Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 25, 2015 - Pisgah Forest near Brevard

Our plans for returning to Mortimer this coming week were canceled with the forecast of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday.  We'll have to come up with another camping plan for later in the week into the week end.  We both really wanted to get out today and decided to head into the Pisgah once again.  The colors around this area are really popping and we didn't feel like driving too far.  As soon as we passed the stone pillars on 276, the 'oooo's and ahhhh's' began.  The color along the road was absolutely amazing.

Our first stop was to be the Daniel Ridge Loop trail.  We were hoping that this color would also be along the Davidson River in that area.  The parking area was nearly full when we got there and there were quite a few people camping in the dispersed sites nearby and along the trail.  Unfortunately, the color was better along the trail than it was along the river.  It was still nice, but more yellows and only a few reds. 

We made it as far as where the trail turns to the right to follow Right Fork, then decided to try our luck someplace else. Before we headed back to the car, we did go up and check out Daniel Ridge Falls.
Daniel Ridge Falls

From here we wanted to check out a view of Looking Glass Rock from the Bennett Gap Trail, so we headed down to FR477.  The color along this gravel road was spectacular as we leisurely made our way up to the trail head.  Unfortunately, the good light for this view was in the morning and it was now about 2PM.  We thought we had time to make it up to the Parkway for a view of the Rock before the light faded.  Everybody and their brother apparently had the same idea, but that was to be expected on a Sunday afternoon.  The color along the rest of 276 up to the Parkway and then on the Parkway was beautiful.  By now though, it was late afternoon and overcast, so the pictures of Looking Glass Rock turned out horrible.  All the Photoshopping in the world wasn't going to help these, so I have nothing to show.  Our last hope for the day was maybe something along 276 as we headed back down the mountain.  Our next stop was Sliding Rock.  The color was pretty good around the slide and there were actually 2 people sliding.

Sliding Rock

From there we pulled over at the cascades on Looking Glass Creek right next to the road just a short distance from Sliding Rock.  We spent quite a bit of time here before heading back to the house to consider our next outing.

October 22, 2015 - Heading Home via the Blue Ridge Parkway

Today was check out day from the campground for us.  We thought we'd just cruise the Parkway back and make a few stops along the way.  The shortest route to the BRP from the campground is to get back on FR464 and take it until it ends at Old Jonas Ridge Rd near the Parkway.  We both noticed that the color had really picked up along 464 in the day and a half since we were here last.  Below is a shot from one of the most colorful sections, but we said a lot of 'Wow's!' along the entire stretch of road.  Our plan was to restock supplies, let the week end crowds die down, and head back to Mortimer on the following Monday.

along FR464

There's a quaint little church - Long Ridge Baptist Church - right where  FR464 ends and the trees around it were gorgeous also.  We had to pull in for some shots.

Long Ridge Baptist Church

Once we got back up on the Parkway near Linville, the color along the road dulled quite a bit and didn't pick up again until we dropped in elevation.  We did pull in to the Chestoa View overlook - the color was nice, but nothing spectacular.

Chestoa View

The Crabtree Meadows area was really colorful, but we weren't feeling a hike to the waterfall.  Instead, we got off the Parkway on NC80 north and headed for FR472 which goes past the Black Mountain Campground.  That area was really colorful also, and we stopped several times to enjoy the scenery.  Once we got to the bridge over the right prong of the South Toe River, the sun was low enough to be off the waterfall just up creek from the bridge.  I have more on that area on my site here.

Right Prong South Toe River

The cascades above that were really nice also and we ended up hanging out in that area for about an hour or so.  About a mile farther up FR472, we connected back on to the Parkway and continued heading towards Asheville.  The last picture of the day is from an overlook before Mount Mitchell.  The color was nice, but more on the down side of peak.

view near Mount Mitchell entrance

That was true until we got closer to Asheville where we drove past several sections of brilliant color.  By this time however, the sun was low and we were driving into it which back lights the leaves and really makes the colors pop.  We made it back home late afternoon, unloaded the car, and began planning our next outing. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

October 21, 2015 - Harper Creek and Raider Camp trails loop hike

Even though today was to be another sunny day, we wanted to get a nice hike in that included waterfalls.  This loop is just under 10 miles and includes 2 falls that I've been wanting to return to.  The Harper Creek Trail (#260) begins on SR1328 a little over a mile from the Mortimer campground.  Parking used to be along the road, but there's now a small parking area just off the road with a 'mile 7.0' sign on a pole.  We didn't make a special effort to get an early start, but still began the hike just before 9AM.

The trail begins by ascending kind of steeply for about 1/4 mile before leveling out at a camp site at the intersection of the Yellow Buck Trail (#265).  The trail then becomes an easy hike as it heads towards Harper Creek Falls which was to be our first stop.  My last trip to this waterfall was back in 2008 and you can read the trail description (which now needs updating) here.  We first stopped at the upper overlook to the waterfall, then I went down to the base for a look.  By now the sun was becoming a photographer's enemy, so I only took enough shots to post something here.  The trees above the waterfall did show a lot of color, but they were in the sun and the waterfall was in the shade.  We could also tell that plenty of 2 legged pigs had been here from the trash that had been left.  There were even clothes and towels left behind.  I wish people like that would just stay home.

top of Harper Creek Falls
Harper Creek Falls

We had to backtrack a bit to pick up the Harper Creek Trail which is now shared with a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail.  A friend of mine and I had hiked this same loop in 2008 and I apparently forgot that the trail crosses Harper Creek several times on the way up to South Harper Creek Falls.  When Cindy and I got the the 1st crossing, we took off out shoes and socks to keep them dry, but when we looked at the map and saw how many more crossings we had, we just shook our heads and hoped the rest of the crossings would be on rocks.  When we got to the next one, there were no rocks and we just accepted the fact that we would have wet boots the rest of the day.  None of the crossings were dry, but none were more than knee deep, so they weren't dangerous at all.  All but 2 of the dozen or so crossings were before we got to South Harper Creek Falls.  At least it was a warm day and the leaf color was nice.

along Harper Creek

South Harper Creek Falls is a very interesting waterfall geologically speaking.  There's another way in to this waterfall that I describe on my site here, but the way we were coming, we got to the base of the falls first.  We could see the base from the trail, but it's a scramble and rock hop to get there.  I really wanted to go up there, but we were just over the half way point in the hike and it was already 3PM, so we decided against it.  The trail continues up towards the top of the falls, but it's now very eroded and needs some work - and it's steep.  Once we reached the top of the falls, we took a break before getting our feet wet once again crossing over Harper Creek to pick up the Raider Camp Trail (#277).

top of South Harper Creek Falls

I had forgotten that there's also another waterfall above South Harper Creek Falls until I saw it as soon as we crossed.  I didn't think we had time to stop, so we pressed on.  The next stop was the cliff overlook of South Harper Creek Falls.  One slip or trip here and the vultures will be circlin', so be careful!

South Harper Creek Falls from the overlook

From here, the trail widened and became more of an interstate compared to what we were on along Harper Creek.  We were able to make up some good time along this section, and we were also now heading downhill.  The trail also picked up Raider Camp Creek on the way down and at one point I could hear and barely see a waterfall down the steep slope.  There was no good way down, so I had to pass this one up - but marked it on the GPS for a return trip.  We knew we had to make one final creek crossing and we got to it about 5:30.  The Raider Camp Trail crosses Harper Creek at some campsites we passed earlier in the day before we got to Harper Creek Falls and this crossing was a wet one also.  After the crossing, we reconnected back on to the Harper Creek Trail and had 40 minutes of squishy hiking back to the vehicle.  We were both whipped and had pruny feet,  but Cindy knocked a couple of tough trails off her list for the new book.  This may have been the hardest hike I've done with her and she was a real trooper.  I'm so fortunate that she's my Sweetie and we get to spend this time of our lives together.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

October 20, 2015 - Big and Little Lost Cove Cliffs

Today's forecast called for a sunny, blue sky day so we decided to do hikes that had views.  First on the list was Big Lost Cove Cliffs.  From the campground, we took a right on NC90, drove a couple of miles, then turned left on the gravel FR464 (Pineola Rd).  The trail head is closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway end of FR464, so we had several miles along this dusty road. The leaf color along the road was really nice with a lot of reds from sourwoods and gums, but peak color was still days away.

The trail (#271) to the cliffs is listed at 1.7 miles and easy, but if you're not in decent shape you'll argue with the easy part.  I'd give it a moderate rating because of a steeper section and some tricky footing along parts of the trail.  The trail is easy to follow, but at the end it bears to the left to head out on the cliffs.  If you take the fainter trail straight ahead at this point, you come out in a really nice camp site.  The color in the tree tops along the trail was really nice, but not yet peak.

along the trail to Big Lost Cove Cliffs

There's ample room on the rocks to lounge around and enjoy the excellent view towards Grandfather Mountain and the Parkway.  If you bring kids, keep a close eye on them. They call these cliffs for a reason - if you fall off you die. Here are 3 pictures, then a video with me walking around the area with a GoPro.

We spent a good amount of time here and had the place to ourselves the entire time.  We wanted to get in an afternoon hike also, and decided on the nearby Little Lost Cove Cliffs.  The trail to these cliffs (#271A) has 2 trail heads along FR464.  We picked the first one we came to heading back down 464.  This trail is listed at 1.3 miles and most difficult, but we didn't see anything difficult about it at all - another moderate if you are in decent shape.  You don't do the entire trail either - you go up, then come back down the same way to your vehicle.  The tricky part is remembering which way to go on the trail once you leave the cliffs.  The way we went, the side trail to the cliff area is on the left, so coming back out you would turn to the right to get back down.  If you turn left on the main trail by mistake, you'll end up at the other parking area and have more than a mile hike along the road back to your vehicle - that is if you walk the correct way along the road.

along the trail to Little Lost Cove Cliffs

Anywho - it took us about 15-20 minutes of steady uphill hiking to get to the side trail to the cliffs.  The color along this trail was even nicer than along Big Lost Cove Cliffs.  The side trail is obvious, but isn't marked.  It leads a short distance to a big rock, then you climb up for your first view.  After that, look to the right for some more rocks that you have to climb up through for the better views.  There's plenty of room up here also, but again - steep drop offs.  The view is in the same direction as from Big LLC, but from a different angle.  Below are some photos and when I get the time, I'll add a video.

Again, we had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours.  We got back to the camp site around 5, so I headed to the back of the campground and up the Thorps Creek Trail for about 5 minutes to the waterfall. The light was fading fast, but it was better than trying to shoot in the middle of the sunny day.  After our showers, we enjoyed another delicious meal that Cindy had prepared and another chilly evening around the campfire.

waterfall on Thorps Creek

Friday, October 23, 2015

October 19, 2015 - Day 1 Camping at Mortimer Campground - waterfalls on Phillips Branch

Cindy just finished her second book - Southern Appalachian Day Hikes - North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway Edition and is ready to get started on her 3rd which will be day hikes in the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah.  The Wilson Creek area is in this district, so that's where we headed for a few days of car camping.  We had considered Linville Falls Campground again, but decided to take a chance on the small Pisgah campground in Mortimer.

Mortimer Campground is located on SR90 a very short distance from where SR1328 dead ends into SR90.  I have more info on how to get to the area in the Wilson Creek section of my web site.  Camp sites are first come only (no reservations), so you take a chance when you head that way that the campground won't be full.  But this little campground has hot showers, and Linville doesn't.  I had stayed here years ago and it was a nice campground at the time.  There's not much info online about it and the info varies quite a bit.  Several years ago, some of the individual sites were closed because of potential flooding.  The campground now has 15 sites with one of those sites being for a small group of campers.  The fee is $10 per night ($20 for the group camp spot) and the campground still does have 2 men and 2 women hot shower stalls and flush toilets.

We got to the campground about mid day and didn't have a problem finding a site.  Only 3 other sites were taken and the camp host later said that there are usually sites available during the week, but the campground usually fills up on the week ends.  After setting up camp, we decided to go ahead and eat the big meal of the day before heading out on a hike.

Our first hike of the trip was the Phillips Branch Trail (#252).  There's a waterfall along this trail that we had been to back in January 2011, but Cindy is including the entire trail in her book. I have the hike to the waterfall on this page of my site, but haven't updated it yet with this latest info.  The main waterfall is about 1/2 a mile up the trail.  Neither one of us remembered the view from the trail being this good, so Cindy wondered if maybe some trees had fallen or had been cut.  The waterfall is about 30-40' high and is very nice with good flow.  If you are in the area, it's worth a stop.

waterfall on Phillips Branch

From here, the trail continues up towards the top of the falls, but is a little hard to follow.  We noticed a ribbon on a tree indicating the trail heading a little right before bearing back to the left and up.  It's more of a goat trail at this point and really needs some work.  Once past this sketchy area, the trail leads to a nice safe rocky area at the top of the waterfall.  There's another small waterfall up here also.

top of the waterfall
small waterfall above the main falls

The trail then crosses at the top of the main falls, continues up and passes another 10' waterfall before crossing the creek again.
small waterfall on Phillips Branch
The trail continues to follow Phillips Branch up a ways, then follows a tributary of Phillips Branch before reaching an unmarked intersection with the Pine Ridge Trail (#255).  There's not much point of going this far unless you intend to use 255 to reach another destination. Here's a video of the waterfalls -

We didn't get back to the camp site until about 6:30 and by then it was beginning to get dark.  Night time temps were supposed to get in the low 30's, so I got a fire started, Cindy fixed us a snack and we started planning tomorrow's hike.

us around the campfire

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22, 2015 - summary of our last 4 days

Cindy and I headed out on Monday for 3 nights of camping in the Wilson Creek area.  It may take me a couple of days to process pictures and videos, so here's a short summary of the color situation.

We camped at Mortimer Campground and got there via I-40, NC181, and Brown Mountain Beach Rd.  As we passed through the Wilson Creek gorge, there was some spotty color along the creek and still a lot of green.  It was mid day and the sun was rather harsh. FR464 showed a lot of nice color on Tuesday as we headed towards Big and Little Lost Cove Cliffs.  Both the trails showed a lot of brilliant color in the tree tops as we were hiking, but there were green trees also.  The views showed patches of nice color below and nice color in the higher elevations in the surrounding mountains.  We could see Grandfather Mountain and of course the leaves are gone in the highest elevations.  On Wednesday, we did an 8 mile loop along Harper Creek, then back along the Raider Camp Trail. The trees above Harper Creek Falls were very colorful, but the sun made shooting a nightmare.  There was spotty color along the creek, more color when we got to South Harper Creek Falls, then more color along the Raider Camp Trail.

We wanted to take the Parkway back today, so we took FR464 from the campground.  There were sections of brilliant color and it looked like the color had really picked up since 2 days ago. Once on the Parkway, the color was mostly gone around Linville, but picked up once we got descended in elevation.  There were several sections of really nice color before we got to Hwy 80.  We exited there, went north and headed towards FR472 with the intention of following that past the Black Mountain Campground, then on to connect back up to the Parkway.  The color was really nice along the South Toe River and in the surrounding mountains. This was a very nice detour.  Around Mount Mitchell, the leaves are gone, but the lower elevations show a lot of peak color.  Towards Craggy, a lot of the leaves are past peak and showing that bronze color.  Heading towards Asheville, there were some pockets of brilliant color along the road. We were heading into the sun, so these leaves were back lit.

This week end should be a zoo along the Parkway, so good luck if you go.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

October 16, 2015 - Cove Creek, Pisgah National Forest

Today's forecast included a lot of sunshine, so we decided to do a hike with a view.  We didn't want to fight the crowds on the Parkway, so we both agreed on the hike to Pilot Rock off of Yellow Gap Rd (FR1206).  We did this hike last year also, but it has a great view and we figured there wouldn't be that people on the trail.  The drive up US276 from Brevard was very colorful, but there are still a lot of trees that haven't changed yet.  The section of road that goes past Pink Beds was especially colorful with a lot of reds in the mix.  Yellow Gap Rd was quite colorful also, but at 3 miles in we found the road gated just past the right turn for FR476.  There had been reports of Facebook about the road being closed, but nothing on the Forest Service web site.

So again we needed a Plan B.  The first part of that plan was to stop at the Barnett Branch Trail which crosses Yellow Gap Rd 1.3 miles from 276.  There's a small waterfall about 10-15 minutes up the trail that we wanted to check out.  The hike to the falls was nice with a lot of yellows along the trail, but the waterfall wasn't flowing like we thought it would be.  We snapped some pictures anyway, then headed back to the vehicle.

part of the waterfall along the Barnett Branch Trail

Instead of the hike to a view idea, Cindy suggested that we hike to the waterfalls in Cove Creek just past the fish hatchery on FR475.  That sounded good to me, so we headed that way.  On the way back down 276, I wanted to pull over at the cascades along Looking Glass Creek past Sliding Rock.  There was some nice fall color mixed in with the deep green rhododendron, but also some very bright sunshine.  There are also a couple of picnic tables here and it's worth a stop any time of the year.
cascade on Looking Glass Creek

It was around noon and by now there were a lot of people out and about.  Moore Cove Falls parking had a lot of vehicles as did Looking Glass Falls.  The parking for Looking Glass Rock along 475 was a zoo.  The viewing area from the rock isn't that big and I can't imagine the hike being that much fun with that many people.  As we passed the fish hatchery, we glanced up at John Rock and weren't really impressed with the colors up there.  The parking area for Cove Creek isn't very big, but we managed to get a spot.  There's a big mountain bike rally there this week end and I expect the area to be packed.  The hike up the road towards the camp sites showed some nice colors in the canopy. We decided to save the cascades on the right for the way back and headed towards the small waterfall on the right just past the 1st group camp area.

small waterfall in Cove Creek campground

After enjoying this spot for a bit, we headed up the trail towards Cove Creek Falls.  Again, there was some nice fall color in the canopy, but still a lot of green also.  We were pleasantly surprised to find nice color above Cove Creek Falls.  To get a good view of the falls, you have to wade across the creek.  We had both put sandals in the car, but almost forgot them when we headed out on the hike.  Luckily, Cindy remembered just as we were leaving the vehicle.  The sun was making shooting the waterfall difficult, but it was lighting up the trees nicely and the blue sky above the waterfall looked good too. We spent quite a bit of time here before heading back.

Cove Creek Falls

By now there were people setting up in the campground for the big bike event. We did stop at the cascades along Cove Creek for a few shots before heading back home.

cascade along Cove Creek

We may or may not hit the trail this week end.  We have a several day camping trip planned for next week in the Wilson Creek area that we need to prepare for.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 12, 2015 - NC215 North and Sam Knob

Today's outing was to be in the area of the Parkway around NC215.  We had several options in mind, but wanted to check the situation once we got to that area.  The morning started out foggy, but it lifted quickly once we got to the Parkway and we were in for a sunny day.  We had considered rehiking the Mountains to Sea Trail north of 215 to the view, but the color at the highest elevations is gone.  Our next option was the Flat Laurel Creek trail from 215 up to Wildcat Falls.  Today is the first day of bear hunting season and we passed several pick up trucks of hunters and dogs.  If you are on a main trail in the area, you shouldn't have a problem, but I wore my blaze orange hat anyway.  The creek near the trail head was still up from the recent rains, but we managed to get across on the log and rocks without getting our feet too wet.  Not to far up the trail from here is a small double waterfall.  Sunny skies are nice for hiking and leaf peeping, but not so much for photography.  The trees were in the sun and the waterfall in the shade and this is about the best I could do.

waterfall along Flat Laurel Creek Trail

The first part of this trail parallels 215 at a higher elevation at we had views across the road to some of the color on that side.

view across 215 from the trail

Looking up along parts of the trail revealed some brilliant sun-lit color above the shady trail. Unfortunately the light was the same at the waterfall, but it was worth it just to see the color.

along the trail to Wildcat Falls
Wildcat Falls

The trail continues up to the Black Balsam area, but we decided to head back to the vehicle and try something else.  I wanted to check out Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades, so we headed there next.  The color is brilliant in that area, but at 12 noon, I was looking right into the sun for the shot.  From that same pull off, I also took a shot looking down 215.

Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades
215 north of Bubbling Spring

From here we decided to check out the Black Balsam area.  Cindy suggested the Sam Knob Trail and that turned out to be an excellent choice.  There were a lot of people - including hunters - in this area today.  We both had forgotten that is was Columbus Day and a lot of people had the day off.  We did manage to find a parking spot and headed down the trail.  There has been some very recent improvements to this trail.  Most of the section leading from the parking area now has gravel and a very nice boardwalk with steps leads down through the section of trail that was very eroded and ends right before you get into the field before Sam Knob.

new boardwalk on Sam Knob Trail
Sam Knob ahead

The color at this elevation is beginning to fade as you can see in the shot of Sam Knob.  We were mainly interested in seeing the view to the other side that looks down on 215.  The next few shots show the different views we had from on top of the mountain.  Once you get up there, you have to know where to go to get the views.  It's not a really large area, but paths lead every which way.  If you find all the spots, you have views looking in every direction.

looking towards Devil's Courthouse and Mount Hardy

closer view looking towards 215 and the Parkway
looking NE into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area
looking back towards the parking area and Black Balsam

By now it was late afternoon and time to head to the house.  We won't be out again until Thursday - good luck with your hunt for color!