cove Top. The trail left climbs up Grassy Cove Top toward Flower Gap. This is the trail I took because it seemed the most traveled. It climbs through sawing blackberry thickets on a narrow trail. The point of reference you’ll want to look for is a huge, old double fir tree. You’ll know you’re on the right track. Continue to follow the trail to the backside of Grassy Cove, barely skirting the summit. You’ll get a very good view of Shining Rock as you come down the trail. The trail winds down to Flower Gap. There are several campsites at the gap and great high meadow open views.

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Continue on up the trail toward Shining Rock Gap. The trail winds through evergreens and rhododendron. There are more campsites on each side of the trail. When you come to Shining Rock Gap there is another “chicken foot”. Pay attention to just TWO: Left is Ivestor Gap Trail and leads you back to the entrance of the Shining Rock Wilderness. You will want to take this trail on your journey back. The trail straight/right is Old Butt Knob Trail. This is a deeply worn, steep trail that winds up the mountain through thickets. It’s dark and damp, and you’ll soon start seeing shards of white quartz, from whence Shining Rock gets its name.

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As you climb the trail, a huge white boulder will be on the left. Before you, appearing suddenly, is Shining Rock. It’s a huge rock wall, about as big as a two-story house. Continue up the trail to the summit of the Shining Rock (6,000‘). Enjoy great views back toward Flower Gap and Grassy Cove Top. Be careful, as the rock has sheer cliffs on every side.

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I enjoyed a snack here with a nice couple from Greensboro, North Carolina. After they left, I enjoyed the solitude. Interestingly, the giant white rock was considered a sacred place to the Cherokee. It is a unique formation to say the least. I could sense the history there. After eating my snack and enjoying the peace and quiet and gentle mountain breeze.

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Climb down Shining Rock and hike back down to Shining Rock Gap. Take the far right trail (left as you were coming in) which is Ivestor Gap Trail. This trail is relatively flat and shaded. I had the entire trail to myself. You will come to a split in the trail. Continue left. (Right leads you to the Daniel Boone Campground.) Enjoy the quietness. The trail was very soggy and muddy in places from seepage. There are some great views of the mountains and valleys to the right. After a while, you’ll see Grassy Cove Top, and you’ll return to the Shining Rock Wilderness entrance.

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Continue on the Ivestor Gap Trail, which is on the right. It is an obvious old road and is wide and rocky. Another word of caution: Ivestor Gap Trail, though level, is extremely rocky and is punishing after a long hike. Follow this trail back to the parking area. I’d parked on the roadside at the Art Loeb trailhead, so I had to walk (limp) another half mile back to my Jeep.

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Overall, this was an amazing hike, and I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly. It has everything. Again, be careful of all the unmarked side trails. When in doubt, take the trail most followed. Enjoy the dramatic scenery from the mountain peaks and the remoteness of a true wilderness hiking experience.

See you on the trail!

Mt. Craig + Big Tom via Deep Gap Trail

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Synopsis

Alpine-type hike in the Black Mountains of North Carolina beginning at Mt. Mitchell to the 6,000’+ summits of Mt Craig and Big Tom.

Features

Alpine landscape, semi-technical trail, rock climbing, rare plants and fungi, breathtaking views.

Length

2.5 miles round-trip

Rating

Moderate – Strenuous

Description

The Deep Gap Trail is a classic Black Mountains hike that begins at the picnic area of Mt. Mitchell State Park and continues on to Deep Gap campground. Deep Gap boasts a stunning FOUR peaks that are above 6,000 ft., five if you include Mt. Mitchell. For our hike, we decided to include just the summits of Mt. Craig (6,663 ft.) – the second highest peak east of the Mississippi – and Big Tom (6,580 ft.), both of which are the first two peaks encountered on the trail.

Deep Gap Trail is accessed at the Mt. Mitchell picnic area. Look for the giveaway trail head:

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The first 1/4 mile or so of the trail is relatively level. Soon you’ll begin to start the first ascent down rock stairs that trail volunteers have kindly put in place.

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As usual, the weather atop the Black Mountains is unpredictable. Below Mt. Mitchell the Blue Ridge Parkway was 73 degrees and sunny, but on the Deep Gap Trail, the air was chilly and fog was rolling in. Thunder clapped in the distance. Mountains this high are perpetually moist. These are two things to consider when hiking at heights such as this. Always carry proper weather gear (light jacket/poncho/rain jacket), and wear shoes with good traction. The Black Mountains are rocky and rooty – a slip or ankle twist is always a step away.

After making our way through the moss-covered forest, we came upon a cluster of dead evergreen trees, victims of the woolly adelgid, a non-native pest that feeds almost exclusively on the sap of evergreens. With the fog, the scene was quite surreal.

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We wound our way in and out of dense, moss-covered alpine forest, catching a few views to the left. As the trail begins to ascend to Mt. Craig, there are several rocks and rock outcroppings that you’ll need to traverse. Most of them were ice slick with the moss and water. Be careful on these.

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The trail then becomes fairly level as you continue along the ridge line
before ascending again to the first amazing overlook. The sun had broken through and the valley below was wide and green. This is a great place to rest, picnic, catch a cool breeze, or just soak in the beauty around you.

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After resting here, continue up to the true summit of Mt. Craig, being careful to stay on the trail so as not to harm any of the rare alpine plant species.

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There is a plaque around the corner as you head toward Big Tom, which commemorates North Carolina Governor Locke Craig, who played an important role in the establishment of Mt. Mitchell State Park.

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From here continue on along the trail another 1/4 mile or so to the summit of Big Tom.

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There is not much of a view here, but there is another plaque letting you know you’ve reached the summit:

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As you can read on the plaque, Big Tom was a colorful character who found and helped retrieve the body of Elisha Mitchell, for whom Mt. Mitchell is named, after he fell to his death during a geological survey.

Here was the terminus for this hike. If you continue on the trail, you’ll summit Cattail Peak and Potato Hill, then ascend down into Deep Gap. To get back to the trail head, simply retrace your steps. If the weather is clear, you’ll find it hard to not stop and take in one more view of the valley below from the summit of Mt. Craig and if you’re lucky, Mt. Mitchell to the south.

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See you on the trail!

Notch Trail – Badlands National Park

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Synopsis

Hike through a section of Badlands National Park to an overlook of the White River Valley.

Features

Canyons, cliffs, ladder, dramatic views

Length

1.5 miles round-trip

Rating

Moderate – Strenuous

Description

The trail head to the Notch Trail is located in Badlands National Park 2 miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. There is a large “can’t miss it” parking area with restrooms on the right (east) side of the road. There are several more trails accessed here (Door Trail; Window Trail) in addition to the Notch Trail. The Notch Trail is the closest trail head as you enter from the visitor center side of the road.

One of the first things I noticed was the sheer number of people here. This is because several nice views of the canyon are located on short boardwalk trails which are wheelchair accessible and kid-friendly. Also, there are restrooms.

We arrived mid-day after tromping through other sections of Badlands NP. It was around 100 degrees and dry. After locating the trail head, we began our hike.

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There were literally no crowds on this end of the parking area. This could’ve been because of the heat, or because the Notch Trail, though relatively short in distance, has a reputation for packing a punch. The sign says it all.

I would say to make sure you carry plenty of water on hotter, drier days. Also consider there are rattlesnakes (unfortunately I didn’t see any), canyons, cliffs, narrow sections of trail, and a steep log ladder to climb.

After hiking around .50-.75 miles through a canyon, you’ll come to the most famous feature of the Notch Trail: the log ladder.

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The ladder is built into the side of the canyon and is steep and has around 50 rungs. I’m guessing it’s anywhere from 80-100 feet high. We met a few other hikers here tackling the ladder one by one. I couldn’t wait for my turn, as I love technical trails:

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Only the last 10 feet or so of the climb is what I’d consider steep, but when you’re at the top looking down, you get a different perspective:

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The ladder leads up to a cliff and the trail continues here to the left. The trail skirts a cliff and has a great view of the valley below. I found this short section to have the highest capacity for danger. It’s narrow and well over 100 feet above the canyon floor. The dirt is loose and slipping and falling is a very present possibility. As a matter of fact, I witnessed someone slip and begin sliding down toward the cliff’s edge, but I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back up.

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Falling hazards aside, there are some nice views of the canyon below.

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Continue to follow the trail as it hugs the cliff beside you. Again, exercise caution as there are no cables to hold onto. The trail veers right, and then dead stops at an overlook, or “the notch,” which provides great views of the White River Valley.

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After admiring the views and exploring, simply retrace your steps back down to the canyon floor and return to the parking lot.

I really enjoyed this hike! If you’re ever in South Dakota, and Badlands NP in particular, this is one trail you’ll have to hike. As I said earlier, it’s not a long trail, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in features and fun.

See you on the trail!

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Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve: Eastatoe Gorge/The Narrows

Synopsis: A challenging hike down into Eastatoe Gorge to the “Narrows” – a spectacular box waterfall – in the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve.

Length: 5 miles round trip.

Rating: Strenuous

Blaze color: Yellow

Location: From Spartanburg, SC, follow Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11 toward Pickens. At the 4-way intersection of 178, turn right toward Rosman, NC. At around 10 miles, Horsepasture Rd. will be on the left directly after the bridge. Look for the large red sign that says “Foothills Trail.” Drive up the gravel road until you come to a large graveled parking area on the left. You can park here, or drive on a short distance until you see the sign for Eastatoe Creek Preserve on the left. There is room here for 2-3 vehicles.

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Description: The Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve is a 300+ acre nature preserve at Eastatoe Gorge. The preserve features a box waterfall known as The Narrows, and is also home to several rare species of ferns and wildflowers. One type of fern is known to grow only in this preserve within the US.

The upper part of the gorge is typical of the Upstate, SC mountains: a mixed forest of hardwood and evergreen trees. As the trail descends, the gorge takes on a rain forest atmosphere and look, with plenty of humidity, moss, ferns, vines, and biting insects!

The trail to The Narrows of Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve begins innocently enough. This 5-mile round-tripper is a spur of the Foothills Trail. It starts at the red gate as an old road bed, winds its way down into Eastatoe Gorge, and ends at a viewing deck overlooking The Narrows.

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There are distinct “sections” to this trail that can be seen visually in the changing terrain and flora. The first section takes you on a relatively level trail that begins as an old road bed before turning into a more traditional hiking trail.The trail is surrounded by hardwoods and mountain laurel.

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We also encountered an abundance of wildflowers throughout this section.

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You’ll also notice that the trail clings to the side of Eastatoe Gorge on your left, with it’s dramatic vertical drop-offs. I would like to hike here in the Fall or Winter, as I imagine the views sans foliage would be amazing.

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After a distance of a mile or so, the trail begins to descend via a bridge and stairs to the left.

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This is a fairly sharps descent in some places with numerous switchbacks.

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This section gradually narrows until the trail is only a foot or so wide. There are a couple of footbridges across small streams.

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As you descend you’ll notice the ferns become more numerous, as well as vines and moisture. The spray off The Narrows and Eastatoe Creek turns the mountain environment into a rain forest.

After a while, the trail levels out and you’ll be tempted to think you’ve reached the floor of the gorge, but you haven’t. There is a small sign pointing you to The Narrows. (The trail here splits to the left also, but I’m told it is more for crossing the creek upstream.)

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Follow the trail down to a viewing deck overlooking The Narrows. The view here is dramatic. Eastatoe Creek has cut a narrow box waterfall through the granite cliff, and as the creek is funneled into what looks like a 4 or 5-ft. sluice, it creates a dramatic roar and water plume all around the gorge. I’m told the deck is fairly recent, not just for viewing, but for safety. Several people have been injured or died here. Without the deck, the trail literally ends with a sheer vertical cliff.

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I was feeling more exploratory, so I hiked back up to a spur trail of to the right. This trail led down to the edge of Eastatoe Creek. Be careful if you take this trail! It’s almost vertical, and blow-downs are present the whole way. When you reach the end, you are now at the very bottom of Eastatoe Gorge. There is a primitive campsite along the creek.

There are also numerous raging rapids here. The rocks around the creek are slick due to the perpetual dampness and darkness. I took off my shoes here and attempted to ford the creek to get a better view of The Narrows, but the creek wasn’t having it. Not only was it ice cold, but very swift, and the rocks were extremely slick. If I ever go back, I’ll take a rope and trekking poles or hiking staff for balance. Again, be careful here. One slip and fall puts you right in the middle of a cold, raging creek with plenty of rapids below you. Not a good combination.

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One interesting fact about Eastatoe Creek: The waters here are so pristine that native rainbow trout breed and spawn here.

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After taking a few pics and wading in the safer parts of the creek, I climbed back out to the main trail, which required both hands and feet to do so!

After admiring The Narrows a little more, we begin the ascent out of the gorge. It wasn’t as “killer” as I’ve heard some describe, but it wasn’t a cake walk by any means! I was definitely sore the next day, and that rarely happens.

To return, simply retrace your steps. Be sure to enjoy the nice, cool, damp breeze blowing up out of the gorge. You’re going to need it!

Be sure to put this on your “must hike” list.

You can see even more of this hike @ my Facebook page: The Carolina Trekker

See you on the trail!

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The Pinnacle: Crowders Mountain State Park

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I confess I’ve never thought about hiking Crowders Mountain until recently. I’ve passed by it on I-85 for years, and though Crowders Mountain State Park near King’s Mountain, NC is only about 30 miles from my home, it never occurred to me to go check it out. Thankfully, several friends posted pics of their hikes there, so I decided to check it out.

I was glad I did!

I heard the various trails around the park made it a very popular destination, so I got there early. I started my hike at around 9:30 a.m. I decided to take the Pinnacle Trail, which is roughly 2 miles one way. It carries you to the summit of The Pinnacle, a peak in Crowders Mountain State Park (1,705 ft.), which is an ancient monadnock, and the highest peak in Gaston County, NC. In addition to hiking, it is also a popular area for rock climbing/bouldering.

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The Pinnacle is not Crowders Mountain. Crowders Mountain is adjacent, and is accessed by the Crowders Trail.

The first part of the trail is well-graded and easy. After a short while, you begin to climb, but you haven’t seen anything yet.

I laughed to myself when I saw the trail rated as “strenuous” and the mountain less than 2,000 ft. However, the mountain got the last laugh.

At around the halfway point, you begin to encounter numerous boulder fields, and the trail begins to ascend a little more sharply. There are some good views to the left. I spent some time hopping around the giant boulders and exploring. It’ll become evident that you’re walking a craggy ridge line.

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After the boulder field, the trail takes a u-turn. Here’s where the fun began. The next half mile or so is brutal.

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The trail ascends steeply, and is rocky and slick from all the fine sand. The craggy ridge line/summit of The Pinnacle becomes apparent above the right side of the trail. To the left there are some openings and more nice views.

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At around the last quarter mile or so, I noticed several of hikers tuckered out and resting beside the trail. I’ve hiked a lot of high mountains and steep trails, but something about this section knocks the wind out of you. My quads felt like they were going to blow up!

I, too, took a short rest, and carried on. As you get closer to the peak, the left side of the trail opens up for some great views of the valley below. The rocks around you are jagged and weathered.

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Take a right and climb up through the boulders. You’ll pass a familiar overlook on the left where everyone and his mother has taken a selfie. It was kind of crowded here, with maybe 15 other hikers waiting for their turn to get a pic.

But this is not the summit. Continue on up through the rocks.

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You’ll know you’ve reached the true summit when you come to a concrete pad with a pole sticking out of it. There are 360 views here of NC and SC. I climbed down a rock edge and found a nice, private overlook to rest and have a snack. I watched three turkey buzzards circle right in front of me. I sat here for nearly an hour and never saw another person.

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After resting, I explored a bit more, and had a good conversation with an older hiker, a local. He told me about a “secret” trail down, and about the tragic deaths that had occurred at Crowders Mountain/The Pinnacle recently. With all the jagged rocks and drop-offs, this is not a place to take chances.

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We talked hiking a bit more, and went our way. On the way down, several people asked me “Am I close yet?” I’m telling you, that last .25 mile is tough!

On the way down, I turned off at the Turnback Trail. I took this trail down. I didn’t pass anyone on it. I enjoyed complete solitude. When the trail levels out, there is a small stream that follows the trail. I then turned off on the Fern Trail, and took this back to the parking lot. By now the parking area was crowded to capacity. If you want to hike in solitude, get here early!

I made my hike a loop by combining the Pinnacle Trail, Turnback Trail, and Fern Trail. Total hike was about 5 miles.

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See you on the trail!

You can see more pics and more hikes if you LIKE my page on Facebook @CarolinaTrekker!

Green River Gamelands: The High Trail

08c I’ve always wanted to hike in the Green River Gamelands in Saluda, North Carolina. I finally had the opportunity to do so this past weekend with my friend Josh. We only hiked a portion of the trails (there are 9 “official” ones), mainly to get a feel of what the terrain is like. I’ve heard the Gamelands trails were rugged in places, and they certainly were! The trails form a sort of loop that is around 10.5 miles in length, with a total of 16 miles of trails throughout the Gamelands. We decided to take the higher ground and hike the Bluff Trail, Turkey Gut Trail, and Stair Step Falls Trail. I’ve got no idea how many miles we logged, probably around 5, as our entire route took about 4 hours round trip.

The trailhead.

Take I-26 to Exit 59. If you’re coming from South Carolina, the exit will be on the right. Take a right at the stop sign onto Holbert Cove Road. Drive a short distance and there is a sign for the Gamelands on the left. Turn here and follow the descending road into the gorge. Drive safely as there are a number of hairpin turns. After reaching the bottom, continue on Green River Cove Road crossing the bridge over the Green River. Parking is on the right. It’s simply a small gravel pull-off (additional parking is across the bridge in a larger parking area).

The Green River Cove trailhead is across the road from the parking area to the left of a residential driveway. We missed it the first time because weeds had grown up over the trail sign. Also, we got our map online, and from a book by Danny Bernstein. Interestingly, several of the maps diverged from one another slightly. So be aware of that. 07 The hike.

We decided to take the higher trails hoping to catch some good views of the gorge and river below. We began on the Green River Cove Trail. The first thing you notice is a set of stair steps. The trail ascends up with views of the Green River below on the left. After a short distance, there is an obvious offshoot trail and marker for the Bluff Trail on the right. The Bluff Trail is a very strenuous, narrow, and rocky 1 mile hike up a mountain side. The elevation gain here is 700 feet over one mile! There are a few places where the steepness might even make scrambling necessary for some. 13a The end of Bluff Trail is the intersection with the Turkey Gut Trail. The Turkey Gut Trail goes either right or left. We initially wanted to take a right to look out over Pace Cliffs, but the trail was overgrown. 17 This would be a nice trail to revisit in the winter. So, we turned around and head left toward the Stair Step Falls Trail. Turkey Gut Trail is about 3 miles in length. As it ascends, there are overlooks on the left and rocky outcroppings above the trail on the right. After a while you’ll hear then see Stair Step Creek on the left. Be careful here because there are several sheer drop-offs. You’ll see Stair Step Falls Trail on the left. The trail crosses over the creek here. We continued on around Turkey Gut for about ¼ of a mile into a clearing. We had a snack here and then turned back and crossed onto Stair Step Falls Trail.

The Stair Step Falls Trail is a moderate-to-strenuous 1.5 mile long connector (It connects with the Long Ridge Trail). As soon as you pass over the creek, the falls will be below you on the left. The only way to get to the falls is to sit and slide down a steep ravine. Or use a rope. The falls themselves were nothing to get excited about, at least they weren’t with our legs burning from the climb we‘d just made! I didn’t take pictures. The falls are basically three or four narrow, small cascades that aren’t easy to view. Perhaps after a good rain they’d have been more enticing to climb down and view. 20 We continued on the trail. To the left is Loobie Cliffs. The trail winds in and out of coves and crosses a couple of small streams. At the last of these streams is a very short but steep climb up and around to a fairly level area filled with blooming mountain laurel. We stopped here on the ridge, rested, ate another snack, then retraced our steps back to the trail head. 25 This would be a much more scenic hike in the winter or fall, as the higher elevation views are obscured by foliage. This is also not a “pay off” type of hike, meaning there’s no exciting destination until you descend back down along the Green River. Stair Steps Falls would be nice if it were fuller. This was simply a rugged hike for hiking’s sake. I enjoyed the challenge and the scenery and the solitude. Next time the plan is to continue on the Green River Cove Trail and go view the famous Narrows. Again, the route we took was steep, rocky, and strenuous. After we finished we drove and stopped at a little roadside fruit stand across the interstate. The owner informed Josh that the route we took had been known to see significant rattlesnake activity. Thankfully, we missed those!

I’ll blog part 2 when we make it.

See you on the trail!