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!

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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

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!

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!

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