One of my greatest finds in 2013 was a place I have been to and through many times, The Linn Cove Viaduct. The Linn Cove Viaduct is a 1243 ft long bridge built in segments to help get Blue Ridge Parkway travelers around the magnificent Grandfather Mountain. I have traveled through here many times coming or going to the many attractions that seem to be jammed into this area. I have seen the iconic view of the viaduct in gift shops on books, cards, postcards, t-shirts all over the parkway…….but I had never actually been on the spot where the shot is taken. I had assumed it was some overlook that I had “overlooked”. Wrong…..as it turns out, it’s location seems to be kept somewhat of a secret. This was my lucky Autumn though. While on the parkway this October to view and photograph the fall colors, a fellow hiker/photographer that I had a conversation with, helped get me to the iconic view I had been missing. Read more
I ran into an old friend the other day whom I had not seen in years. One of the things mentioned was that her and her family loved seeing my posts and pictures online. The simple things in life like this makes doing my hobby so much more rewarding. After a few minutes of talking, this person mentioned that her and her husband’s favorite trail was the Profile Trail on Grandfather Mountain. Read more
I love it when a plan comes together! At the last minute, the Friday of Super Bowl Weekend, my stepfather and I decided to take a little trip to the NC Mountains Ski Country, for some Super Bowl Sunday skiing. I was hesitant of this as I have not had a pair of the thin gliders on my feet in over a decade. I wasn’t very good then, so inexperience and old age just didn’t seem to be a combination that would work in my favor. Read more
Grandfather Mountain was the site this past August weekend for the most rugged, craziest hike I have completed to date. I have been on some hikes that had steep inclines/declines. I have been on hikes that required ladders to climb large boulders. I have even hiked to Calloway Peak, the highest point on Grandfather Mountain via the “Profile Trail”. So…when I saw the warning signs in the parking lot at the famous “Mile High Swinging Bridge”, I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, ” it can’t be that bad….they are just posting this for disclaimers”. Little did I know…….
I have been to Grandfather Mountain numerous times in my life. I even have a season pass there. It is after all North Carolina’s top attraction. The swinging bridge at 5200 ft, and the view that awaits on the other side are both absolute must sees. Just a short ways down the mountain are a number of other places to visit including a museum, fudge/ice cream shop, and a large outdoor wildlife center that allows visitors to get fairly up close for good views of black bears, cougars, eagles, river otters, and deer.
After the wildlife viewing, it was time to get down to business. There was this trail called the Grandfather Trail that needed my attention. This is where the fun truly begins. My hike begins in the Black Rock Parking Lot, the one below the one at the bridge. This is where they want all hikers to park. The red blazed Grandfather Ext. Trail begins here and connects with the Grandfather Trail in 0.6 miles. We had massive storms the day and evening prior and the ditches, and creeks were all flowing well along with just about every rock surface wet. This should have been a sign for me. When I fell and busted my tail on the grass before the trailhead, that should have been a sign. I hiked on. The ext. trail was nothing more than a connector trail, that was a creek the entire way on this day.
The shots above show the condition of the Ext. Trail on this day. It literally was a creek, not a tiny spring or two. This mountain just has a lot of water to drain I guess. It is the starting place for the Linville River, Watauga River, and Wilson Creek just name a few. Notice the fresh deer tracks along the trail, not an uncommon sight up here, they truly are everywhere.
Now that we have made it to the The Grandfather Trail, we are roughly halfway there. 0.6 down, 0.6 to go. The trail from this junction, begins out being rocky, wet and rocky this day. Shortly, Macrae peak becomes visible and fun is sure to be in the near future. The path opens up at Grandfather Gap with lots of huge boulders dotting the landscape. After this, the incline begins.
Cables, thick steel cables are the first assist you will find as the climb goes up over large slippery boulders. There is a narrow pass between 2 huge rocks that has cables and a ladder. From here the trail literally goes straight up!! There is no other way to put it. There will be at least 5 or 6 more ladders to climb, with dicey rocks to navigate between them. As you approach 6000 feet in elevation the wind is a big factor up here. There was also some considerable fog moving in and out, making this hike quite an experience.
Once you have climbed the triple ladders, or what I call the “Stairway to Heaven”, it keeps going up. The blue dotted trail parallels the cliffs now and the terrain is very rocky. It is not long however before you reach this days destination….Macrae Peak.
Once up on this last rock, I savored this moment. This was an accomplishment, not your ordinary hiking trail. A large group was on top with me all just in amazement of the trail and views. Calloway Peak is a beautiful view from here, but with the wet conditions, I felt it was a good point to head back.
Now comes the moment I was really nervous about , going down. This is where most falls happen, and with the crazy climbs just made, I was somewhat worried about going down. I took my time, 1 step at a time and got down eventually. I took the Grandfather Trail all the way back this time to the upper parking lot and then the 0.4 mile Bridge trail to my car that takes you under the mile high swinging bridge for a neat view and perspective. This was quite a hike, one I will not soon forget.
It is just not a typical winter in North Carolina. Instead of inches of snow, and power outages, we are counting 60 degree days at the lower elevations, and going on some sweet winter hikes that we normally can not do. On a day that I had Roan Mountain in mind, Elk Knob crossed my view on my pc, and I realized that I have never been to this place, a location that was very close and accessible to the crossroads town of the northern NC mountains, Boone.
Elk Knob State Park currently has 1 main trail to the Summit, a 1.8 mile climb that ascends 1000 ft. While this may sound rough, this was probably the most pleasant , easy to hike 1000 climb I have experienced. The trail is brand new, full of fresh gravel and switches back and forth frequently until you arrive at the summit. This summit is not full of crags and other rock formations to climb , it is just a nice grassy summit, that has a north and south view. I stopped in for a visit at the temporary visitor center. There was an sweet older lady working on this day. We conversed about the new park, how long it had been here. Sh gave me a very clear and accurate layout of the trail and what to expect. She was very accurate too. She told me that on a clear day like today, I could see 50 miles in all directions. One of the last things she told me was that the winds would be very chilly up there and that I needed something to cover my neck and ears…she was very sweet!
Once the 1.8 mile ascent was complete, I remember thinking that I could not agree with her more. There was not one viewpoint up here, but two, a north view and a south view, both with amazing shots. Each one has a descriptive placard with a “virtual” map. It shows accurately which mountains you see as you change your direction of view. I think this is particularly a nice touch. Some mountains I could clearly recognize like Pilot and Grandfather, others, I might not have known. A cold front had just cleared the region the night before and it was a very clear morning, making the views sensational, almost indescribable in words and pictures. Some things, you really just have to see in person.
On the north side, the top attraction to me was clearly the viewing of Pilot Mountain, which is actually over 90 miles to the east, well further than the 50 mile range I was expecting. Pilot has this large knob on it, which makes it one of the most recognizable landmarks in western NC. There are also some amazing views of Snake Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and Mount Mitchell. The ski slopes of Beech and Sugar Mountain were clearly visible and also displayed the only…..snow to be found, amazing for this time of year. At an elevation over 5500 ft, snow should be everywhere, I had a hard time finding any ice on rocks as well, it is just an unusually warm winter.
Once back at the vehicle, I made the short commute back into Boone for lunch at one of the great local sandwich shops. I did stop by for an afternoon visit at Linville Falls, so look for that to come soon.