Saturday, February 26, 2011

Little Bradley Falls and Big Bradley Falls 2/26/2011

Another beautiful Saturday so we headed out for two short hikes to waterfalls on the same creek.  The parking for both hikes was on Holbert Cove Rd.  Since we were coming from the east we exited 74 at Route 9 and went north to Mill Springs where we made a quick stop to find a geocache then took Silver Creek Rd. to Holbert Cove Rd.  We proceeded to the parking coordinates given for the Little Bradley Falls geocache and went down the trail to the first stop of this multi-cache.  We easily followed this unmarked trail to the small cave but were unable to find the trail beyond this point.  We returned to the van and drove down the road to the parking by where the creek crosses the road.  From here there are marked trails to both falls.

The trail for Little Bradley falls  is the one that leads upstream.  There is a short trail right along the creek but the trail to the falls climbs the hill and then levels out.   The trail to the falls has sections that appear to be old roads and narrower sections.  There are occasional obstacles in the trail including fallen trees, rocks, and water crossings.   The first tributary crossing is soon after starting the trail and is easily stepped over.  You will come to what looks like a fork in the trail with a smaller creek on your right in a few minutes .  Take the trail to the right and make your second tributary crossing.  This one is a little wider then the first one but is easily crossed. 

You will follow the main creek for a while before reaching the crossing.  There are some pretty little cascades in this area.  At the crossing we didn't like the looks of the rocks where you can see the trail on the other side.  We crossed about 50 feet downstream where it looked easier and ended up with wet feet.  On the return we crossed where the trail came down to the creek and found it easier.  If it hadn't been February we probable would have taken off the hiking boots and enjoyed wading across.  Continuing down the trail we passed some stone ruins of an old building.

Once we reached the falls we had time to enjoy the views, take some pictures, find the geocache, and settle down to have a snack before another group of hikers arrived.  These were the only other hikers we saw on this trail which is about a mile long.  I suspect it will be busier in the warmer months since there is a nice pool area at the base of the falls.  There are some  large rocks for stretching out and relaxing on. below the pool.  The creek is easily accessible from the trail and you can get views from several different angles without climbing on dangerous rocks.   This would be a falls that children could enjoy with proper supervision.   I would not be afraid to bring my Grandchildren to this falls.

On the way back from the falls I spotted this one flower blooming beside the trail.  It was about the size of a violet and on first glance I thought that was what it was.  When I moved in closer to take the picture I realized it wasn't a violet.  Does anyone recognize this flower?

After returning to the van and repacking the backpack with lunch we took the trail past the orange gate and through a field.  There was a fork in the trail and we chose the right side.  It led through more of the field then up a short hill.  We discovered on the way back that the left side entered the woods and followed the edge of the field to where the other trail joined it.  After a short walk in the woods we reached the creek crossing.  There was a small waterfall here and a geocache to find.   After looking at some rocks that would require hopping we crossed a shallow area  getting our feet wet and continued up the trail.

It a few minutes we could hear the falls but could not see them.  We had read that one of the side trails on the left led down to the the base of the falls.  It is a very steep trail and requires using a rope to get down a rock face.  We decided to continue to the geocache that was about a half mile past the falls at the top of the hill and then look for views of the falls.  We passed a total of four side trails and decided to try the third one on our way back.  There was nice mountain view just before this trail started downhill.  Perhaps another day we will investigate where this trail leads.

We went back past the highest side trail and took the next one down.  Straight down there was a large rock at the edge of the gorge that you could climb down to.  There was a view of the falls here partially blocked by a tree.  A false step  would have meant a vertical drop of several hundred feet into the gorge.  There are no guardrails or fences anywhere in this area.  Climbing back up from this ledge we took a right turn and followed the narrow side trail along the edge of the hill to another view of the falls.   This view was not blocked by a tree but was at a different angle and didn't seem to show the full height of the falls. Continuing on we realized that this side trail came back out on the main trail at what had been the second side trail that we passed. 

We returned back to the creek crossing area and found a big rock to have our picnic on.  This trail was busier then the Little Bradley Falls trail so we watched several groups cross the creek as we relaxed.  The young groups easily rock  hopped across the stream while the mature hikers chose to cross upstream where several trees had fallen.  We saw one group sit on the logs and scoot across and another group walk across on the lower logs while steadying themselves on the upper logs.  I ended up using a combination of both and didn't get wet feet this time.  I would bring the Grandchildren to this spot to play in the water but would not take them to the overlooks for the falls.

We enjoyed both of these falls but if you only have time for one I would recommend Little Bradley Falls.  The trail was more interesting and the pretty falls were much more accessible.  If you are looking for an extreme adventure then Big Bradley Falls in the trail for you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Youngs Ridge Trail to Kitsuma Peak 2/19/2011

With the forecast of spring like weather we headed out to the Old Fort picnic area to hike the Youngs Ridge trail.  Since the picnic area is closed for the winter we parked outside the gate and walked up the short entrance road.  There is room for several cars to park without blocking the gate.  We listened to the rooster crow and observed the horses at the farm across Mill Creek from the parking lot area.  The trail head is to the left of the restrooms at the back of the picnic area.  We were feeling the cold damp air and wishing we had dressed warmer but in about 30 minutes with the sun shining on the hill we were glad we didn't.

The trail follows a small stream for a short distance before climbing the first hill.  We listened to a crow call and a woodpecker drumming in this area.  Soon we began to gain elevation gently but continuously with several switchbacks in this first mile.  There was the sound of traffic and then around the corner the trail leveled off and we had a view of  I-40 to our left.  Over the next couple of miles the trail is mostly straight and continues to gain elevation but more slowly with a couple of short downhill sections.  I-40 moves away behind a hill and returns closer a couple of times.  In summer when the leaves are on the trees I suspect I-40 would be much less noticeable.

 At times as you walk this narrow ridge you can see I-40 on the left and the Point Lookout Trail on the right.  There are frequent panoramic mountain views along the trail.  The ridge continued until we were about 2 1/2 miles into the hike.  At this point we stopped and found the geocache Crest of the Ridge.  It was quickly found, the log signed, and the container re hidden.  (If you are unfamiliar with geocaching check out for more information.)  From this point the trail drops into a saddle before the final climb to Kitsuma Peak.  The drop into the saddle was shorter then we expected as we looked across to the peak from the end of the ridge.

The final climb to Kitsuma peak took us up a couple of switchbacks.  We stepped to the side of the trail to allow a group of about ten runners and a small group of hikers to pass in this area.  Up until this time we had only passed one mountain biker.  By the end of the hike we had seen two more mountain bikers and two more groups of hikers. This is a popular trail but is not overly busy,  is well maintained, and mostly litter free. There are very few rocks in the trail and no obstacles such as fallen trees.  The steepest part of the hike was about a hundred foot section after the switchbacks and just before the peak.   

 As we approached the peak Mitch spotted a large rock to the right down the side of the hill.  It looked like a good viewpoint but rough to reach.  When I checked the gps I saw that the coordinates for the geocache Cache of Kitsuma Peak were down a short side trail to the rocks.  We went down, enjoyed the views, and found the first part of the cache but decided the wind was too cool to sit here for our picnic.  We returned to the peak which  is a cleared level area where we had our picnic lunch and relaxed.  It is circled by trees which acted as a wind break but there were good views between them. 

After lunch we found the final for the Cache of Kitsuma Peak and headed back the way we came.  About halfway we were surprised to see a couple of butterflies up here on the ridge.  What are they doing here in the middle of winter when there are no flowers blooming?  They would not land long enough for me to get a picture but they were medium size and black with bright yellow around  their wingtips.  They did not look like swallowtails and I did not find a picture like them on the Internet.  Does anyone have any idea what they were?  As we came down off the last set of switchbacks we heard the crow calling again and knew we were close.

We made a last stop to find the cache Right behind You just before reentering the picnic area.  We had hiked 7 miles with an elevation gain of about 1450 feet.  This was a longer hike then we have been doing but wasn't too strenuous.  The marker at the beginning of the trail rates it most difficult  but if you are looking for a nice woods walk with good views you would only have to hike a mile or so each way to have a good experience.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

King's Pinnacle Via The Ridgeline Trail 2/13/2011

On this beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to hike King's Pinnacle from where the Ridgeline trail crosses Pinnacle Rd.  We had hiked the Pinnacle last month using the Pinnacle Trail from the main visitor center in Crowder Mountain State Park but we had never hiked this trail before.  It approaches the peak from the opposite end of this long narrow mountain.

The trail immediately climbs away from the road in a series of gentle switchbacks.  We were surprised how quickly we were looking down on the road.  After the first hill the trail continues straight ahead sometimes climbing gently and sometimes level.  It was in this section that we saw the only four people we would encounter on this trail.  About the time we were commenting on how easy the trail was we saw a steep hill ahead.  It wasn't too long and had steps built in to the hill to help us along.  At the top of the hill was a signpost with .5 miles on both sides and some large rocks.  We had come .5 miles on the trail and had .5 miles to where we would meet the Pinnacle Trail.

For the next five minutes we worked our way around and over rocks on a narrow ridge.  There is just enough difficulty here to add interest to the hike but no major obstacles.  The trail then leveled out and soon we had a view of the peak ahead.  We would have a pleasant level woods walk until we were past the peak and ready to join the Pinnacle Trail.

We knew we were near the trail junction where  we began hearing voices and seeing people above us on the hill.  The sign at the junction said that we had hiked .96 miles and it was .17 miles to the Pinnacle.  This last section is the hardest part of the trail.  It is steep and eroded with rocks and roots exposed.  For more information on this section and the ridge on top see my post from 1/22/2011.  While we were on this section of trail and relaxing at the top we saw about fifty people as compared to four people on the rest of the hike.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rattlesnake Lodge on the MTS Trail 2/12/2011

Since the weather report called for a beautiful day we decided to drive out to the Blue Ridge Parkway  and approach Craggy Gardens from the south.  Making a short stop at the visitor center on the north side of Asheville we were disappointed to learn that most of the parkway was still closed due to ice and snow.  It was suggested that we go up to Bull Gap where the road was closed and hike the Mountain To Sea Trail up to Rattlesnake Lodge.  We drove about 8 miles north along the parkway passing an icicle waterfall on the way to Ox Creek Rd at Bull gap.  Turning left we found the trail crossing and room to park past the first sharp corner but just before the second one.  You really have to look to spot the trail crossing.

The first part of the hike is fairly level since you are already on the side of the hill.  The trail is narrow and on the side of a steep hill but is not really challenging.  There was only a little snow left in the shady spots.  It almost looked like a shadow below some of the fallen trees.  The nuisance in this area was the shallow mud on the trail in spots from the recent snow melt.  We could hear the wind blowing in the trees above us but didn't really feel it until we came near the end of the hill and started down into the saddle before the second hill.

At the lowest point between the hills we saw several cars parked a couple hundred feet to our left.  We could have shortened the hike about a half mile by parking further down Ox Creek Rd.  From this point the trail climbs up the end of a taller hill by a series of switchbacks making it a gentle climb.  We passed a number of people on this trail today but they all seemed to be enjoying the quiet as much as we were.  We heard birds in the trees but didn't spot any wildlife today.  There are good views of the mountains in the distance and into the valleys at this time of year with the leaves off of the trees.  The trail levels out and after a total of 1.4 miles you reach the ruins of Rattlesnake Lodge.

The lodge was built in 1903-1904 as a summer home for the Ambler family.  It burned in 1926 but there are remains of several of the buildings on site and a information sign showing where the various buildings were located.  We looked around for a while and had a picnic lunch here.  It was pleasant until the wind began to pick up again.  The information sign said that we had hiked 1.4 miles from Bull Gap and that another trail from here would lead to the parkway in .44 miles.  We decided to turn this into a loop hike and took the alternate trail.

This trail is downhill for the whole distance and follows a tiny stream formed by a spring.  It made a pleasant babbling sound and grew in size as more spring contributed to it.  We listened to the slow drumming of a woodpecker in the trees above us but just could not spot him.  We didn't see anyone else on this trail.  At the bottom of the hill we intersected the parkway at the south end of the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel.  There is parking here just before entering the tunnel if you want the shortest route to the lodge site.  From here we had about a mile walk on the parkway to return to where we parked.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Broad River Greenway - Cotton Wood Trail 2/6/2011

The sun is finally shining after two days of rainy weather.  It seemed like a good day to walk at the Broad River Greenway in Boiling Springs, NC.   We chose to walk the trail on the north side of the river heading downstream today.  There are also several trails upstream on this side  of the river and a trail on the opposite shore accessed from a separate parking area. There is a parking fee if you do not have a greenway parking sticker.

 First we made a stop at the swimming hole where we discovered fresh deer prints in the wet sand.  This area is a busy spot in the summer with children and adults alike playing in the water.  The river is broad and shallow in this area so the water is a comfortable temperature and the bottom is mostly sandy with some rocks to play around.  Swimming is at your own risk.  But today was not a day to play in the water so we headed downstream.

The first three tenths of a mile are handicap accessible and pass picnic tables with charcoal grills, a pavilion, a canoe launch site, a small playground, Phifer Cabin, and a small fishing pier.  At the end of this section you  cross a foot bridge and  continue on an easy to follow and well  mantained trail.  This is a mostly level hike with very little elevation change.

A short distance down the trail is a small stream crossing.  It is very easily navigated by stepping on the rocks but is a pleasant spot for children to stop and play.  Another popular spot for the young ones is the small cave a little further down the trail on the left.  The trail stays close to the river and offers views of rocks, small rapids, and an island.

 At about eight tenths of a mile from the parking lot the trail turns away from the river and becomes harder to follow.  There is a fork in the trail that is hard to spot.  We missed the fork and followed the trail to the left.  Soon we had to cross a small stream, walked up a small hill, and down a gravel road to the river where we saw the marking for the end of the trail.  Backtracking about two tenths of a mile we found where the trail had gone right when we went left.  We followed it part way back.  This section is not often traveled and we had to watch for the trail signs to stay on it. 

We did not see another person on the trail untill we were on the way back.  We did see wildlife though including a downy woodpecker, a Red Crowned Kinglet, towhees, a titmouse, geese, sparrows, squirrels, and chipmunks.  On a quiet day like today you can hear the water babbling and the birds singing.  In warmer weather this is a much busier trail.