A Fall Evening at The Windover Inn Bed & Breakfast

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stairway to Heaven, Part 2

As long as the weather cooperates, our goal is to take one hike a week during our slower season.  So yesterday, we worked in another hike in the Pisgah National Forest about an hour from the inn. Like we said before, each trail we've hiked has been unique, and this was no different. We chose Looking Glass Rock Trail which is one of the more popular trails in the area. It is well marked from Rt. 276 and has a good number of parking spots at the trail-head. It is a 3.1 mile trail and is listed as 'medium' in difficulty. Doing the math, our round trip was 6.2 miles and took us about 3 hours. But we spent about 20 minutes at the top, so our actual hike time was about 2 hours and 40 minutes. We hiked on a beautiful February day with the air temp. approaching 70 and met or saw at least 10 other couples, so expect this trail to get pretty crowed from late April to the end of October.

Some trails have great views and dynamic changes around just about every corner. Others, like this one, are really 'destination' trails. The hike is pretty much an uphill slog all the way, so be prepared for a good cardio workout! The start is forested and crosses a small brook, then uphill along a rim trailway which closes down to a rhody canape after about a mile. At this point you will find a nice wooden bench. Take advantage of this for a brief rest as the next mile will be composed of 17 switchbacks of around 100 yards each! What this means is that the mountain you are climbing is way too steep to go straight up! At around two miles, there is a helicopter pad to the left (If you can commandeer a helicopter, go for it!) and a mini Looking Glass rock structure on the right side of the trail. One more mile of more root and rock steps got us to the top where a makeshift campsite welcomed us. But, we weren't done yet. For the first time, the trail headed downhill for another tenth of a mile and turned a bit to the left where it ended at Looking Glass Rock.

If we weren't expecting something stupendous, we would have been completely blown away! And if we weren't careful and just kept walking while talking back to someone behind us, we'd have been in danger of walking right off the cliff at the edge of Looking Glass Rock! Even knowing that something special awaited us didn't prepare us for the spectacular view, and the amazing space that the top of this rock presents! No words can really do it justice, so we have included some pictures. Even pictures can't give you the sense of vertigo that initially meets the hiker as they reach this spot. Have a snack, or lunch here, or just groove. The good news is that the hike back is just about all downhill!
 On Looking Glass Rock looking towards Big Balsam Knob

On Looking Glass Rock, looking towards the Blue Ridge Parkway

A front row seat for picture taking

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

Sam Knob

Flat Laurel Creek

Many people might not realize it, but winter hikes are just as much fun here as hiking any other time of year. The trails are the same, maybe a bit easier due to less vegetation getting in the way, and the views that are often blocked by the same vegetation in other seasons, are usually spectacular in winter!  Recently we chose Flat Laurel Creek Trail for a hike. This is one of dozens of relatively easy trails in the Pisgah National Forest just a half hour from the inn.

Over the years we have found that each trail we've hiked, much like each B&B, has its own very distinct personality. Flat Laurel is no different. It starts off with a little challenge as we need to ford a small stream over slightly submerged rocks (wear water resistant hiking shoes!) before heading north on a well trodden slightly ascending natural footpath. The trail will rise several hundred feet over about 3 miles, and it is rated as 'easy'. Although the air temp. is approaching 60, we find ourselves on pretty hard ice along shaded portions of the path so we need to be careful. The views of the mountains to our west are beautiful, and we can see Rt. 215 slinking along below us until it disappears into the terrain taking the traffic noise along with it. Not quite a mile into our hike we cross a stone bridge over Wildcat Falls which is still mostly covered with a white blanket of ice pack although the center has been carved out by its cascading waters. Very cool! The trail continues in micro climates of cool, warm, ice, snow and solid, although somewhat mushy, ground. The orange blazed trail is sometimes a narrow escarpment with beautiful icicle art and rhododendron canapes along the east side, while at other times it's wide open with brush and wild grasses on either side. It seems there's change waiting around every corner! 

About two miles into the hike, Sam Knob comes into view to our left. At the same time, we hear the sound of cascading water signaling our approach to Flat Laurel Creek. The trail arcs to the right as it passes between Sam Knob and Little Sam to our right with Flat Laurel Creek careening along our left. We are not close enough to the creek to get a great view, but it tells us it's still there! Several washouts down to the creek provide access, but today they are covered with ice and snow so we use discretion and decide not to become part of the cascade below! A few hundred yards further on we meet a trailhead marker to our left which leads up to Sam Knob summit. We start down this trail, but only go about half a mile before turning back to retrace our steps. The trail parallels rivulets up the grassy knoll from the creek that opens up into a large heathlike expanse. The hike up to Sam Knob is listed as 'medium' but we're ready to call it a day!

If we had continued in the opposite direction we would have connected with the Art Loeb Spur which leads to the Art Loeb trail that passes Black Balsam Knob (6214') and ultimately ends at Cold Mountain (6030'). The hike back is every bit as interesting as the hike out. We see everything from brand new angles, and the sun is dancing a different tune as well. By the time we return to Wildcat Falls the blanket of ice has retreated further revealing more of the rushing water underneath. We arrive back at our car three and a half hours later. Since this was a 6 mile hike we calculate our leisurely pace at less than two miles an hour. But, hey, we weren't in a hurry. Just out for some winter fun! By coincidence, Stairway to Heaven is playing in the car as we head home. We both smile and nod at the perfect song to end our hike.

Iciciles along the Escarpment

Wildcat Falls