Monday, July 25, 2011

Turkey Pen Gap - South Mills River Hike
Pisgah National Forest
Transylvania/Henderson County, NC
Sunday, July 24th, 2011
Even though it is not that far from my house (about an hour drive), for some reason I have never hiked this area of the Pisgah National Forest. When hiking in unfamiliar places, I prefer to go with a group. After all, there is safety in numbers!

So when I saw this hike listed on the Upstate Hiking and Outdoor Adventures Group calendar, I signed up.

Directions to the Trailhead:
  • I-26 to Hwy 280 (Asheville Airport Exit)
  • Take Hwy 280 South-West for Approximately 11 miles.
  • Turn Right on Turkey Pen Road (Just past the Boylston Baptist Church and just before the Transylvania County Line)
  • Take Turkey Pen Gap Road to the trailhead parking at the end (approximately 2 miles)
We started out on the South Mills River Trail which heads down hill from the parking area to the South Mills River. A nice suspension footbridge makes for one of the few dry river crossings in the area. On the other side of the river, we continued on the South Mills River Trail which turns left and heads upstream and uphill.

Crossing the suspension footbridge over the South Mills River
After a short distance we turned right onto the Mullinax Trail. This trail gains about 500-feet elevation over about 1.2 miles which is fairly mild but would actually be the steepest climb of the day. Getting the worst climb out of the way early in the day before the afternoon heat arrives sounds like a good plan, but you just can’t escape the 100% morning humidity this time of year.

By the time we finished the short climb on the Mullinax Trail and met up with the Squirrel Gap Trail, we were all drenched in sweat. There are several nice looking campsites around this trail junction which we used as an excuse to take a short break before continuing on. We continued to the East on the Squirrel Gap Trail

A light rain started to fall which actually felt really good. At this point it was enough to cool you off, but not so much that it soaks into your gear and clothing!

At the first major river crossing, I was able to rock hop across and keep my feet completely dry. But then as I attempted to position myself for a good angle to photograph the others crossing the creek, my feet slipped and I plunged into ankle deep mud.

Kimberly at the first major river crossing
The mud would not stay on my boots for long!

We turned onto the Riverside Trail which soon entered into a small clearing. The rain started to pick up a bit. Not quite a downpour, but definitely a steady shower. Still it wasn’t enough to justify the yelling and screaming we heard coming from behind me. “Run Run Run” is what I heard. I have never seen my buddy Johnny move this fast as he dashed past us while slapping at his ankles before eventually diving into the river.

Hiking through the field just before the Yellow Jacket Attack
It turns out that Tim and I, who were in the lead stirred up Yellow Jacket nest. The swarm of Bees then proceeded to attack the middle of our group, causing the women to go into a screaming frenzy and Johnny Corn to turn into Usain Bolt.

Johnny ended up with multiple stings. While very painful, yellow jacket stings are usually not very serious. Unless of course you are allergic to them!

Fortunately Johnny was not showing any sign of serious allergic reactions, so we continued on!

There was no keeping our feet dry at the next river crossing. Since I knew there would be about 10 more crossings, and I wasn’t about to take my boots off and back on each time, I purposely wore an older pair of hiking boots which I didn’t mind getting wet. At this point, most of the group was still going with the boot removal at each crossing. I just trekked on through the river boots and all giving me time to photograph the rest of the group. 
Tim and Caroline crossing the river

After the crossing, someone suggested taking a break for lunch. By heading off trail into the thicker forest canopy maybe we could escape the heaviest of the rain. I really didn’t think this was a very good idea. It had been raining long and heavy enough by now that no forest canopy would be able to keep you dry.

For me, it would have made more sense to keep moving while it was raining and take the break once it stopped so we could rest in more comfortable conditions. Plus after a large fast food breakfast, I wasn’t hungry yet!

However, I went along with the group and left the trail. Knowing that there would be no dry spot to sit down and since I was not ready to eat; I used the time to take out my camera and mini umbrella and went down to the creek for some photos.   

Very Small cascade on Bradley Creek (a major tributary to the South Mills River)
After a few minutes I heard was another round of yelling and screaming as Holly was the victim of a second round of yellow jacket attacks. I didn't want any part of the yellow jackets, so I continued trying to keep the rain drops off my lens so I could snap a few decent photos.

Fortunately, Holly didn't suffer any major reaction from the stings either.  After the break we continued on the Riverside Trail. 

The Riverside Trail follows the South Mills River for about 4 miles. I didn’t keep count, but I believe there was a total of (13) River Crossings. The majority of these crossings are definitely not the type where it is possible to rock hop across. 

Caroline at one of the River Crossings
Most were about knee deep and fairly easy, but we are in a moderate drought right now. Under normal flow, I imagine some of these crossings would be quite challenging, and during heavy flow they would be impassible.


Holly crossing the River
Eventually we completed our 8-mile loop and made it back to the parking area.
Despite the 100% Humidity, the excessive summer heat, rain showers, and yellow jacket attacks; I saw enough to know that this is definitely an area that I want to get back and explore some more. Based on the number of river crossings, this is definitely a summer time destination.

Other than a bunch of shots of my hiking companions crossing rivers, I didn’t take a whole lot of photos. Most of the hike my camera bag was inside my pack to keep it dry.
Here are some of the few photos that I did end up taking:


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jack for the blog and all the photos. I am still chuckling at the cool and scary facial expressions we made while crossing the river.
Mary T

HemlockMan said...

Sorry some of you guys got zapped by yellowjackets! Yow!

I think I was hiking in the Unaka Mountain Wilderness the same time y'all were tramping in the rain. I got drenched, but managed to keep my camera relatively dry. Got a few nice shots of a waterfall because of the overcast,though.