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!
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.
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 waterThere 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: