Roan Highlands – Appalachian Trail, NC

 

Thru hikers descending Hump Mountain
Thru hikers descending Hump Mountain

There were less than 15 cars parked at Carver’s Gap which I took to be a great sign. Originally I thought there would be more people hiking today. It was beautiful outside and just past 11:00 AM. When I stepped out of my car, I felt a chilling gust and immediately questioned my clothing for the hike. A couple of days prior I had seen the weather should be mid-50s and sunny and failed to check the weather the night before. Even with clear skies it was definitely in the 40s and the wind was blowing steadily. All I had were shorts, T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, pullover fleece, and my hoody I wore in the car. I made the conscious decision to bring all of my layers even though the hoody added a lot of extra weight. This reminded me that even if Spring is here, the wind and elevation can still make a hike quite cold. It had been years since I last visited the Roan Highlands, arguably the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail in the Southeast. (I would personally claim Mt. Rogers as a solid 2nd place). During my last trip I backpacked to the Overmountain Shelter, day hiked to Hump Mountain, and returned the same day to Carver’s Gap. This time I was essentially doing the same trip, in one day. Not one section of this hike is extremely strenuous or technical, but it still covers more than 19 miles and that is always a tough undertaking no matter what kind of topography you encounter. I think I planned this perfectly excluding my clothing choices. And the thing about the Roan Highlands is they are freakin’ beautiful. Once you are hiking atop these open grass summits you seem to forget how many miles and how much climbing you have done. With these kind of temperatures and the lengthening Spring days it is easy to cover many miles. If you live in the Southeast you have to put this hike on your list, even if you can’t cover everything I did here.

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Glen Burney Trail – Blowing Rock, NC

 

Glen Burney Falls
Glen Burney Falls

Only hours earlier I had been freezing my *** off scrambling to put on every piece of clothing I carried as I hiked towards Flat Top Tower. Now as I was plodding my way back up New Years Creek Gorge I wondered why I bothered wearing my fleece, so I stripped and donned only a T-shirt as the winter sun beamed down on me. The difference was startling. It had been below 20°F with the wind on the western side of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, now it was nearly 45°F down in the eastern trenches and there was barely a trace of snow. Shortly after eating lunch at Bass Lake I felt I had plenty of afternoon time to tackle a trail I’ve been eyeing for a while. It was the Glen Burney Trail mere blocks away from downtown Blowing Rock in Annie Cannon Park. This trail drops steeply into the New Years Creek Gorge passing by 3 waterfalls in short succession. What more could you ask for?

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Flat Top Tower – Moses Cone Memorial Park, NC

 

Grandfather Mountain from the large meadow
Grandfather Mountain from the large meadow

As I passed through the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway a cold gust of wind hit me in the face chilling me to the bone. At this moment I realized I was woefully unprepared for this hike, the weather conditions were much more brutal than I remembered from the NOAA forecast. Initially I wasn’t planning on this hike in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park to Flat Top Tower, but as I was driving towards the mountains the sky was crystal clear and snow blanketed the high peaks. It was late March, I did not expect the snow but I welcomed it. The views would be spectacular anywhere I went, but I chose to forego my initial plan of chasing waterfalls and head for a hike with far-reaching views. Scrambling to put on gloves to get some feeling back in my hands while draping on anything I had in my pack: mid-layer fleece, beanie, neck gaiter, sunglasses, and rain jacket – I wondered why I always choose new destinations on a whim.

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Grandfather Mountain via Daniel Boone Scout Trail – Grandfather Mountain State Park, NC

 

Attic Window Peak rising high above MacRae Gap - from MacRae Peak
Attic Window Peak rising high above MacRae Gap – from MacRae Peak

This is one of my favorites in North Carolina. A hike along the crest of Grandfather Mountain should be on everyone’s bucket list if they live in the Southeast. The crest trail is readily identified as one of the most rugged in the East and some (probably just me) may consider this the “Old Rag of North Carolina.” While not quite as rugged and technical as the nicknames suggest, Grandfather Mountain offers miles of exciting rock scrambles, ladders, cables, huge cliffs, exposed rocky summits, 16 distinct ecosystems, and views in every direction of tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain. Topping out at 5,946 feet this mountain dominates the surrounding valleys. There are 3 ways to access the crest trail. Two of them require difficult ascents from the valleys below and are part of the state park system. The third option is part of the private tourist attraction that existed prior to the state’s purchase of the land in 2008 to create a new state park. This attraction operates independently from the state park and costs $20/adult person to enter. The advantage is you can drive all the way to the ridge between Linville Peak and MacRae Peak. Click here for more information about the tourist attraction area of the mountain. The disadvantage is the cost and you will be amidst the crowds flocking to the bridge. The best way to experience the mountain is to start at the Boone Fork parking area and traverse all 4 peaks on Grandfather Mountain (Calloway, Attic Window, MacRae, and Linville) en route to the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

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Julian Price Memorial Park – Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

 Boone Fork and Price Lake

 

Grandfather Mountain over Price Lake
Grandfather Mountain over Price Lake

Originally I planned on hiking the two mountain summits at Moses Cone Memorial Park on what I thought would be a nice Labor Day Monday with partial cloud cover. As I arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway the clouds over the area were dark and threatening around noon. It didn’t look like the best day to be on exposed trails. When I got to the park, the parking lot was a mad house and that helped me make the decision to move on. Just down the road is Julian Price Memorial Park, followed by Grandfather Mountain. I decided on Julian Price since it had multiple hikes in the woods. Unfortunately the Price Lake picnic area was even crazier than Moses Cone so I almost gave up and drove an hour to Linville Gorge. Luckily there were some parking spots at the Price Lake Overlook down the street and I finally got started around 12:30 PM. My plan was to hike the Boone Fork Trail then continue on the Price Lake Trail in a figure-eight loop. This hike is roughly 8 miles and very easy. After that with a few hours of daylight left I drove over to Sims Pond and hiked the short Green Knob Trail, finishing all 3 major loop trails in Julian Price Memorial Park.

 

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Profile Trail – Grandfather Mountain State Park, NC

 

View north of Calloway Peak from Attic Window
View north of Calloway Peak from Attic Window

Continuing with my unintentional theme of NC state parks during the current season, last year I took my old roommate Rachel to Grandfather Mountain State Park to do some high elevation ridge hiking. In the Fall of 2012, I hiked the Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak and could only see gray clouds. This time I chose the other base-to-summit trail offered in the new state park. The Profile Trail (3.1-mi one way) is a base-to-summit trail in Grandfather Mountain State Park and wanders up the west side of the mountain under the “Profile” and meets the Grandfather Trail at Calloway Gap. From Calloway Gap you can hike the extremely rugged ridgeline to the multiple peaks and overlooks of Grandfather Mountain. On this trip, we first went west to Attic Window Peak (0.8-mi one way) and returned to the gap to quickly tackle Calloway Peak (0.4-mi one way). This approximately 8.0-mi hike started at 12:15 PM and ended at 5:30 PM on a Sunday with bright sun and high winds (15-35 mph).

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