Grandfather Mountain

The name Grandfather Mountain may sound old, but the area is vibrant with a variety of experiences. The fun begins immediately as visitors receive an auto tour cd upon entering the park. Pop in the cd and immediately, you’re immersed in the history that appears at every turn.

With a movie highlighting the area, restaurant, fudge shop, and animal encounters, the first visitor center has plenty to do. My favorites were the animals and animal feedings. If you get a chance, definitely check out the bear feeding which provides an opportunity to view the black bears up close and yet safely.

The drive up to the next visitor center via the narrow, winding road, is not for the faint of heart, but provides stunning views along the way. For those wishing to forego the final steep ascent to the visitor center, there is a lower parking lot with a short, scenic hiking trail that leads to the visitor center.

The second visitor center at the top of the mountain is less commercial, but provides more outdoor activities via hiking trails, the mile high suspension bridge (mile high in elevation, not from the ground), and plenty of unencumbered views.

One day was hardly enough to scratch the surface. I could see easily spending more time fully exploring the area. For all the pertinent details go here: www.grandfather.com

Crabtree Falls Hike

Crabtree Falls“Services closed” was the first sign I saw when I pulled into Crabtree Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those signs always make me a little sad because being outside and enjoying nature is good for the soul, no matter your age or background.

Thankfully, the parking lot was still open which provided access to the hiking trail. The trail starts out as a paved trail and as it descended became a dirt path. Passing an empty amphitheater, I couldn’t help but wonder what shows had been there and if it would be open again.

Continuing through a grassy area, the trail then takes a right turn and goes through part of the former campground. Nestled among the trees, and away from the road, this would be a great place to camp!

After the campground, there was a sign that said Crabtree Falls loop, 2 miles, strenuous. Hmmm….it is late in the day, but it can’t be that bad. Taking the right fork of the trail, we headed into the forest and began our descent.

Through the lush forest, the path descended via a long series of stairs made of stone and logs. Nothing unusual there, a lot of mountain hiking trails have stairs. This trail was different because each turn brought on more stairs that continued the trail’s steep descent.

Downward we continued and the amount of stairs reminded me of walking down a lighthouse, just not as steep. Ok, I think I know why this trail is called strenuous; going back up is really going to suck! Hiking is a blast, but you know whatever you go down, you’ll probably have to come back up.

The decent continued through the forest and I felt like I was on a quest more so than a hike. Around one more corner and the sound of rushing water and a muddy trail signaled we were close. A wooden bridge came into view and we had made it!!

Aside from Looking Glass falls, this was one of the widest waterfalls I’d seen in the area. The mist of the falls highlighted the sun beams as the afternoon sun broke through the tree tops.

I’m not sure what it is, but you always have to get closer to a waterfall. Fortunately there are two short trails on either side that provide some inspirational photo ops. The area isn’t that large so once a few people arrive, it can feel crowded.

After a few photos and being misted by the falls, it was time to head back. The question was which way? The ascent from hell or the unknown other half of the loop, which could be just as steep.
The choice was quickly made to take continue on the trail and see where it exited. Greeted by steep stairs, this trail appeared to be similar as the other one. Up it went through the lush green forest, but the stairs were short lived.

The path became a dirt path among the trees with a waterfall view to the left. The trail was still steep here, but it wasn’t stairs and a few benches along the way provided water stops.

Once the trail made it past the falls, it leveled out significantly and was more of “normal” trail. As I crossed a wooden bridge, I looked at the creek below and commented “I know where that’s going!” We always see waterfalls at their end, so it’s intriguing to see them at their beginning.

The trail continued to ascend on the way to the old campground. Here I got a little confused because I recognized the campground and knew we came in from across it. Cutting across the campground, we found the original path and made it to the parking lot.

The entire loop is 2.5 miles and rated strenuous, but with enough time and plenty of hydration it can be done. For more information: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=38

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Cedar Rock trail video

I enjoy composing short, informational T.V. stories at work, so I decided to do one for a beautiful hike. The video is only a couple of minutes, but you’ll get a sense of the trail and what to expect. I call it the “man on the ground” perspective.

For directions and more info:
http://www.carolinamountain.org/hikingchallenge2/dupont2

http://youtu.be/1bn9aR-WuE8.

Four days, one back pack….can I really do this?

This isn’t going to fit……I said as I looked at the pile of clothes and gear on the bed. I was heading to North Carolina for the weekend and was determined to take just my back pack. I’m not a light traveler, so this was going to be a challenge, but that was part of the reason for the trip.

I could see myself getting on the plane, placing the pack under the seat, and easily disembarking upon arrival. No bag check, no fees, no waiting at the baggage claim, and no worries about trunk space. Just grab and go.

Making it work:
A little clarification is in order; my back pack is not like the large, steel framed one I carried for four days in the Grand Canyon. It’s what I call a commuter back pack that is the perfect size for traveling because it snugly fits (gets close enough), under the seat on commercial flights. In spite of it’s small size, it has been to a lot of cool places and as I write this, it’s packed for another adventure.

I was heading to the mountains, which were cold so I carried layers. First were my clothes: zip off pants, shirts, rain jacket, and socks. Next up was my DLSR with 18-200mm lens, and a water tight container that housed two video cameras and their mounting/cabling accessories. Ok, that took up all of the space. I still had my fleece jacket and a few other small items that just wouldn’t fit.

I reluctantly drug out my gym bag, which seemed to swallow everything up into a dark abyss. This isn’t going to fit under the seat at all. Plus, what am I going to take on the hiking trails? And then it hit me… I loaded everything in the back pack, and used a cloth grocery bag to hold my jacket and camera. Perfect!!

What a feeling to stroll through the airport with just my backpack and a small bag. To comply with the one carryon rule, I wore my jacket, stuffed my camera into the back pack, and rolled up the shopping bag. I made it with one bag after all; thankfully I didn’t have to open it till I arrived!

Freedom:
Wow, what a way to travel!! When it came to get off the plane, I just grabbed my pack and went outside to wait for my friend. No waiting for my luggage at the baggage claim, no lifting or wheeling thirty pounds of luggage around the airport.
At my friend’s house, I left the cameras in the pack, and swapped the clothes for snacks. Within a short time of arriving, I was on the ground exploring.

The rewards:
I’ve never traveled so light and it was fun. I enjoyed refreshing mountain streams nestled in the forests, scenic views from the tops of mountains, long waterfalls, and peaceful hikes through the forest.

Returning home was bittersweet, but now I know that I DON’T HAVE to take it all with me. Life is full of analogies and I couldn’t help but wonder if I could pack a little lighter in life. Hmmmm….that’s a whole different story.

If you get the opportunity to ditch the luggage and just grab your back pack and head out, you should try it. The freedom is addicting.

Pink Beds hiking trail

I hadn’t been to North Carolina in several years so I was excited for the opportunity to go hiking. As we followed the winding road through the forest, along the creek and waterfalls, the memories of the forest returned.

The Gatekeeper:

We grabbed our gear and head out on foot for the hiking trail. As we approached the trail, there was something different, or should I say someone different. With all due respect, the gentlemen reminded me of one of the Seven Dwarfs; chest length grey beard, round weathered face, and a hat. Leaning on a shovel, he softly said “the trail is temporarily closed”.

“Ok” we said and struck up a conversation and what a fascinating story unfolded. He was an Amish gentlemen responsible for about 5-6 teenage boys who were repairing the boardwalks on the trail. They traveled around the country and worked with the government to handle civic projects like these.

All the materials, lumber, nails, etc., were provided and they just supplied their skills and time. Considering how a lot of kids grow up facing a computer screen, it was refreshing to see boys out in the woods, using skills that their fathers had taught them. Skills that allowed them to create and build things; skills that allowed them to make a difference and leave a legacy.

We talked with the gentleman long enough that the boys came out with their supplies which paved the way for us to go hiking.

Looking for Pink Beds:

We encountered several boardwalks along the trail and I’m pretty sure I could easily drive my SUV over them without any problem. They were well built!!

What struck me is that these were more than just a boardwalk; they had history, meaning, and I had met the people who built them. Isn’t amazing how “normal” things become important once you know the history of them or meet the individuals responsible for their creation?

The hiking trail itself was a beautiful walk through the forest that crisscrossed a stream a number of times. At one point, there was a beach like area along the creek and we stopped and enjoyed the view of the crystal clear water and the forest. I put my hands in it and confirmed that the water was cold!!

I have yet to encounter a mountain stream that was warm, but that doesn’t stop me from putting my hands in itJ

We walked through places where the forest was thick and dark like an enchanted forest where you’d expect something to pop out. Other places the trees were sparse and plenty of wide open places perfect for picnics abounded.

Along the way, there are two different color trail markers and we wanted to stay on the loop trail. That worked well till we encountered an intersection that gave us the choice of “the other trail” or a trail with no markings. We quickly found that the trail with no markings dead ended at a stream, so we followed the only other option which was the correct way.

We made the entire loop, which seemed to go on for a lot longer than expected. Normally that’s okay, but the sun was starting to touch the tip of the mountains and once it goes behind, it’ll be dark quick.

Fortunately, all was well and it was a fun, scenic hike, with the added benefit of some interesting history.  And next time you cross a boardwalk, it may have been built by those group of teens.

For more information on the Pink Beds trail, go here and have fun!

http://www.exploreasheville.com/things-to-do/hiking-trails/pink-beds-trail/