Monday, August 13, 2018

Carver's Gap to Grassy Ridge Bald

The Carver's gap parking area is located on NC 261 at the NC/TN border 12.8 miles north of Bakersville, NC.  Cross the street and head up the Appalachian Trail. The hike to Grassy Ridge Bald is 5 miles round trip.

It is interesting hiking with kids sometimes.  Nonstop complaining the entire hike in.  Whine about their legs hurting, they are hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, have a blister, too windy, you name it.  But hiking back out not a peep.  To me hiking in to see that view at the end, that is the purpose.  To the kids, hiking back to the car is their time.  Now they are hiking with a purpose.  The wonderful purpose of going home.  Forget that gorgeous, magnificent once in a lifetime mountain view.  We want to see the van and that parking lot.  That beautiful parking lot. And sure enough as soon as that old van became visible their faces lit up as if it was Christmas morning.  Well also someone had told them they could have ice cream after the hike so that may have had something to do with it too.

See this hike was one of my first real tests to see how much hiking my kids could stand.  I had taken them on lots of 2-3 mile hikes so today we were stepping it up to 5.  And minus all the complaining, which they do hiking or not, it went really well.  I had fun and they got ice cream.  Plus I had been eyeing this trail for awhile now.  Seeing beautiful pictures of the hike online accompanied by 5 star reviews, I was very excited to finally get here.  So after parking, bathroom breaks, and my kids along with our friends' kids taking way to many pics by the sign, it was finally time.  We crossed the street and headed up the Appalachian Trail.

The trail begins with a short hike through the forest and then quickly opens up to grassy fields and endless views. Beautiful sights in every direction with Tennessee on your left and views into North Carolina on your right.  This stretch of the Appalachian Trail is part of the Roan Highlands which happens to be the longest stretch of grassy bald in the Appalachian Mountains.  The Appalachian Trail crosses Round Bald and Jane Bald before veering left at the obvious fork.  Here you head to the right for a short climb to reach the peak of Grassy Ridge Bald.  Standing at the top of Grassy Ridge we were treated to wide open fields of grass and wildflowers and sweeping views of the beautiful mountains all around.

After having lunch, enjoying the views, and taking lots and lots of pictures (and not just me taking way too many pics of mountains, I mean family pics standing in front of the mountains), we began our hike back.  Which was just turning around and hiking back on the same trail.  Though one really cool thing was now the sun had come out and most of the clouds had vanished.  This was great because on the hike in Tennessee was completely covered in fog.  Heading out was like a new hike now seeing all the great views into Tennessee.  So naturally I got left way behind as I constantly stopped to take pictures.  In fact this hike may be a problem for you if you already take too many pictures.  I actually think I had to fight the urge to take a photo every time I took a step.

So yeah, it really is that beautiful up there.  The open fields and 360 degree views leave you in awe.  It really reminded me of hiking out west up above where the vegetation grows.  It really has that feel to it.  The entire hike is simple and pretty easy on the legs combined with 5 miles of beautiful views.  We were staying several days in Beech Mountain so the hour drive to Carver's Gap was worth every minute.  

Speaking of Beech Mountain, the town's extensive trail system ran through the backyard of the house we rented.  It was really fun to step outside and head down the trails to some beautiful cascades, a few waterfalls and tons of wildlife.   I always really enjoy the Beech Mountain and Banner Elk area.  Plus I was greeted by this unusual sight at the very bottom of the mountain:

More pics from the hike:
Fog in the morning.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Profile Trail to Grandfather Mountain

Hiking to the swinging bridge via the Profile Trail is 5.2 miles and 6.4 if you add in a stop at Calloway Peak.  The trailhead is located at 4198 NC Highway 105 N, Banner Elk (GPS: 36.119767, -81.835001)

The week was quickly rolling by and we were yet to complete our traditional brothers only hike.  This was were my brothers and I would go hiking all day and the wives watch all the children.  Which, if you ask me, is a great tradition.  But I had been so busy forcing the children to tirelessly hike nonstop each and every day that it was already Thursday. And now we only had one full day left.  So by default, Friday became our kid-less hike day and all the children rejoiced.

We had decided to do the Grandfather Mountain Trail.  The trail is full of ladders and cables as you trek up and over exposed cliffs and large rock outcroppings. The entire trail is basically on top of a mountain as you carefully climb the many peaks while doing your best not to fall to your death.  And believe me there are more than numerous places on the hike you do not want to slip.  But though it may sound scary and the pictures online may have frightened me significantly, actually doing it wasn't that bad.  It is actually really cool and lots of fun.

However, one thing that was not cool at all is the Profile Trail.  I really hate the Profile Trail and my knees despise it.  The day had already begun on a bad note as the sun was nowhere to be seen in the completely cloud covered sky.  Then making things worse I had to hike the Profile Trail.  While it originally began as a nice stroll down to the scenic river things quickly changed.  The trail immediately cuts away from the beautiful stream and begins its hellish 3 mile nonstop climb.  Up and up it goes as it endlessly climbs.  And the worse it yet to come.  That last 0.3 miles, just after you pass Shanty Spring, completely kicked my butt.  The trail seriously went straight up.  My legs hurt now just thinking about it and I will just add that I did my fair share of resting during this endeavor.  But the sad part was, after packing on so much holiday weight, I had made a concerted effort to get back into shape much earlier this time.  I started in January so by July I felt great and looked pretty good.  I was confident and ready for a summer of hiking.  But I quickly realized I was not at all ready for this hike.

Here is what it looked like along with me falling so far behind:

Then as I couldn't possibly go any longer I caught a glimpse of that beautiful sign that read "Grandfather Mountain Trail" up at the intersection ahead.  To the left would take you a short distance to see Calloway Peak.  To the right is Attic Window Peak, MacRae Peak, and the swinging bridge parking lot where the hike ends.  Now I really wanted to see the view from Calloway Peak but that wasn't happening. I mentioned earlier it was a very cloudy day, well on top of that now it was a extremely foggy day too.  It just happened that a swirling thick fog was totally engulfing the mountain.  And while it was pretty cool and mysterious to hike through the fog, the views were non-existent.  So we went ahead and made our way towards Attic Window Peak while hoping the fog would eventually clear.

Once on the Grandfather Mountain Trail things got much easier.  Though minus the one wrong step and you fall to your death part.  But stamina wise, I felt rejuvenated as the elevation change was now very minimal.  Plus it was much more enjoyable climbing up, down, over and through the rocks.  Most of the hike now is on open rock with spectacular views in every direction.  Well the views I could see when the floating fog had a break or gap.  It was a really neat experience and very enjoyable.  Below are some pics showing the hike and a few of those spectacular views in those rare moments I could actually see something.

Hiking along past Attic Window, which was completely engulfed in fog, next up came MacRae Peak.  And as we got closer the ladders and cables became more abundant.  This was definitely my favorite part and so much fun.  Climbing down and through huge and steep rocks all the while reassuring yourself you wouldn't fall.  It was a little scary in places but a great feeling looking back on it now. Here's a few shots of the adventure from the trail:

After MacRae Peak it's not much further until you reach the parking lot and swinging bridge.  This is the stretch when you start to see the swarms of people.  People that parked at the bridge and ventured onto the trail.  The many people with no idea where they were going, clothes you wouldn't hike in, no water, and always with a questions of what is up ahead.  So we kept trekking on all the while explaining the trail to almost everyone we passed.  Eventually reaching the parking lot, I felt very relieved.  I was beat and my knees were now killing me. Just up ahead was a gift shop and a restroom.  I couldn't have been happier.  And for some reason I saw that store and I was craving an ice cold Coke.  I hardly ever drink any soda so this was going to be a treat.  And I was legitimately very excited about it.  Entering the store I headed for the bathroom and next for the drink cooler.  5 bucks.  5 freaking bucks they wanted for a Coke.  Sadly I declined and headed up to check out the swinging bridge.

Standing in front of the impressive Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge was like stepping back into a childhood memory.  I had been here once before and I could vaguely remember it was a frightening ordeal.  It was hard to remember all the details but I knew the bridge moved and the bridge was scary.  Now, many and I mean many years later, it was just a neat looking bridge.  A neat bridge that took you to some nice views of the mountains.  Some very great views that while beautiful would not be worth the price of admission as there are so many places around here that you can see these gorgeous views for free. But if you were planning on seeing the swinging bridge while also hiking the Grandfather Mountain trail, then yeah it's probably worth the price.  Just standing on top of the peaks, soaking in the views while not having to hike the Profile Trail; yeah that's definitely worth it.

Anyways if you are looking to hike the Grandfather Mountain Trail, also known as the ladders and cable trail, you have three choices.  Hike the Profile Trail to Grandfather Mountain Trail, hike the Daniel Boone Scout Trail ,which goes through Calloway Peak, before connecting to the Grandfather Mountain Trail, or pay 20 bucks and drive right up to the trailhead along with the swinging bridge.  We obviously, from reading above, hiked up from the Profile Trail.  This made the most sense for us as my brother's wife paid the admission fee, picked us up at the swinging bridge, and drove us back to my car parked at the Profile Trail.  This was awesome since we didn't have to hike back and worked out because my car was right on the way back to the mountain house.

So if I were going to do it again I probably just pay the money and park at the trail, avoiding that Profile Trail which I loathe.  Though whatever you choose will be lots of fun and very memorable.  Grandfather Mountain Trail is a challenging and great adventure full of spectacular views. But, the best part is I get to tell you twenty dollar paying suckers that I walked the Mile High Swinging Bridge for free.  Though the opportunity has not come up in my everyday conversations, yet.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dismal Falls

Coming from Brevard head west on Highway 64 and get on N 281.  After you pass Slick Fisher Rd. on your left take the next left on to Winding Gap Rd.  It is about 6 miles and there was a small sign that said Trails at the turn. Next take the gravel road that forks right.  Drive to the end of the road and park.  The trail begins behind the gate.  Dismal Falls is 150 ft. tall and a 4.3 mile out and back hike.

Dismal Falls had been on my to-do list for probably five or six years.  Though it felt like anything I read about the hike was filled with warnings and words like danger, dangerous, and more danger. Things such as: the trail is impossible to follow so you will get lost forever, the climb is extremely steep so you're going to fall, and don't fall because no one can get there to help you.  Anyways, I may be embellishing a bit, but I pretty much read enough to convince me that hiking it with my wife meant our children would become orphans.  Figuring my kids at least needed a mother, I needed to look for someone else to plunge to my death with.  So finally, when the annual family vacation ended up in Brevard, I decided my brothers would make perfect victims.  So now after many years the day was actually here.  It was time for the long awaited hike to Dismal Falls.

But first, let me just add one more thing.  Unfortunately, during my visit this region was in a severe drought.  As it is very evident in all the pictures that I took.  To see these waterfalls at their best you need look elsewhere.  And though this really bummed me out, it was still a fun hike, neat area, and great experience.  So anyways, we arrived at the trail around 9 am, I parked the car and we headed on our way.

Not long into our journey, we were accosted by two large and angry wild dogs.  Barking, growling, teeth showing, their game of intimidation was working.  We stopped dead in our tracks and I pondered what to do.  Here I was, eager and excited to do this hike.  Patiently waiting as the years rolled by for this one moment.  All my hopes and dreams blocked by two dogs.  Two dogs standing just up ahead actually blocking the trail.  And just as my hope was fading, from a distance I hear the voices of two young ladies calling and yelling the dogs' names.  They quickly scampered away and we were on our way.

Following the path, at just around a half mile there is a small spur trail heading to the right.  This short path takes you to Aunt Sally's Falls.  It's about 25-30 ft. tall and not very impressive.  And on a day like today it wasn't even worth the stop except for checking it off my list.  Nevertheless here's a pic of Aunt Sally Fall's that day:

The trail continues with creek crossings, under the power lines, through the white pines to a split (where you go left), through a campsite, and to the ascent of a very steep ridge.  I won't even try to give detailed directions to the waterfalls.  I had enough trouble myself, but thankfully I was saved by wonderful flagging tape.  And as long as it is still there you should be okay.  But I would plan on having great directions just in case.

Continuing on the trail, just before the treacherous ridge climb you will come to an unnamed waterfall seen here:

Even further up the ridge a small side trail heads right and leads you to the beautiful 70 foot Rhapsodie Falls.  The area kind of feels like you climbed down into a rainforest with its lush green glow totally surrounding you.  I stayed here quite awhile taking in the scenery, though I was mostly waiting on a cloud, any cloud, to hide the sun for just one quick moment.  But it never came and atlas I never quite got that picture I hoped for.  I reluctantly gave up and we headed back up to the main trail.

Rhapsodie Falls

From everything I had ever read describing this trail and everything that ever made me think twice about this hike; now was what they were talking about.  This was the point they were referring to. The last 0.25 miles of the hike.  It sounds short, it sounds quick, but you will never forget it.  The trail up the ridge becomes extremely steep.  Up and up it goes to the very top.  And once you cant go any higher, a faint, impossible to see path heads left down the gorge.  Thankfully there was flagging tape marking the spot.

When I say heading down the gorge I mean heading straight down.  It is steeper than steep and you need ropes to even make it down. Luckily there just so happens to be ropes tied to the trees to help with the descent.  And when there isn't a rope you are hugging trees to keep from toppling over.  And though it is extremely hard to even stand up, before you know it you are popping through the trees and standing at the bottom of a magnificent waterfall.

Staring up at Dismal Falls, the 150 ft. waterfall is massive.  The depth of the waterfall really gets lost in the pictures though.  It is a beautiful, it is secluded, and if only it had more water then it would be on my list of top waterfalls seen. I'm still a little bummed about this drought. But the area is really cool and you can even hike up the side of the falls to reach to top section.

Near the top of Dismal Falls.  Unfortunately, you can notice the low amount of water flow. 

Now as fun as it is hiking straight down a gorge, imagine how easy and non-tiring it is trying to get back up.  My body was not prepared for the trek back up.  I probably would have to go back to high school for that to be the case.  But since that's not possible, today it was exhausting, draining, leg killing, and not enjoyable at all.  The only good news is though it feels never ending, it is actually pretty short.  And once you do reach the top, hiking back to the car is a breeze.  

This trail was a lot of fun.  The entire area just feels so secluded and remote.  And though we did meet up with the young ladies and their now friendly dogs at the base of Dismal Falls, we didn't see any other hikers that day.

Another thing is there is supposed to be a trail to a waterfall below Dismal Falls but I totally missed it.  That was my biggest problem with the area, not the steepness at the end, but trying to figure out where I was going.  It was tricky and I know I wouldn't have made it without the flagging tape hung throughout the trail.  This made the hike a little uneasy but still a great time.

Here are a few more pics from the hike:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

If I was going to describe Rocky Mountain National Park in one word I think it would be breathtaking.  Except, I'm not sure I have actually ever used that word.  In fact, I can't recall any instance where I have actually said it aloud.  But that is exactly what Rocky Mountain National Park is, breathtaking.

It's a place where whenever you look up you stop and stare in disbelief.  Everything you see is amazing and unbelievable. Beautiful, huge mountains up above and all around.  The most incredible and pristine lakes you can imagine.  The greenest, tallest, most perfectly straight trees that grow to the sky.  Beauty all the way up to the truly unique alpine tundra where plant life just disappears.  Astonishing sights you never want to take your eyes off.

By now you probably get the point, the place is gorgeous.  So I will stop telling you how aesthetically pleasing it is and just post a little bit about how I spent my way too short two days there plus a bunch of pictures. Mostly just pictures.

And just know that now whenever i hear the word breathtaking, I will think back to Rocky Mountain National Park. Fondly reminiscing those wonderful views as I strolled through the park.  Or I may think about the Seinfeld episode where Elaine is smitten after the doctor calls her breathtaking, then troubled when he later calls the ugly baby breathtaking too.  Either way I will never forget those beautiful views.

Day 1:

We arrived at the Bear Lake trailhead just before 7 am.  I had spent a ton of time reading and pondering my options. And since we only had two days in the park, I really wanted to get the most bang for my buck.  I eventually settled on a hike referred to as The Four Lakes Loop.  It started at Bear Lake, went to Nymph and Dream Lake, next to Hiayha Lake and then on to Alberta Falls.  Lastly, from the falls the path connected back up to Bear Lake. And as a bonus stop, Emerald Lake could be seen with an extra 1.3 mile hike, bringing the total hike to a little over 7 miles.

Heading up the trail I was a little nervous.  My friend had warned me about altitude sickness, so naturally I spent a good chunk of time checking out the numerous horror stories on the internet. While also reading many stories from people that never even noticed it.  Having no idea where I would fall on the spectrum, I naturally assumed the worse. I had already played out numerous worst case scenarios in my head.  Ones that led me to the hospital, which then led to the discovery of deadly diseases, then ultimately my demise.

Shortly into the hike I did feel a slight shortness of breath come over me.  But soon after slowing my pace down it disappeared and I felt great.  So great that I was zipping up and down the trails, hopping up and down the rocks, trekking all around, and even exploring some inviting areas off the trail.  I was no longer worried about altitude sickness, feeling fine, as I joyfully skipped down the beautiful trails.

On and On we hiked.  Walking from lake to lake in complete awe of the surroundings. Gorgeous lakes with perfect picturesque mountain backdrops, numerous small waterfalls and cascades, deer and elk that were plentiful, and awesome views in every direction.  Everything was so beautiful and every step so exciting.

Going into hour 6 of our 8 hour hike is when the altitude finally really hit me.  It started as a migraine and then it kept getting worse and worse.  By the time we got close to Alberta Falls I was completely miserable.  I couldn't remember my head ever hurting that bad as the pain became almost unbearable. I just wanted to be lying in bed with my eyes closed and my body absolutely still.  I wanted to be anywhere but walking on this trail.

The next wonderful thing to come were the people.  The people were everywhere as apparently being one of the shortest hikes in the park, it makes sense that Alberta Falls is also one of the most popular. Seven miles in and I was starting to believe dying may be a better option than finishing this hike. So you can imagine how joyous and inspirational it was to see all the smiling, laughing, non perspiring, flip flop wearing, only walked a half mile from my car people breezing by me.  Each one shunning me to the side as if I were holding up their precious lives.

Then things got even worse as next came the nausea and dizziness. I was done.  I could no longer enjoy this place, no longer appreciate the great beauty.  I just wanted to get off this trail now.  Though unfortunately, I still had 0.7 miles to the car.  An even better it was entirely uphill.  At this point I felt like death, complete misery. Then came the rain.

I'm still not sure how, but I did make it back to the car that day.  At that point I felt so bad everything was kind of a blur.  One thing I do remember and will never forget is my friend suggesting some protein would help me.  Luckily he had a nice bag of turkey jerky too.  I wont describe what happened when I took a huge mouthful (I'm getting sick just typing about it) but lets just say I haven't had turkey jerky since and I have no desire to ever eat it again.  And who knows it may have been really great turkey jerky but that feeling my body had when i began chewing it shall forever haunt me.

After getting back to the hotel and laying down a few hours I felt so much better.  Really tired, but back to normal and ready for tomorrow.  Though I was kind of bummed I missed Bear Lake which is probably the easiest hike in the park.  I had originally planned to see it on the way out, but with the way I felt at the time, I wanted no part of Bear Lake.  However, sickness aside, it was an awesome day with many great sights.

Nymph Lake
Dream Lake

Emerald Lake

Lake Haiyaha
Alberta Falls

Day 2:

For my second day I had the grandest of plans.  Get up extra super early and head up Trail Ridge Road, hike a bunch of miles to a mountain's summit, back down, then finish driving Trail Ridge Road while stopping and seeing all the sights along the way.

It was a great plan indeed.  One I even spent many hours perfecting and rehearsing.  And yet it would never come to fruition.  But honestly, I knew the night before it had no chance.  Looking at my friend that evening, I don't even think I can describe how tired he looked.  I didn't  know it was possible for a face to look that exhausted.  So when he went to bed around 7 pm, I had my doubts about day 2.  In fact, that morning around 5 am when my alarm went off, I could see and hear that I had no shot at waking him up.  So I decided to let him sleep.  And when I almost couldn't take being in the hotel any longer, thankfully he decided 15 hours of sleep was enough.  So we finally headed out, grabbed something to eat, and made our way back to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Now at this point any summit hike was out of the question.  As you have to do them really early because you don't want to be caught on top of a mountain when the afternoon storms roll through and no shelter is to be found.  So we skipped the hike and went on to the other part of my plan, Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, almost 48 miles long, and world famous.  It reaches 12,000 feet at its highest point with 11 miles above the treeline.  So I assumed on one's first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park you must drive it.

Starting on the Estes Park side we drove Trail Ridge Road until it ends at Grand Lake.  Stopping at each and every pullout along the way I tried my best to capture the beautiful scenes.  But with the cloudy skies and changing weather I had a difficult time.  In fact, I wasn't very happy with any photos on day 2.  Nevertheless, here are some below.

Photos aside, it was still a pretty good second day.  And while I still feel Trail Ridge Road is a must do on your first visit,  I much prefer hiking to driving.  I enjoyed all the sights along the way but it was too much in and out of the car for me.  I would take hours of wandering through trails any day.  All together, a fun trip full of some of the most beautiful sights I've ever laid eyes on.  Just way, way too short.

Adam's Falls (main drop).