Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The 4th Annual SSPBDT Mancation

The 4th Annual SSPBDT Mancation

Mortimer Campground
Wilson Creek, NC
Thursday, October 22nd thru Sunday October 25th, 2009

Bone Breaker!

Photos are posted here:

The first part of this trip report describes things that occurred prior to my arrival. Therefore, I can not be held responsible for the accuracy of my descriptions as to what actually happened on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Scott M and Steve-O volunteered to arrive at the campground a day or two early to grab the prime spots and set up the massive SSPBDTCTPT (Spartanburg Steel Products Beer Drinking Team Camping Trip Party Tarp). If you have ever seen a SSPBDT tarp erection, it is not a sight you are likely to forget.

The goal for any SSPBDT tarp erection is to get the tarp and supporting ropes, strings, and bungees up high enough to eliminate any potential trip or clothesline hazards. This is accomplished by climbing trees, climbing up steep hillsides, standing on picnic tables, and standing on the roof of Steve’s S-10 pickup. Basically anything we can come up with to string the ropes as high up in the air as we can get.

During the tarp erection, Scott was dragging the main 300-ft support rope up the side of the steep hillside behind the community gathering site. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots a full moon and quickly turns to avoid scarring his eyeballs. Then from behind a hissing white uni-fanged cat leaps out of the woods towards Scott.

Scott darts out the way, still hanging onto the rope that is now wrapped around a Holly Tree. The momentum of his 260 pound body causes him to lose grip of the rope. His right foot lands on a tree root stopping it dead in its tracks. Unfortunately the rest of his body continued down the hillside. A loud popping sound coming from Scott’s ankle was heard for miles.

Thanks to Jeff for providing this highly accurate reenactment of the accident

Steve’s Diagnosis of Scott’s Injury: Sprained Ankle.
Treatment: Large Quantities of Frosty Adult Beverages (FABs)

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

The next day, Jeff and I come rolling into the campground at around 11:00am. We were surprised to find them awake as last year they were both sound asleep when we showed up. Scott was limping around and we were given the story behind Scott’s Injury.

Scott R. (not to be confused with the injured Scott M) was also there with his Kayaking Buddy Steve (not to be confused with Commissioner Steve-O), and Steve’s dog Zipper. They were about to go on a hike to check out the Gragg Prong of Lost Cove Creek. I quickly gathered my hiking gear and took off to join them on their hike.

Since they were planning a shuttle hike, we parked one vehicle at the old schoolhouse at the intersection of NC90 and FR981 and then drove 4.1 miles up FR981 to start the hike. As soon as we started the hike, it started raining.

There was a perfectly good trail, but Steve really wanted to check out the river, so much of the hike was spent off trail. There were some really scenic spots, but with the rain falling, and without an umbrella, photography was very difficult.

Small Waterfall along Gragg Prong

Several fairly impressive waterfalls and cascades can be seen along this stretch of River. It is interesting hiking with Kayakers, as they have cool names for every waterfall, cascade, and rapid. What the waterfall guidebooks call “Upper Waterfall on Gragg Prong” and “Lower Waterfall on Gragg Prong”, the Kayakers call, “Death Drop” and “Drag Strip”.

While standing on top of the “Lower Waterfall on Gragg Prong” I heard Steve say, “Dude, your hiking stick is taking a ride down Drag Strip”. Yup, my hiking pole was now at the base of this 100-ft tall waterslide.

At the Top of "Drag Strip"  Where I dropped my hiking pole!
The rock face along side the falls was way to slick to make it down to the base safely, so we searched for an alternate route. We found a faint path through the woods down towards the base, but this soon became a complete bushwhack. We did eventually get to a spot about 200 yards downstream from the base of the falls. I could see my hiking pole circling around in the pool at the base of the lowest drop.

Downstream from the base of Dragstrip
The sides of the river are a lot slicker than they look!

If it wasn’t raining, it probably would not have been a big deal to walk along the rocks and retrieve my pole. But today the rain made the rocks slick as ice with virtually nothing to hold on to. After almost sliding down into the river, I decide it would be best to shed my pack and camera.

Using methods like the crab crawl and butt slide, I eventually made it to where I could safely retrieve my hiking pole. But I still had to retrace my steps back over the same slick rocks.

Several times, I almost slid into the river again, but eventually made it back to the others and we continued on downstream with all hiking poles intact. The rain started falling harder, so I decided to put the camera away for the day.

Zipper fetching a stick in the Creek
Last photo before putting my camera away for the day

We reached the confluence where Gragg Prong joins up with the main branch of Lost Cove Creek. We were planning to continue following Lost Cove Creek downstream. I was a little concerned because my map did not show a trail heading in this direction. On top of that, my map showed that we would be heading through private property.

We did run into a bunch of private property signs that said things like, “No Hunting, No Fishing, No Horseback Riding, No Motorized Vehicles”, but nothing that flat out said, “No Trespassing”, so we continued on.

I had lost count, but up to this point we had probably crossed the smaller tributary creek about 10 times. I had failed to keep my socks and boots dry about 8 crossings ago, but Steve and Scott’s footwear were still relatively dry compared to mine.

We got to a point where we obviously had to cross this now much larger creek. I just trekked through the knee deep water to arrive at the other side, where I waited and watched the other two cursing up a storm, bushwhacking through some thick brush trying to find a place where they could rock hop across.

They both failed miserably and now their footwear was just as saturated as mine. I turned to Scott and said, “Don’t worry; there are only 8 more crossings to go”.

Actually I had no idea how many creek crossings there would be as up until now, I had no idea a “trail” existed along this section of Lost Cove Creek. It was pretty easy to follow most of the way, but the path kept crossing back and forth over the creek. After each crossing I would say, “Only 7 more to go”…. “Only 6 more to go” …. “Only 5 more to go”

Amazingly, my wild ass guess as to the number of creek crossings was dead on accurate.

After the last crossing we passed by a few private residences and got attacked by a pair of yip yip dogs. For about a quarter mile, these two little beasts were barking up a storm a couple of feet from our ankles. I was amazed at how well Steve’s dog Zipper was able to almost completely ignore them.

While the hike was only about 5 miles, it took us close to 5 hours to complete. And it wasn’t because I was spending a lot of time taking photos. All the bushwhacking, creek crossing, rock sliding, river exploration really slows down the pace.

I was soaked to the bone, but still had a great time. A very enjoyable hike.
Since I was not needed to retrieve the other shuttle car, I decided to minimize the number of wet butts in the cars, and hiked the 2 miles along the road back to the campground.

Me soaking wet after the hike

Back at the campground, Scott M’s ankle was not getting any better. Steve-O prescribed some additional FAB treatment for that evening. According to Scott, “The treatment definitely made me feel better, but my ankle still hurt like hell”

The rest of the evening, things get a little fuzzy. I know that Arizona Guy stopped by with his pair of Dingos, and later Skip from my Carolinas Adventures group showed up at the campground to experience first hand what goes on at SSPBDT events.

Skip was not aware of the SSPBDT guidelines of “A case a day plus a case in case” and quickly depleted his miniscule FAB supply. We are always there to help out a friend in need and tossed a few more FABs his way. Skip even successfully did his first ever beer bong, complete with the customary trumpet blast. Fortunately for Skip, the heavy rain prevented me from pulling out my camera, so there is no official documentation that this actually took place!

Several Mason Jars were pulled from various coolers and passed around the campfire. It was raining like hell at times, but we didn’t notice because we were all under the awesome tarp!

Eventually the SSPBDT members and guests started retiring to their tents. I believe I heard a chicken and a hissing cat outside my tent, but the sounds of rain on the tent and a good buzz quickly lulled me into a sound sleep!

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

It was close to 9:00am by the time I woke up. It had rained pretty hard throughout the night. I had several small puddles of water inside my tent, but for the most part things stayed reasonably dry inside.

I was planning to see if Skip wanted come along and check out some sights with me, but found that he had already left to go exploring. After breakfast, I did the short hike to Thorps Creek Falls. This is a real nice 20-ft waterfall and after the heavy rains the night before, the flow was better than I have ever seen it.

Thorps Creek Falls

Back at the campground, I couldn’t find any takers to go hiking with me. Scott R was heading towards Wilson Creek with his Kayak; Scott M. was in no condition to go hiking and would actually end up driving to Morganton to get some medical care for his ankle. Steve and Jeff would be smokin a Butt all day long and didn’t want to leave the keg smoker unattended for any extended period of time.

I wasn’t in the mood for a long hike, and instead opted to do several short hikes.

Big Lost Cove Cliffs
For some reason I had never hiked this trail before. It’s a moderate 1.5 mile (3.0 mile out and back round trip) hike to a really nice view over the Lost Cove Valley. I would say the Fall Color was near peak making the view even more spectacular.

Jack at Big Lost Cove Cliffs

Upper Little Lost Cove Falls
I had hiked this one last spring, but wanted to check it out with better water flow and with some Fall Color.

This time I decided to save a few miles and actually drive the forest service road most of the way. I am pretty sure I would have been stuck in the mud if it wasn’t for 4x4. During dry times you can probably make it without a 4-Wheel Drive vehicle, but after a heavy rain, I wouldn’t attempt driving this road in a 2WD vehicle!

Upper Little Lost Cove Falls definitely had better flow this time. However, to get the best viewing angles you need to cross the creek. The rain slicked rocks made this very difficult and I managed slip and plunged knee deep into the creek soaking the last of my dry footwear. Fortunately this waterfall is worth getting in the creek for!

Upper Little Lost Creek Falls

I elected to skip continuing on down to Lower Little Lost Cove Creek Falls. That is definitely one that should not be attempted solo! Especially with rain slicked rocks!

Little Lost Cove Cliffs
This is one of my favorite short hikes in the area. You can get out and back to the cliffs in a little less than 2 miles, or you can hike a little of the Forest Service Road making a 3.0 mile loop hike. This was my 3rd visit to Little Lost Cove Cliffs, but my first with near peak Fall Color!

Jack at Little Lost Cove Cliffs

Darkside Cliffs
I had time for one more short hike and this half mile (one mile out and back) trail fit the bill. The view is not quite as good as the ones from Big or Little Lost Cove Cliffs, but still very much worth the short hike.

View from Darkside Cliffs

Back at the campground, most everyone was back including Scott M with a cast on his broken leg. Yes, the leg was actually broken. After last months bust down for bailing out on a SSPBDT poker night, Scott redeemed himself for showing the dedication to return to camp and hang out after breaking his leg! His excuse for missing Poker Night was that he had to mow his lawn. Well, he won’t be able to use that excuse next Poker Night!

Scott's Ankle X-Ray

Also at camp was Rod, who had made his arrival earlier in the day and had brought a large load of firewood. Skip was making himself at home hanging out with my SSPBDT buddies. Jeff and Steve’s butt was smoking away and smelling great!

However, once Arizona guy and his two Dingos showed up, I decided to escape for a little while and get cleaned up. By the time I finished my shower, Arizona Guy was gone and I rejoined the festivities around the campfire.

Scott Hanging out with a cast on his broken ankle

Skip had replenished his FAB supply sometime during the day and informed the team that we had to help make sure his cooler was empty by the end of the night. The SSPBDT is always willing to help out in situations like this!

We played wood-pile Jenga and got an impressive fire going. Unlike the fireproof wood we attempted to burn the previous evening, the stuff that Rod brought actually burned!

At around 9:00pm, Jeff and Steve finally pulled their butt out of the smoker and it was awesome! The mason jars were passed around again, the rubber chicken started doing Beer Bongs, and the white uni-fanged cat made another appearance that evening.

Rubber Chicken Doing a Beer Bong

The White Uni-Fanged Cat and the Rubber Chicken

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

The next morning for the first time in SSPBDT Mancation history it wasn’t raining when we were packing up camp. However, things were still damp enough that we would still have to unpack and let our camping gear air out when we got home.

By 11:00am, we were packed up and heading home.

After a lunch stop at Burger King in Morganton a mystery was solved.

Which way is quicker? Jack’s shortcut around Rutherfordton, or the more traditional way through downtown Rutherfordton?

Steve was right behind me on US221 when I made the turn to start my short cut. Steve elected not to follow. About thirty minutes later while rounding the first traffic circle at the I-26 intersection in Columbus, Steve merges into the circle right behind me. Mystery solved! Although my route is about 6 miles shorter and more scenic, the two routes are identical in terms of time.

Despite Scott’s broken bone, it was another awesome SSPBDT Mancation Camping Weekend! I am sure the tradition will continue!

Additional Photos are posted here:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009-10-18 Pisgah National Forest Hike

Pisgah National Forest Hike

John Rock, Cedar Rock Mountain, Grogan Creek Falls, Cedar Rock Creek Falls
Sunday, October 18th, 2009
Jack, Johnny, Bob, Andy, Myron, Dorcas, Boone, and Matilda
Transylvania County, NC

Photos are posted here:

Earlier in the week, Andy sent out an eMail asking if anyone was interested in hiking this past Sunday. It seemed that a bunch of us were up for a hike, so we planned a little adventure to the Roan Mountain Highlands.

As hike day approached, the weather forecast for the Roan Highlands area was calling for sub freezing temperatures with snow and ice. We decided that we would have all winter for that stuff, but only a couple of weeks left of fall color.

Andy anticipated the area of Pisgah National Forest near the Fish Hatchery should be at about peak color and came up with a new hike suggestion. Bob was a little disappointed with the scrapping of the Roan Mountain idea, but we were all still up for the new hike.

Eight of us (6 humans + 2 dogs), met at the Pisgah Fish Hatchery and hit the trail up John Rock. It was a bit chilly, but we were all dressed appropriately. Plus climbing almost 1,000 feet in elevation over the first two miles sure gets the blood warmed up and pumping!

The views from John Rock are excellent; however we didn’t take much time to enjoy them. With 50mph winds beating down on the open rock face there was no lingering around. The layers of clothing that were shed during the climb up were pulled back out of the pack in order to venture out onto the rock for a few quick photos.

view of Looking Glass Rock from John Rock

After retreating back into the protection of the forest away from the wind, we took a break for some lunch.

After the break, we descended down John Rock towards Cat Cap. There are a few spots along the trail offering up some pretty good views to the east. At Cat Gap we connected to the Art Loeb Trail towards Butter Gap. The trail goes around the south side of Cedar Rock Mountain, but Andy knew a side trail that heads up to the summit.

From the main trail it is less than a half mile, but about 400-ft of additional elevation to get to the summit. Myron elected to skip the side trip up Cedar Rock Mountain and instead found a sunny spot to take a nap. The rest of us hit the mountain!

Andy and I took the lead and closing in on the summit we stopped at an overlook offering up some great views to the South, figuring this would be a good place to wait for the others to catch up.

view from the South Side of Cedar Rock Mountain

This was a very pleasant spot. The sun was shining, it was mostly protected from the wind, the view was excellent, and the seepage down the rock face gave the dogs some needed hydration as they licked the wet rocks.

Boone and Matilda licking the wet rock

After about 15-minutes Johnny never showed up. We figured that he must have given up on the climb and turned back to wait down below with Myron. Just as we were about to continue on towards the summit, Johnny comes trekking up the trail.

At the summit of Cedar Rock Mountain is a great campsite where we ran into a guy setting up quite a spread. A pair of camp chairs, table with table cloth, wine glasses, wine, flowers, candles, fresh fruit, etc. It seemed like quite a bit of overkill for a backpacking destination.

Turns out that his best friend was going to propose marriage to his girlfriend after rock climbing up Cedar Rock Mountain. What a great friend to tote about 60 pounds worth of stuff at least 4 miles and almost 2000-ft of elevation to help create the proper ambiance for his buddy’s proposal.

From the campsite, a short trail leads to the main viewpoint from Cedar Rock Mountain. This is also the place where the soon to be engaged couple would be climbing up. We were careful not to disturb any of the roses that adorned the trail from the rock face to the campsite at the top of the mountain.

Cedar Rock Mountain offers up one of the nicest views anywhere. Unlike the view from John Rock, this one offers up an almost 100% wilderness view. If you looked hard enough you could spot the only evidence of man in the form of the Blue Ridge Parkway traversing below the snow frosted mountaintops.

Snow Frosted Mountains viewed from Cedar Rock Mountain

view from Cedar Rock Mountain

We descended back the way we came and continued on the main trail towards the Butter Gap Shelter where we took a nice break. From there we decided it was time to pick up the pace as it was getting late and we still wanted to check out a couple of the waterfalls near the end of the hike.

Group Photo at the Butter Gap Shelter
L to R:  Johnny, Andy, Boone, Bob, Backpack, Dorcas, Matilda, Myron, Jack

I was really impressed with Grogan Creek Falls. I know that I have hiked this section of trail before and can’t quite figure out how I missed this trail side waterfall? I must have been in a complete daze when I last hiked past this.

Grogan Creek Falls

The final stop of the day would be at Cedar Rock Creek Falls. Myron, Dorcas, & Matilda, elected to pass on this one and finished the hike on their own.

There are actually at least 3 significant cascades and small waterfalls along this section of Cedar Rock Creek. You could spend hours exploring and photographing the various cascades and waterfalls here.

Since we were running short on daylight, we just hit the main drop. I have been to this spot about 3 or 4 times and have never seen another person. This time there were about 15 photographers at Cedar Rock Falls. It was some sort of digital photography workshop expedition.

It was almost impossible to find a place to shoot without including other people in the photo, but I did the best I could to crop them out of view as I snapped a few quick shots of this very pretty waterfall.

Cedar Rock Creek Falls

The remainder of the hike was all downhill making for an easy and uneventful finish to a great hike!

Additional Photos are posted here:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

2009-10-04 Black Balsam Knob Sunrise and Shining Rock Hike

Black Balsam Knob Sunrise, Shining Rock, Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades

Sunday, October 4th, 2009
Pisgah National Forest & the Shining Rock Wilderness
Haywood County, NC

Photos are posted here:

Johnny mentioned that he wanted to get out this Sunday. I had no idea what he had in mind, but I said I would be up for something.

Turns out that what Johnny had in mind was getting up at some ungodly hour of the morning, driving almost 2 hours, hiking up a Mountain under the light of a full moon, and hopefully catching a sunrise from Black Balsam Knob.

So I set my alarm for 4:15am so I could meet Johnny at his house around 5:15am. We arrived in the Asheville area just as Mickey D’s was unlocking their doors where we got our fill of Caffeine and Cholesterol before hitting the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We made it to the Black Balsam Knob Trailhead at about 6:45am. The actual sunrise wasn’t scheduled until around 7:20, but we wanted to get up the mountain a little before then so we could catch some of the spectacular pre-sunrise twilight color that would hopefully happen.

So we rushed to gather up our gear and hit the trail. It was almost pitch dark! Even though there was a full moon, the heavy cloud cover to the west was blocking most of the moonlight. I was glad I remembered to pack my headlight, which provided just enough light to see the trail.

We didn’t make it all the way up the mountain, but far enough to get above the tree line where we were treated to a great view of the spectacular pre-sunrise twilight sky.

Pre-Sunrise Twilight at Black Balsam Knob

It was about 40-degrees out, and the wind was howling fiercely making it pretty darn chilly. The wind was strong enough that it was actually shaking our tripods, but we did our best to capture the awesome morning twilight and sunrise. It was definitely worth getting up at 4:15am for!

Jack and Johnny enjoying the Sunrise at Black Balsam Knob

After enjoying the sunrise, we got on to the meat of our 10-mile hike into the Shining Rock Wilderness. This is one of those areas where a good map and compass is essential. However, in our earlier rush to hit the trail, I had left my map in my truck, and Johnny had left his map at home.

Fortunately, we have both hiked this area enough that we felt comfortable doing the planned hike without a map so we continued on.

In addition to the Sunrise, we had hoped to catch some early fall color. We figured our best chance would be heading to high ground. At 6214 feet in elevation, Black Balsam Knob is one of the highest peaks on the east coast.

After summiting Black Balsam, we continued on the Art Loeb trail to the 6040-ft Tennent Mountain Summit, before descending down towards Ivestor Gap and into the Shining Rock Wilderness.

View from Tennent Mountain

From there we left the Art Loeb Trail and instead took the easier Ivestor Gap Trail towards Shining Rock.

Jack at the Shining Rock Wilderness Sign

Shining Rock is an impressive outcrop of white quartz that peaks out from among the surrounding greenery. A massive confluence of trail intersections all converge around the base of shining rock. Since there are no trail signs or blazes allowed inside the Shining Rock Wilderness, this is a very confusing place!

Shining Rock

I thought I had hiked here enough that this would not be a problem. However, I somehow lost Johnny. I was checking out the views, taking photos and realized that I hadn’t seen Johnny in a while.

Shining Rock

After roaming around, I eventually located Johnny. We snapped a few more photos before heading back to the trailhead.

There was a hint of fall color out today, but even at 6,000-ft we were still a week or two early for the peak color show. It was still a great day for a hike.

Once back at the trailhead, we decided to check our one of the waterfalls in the area. Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades is located just off of Hwy 215 about 2 miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had never been here before, so I welcomed the opportunity to check out a new waterfall.

Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades

There is really nothing extraordinary about Bubbling Spring Branch Cascades. However, it is a very pretty little waterfall and well worth the easy hike. By walking up the side of the falls (only safe if the rocks are dry), there are several smaller cascades upstream.

Swimming Hole upstream from Bubbling Spring Branch Cascade

There is also a great little swimming hole at the base of a nice slide. Of course, this time of year the water is too cold to go swimming. At least that’s what I thought until we witnessed a women strip into her bikini, and swing on a rope into the ice cold pool.

Crazy Woman swinging into the icy cold water
There are several other waterfalls in the area, but we decided to save them for another day. We still had that 2-hour drive home ahead of us and we wanted to get back early enough to have a little wind-down time before starting the work week.

It was a great day to be outside! Thanks Johnny for giving me the inspiration to get up early and enjoy it!

Photos are posted here: