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Woody Ridge to Horse Rock June 6, 2011

Posted by Jenny in Black Mountains, hiking.
Tags: , ,

Black Mountain crest looking south from Horse Rock

This was a half-day exercise hike. It offers 3000 vertical feet of climbing in 2.2 miles, with an especially steep stretch that takes you from 4400′ to 5000′ in a quarter of a mile. I’ve been there twice before, once a year ago and once late this past winter when I decided to turn back halfway up because of icy conditions. It gets you up into the magical world of spruce and balsam. And it’s an incredible workout.

As I climbed from 3200′ to 6000′, I saw a wide variety of plants in bloom.

I believe this is evening primrose (Oenothera)

Goatsbeard (Aruncus)

Squaw root

I spotted a little guy bright orange in color—I hope his brightness doesn’t attract predators!


I passed the end of the old road crisscrossed with ATV tracks and embarked on the steep part. The lower section of it is not very interesting—you just go straight up a narrow dirt path. You keep looking for a switchback, but there is none—just up, up, up! Finally the grade relents a bit, and you enter a beautiful glade of grass and ferns.

Lovely grassy glade

Here I started to see laurel and catawba rhododendron. At its lowest elevations, the blossoms were a little bit past prime, but as I did the usual time-travel backwards into spring with the increasing elevation, the blooms started looking prettier and prettier.

Seeing the catawba in a tangle like this seems infinitely more beautiful than seeing cultivated varieties in a foundation planting

One of the reasons why my career as a landscape designer lasted only a few years is that I just couldn’t overcome my preference for the wild over the cultivated, and my garden designs were too “shaggy” for many people’s tastes!

Closeup of catawba

Sometimes pure green plants like moss appeal to me as much as showy flowers. I liked the lush cushions of moss on this boulder.

You just want to pat its green fur

The rosy colors in this laurel were fabulous

Looking up the ridge, I could see that I was actually making progress. A dense spruce forest lay ahead.

Looking up Woody Ridge, with Celo Knob to the right

At last I reached the junction with the Black Mountain crest trail, and I headed a short distance north to sit on a large rock outcrop that I guess I will refer to as the shoulder of Horse Rock. This whole thing about Horse Rock confuses me. It is not considered a “legitimate” 6000-footer for peakbagging purposes because it lacks the necessary drop and rise from its neighbor, Celo Knob—in other words, it is technically a shoulder of Celo Knob, not a separate peak. Yet people do apparently mean the whole bump when they say “Horse Rock,” not just the outcrop—it does have a summit. I did not climb to the summit—it looked like a dense tangle, and I felt no particular urge to stand on its highest point. I contented myself with relaxing on the outcrop. But perhaps someone will say I was not really “on” Horse Rock. Whatever.

I enjoyed the constantly shifting clouds that hung over the towering ridges.

Westward view from the outcrop

Finally I left this wonderful place and headed back down. While descending, I met an unhappy couple from Oklahoma whom I’d passed on the way up, still climbing. The guy was carrying backpacking supplies for both of them—his wife or girlfriend was carrying only a small daypack. Boy, he had a tough job to get up that trail. I hadn’t set any blistering speed records going up, but it looked like they were on a pace to complete the climb more than an hour after I did—and that difference in time occurred in just the upper mile.

And so I left behind the world of the balsam.

New growth on balsam

Postscript: One thing I always enjoy about driving to that area is that the roads around Burnsville, Micaville, and beautiful downtown Celo have much more interesting names than most places. Here are some examples:

Bear Wallow Road, Motor Sports Lane, Bowditch Bottom Road, Double Island Road, Good Time Lane, Banjo Branch Lane, Blue Rock Road, Saw Mill Hollow Road, Old Buckner Post Office Road, Shake Rag Road, and Passional Lane.



1. Thomas Stazyk - June 6, 2011

Great pictures–I love the orange newt! Not to mention Bear Wallow Road.

Jenny - June 6, 2011

I would be very happy to live on Bear Wallow Road.

2. Adam - June 7, 2011

Very nice Jenny the pictures are all so green. Seems like similar pics in the smokies always have lots of dead trees whether it be balsams or hemlock. I don’t see anything like that in these pics.

Jenny - June 7, 2011

Interesting point, Adam. As far as balsams are concerned, I’ve found that things are looking a lot greener even in the Smokies now than they did in the late 80s and early 90s, since there is a lot of new balsam growth—let’s just pray they aren’t suddenly attacked by the adelgid all over again when they reach a certain size. The high winds on the Black Mountain crest may have knocked over most of any old dead taller balsams (note windblown appearance of the balsams there now). As far as hemlocks are concerned, part of the explanation in these photos is that the one looking along the crest and the one looking up the ridge are both viewing elevations of 5000+ where you wouldn’t see hemlocks much anyway. But that doesn’t explain the one of the westward view looking down the ridge. I have found that in the Black Mountains (a) there are not as many hemlocks in the first place and (b) the ones you do see are not as badly affected by the adelgid. Perhaps it is the lower density of hemlocks in the Blacks that has slowed the adelgid damage. If anyone has more to add on this subject, I would be interested to hear it. One other idea: the Blacks amount to a sort of “sky island,” a narrow ribbon of wild, high-elevation terrain. Their relative isolation from other high-elevation tracts may help protect them from rapid infestations, while the Smokies are such a large area of dense forest that they unfortunately become a sort of pressure cooker for any kind of tree problem.
P.S. I visited the summit of Mitchell in 1995. It looked like a balsam graveyard. Now it looks pretty green.

3. Kath Bartlett - June 8, 2011


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