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Hickory Knob December 22, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
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Looking from Hickory Knob toward Black Mountain

This was a short snowshoe outing in Pisgah National Forest.  It had the advantage that the trailhead is not far up Hwy. 276, close to the ranger station.  The road today was still in pretty bad shape after the weekend’s snowstorm, and I scraped bottom a few times on the snow hump in the middle.

Looking down 276 from the ranger station

From the trailhead, it is 1400 vertical feet and 2.5 miles up the Black Mountain trail to Hickory Knob, which is a bump on a long ridge.  I’d ventured a short distance up it last week and discovered that it is a huge mountain biking trail, billed as one of the gnarliest in Pisgah.  I had to dodge a few bikes as I climbed.  Maybe I’ll get a mountain bike myself—looks like fun!  A lot of great mountain biking places around here—had a similar experience in Dupont State Forest a while back.

But mountain bikes are out of the picture as long as this snow is on the ground.  I brought my heavy-duty 30-inch snowshoes for this hike, which was overkill, but…they are the only snowshoes I have.  In the lower section of the trail, I could have done without snowshoes entirely, because there had been enough foot traffic to pack it down.  After the Thrift Cove trail turned off, there were a lot of blowdowns.  Or maybe I should call them bend-downs.  In many cases they were rhodies or hemlocks whose tops had bent down under the icy snow and created a kind of arch, and I hope they will spring back eventually.

There were a lot of these obstructions in the lower elevations

After I passed the upper end of the Thrift Cove trail, the foot traffic tailed off quite a bit.  It looked like maybe one group of people barebooting it and one person with snowshoes.

The trail switchbacks around some stream valleys.  I was struck by the shapes of these laurels in the brilliant sun.

Jenny has a thing about laurels!

I think I will start a second career and become a laurel scientist.  There is something about their shapes, the texture of their bark, the way they glisten in the sunlight, that seems to fascinate me.  My main question:  how old are these plants?

I trudged up the slopes of Hickory Knob, for there is really no other way to describe upward progress on snowshoes.  Each footstep makes a loud smacking noise, then you pick up that foot, put the other one down, and so on.  The whole way, it was kind of a toss-up whether the snowshoes were worthwhile on this icy compacted snow that was starting to turn into slush.  I certainly could have done it without them, but they stabilized me on the uneven pathway, and after all, I would have had to carry them if I’d taken them off.

I finally reached the majestic summit of Hickory Knob, which is 3540′, according to my USGS quad.  I’m sure that in summer it’s just a high point among multitudes of green leaves, but in winter you get a sense of vast distances and high peaks all around—through a screen of bare branches.  I took a picture down toward the French Broad River valley.

The valley is a kind of white shimmer in the distance

What I really liked up there was that it was bright, still, and absolutely silent.

The blue sky seemed to glow through the branches as I wended my way back down.

Glowing sky. Of course it's a laurel in the foreground.

The way back down was uneventful.  Not exactly an exciting mountain conquest, but a nice way to spend a few hours in the winter mountains and get a bit of exercise.



1. Kimberly Aardal - December 23, 2009

It sounds like a good snowshoe trip. I’m always interested in snowshoe or hiking trails in other parts of the country. It’s such a good way to get some exercise and enjoy nature at the same time.

2. Daffodil Planter - December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas Jenny! Interesting that it is the laurels and not the rhododendrons that are calling to you.

Jenny - December 29, 2009

The more I see these old, gnarly laurels in western NC and eastern TN, the more I admire them. The bark has such an interesting texture, and they have such amazing sculpted shapes. I’m hoping some botanist will provide the answer to my question about how old these shrubs/trees can get (they may not have the girth of trees, but they can be 15 to 20 feet high). Merry Christmas to you too!

3. kaslkaos - January 3, 2010

Snow, snowshoeing, winter hikes, the words sound so familiar, and then I see the photos of rhodo’s with their green leaves sparkling over the snow and remember that you write and live in a land far far away from me.
A gorgeous set of photographs, btw.

4. Travis - March 3, 2010

i’ve enjoyed reading through your blog…i live in columbia sc, and was thinking about heading up that way this weekend…is there still a lot of snow on the mountains and trails? i was thinking about heading out to the shining creek trail and going up to shining rock.

Jenny - March 3, 2010

Thanks for visiting, Travis! I haven’t seen any recent trip reports, but I would be prepared for a fair amount of snow and ice in the Shining Rock area. Waynesville got 8 more inches yesterday, and even before that there was quite a bit of snow in the high elevations. This has not been a typical winter! It’s going to be warm and sunny every day for the next few days, but then it’s going to refreeze every night. My guess is you could run into the whole range of conditions–maybe bare ground low down, slush, ice, snow. Wish I could give you more definite info. If I was going to Shining Rock, I would bring snowshoes and microspikes.

5. Travis - March 4, 2010

Thanks Jenny. It’s crazy how much it’s snowed up there. Even in Columbia we had 1 big snow and then a dusting 2 days ago. It seems that if I was able to make it up the Shining Creek Trail to Shining Rock that it would be very rewarding and I’d have it all to myself. I’m also curious as to how long the parkway will be closed. It could be awhile.

Jenny - March 4, 2010

Hey, go for it! Just be ready to burn a few calories! Well, maybe I’m giving you a false alarm, but I can tell you that at 3000 feet elevation in Brevard, there is a lot of snow on the ground. Let me know how it turns out. I’m stuck with doing a big work project, so I haven’t been able to get out for a good hike for a few weeks.

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