Sunday, February 12, 2012

CMLC Bearwallow Mountain Hike
Henderson County, NC
Saturday, February 11th, 2012

After our hike to Rainbow Falls, Andy and I continued up the road to Gerton, NC to meet the CMLC (Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy) group at the Florence Nature Preserve Trailhead.  This would be the end point of our hike.  I was surprised to see some light snow flurries in the air!  On top of that, the weather seemed significantly cooler than I was expecting!  And it would only get worse!

From there the group gathered together and formed a shuttle to the starting point along Bearwallow Mountain Road.  The snow got heavier as we drove up the mountain and the ground was covered with a light dusting.  Compared to the warm winter we have been having, this was was downright frigid!  And the gusting wind made things much worse!

The group gathering at the trailhead in blustering wind and snow

I have hiked to the summit of Bearwallow Mountain several times in the past, but it has always been along a wide track access road.  Since my last hike, a new trail had been constructed which avoids the road walk and would make for a much more interesting hike.  Despite the cold and wind, I was excited to check out the new trail. 

This is a very well constructed trail, with gradual switchbacks making the climb to Bearwallow Mountain surprisingly easy.  The only challenge was dealing with the cold, wind, and snow!

The group hiking the new trail up Bearwallow Mountain

I had checked the weather forecast beforehand to prepare for the hike and saw the high for the day would be 48 degrees in Chimney Rock Village. However, I failed to take into consideration that the starting point of the hike was a good 2,500 feet of elevation above Chimney Rock Village and parts of the hike would take us to elevations over 4,000 feet above sea level.

This was much colder than I was prepared for!  Less than 5 minutes into the hike, the water tube on my Cambelback had frozen solid.  Temperatures were well below freezing and with 40 mph gusts, the wind chill factor was probably close to zero!  I was extremely grateful that I though to bring along my goofy cold weather hat and a pair gloves!  But some thicker socks and a warmer pair of pants would have been nice!

But the group of about (25) hikers pressed on and made it to the summit of Bearwallow Mountain without any issues!
Approaching the summit of Bearwallow Mountain

On a clear day, the summit of Bearwallow Mountain offers some spectacular views!  Today the views were limited, but we were treated to a spectacular display of winter fury!  We took a short break, but due to the cold and the wind we didn't linger at the summit for very long!

A touch of Rime Ice on the trees at the summit of Bearwallow Mountain

Since the rest of the hike would be along some very rugged terrain, part of the group elected to turn back while (14) of us continued on.  We descended down the east side of Bearwallow Mountain towards the meadows at Bearwallow Gap.

Bearwallow Gap

A mountain spring forms several watering holes in the meadow between Bearwallow and Little Bearwallow Mountains.  Apparently bears wallow in these watering holes which is how the mountains got their names! 

The Bear Wallowing Water Hole at Bearwallow Mountain Gap

We continued on at a good pace up to the summit of Little Bearwallow Mountain and my body had warmed up to the point that I no longer felt cold!
Hiking up Little Bearwallow Mountain

We continued on the Little Bearwallow Mountain Trail and where we were treated to an extensive and impressive display of icicles.

Icicles along the Little Bearwallow Mountain Trail

Our plan was to take our main break of the day at Wildcat Rock, so we took the short side trail that leads to this impressive rock outcrop.

The side trail to Wildcat Rock

Wildcat Rock offers up some really nice views, but it also offered up full exposure to the blustering wind!  I took a few quick photos, but i didn't feel comfortable working my way out to the fully exposed rocks which offer the best views!  Covered with snow and ice, and with wind gusts strong enough to blow a human off a mountain, it did not seem like a good idea!

view from Wildcat Rock

While the plan was to break for lunch on Wildcat rock, most of the group elected to break down below which was more sheltered from the wind.  My camelback water tube was still frozen solid rendering it useless.  I was glad a tossed in a couple of extra water bottles which even inside my pack had started to form ice crystals, but were still drinkable!

We took a much quicker than planned break as the group was eager to get moving again!  It is best not to stop for very long in this type of weather! 
We continued to the east on the Cliffs Trail.  With its northern exposure may parts of this trail never see sunlight during the winter.  As a result, we were treated to some more very impressive displays of icicles which form as water seeps down the cliffs as freezes!
Hiking along the Cliffs Trail
This trail is well blazed and easy to follow, but it is very rugged!  It is the type of trail that you are not likely to travel much more than a mile in an hour.  Fortunately, the direction we were heading is mostly downhill which would take us out of the worst of the wind and down to slightly warmer temperatures.
We stopped for another short break to check out a wet weather waterfall at Little Bearwallow Cliff.  Today this was very unimpressive!  This one would have to be visited immediately after a significant rain shower to be worthwhile!
An impressive cliff face with a less than impressive wet weather waterfall

The hiking got much easier from here as the trails got closer to civilization making trail maintenance access much easier.  Also, the terrain started to level out as we approached the creek alongside US74A.  There are several nice cascades along this stretch of trail which would make for some good photo opportunities.  Since I elected not to tote along the tri-pod, today I would just have to settle for a quick balance the camera on a rock type of shot! 

Cascade Falls

At 2,500 feet lower than at the high point of our hike, the temperatures were much more bearable near the end of the hike.  However the wind was still gusting and as we were getting towards the end of the trail we heard and saw a large tree come crashing down about 100 yards away from us!

The hike ended with a leisurely stroll through an old Apple Orchard just across the road from the Florence Nature Preserve Trailhead where our vehicles were waiting for us!

The end of the hike through an old Apple Orchard

This was a great hike!  Much more extreme than the typical CMLC hike!  Fortunately the entire group managed to escape without any significant falls or injuries!  Thanks to Peter and Chet for leading this awesome hike! 


HemlockMan said...

Good grief! Looks like about ten times as many towers on the summit as when we hiked up there! How horrible!

I wish I'd been on that hike, too! I love hiking in the snow. Someday I'll tell the USPS to shove the job. Six more years, worst case. Fewer if my ship comes in.

wayne15575 said...

Wow, Jack. That is some cold desolate looking real estate. I'm shocked so many would be willing to hike it this time of the year. YOU sure did get some nice shot up there though. Love Cascade Falls. Thanks for sharing as always.