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Boteler Peak March 15, 2013

Posted by Jenny in conservation, hiking, Nantahala National Forest, Wilderness Society.
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View northwest from Boteler Peak

View northwest from Boteler Peak.

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. The review of  management plans for Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests is now underway.

Boteler Peak (elev. 5010′) links the Tusquitee Bald/Fires Creek Rim area with the southern Nantahala mountains. The area contains significant old-growth acreage, although big portions of the lower elevations have been logged. It is known for outcrops of serpentine rocks and unusual combinations of plants in what are called the serpentine barrens.

Boteler is reached via the portion of the Chunky Gal trail that goes northwest from Glade Gap on US 64. When I set off to visit Boteler yesterday, the toughest challenge I met was finding the trailhead. If you are driving from Franklin NC, you’ll find it several miles west of the Macon – Clay county line. The best tactic is to look out for the top of a sustained climb, where you find a side road on the right marked “Old Hwy 64” just before the main highway drops down toward Hayesville. That is where you pull off.  It is hard to spot the Forest Service marker from the highway.

This is the second marker, tucked into the woods.

This is the second marker, tucked into the woods.

After a false start on a gravel road just down the highway, I figured things out and set off along the dirt road where the trail starts. Following blue blazes, I dropped down into the valley of Glade Creek and started to climb along the stream. Total elevation gain was 1500′, and distance was about 6 miles roundtrip.

I crossed the stream at a pretty spot where rhodo overhung a small cascade.

Pretty little waterfall.

Pretty little waterfall.

The night before, temps got down into the teens at this elevation, and ice was hanging on even though it was now in the low 40s.

I liked this ice formation.

I liked this ice formation.

I figured it was too early for spring wildflowers above 3600′. (I spotted my first trout lilies of the year the other day at 3000′ in the Plotts.) So I looked for other forms of interest.

This club moss provided a luxuriant shade of green.

This club moss provided a luxuriant shade of green.

A squirrel could take a shortcut underneath.

A squirrel could take a shortcut underneath.

The trail reached an old Forest Service road and followed the road for a half mile or so. It is well-signed and easy to follow. (The Mountain High Hikers based in Young Harris, Georgia, maintain it.)

Forest Service road.

Forest Service road.

I’d heard that wild hogs are common in the area, and I saw their hoofprints and signs of rooting in several places.

Earth rooted up by hogs.

Earth rooted up by hogs.

At the point where the trail left the road again to climb along the ridge, I saw something that really startled me: balsams. I would never expect to see them as low as 4500′, nearly down at the Georgia line. Planted by stealth? Escapees from a Fraser fir plantation? Beats me.

They stood innocently along the edge of the road.

They stood innocently along the edge of the road.

Yes, they really were balsams.

Yes, they really were balsams.

A few more spindly ones appeared on the other side of the trail, and then they disappeared, replaced by the occasional unhealthy hemlock that one would expect.

I passed a few more interesting specimens of plant life.

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

Reindeer moss.

Reindeer moss.

The trail stayed almost level for a while as it followed the ridge. It went through a series of rhodo tunnels.

Sun-dappled rhodo tunnel.

Sun-dappled rhodo tunnel. (The sun was soon to disappear.)

I will have to come back in June.

I will have to come back in June.

As I climbed slightly higher, I entered a zone affected by wind and fog. Twisted oaks rose above the rhodo understory, their branches covered with the lichens and moss caused by long immersion in mist. Areas of severe wind damage had been tended to by the Mountain High Hikers: I saw stacks of rhodo blowdown laid neatly beside the trail. I passed a tree that had become a real mecca for woodpeckers.

Woodpecker heaven.

Woodpecker heaven.

After following the ridge without much change in elevation for quite a while, I passed what I thought might be the high point and dropped down. I’d heard of a side trail to a view, so I kept going. Apparently this side trail has been improved by the Mountain High Hikers in the past couple of years.

Boteler or Boetler? It's anyone's guess.

Boteler or Boetler? It’s anyone’s guess.

From that point I climbed another 150′, to what was the true high point, before I reached the dramatic viewpoint among yellow birches and low, huddled vegetation—perhaps the serpentine barrens? The best view was across to the Tusquitee range.

We could be looking at Potrock Bald and Tusquitee Bald. Correct me if I'm wrong.

We could be looking at Potrock Bald and Tusquitee Bald. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I liked the wind-stunted birches, but it was surprisingly chilly up there. I had two layers of fleece under my shell, plus my mittens. The sky had turned overcast. I could swear it was completely clear until I approached the summit and then cleared up again as soon as I left.

Yellow birches clung to the boulders.

Yellow birches clung to the boulders.

Christmas ferns embraced by birch root.

Polypody ferns embraced by birch root.

As I headed back down the side trail, I noticed an ancient laurel. Its trunk was massive.

The texture of the bark was beautiful.

The texture of the bark was beautiful.

I had glimpses of Chatuge Lake to the south (see photo at bottom).

The trip back to the trailhead went uneventfully. As I reached my car, another car pulled up and a man with a map stepped out. “Can you tell us where to find the Chunky Gal trail?” I pointed to the obscure Forest Service marker just a few yards away.  It turned out he had a house near Tusquitee Bald and was scouting out the trailhead location for a weekend hike. I gave him some information about my trip to Boteler, and he thanked me profusely.

I got in my car and headed home toward Sylva. As I neared the A.T. crossing, I sped past three hitchhikers with large packs. I thought, “I can’t fit them into my small car!” and drove by. But a minute later I was turning around to pick them up. We’d figure out a way to squeeze everyone in. Sure enough, they were thru-hikers, and they’d had a tough day. Their water had frozen solid the previous night, and they’d gone quite a few miles without anything to drink. It had been a chilly day. They were headed into Franklin for some R&R and a “zero” day (a rest day with zero mileage). I was happy to take them to the place they planned to spend the night in downtown Franklin. “You made our day!” they said.

No, you made my day. It is such a pleasure to be able to help.

View to Lake Chatuge.

View to Lake Chatuge.