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Bartram Trail over Fishhawk and Whiterock April 24, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Nantahala National Forest, Southern Appalachians.
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Boulders on Whiterock

Boulders on Whiterock.

Today I explored a short section of the 115-mile Bartram Trail. I started at Jones Gap and did an out-and-back of eight miles total plus a couple of side trails. This is a rewarding short trip into more of the plutons around Highlands, NC. Readers may recall that I visited Whiteside Mountain a couple of months ago. That is in the same area and part of the same geological family.

The Bartram Trail goes from north Georgia to western North Carolina, roughly following the route of the naturalist William Bartram on his expedition of 1773 to 1777.

William Bartram, 1739-1823. Explorer and naturalist.

William Bartram, 1739-1823. Explorer and naturalist.

The drive to Jones Gap is fairly dramatic if you approach it from the Cullasaja Gorge. The road through the gorge climbs steeply, with lots of sharp curves and steep dropoffs. Large trucks are banned from driving it.  But the Cullasaja road is tame compared to the unpaved Forest Service road that takes you the last couple of miles up to the gap (elev. 4360′). It is the kind of road where you keep your fingers crossed no one comes the other way, as it’s just one car-width wide, with a deep ditch on one side and a dropoff on the other, and only a few spots where you could pull over.

The trailhead parking area boasts an attractive informational kiosk.

I headed in the direction of Buckeye Creek.

I headed in the direction of Buckeye Creek.

It was a beautiful morning, with a temperature in the low 50s at this elevation, blue skies, and a gentle breeze. As I expected, the wildflowers hadn’t progressed very far here. I saw violets, bloodroot, toothwort, and chickweed.

I passed through an anonymous forest of still-bare hardwoods interspersed with clumps of rhodo and laurel. Before I got to Whiterock Gap, I turned off on a short side path that led to open rock with views of Whiterock.

Whiterock shows off its plutonic dome.

Whiterock shows off its plutonic dome.

Where I stood, smooth rock was covered here and there with pads of moss.

Mosses and lichens formed mats on the smooth rock.

Mosses and lichens formed mats on the smooth rock.

Odd-shaped boulders were strewn about. It made me think of a workshop for assembling Stonehenge.

Giants could assemble these into some sort of structure.

Giants could assemble these into some sort of structure.

I returned to the trail, went through Whiterock Gap, and turned off again on a trail that climbed 0.3 mile to open ledges near the summit of Whiterock, passing through a clearing where pine trees grew out of small mats of soil and vegetation.

This pine hardly seems to have enough soil to root itself.

This pine hardly seems to have enough soil to root itself.

I came out on a spectacular vista.

The pale green of spring was creeping up the valleys.

The pale green of spring was creeping up the valleys.

Small serviceberries grew on the ledges.

Small serviceberries grew on the ledges.

After I returned to the main trail, I spotted an especially nice serviceberry in bloom.

Pretty serviceberry blossoms.

Pretty serviceberry blossoms.

I passed over Little Fishhawk and eventually arrived at the side trail to (Big) Fishhawk. It climbs steeply to the summit, which has no views but features a plaque honoring William Bartram.


Bartram plaque.

Fishhawk summit.

Fishhawk summit.

I continued to Wolf Rock, 3.9 miles from Jones Gap. It offered a restricted view that came as an anticlimax after Whiterock, but if you were hiking from the other direction it would be a welcome stopping point on your climb. Three peregrines were racing across the sky when I stopped there.

Here I turned back, having enjoyed a short but interesting hike.

View from Wolf Rock.

View from Wolf Rock.

Teyahalee Bald and Ash Cove September 13, 2012

Posted by Jenny in conservation, hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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The ridge that defines the northern boundary of Ash Cove is seen at center

This post is one of a series about “North Carolina’s Mountain Treasures,” lands targeted for higher protective designation by the Wilderness Society.  For more information about this campaign, please visit the Mountain Treasures website.

This journey took me to the lookout tower on Teyahalee Bald (also known as Joanna Bald), which marks the northwestern corner of Ash Cove, one of the tracts the Wilderness Society is working to protect. Ash Cove lies north of Andrews at the eastern end of the Snowbird Mountains.

Teyahalee (elev. 4716′) has, for hikers, two other kinds of significance. It lies at the end of the now-defunct western extension of the Bartram Trail, and it has a lookout tower on its summit. Armed with my friend Peter Barr’s Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers, I was able to navigate my way to this somewhat obscure destination much more easily than I could have with my other tools (DeLorme road atlas, Nat Geo maps, USGS maps).

The lookout tower has a cell tower as a very close neighbor.

I recommend visiting the website of the North Carolina chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association for more information about the state’s 26 towers.

Teyahalee actually has yet another layer of significance. It lies close to Tatham Gap on the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Driving north from Andrews, I stopped at the sign marking the start of the steep gravel section of Tatham Gap Road.

Sign at Tatham Gap Road

I drove slowly up the 4.6 miles to the gap. I think of mountain roads in terms of whether I am mainly in fourth gear shifting down to third for curves and steep hills, mainly in third shifting to second, or mainly in second shifting to first. This one fell into the last category. It switchbacked its way up, occasionally passing steep dropoffs. Sharp rocks in the road brought to mind the possibility of a flat tire, but I was driving toward a cell tower, with the bars on my cell phone steadily increasing—so if I had car trouble I could make a call from this road where hours might pass before another vehicle came by. On the other hand, the price of this communication is skylines marred by towers. It’s a difficult issue.

Cell towers on the skyline

I reached the gap, marked by another sign about the Trail of Tears, this one mentioning that it was forces of Brigadier General Winfield Scott that accompanied the Cherokees on their unwanted journey to Oklahoma. I recalled that he had yet to achieve fame as “Old Fuss and Feathers” in the Mexican-American War and as the author of the “Anaconda Plan” in the early days of the Civil War. Like many officers in the U.S. Army of the 19th century, he was occupied in times of “peace” in actions involving Native Americans.

I still had 2.6 miles to go on the side road to the locked gate below the towers. That road was easier to drive. I pulled off to the side below the gate and began my half-mile walk up the road. I saw wildflowers along the way.

Asters mean fall is coming


Along the road I had a nice view to the west toward the Unicoi Mountains.

Unicoi Mountains in the distance

As I walked, I knew I would pass the terminus of the Bartram Trail’s west extension. I noticed an unlabeled wooden post that might mark it, but I decided to visit the tower first. I already knew from Peter’s book that I would not be able to reach the catwalk level, but I could still get a view from the stairs.

I climbed the stairs…

…until I reached the padlocked catwalk.

I still had a decent view to the east.

View from tower stairs

A Forest Service employee was doing some work around the towers. He told me he was servicing equipment that monitors air quality. The Forest Service takes advantage of the availability of electrical power at such points to operate the equipment, a fringe benefit of the cell towers that at least does something to offset their intrusiveness in the landscape.

I went back to the marker, seeing from the lay of the land that this was really the only possible place the old unmaintained trail could be located—on the ridgeline. The dense vegetation made the presence of the ridgetop not so obvious as you might think, but I pushed through head-high blackberries and lots of Filmy Angelica to confirm my idea. And I did find the old trail, more by feel than by sight.

Unmarked post at terminus of old Bartram Trail

The Cheoah Ranger District of Nantahala National Forest is looking for volunteers to restore the trail, which was abandoned when the Bartram Trail was routed to Cheoah Bald. The Forest Service now calls this westernmost section the Valley River Trail, named after the mountains further to the east. Any volunteers have their work cut out for them.

The trail runs right through the middle of this scene, but it’s pretty hard to see!

Bushwhacking along the ridge would not present much of a navigational challenge, but long pants and long sleeves are needed. It might be pretty easy in winter.

I returned to my car and, once I reached Tatham Gap, opted to go on to Robbinsville rather than returning to Andrews. The distance from the gap into town is 5.9 miles, longer than the route to Andrews, but the road is in better shape and it’s all paved once you get down to a stream valley. And so I drove home to Sylva via Stecoah Gap.

Fall is arriving at 4500′

Bartram Trail to Cheoah Bald April 25, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Nantahala National Forest.
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Cheoah Bald

I did this hike on April 14 and just now found the time to write about it.

The Bartram Trail is a footpath that travels about 115 miles through north Georgia and North Carolina, named for botanist William Bartram, who explored the area between 1773 and 1777. His account of his experience, The Travels of William Bartram, was published in 1791 and remains in print. The North Carolina Bartram Trail Society was organized in 1977 and devoted many years building the NC portion of the trail within a corridor in Nantahala National Forest. It has now been completed. It features some elegant trail construction, such as this bridge that protects a steep sidehill section.

Elegant trail construction

I did this 10-mile hike on a warm Sunday afternoon, getting a late start and not beginning the climb until 1:00. I started at an elevation of about 2000′ in Nantahala Gorge. The endpoint elevation on Cheoah’s summit is 5062′, but the actual amount of climbing turned out to be closer to 3400′ because of a couple of significant ups and downs.

Cheoah is the northern terminus of Bartram. The last time I set foot on its summit was in 1986 with the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club on a dual mission: to do trail work on the A.T. and to see Halley’s Comet. We camped out on the Bald and set our alarm watches for 4:00 a.m. for the best view of the comet, which was visible but partially obscured by haze. The A.T. reaches Cheoah in a longer distance than the Bartram trail, starting further north in the Gorge at Wesser and traveling up the infamous “Jump-up” and across Sassafras Gap.

Once I crossed the highway and the railroad tracks across from the Winding Stair trailhead, I was greeted by the not-so-pretty sight of a large burned area. I believe the scorched areas I saw along the way were part of a program of prescribed burns, though unplanned forest fires have also sprung up in the area during recent dry weather.

Near the railroad tracks

The burn and the high position of the sun in the sky contributed to an overly toasty sensation as I toiled up through switchbacks to get up the steep wall of the gorge. I realized that I had probably not brought enough water. And I’d neglected to carry my usual bottle of iodine tablets.

Beware of the luxuriant poison ivy all along the first section of the trail. It finally fades out above 3000′.

Once the trail reaches the rim, it traverses over to the valley of Ledbetter Creek. At the high point of the traverse, I saw my first ladyslippers of the season.

Pink ladyslipper

The trail then makes one of its discouraging descents. But a colorful spattering of wildflowers along the way softened the realization that this would be a tougher hike than I’d anticipated.

Geranium and solomon's seal

I arrived at Ledbetter Creek, which the trail crisscrosses for the next couple of miles, passing through rubbly areas and making numerous small climbs and descents.

First crossing of Ledbetter Creek

I’ve become fixated with the patterns of light in streamwater.

The light was dancing

The wildflowers continued their kaleidoscopic progression.

Bluets beside the stream

It amazed me how well various plants were coming back in the burned areas.

Squaw root emerges through charred ground

The area has been battered by ice storms as well as by fire. This devastation zone may date to the harsh winter of 2009-2010.

Ice storm damage

I saw a painted trillium, one of my favorite wildflowers.

Painted trillium

Three miles in, I reached Bartram Falls. It has a lower section and an upper section. The lower has the major drop of the waterfall, but the upper features some interesting sluiceways between large rectangular blocks of stone.

Lower section of Bartram Falls

Upper section, featuring water moving among geometric shapes. I liked that.

I entered a zone of Sweet White Trillium.

Sweet White Trillium

My water situation was looking grim to the point that I thought I might have to turn around. But I explored a bit and found a spring. I refilled my bottle here.

A welcome sight

Not far above the spring, the trail crosses a forest service road and then tackles the steep climb up to the high ridge of the A.T. It runs beside a small stream drainage that was filled with the lush greenery of false hellebore.

False hellebore

At last I reached the junction with the A.T. and made the final push to the summit. I found two thru-hikers there—it’s so easy to spot them by their giant packs. We chatted for a bit and I enjoyed the view.

Be careful there, though. I spotted a tick crawling up my leg, and a day later found another one clinging to my earlobe—it had survived a hot shower!

It was time to face up to the trip back. An interesting hike of many contrasts and novel features. I highly recommend it—but start in the cool of the morning, not at 1:00.

Trillium grandiflorum in burned area