Old Butt Knob trail December 11, 2009Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
Tags: East Fork of the Pigeon River, Old Butt Knob, Pisgah National Forest, Shining Rock Wilderness
This was hardly even a hike, and I don’t even have any pictures of my own. (The photos at beginning and end are from Wikimedia Commons.) But this short climb gave me the kind of moments that you don’t want to trade in for anything else.
I do have to say something about that name. How could anyone not want to go up something as ridiculous as Old Butt Knob? Good…Ole…Butt…Knob! But the name is outweighed by the designation that enfolds it, the Shining Rock Wilderness.
I was coming back from Waynesville, midafternoon, on a day when bad weather was stealthily moving in. I drove east on 276, following the glinting, racing, tumbling waters of the East Fork of the Pigeon River. I’ve been trying to decide where I want to live in western North Carolina, and I suddenly felt that I would like to live on the bank of that big rushing stream. Probably will never happen.
I drove into the national forest and started to climb the winding road to the crest of the Blue Ridge. Then I noticed the “Big East Fork” parking area and abruptly pulled in. (There might even have been a squealing of tires.) I’d read in a hiking guide about the trails that start here. You could go up to Shining Rock itself and even Cold Mountain, up into the realm of the 6000 footers. I remembered that you had a couple of options to get up to the major ridge, and one of them was up the good old undignified Old Butt Knob trail. But it was described as extremely steep.
Well, that was actually just what I wanted. I wasn’t going to climb all the way up to the Shining Rock ridge. I just wanted to do some serious climbing for a short distance, then turn back around. I didn’t have my hiking boots with me or even my running shoes, just my pair of leather street shoes.
So I set off along the East Fork and climbed gradually until I reached an unmarked junction and then turned off to the right and started the steep climb. I worked my way up steadily among the laurel and rhododendron, going as fast as I could for the exercise.
I probably climbed about 1000 vertical feet before I reached an overlook of boulders embraced by the roots of pines. Coming from New England, I thought they looked like pitch pines, but I think they are actually their southern Appalachian cousins, the Table Mountain pines. Not white pines. Shorter, stubby needles, bending and twisting, bristling. I like them.
I was looking down into the long, deep, shadowy valley of Shining Creek. Across it was a ridge with a granite-nosed stub end, Raven Cliff. The towering slopes of gray and brown December hardwoods rose up thousands of feet. At the top, cold gray clouds silently shifted, erasing the lines of the mountains. I sat for a while and looked at the clouds as they flowed quietly across the mountains.
And then I ran all the way back to my car, just because I felt like it.