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Rich Knob November 20, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Mountains to Sea Trail.
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The fearsome summit pitch

Note to Lincoln Highway followers: Pennsylvania coming soon!

I was in the mood for a severe mountaineering challenge—but it had to be close to Asheville. Lane Pinnacle came to mind. Off I drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway, only to find it was gated! A strange thing on this afternoon of temperatures in the 60s. There must have been ice in the Craggies left over from Thursday’s cold snap.

Reluctantly I turned around and drove the short distance down the Ox Creek Road to a trailhead I’d visited only two days before with my friend Beth. It’s the most popular approach to Rattlesnake Lodge. I would push through the Lodge area and make an assault on Rich Knob. At just shy of 4900′, it would at least give me 1700′ of elevation gain and six miles total.

Twenty minutes into the hike, the roar of motorcycles told me the gate had just been opened. Oh well! I was committed to my quest.

I sped along past the remains of the old lodge buildings from the early 1900s, owned by Chase P. Ambler, a very snooty-looking gentleman with a high starched collar, to judge by the picture on the informational sign. Beth and I had arbitrarily decided that the middle initial “P” stood for Pinkerton and that he was known to one and all as “Pinky.”

I climbed the steeper of the two paths up to the spring, then continued to the gap that I will always think of as the “white beebalm gap.” That got me up to 4400′. Then came the moderately steep switchbacking section that leads to Rich Knob.

I passed under the overhanging boulder—covered with rock tripe—that shelters a permanent campfire ring.

The fire ring is tucked under the tilted rock

At last I reached the summit area. The MST trail doesn’t go over the true summit, and I knew that this time I must face up to it. I tackled a forbidding cliff that towered over me, striking fear deep into my heart (see photo at top). Above this obstacle, I discovered that the summit was surprisingly ornery.

The summit had its claws out

As a result, I have to admit there might have been a lump or a bump slightly higher than where I was standing, but I decided not to fight through the briers.

This is November, when you have to look for small things. The fall leaves have turned brittle and brown, the bright frosts of winter have yet to come, spring hides around the other side of the circle (I think of the calendar year as a giant circle, with winter at the bottom), and summer is but the faintest glimmer. I discovered a geranium that I will have to check up on next June.

I'll look for this next June

I always like Christmas ferns with their persistent green and their tidily stenciled shapes.

Christmas ferns and oak leaves

The forest here leans heavily to oak.  I could smell oak in the air (which got my allergies going), and I slipped and slithered on the leathery oak leaves going down the ankle-deep trail.

More small things to enjoy in November

As I headed back down, things already looked dark. Time to enjoy the twinkling of holiday lights!

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November sky

Middle Prong Wilderness revisited October 2, 2011

Posted by Jenny in hiking.
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Is it really only October 2, down here at 35 degrees latitude?

I took this wintry-looking photo this morning at the Devils Courthouse overlook on the Parkway. Pretty much everything above 5600′ was decorated with frost, which made an interesting contrast with the predominantly green foliage in the valleys.

But regardless of the frosty conditions, my goal was to test out my replacement camera and get in a short hike. This time I traveled along Fork Ridge from the south rather than from the north as I had done in June. Although going in this direction makes it a shorter distance to the major peak of the ridge (Green Knob, 5880′—not to be confused with the one in the Black Mountains), I still didn’t make it to the top of Green Knob. But I did see many wonderful things on my half-day outing.

I approached the area via Canton and Route 215, which climbs up, up, up through the beautiful valley of the West Fork of the Pigeon. I stopped to take a picture where the stream cascades down under the highway.

West Fork

I started to get more and more views of the frost on the heights.

Contrasting elevations

I detoured past the parking area I needed for my starting Mountains-to-Sea segment and drove up to the Parkway to take a look. Conditions were quite brisk up at the Devils Courthouse overlook. I actually thought the wind was going to tear the car door off its hinges when I got out, and I didn’t have the gear necessary for the conditions. My fingers became stingingly cold in just a minute.

Overlook scene

Then back to my parking area on 215. I had assumed that people parking there, just north of the 215/BRP junction, must be heading to the MST. I followed my practice of the June hike of refusing to read any guidebook or written information at all. It took me a while to figure out that the MST does leave from there—just down the road a ways from the parking area. This time I didn’t have a friendly fisherman to give me advice. But no harm done, I just had to put in a short stint crawling through a laurel thicket to find the trail. Once again, the Middle Prong lives up to its reputation of spurning trail signs.

The woods here were far more hospitable than the Devils Courthouse overlook. I saw beautiful purple asters in sunny glades.

I've noticed there are even several different kinds of purple asters!

I saw the most plush, luxurious moss you can imagine. (People who follow this blog know that I am obsessed with moss.)

This made a nice place to sit while I had a bite to eat

Little rectangles of ice kept dropping out of the evergreens as the temperature rose.

Fallen ice chunks with neatly squared-off corners

Colorful trees were in the minority, but the ones that did have color absolutely  glowed in the light.

Gold and blue

I found the color contrast between ferns and blackberries to be interesting. Some types of ferns had instantly crumpled in the frost, while others stayed bright green.

Green and brown

I liked these beech leaves.

Nice warm browns and golds

I reached my turnaround time and headed back. As I have noticed before, on days of intense sunlight, a trail can look entirely different going in the two directions. It was almost blinding as I headed south, and I use the light conditions as my excuse for not recognizing the unmarked junction of the Fork Ridge trail and the MST when I returned to it. I made a turn to the left, thinking I was just following the somewhat tortuous windings of the trail, when in fact I was leaving Fork Ridge and turning east on the MST. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to figure things out, and I was back to my car without any trouble.

Bathed in light