Sunday, August 21, 2011

Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain 8/20/2011

We headed out to the Black Balsam area hoping to pick lots of blueberries.  The trail head area is off of the Blue Ridge Parkway north of mm 420.  The parking lot is about a mile off of the parkway.  There is also room to park along the access road where the Art Loeb Trail crosses.  We parked beside the road and entered the woods on the Art Loeb Trail.

We found a few blackberries on the bushes along the first section of the trail.  It is quickly obvious that this trail is eroded.  After a short walk in the balsam woods we came out in the open and passed the lone tree shown above.  From here the walk is  uphill through grassy areas and over rocks.  There are soon wide open vistas in all directions.

We topped the first rise and walked level for a few minutes before turning right and climbing to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  We could see Sam Knob that we climbed earlier this year to the left and Looking Glass Rock to the right.  The last part of the climb is a lot like a steep dry river bed with lots of rock but this section is short.  At the top is a plaque about Art Loeb in a great spot to sit and enjoy the view.
From this point it is a level walk along the top of the knob before heading downhill through lots of blueberry bushes.  Last year we easily picked about a gallon of blueberries.  This year there were no blueberries in sight.  It appears this year's crop was destroyed by Spring hail storms.  The trail down the backside of the knob is narrow and very eroded in places.

Once we reached the saddle and began to climb Tennent mountain the trail became more open.  There were low berry bushes and great views.  We stopped for a break when we reached the ridge and I got a picture of this butterfly who matched the rock colors pretty well.  As we walked along the ridge we could see storm clouds building over the mountains.

At the far end of the ridge the trail switchbacks and heads down the backside of Tennent.  Once again we were in taller bushes and the trail was eroded.  We were surprised to see a pickup truck in the next saddle area ahead.  Before long we were down into another saddle where the Art Loeb Trail and the Ivestor Trail meet for the first time.

The Ivestor Gap Trail is a road bed that is very rocky.  It is open to vehicles for a part of the year and there was in fact a pickup truck at this point.  This road would require four wheel drive and high clearance.  We turned left and headed back toward the parking area.  The trail was shaded and damp with several springs coming off of Black Balsam Knob on the left.

This trail followed around the knob rather then climbing it and although it was not totally level it was a pleasant way to finish our hike.  There were flowers blooming along the trail.  We passed several backpack campsites.  The views weren't as open as on top of the balds but they were still there.  After a hike of about four miles we were ready to see the parking lot.

We made a stop at the chemical toilet facilities in the parking lot before beginning the last half mile up the road to where we had parked.  The storm finally broke while we were in the parking lot and even with the emergency ponchos we were soaked by the time we reached the van.  This was a fun hike.  The trails were busy with lots of people backpacking, day hiking with children or dogs,and there was even a pot belly pig on a leash.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Shining Creek 8/13/2011

The Shining Creek trail starts from the Big East Fork trail head on US 276 north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the parking area you can see the creek down below but it is about a quarter mile before the trail descends to the creek level.  The trail turns away from the water and climbs a hill.  There were several rhododendron tunnels.  We could hear the creek but not see it.

At about .7 miles we topped a small rise and the Big Butt trail left on the right.  This trail could be used to create a loop but it was steeper then we were ready to attempt in the summer heat.  Continuing straight ahead the trail was almost level.  We could see and hear cascades below.  Soon the trail dropped down to the creek level and stayed close to the water.

We passed cascades, small pools, a natural dam created by a fallen tree, and several small waterfalls.The trail was narrow in places and there were rocks and roots in the trail but this section was a really pleasant walk.We had to climb over and under several recently fallen trees in one spot.  A pair of juncos hopped in and out of the trail ahead of us.

At two miles we crossed the creek at Daniels cove.  This is a narrow creek that we just stepped across.  We smelled smoke and wondered about it.  This trail is in the Shining Rock Wilderness where campfires are not allowed.  We passed a campsite soon after where a couple were eating lunch.  The trail climbed above the creek and we began to see more summer flowers.

The creek splits and becomes much smaller.  The trail becomes steeper and there is less shade.  By the last mile instead of following a creek we were crossing the springs that feed the headwaters of the creek.  The trail is narrow, steep, and rocky in this area.  The last switchback lead to a nicer section of trail that suddenly ended at the Art Loeb trail 4.1 miles into the hike.

At the Art Loeb trail we turned right and stopped for lunch in a trailside campside with a big log to sit on.  We took a left at the next trail fork and at about a quarter mile reached the Shining Rock that the wilderness is named for.  Rather then a single rock it is more like a ridgeline of white quartz rocks running for several hundred feet.

We climbed up on top the slippery rock to enjoy the view before heading back the way we came.   About halfway back we got caught in the rain.  There are no blazes in the wilderness so it is important to know where you are going and how to find your way back.  This seems like it would be a great Springtime hike when the creek level would be higher and there would be more flowers blooming.