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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′

Yellow Mountain December 3, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking.
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Yes, another fire tower hike!

There were a couple of reasons why I decided to conquer the 5127′ summit of Yellow Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest.  First of all, it would make a good moderate leg-stretcher at approximately 10 miles, 3000 vertical (up and back).  Secondly, it would take me fairly close to the area that I wrote about in my “Escape of the locomotive raiders” posts.  And finally, it wouldn’t be a very long drive for me.

Plus, I had all the information in front of me in the form of Peter J. Barr’s Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers.  (Honestly, I’m not just trying to give Peter another plug—it really is the book that is most relevant for this outing!)

The vertical profile of this hike is a bit odd.  You climb in three separate increments of approximately 1000′ each, two on the way to the summit (up to Shortoff Mountain, then down, then up again to the Yellow Mountain summit), and one on the way back (down to the gap, then back up Shortoff again).

From my current home in Brevard, it took me only a little more than an hour to get there.  Most of the drive is along Highway 64, through Cashiers and then most of the way to Highlands.  I have to say that I was completely grossed out by all of the development that has occurred along that stretch of 64.  It’s okay going southwest until somewhere near Lake Toxaway, and then it’s one stupid development after another.  I knew from Peter’s writeup that I would also have to brace myself for recent development right near the summit of Yellow Mountain.  I could tell I was getting into Stupidland when I started seeing a lot of giant, lumbering “luxury SUVs.”

It was a perfect temperature for hiking, getting up around 60 degrees, a bit overcast.  As I climbed to Shortoff Mountain, I saw a stump that someone had cut into a gameboard, not quite right for chess, but who knows?

Checkers or chess, anyone?

It was a moderate descent into Yellow Mountain Gap, through open hardwoods with rhododendron growing here and there.

Looking south from Yellow Mountain Gap

The aroma of oak leaves was strong in the warm midday sun.  I climbed up toward Yellow Mountain, and I came to the place where a road for a “high-end” development practically touches the trail.

The road comes very close to the trail

The road comes very close to the trail

I think many hikers just go over to the road at that point, because the trail above there is quite overgrown.

Laurel overhangs the trail

I got up to the top and had wonderful views in every direction.  I was pleasantly surprised that I couldn’t actually see the houses of the new “high-end development” from the fire tower.  Looking north, I could see the stateline ridge in the Smokies (the four bumps of LeConte make that identification so easy).  I could see in every direction, way off to the flatlands of South Carolina, and over to the rolling Nantahala Mountains.  Those I wrote about in my post, “Escape of the locomotive raiders (Part 2).”  When I looked back at Shortoff Mountain, I saw that it has an interesting bowl.

This shows the bowl of Shortoff to the left, and the ridge that leads from the trail's starting point at Cole Gap

On my way back, I ran into the only people I saw all day.  The first was a guy running over the top of Shortoff Mountain—maybe a regular fitness outing for him.  Then a woman with two friendly dogs.

It was a fine, pleasant outing on a late November day.