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Pinnacle Mountain February 3, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking.
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Looking southwest from Bald Knob on Pinnacle Mountain

When road and trail conditions are bad in North Carolina, what is the solution?  South Carolina!

Last fall I climbed Table Rock with a group of friendly hikers based in Brevard.  From that experience, I knew that Table Rock, at 3,124 feet, is not actually the highest point in the immediate vicinity, though it hogs most of the attention because of its stunning cliff bands.  (It looks like a cousin of Looking Glass Rock.  They are both plutons.)  The highest point in Table Rock State Park is its neighbor to the west, Pinnacle Mountain (3,425), which is the state’s third highest summit.  So, what more obvious hike to do, especially since the park is only an hour away from where I live?

This hike had some unusual themes.  I will call them the “false alarm” theme and the “ice bucket” theme.

From the nature center, the trail begins as a paved pathway that winds along Carrick Creek.  This very beautiful stream tumbles and glides over one waterfall after another.  High water levels brought out the best of the falls, all the extra embroidery and curlicues of the foaming water as it raced over the smooth granite ledges.

Carrick Creek shows off some of its waterfall tricks

I enjoyed the cascades just as much as the waterfalls.

I liked the copper color of the water reflecting the light

Where the pavement stopped and the Carrick Creek trail branched off from the Table Rock trail, I met a man coming the other way.  He told me, “I got to the first creek crossing and turned around.  The stepping stones were underwater, and boy, that water looked really fast!”  I thought to myself, Gee, maybe I should have brought my hiking poles (I’m not usually much of a pole user).  I thanked him for the warning and told him I’d take a look, maybe turn around and go by an alternative route.

It was the first instance of the “false alarm theme.”  I got to the stream crossing, saw that the stepping stones were about an inch under water, and just walked right across.  The depth of the surrounding water was maybe…nine inches?  A foot?  Mighty Carrick Creek would have had quite a struggle to sweep a human being downstream unless perhaps the human being weighed less than 30 or 40 pounds, which was not the case with my friendly fellow hiker.  I continued along and ran into him again at an upper junction.  He congratulated me on having made the crossing, and we chatted a few minutes.  He told me that he had recently moved into the countryside from Simpsonville, which was just “wall to wall people.”  I hadn’t heard of this metropolis before, and when I got home I looked it up in my atlas: pop. 11,700.  Hmmm…

I continued along the Pinnacle Mountain trail and did the spur to Mill Creek Falls, which I found a bit disappointing, but I later discovered that I had not actually reached the official lookout point.  The trail was covered with a few inches of snow amidst the shady laurels, and I mistakenly thought I had reached the end of it where it came close to the top of the falls.

The falls dropped off here, and I really couldn't see much

I retraced my steps back to the main trail and continued toward Bald Knob.  At about 2700 feet, I started running into the “ice bucket” conditions.

This was surprisingly difficult to deal with

It wasn’t snow, it was chunks of ice, just like what comes out of the dispenser down the hall at the motel.

Perfect for chilling a bottle of champagne

I churned my way up through this for a while, my feet slipping and sliding.  I had the microspikes in my pack, but I don’t think they would have helped with this.  Finally I reached Bald Knob, and had a view over to Table Rock.

Table Rock in the distance

At Bald Knob, I ran into a woman who asked me which way I was going.  When I told her I was going to loop around on the Ridge trail and Table Rock trail, she said, “Watch out for ice on that side.  Anything that looks wet might be ice, and it’s very slippery.”  From my map it looked as though the Ridge trail might be on the shady north side, so I could imagine it might be icy.  I continued the climb toward the summit of Pinnacle Mountain.  My hike description spoke of a “steep ascension,” which sounded vaguely religious to me, instead of a “steep ascent.”  Finally I reached the top, which was adorned with signs warning against trespassing into the Greenville municipal watershed.

The mighty summit of Pinnacle Mountain

I then started my way down, watching vigilantly for the treacherous ice I’d been warned about.  I soon realized, however, that the trail did not go across a shady north slope but stayed on the sunny crest of a ridge.  “When am I going to start running into this ice?” I kept wondering.  Well, I never did encounter anything more than slushy snow.  It was the “false alarm” theme again.

It reminded me of an experience I had last year in the Evans Notch area on the New Hampshire-Maine border.  As I was going along a ridge and preparing to descend into the valley, I encountered a couple who said, “Be very careful going down the headwall.  It’s quite dangerous.”  I thanked them and went on, then started to wonder what “headwall” they might be talking about.  My trail down was one I hadn’t taken before, so I thought possibly there might be something hazardous in the steep section of the descent.  Well, apart from one slightly awkward descent down a steep ledge, there was nothing that posed a problem at all.  But it was distracting to wonder, “Did they think I was going a different way?  Did they really think this was a ‘headwall’?  Was it something about the way I looked…???”

Then, to cap it off, as I neared the junction with the Table Rock trail, I met a hiker who asked me if I’d come around the “front side” of Pinnacle Mountain.  When I said yes, he said, “I thought about going that way, but I decided not to.  Didn’t want to deal with those stepping stones!”  I just barely managed to keep a straight face.

I left the snow behind as I descended the Table Rock trail.  As I walked between the giant boulders on the mountain’s south side, a wonderful warm breeze came up.  It was a breeze that somehow brought a feeling along with it, hard to describe, something to do with summer evenings and enjoyment and romance.  Some combination of things that I haven’t experienced for a long time.

The water looked like topaz above this waterfall



1. yr loyal reader - February 6, 2010

Another keenly-observed, wry, wise piece. As a denizen of the Flat lands of Florida, I turn to your blog to get my mountain hiking “fix.” You always deliver. As the popular song goes, “… you are the poet of my heart. Never change. Never stop.” And I wish for you the romance and summer breeze you (and all of us) deserve. It is coming, I can feel it. But meantime…. prepare for a little snow!

Jenny - February 6, 2010

What we’re dealing with here right now is not snow, but ice! In my area, at the higher elevations (such as my house at 3000 feet), we had freezing rain all day yesterday. Literally every five minutes or so I would hear a large branch snapping and falling to the ground–or landing on my roof (no damage, fortunately). Today it is thawing, but with the ice chunks pelting down from the trees, it’s not a very friendly environment out there. The roads are still covered with deadfall, and I doubt I’ll be able to drive anywhere until tomorrow.

2. kaslkaos - February 6, 2010

Carrick Falls is gorgeous. I’m thinking of my trip to Niagara, and how beautiful these woodland rivers are in comparison. So apt to compare their colours to jewels (topaz). So many images of falls show blue water, but in healthy woodland it’s often clear amber or tea and just as lovely.

3. kaslkaos - February 6, 2010

Sorry about double post, but missed the notify check box the 1st time around! Signed up for posts via email too while I was at it.

Jenny - February 6, 2010

Oh, I only got one copy of the earlier comment, so that’s fine! Artists like yourself probably know better than anyone that things are not actually the color that they are “supposed” to be–most water is not in fact blue (unless someone puts blue food coloring into it, as I saw one time in a fountain at a motel)…. Shadows are colored, things don’t have lines around them, and water can be any color at all!

4. mike d - February 10, 2010

Great post and photos. I met some interesting folks on my Table Rock adventure back in 07; I was the one wilting in the humidity.

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