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A hike in Big Ivy July 16, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
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Gosh, I'm proud of this photo! (Click twice for full zoom)

Yesterday I decided to venture into Big Ivy. I really just had to find out what this place was all about. After all, I own a Forest Service map titled “South Toe River, Mount Mitchell, and Big Ivy Trails.” And yet I couldn’t have explained to anyone what on earth that name meant. Plus, I’d been deeply troubled by the “Forks of Ivy” exit off Interstate 26.

It’s all about the Ivy River, which runs into the French Broad near Marshall, North Carolina. Big Ivy takes in a swath of the Ivy’s tributaries, and is also known as the Coleman Boundary. This segment of Pisgah National Forest lies northwest of the Craggy Mountains and west of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Walker Knob and Balsam Gap. The best thing about Big Ivy is that it’s about a 30-minute drive from my place in North Asheville. You approach it from the west and drive deep into the valley of Dillingham Creek, south of Barnardsville, with changing patterns of mountains closing in around the road as you glide around the curves.

This outing was a short exercise hike of 3.6 miles roundtrip, 1050′ vertical, up the Walker Creek trail only as far as Forest Service Road 74. When I have more time, I will continue across the road to the Perkins trail and maybe even think about making the short off-trail connection to Walker Knob on the Parkway.

The hike started with an unusual bridge. I liked the way it didn’t lie flat.

Bridge on Walker Creek trail

I soon passed my first wildlife of the day, a toad, and climbed among a thriving jungle of nettles. That clump of white under the leaves has such a poisonous look.

Why do nettles hate us so much?

Soon after taking the above picture, I saw my second wildlife of the day—a large blacksnake. It did kind of startle me—I might have even made a funny little sound. He was lying right in the middle of the trail, and I was trying to decide which was worse, stepping over the snake or wading through the nettles, when he slithered off into the brush. It took him a long time to get the whole length of his three-or-four-foot body off the trail.

What you see is only the front third or so of his body

I continued climbing and passed a pretty area where the berries of the umbrella-leaves mixed with some red bee balm.

Umbrella-leaf plants

Up at the FS road junction, I found a big patch of wildflowers and took my picture of my other wildlife of the day that you see at the top of the post. The patch of bee balm was next to a mixture of fleabane and a tall variety of Black-eyed Susans.

Flowers thriving in a patch of sunlight

The forest is nearly all hardwoods in this area, without even much rhodo and laurel. On the way back down I noticed two vines intertwining next to an orange blaze on a tree. Soon I was back at the car, planning to return before long for further explorations.

Struggle of the vines---or is it cooperation of the vines?

Black Mountain crest July 8, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Black Mountains, hiking.
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Sunrise from camp at Deep Gap

Three of us set forth to traverse the ridge of the Black Mountains. We started at the northern terminus of the Black Mountain Crest trail at Bowlens Creek, hiked eight miles to Deep Gap (approximately 3500 vertical feet total). The second day, we journeyed from Deep Gap about 4.5 miles (the information sources vary on the mileage) to the summit of Mt. Mitchell and returned to Deep Gap for a second night. It’s hard to estimate the elevation gain for Day Two with all of its little ups and downs over 6000+ peaks, but it is probably around 2200 feet out and back. The third day, we descended 3.7 miles and 2900 vertical feet on the Colbert Ridge trail to our shuttled car.

Our team consisted of Terri Cox, Nan Woodbury, and myself.

It would have been possible to combine the itineraries of the second and third days, but our idea was to relax on the summit of The Highest Point East Of The Mississippi (6,684′) and simply to enjoy being up on the crest of a range that is remarkable in its dimensions. Also, there were a few foot issues.

Nan experimented with solutions for Terri's feet

Terri is a very experienced backpacker who doesn’t usually have foot problems. But a new pair of Asolo boots just seemed to be determined to destroy her feet.  We tried combinations of bandaids, duct tape, gauze cut into different shapes, and medical tape. Nothing really worked. At the very end of the outing, Terri was wearing an Asolo boot on the less problematic foot and a Teva-type sandal on the other.

I don’t usually have foot problems either, but my legs and feet were not a pretty sight.

Well, some of the bruises and scratches dated back

It seemed to be the combination of full packs, the rugged and rocky ups and downs, and socks that were especially, delightfully sweaty (stinky too, of course) from the unusually warm conditions.

It took us a little bit of driving back and forth to find the Bowlens Creek trailhead (which is more of an ATV trail that turns into a footpath). The magic words are: Water Shed Road, off state road 1109 south of Burnsville. That is your ticket to success.

The climb was fairly gradual through anonymous hardwoods, then into red spruce, and finally out onto the crest near Celo Knob (6327′). The trail is a bit overgrown in this northern section.

Can you see the trail?

We waded through blackberries, St. Johns Wort, and generally a profusion of green leafy vegetation. We got our first views looking south along the crest.

Looking south from near Celo Knob

In case anyone is wondering, no, we didn’t go over the summits that were bypassed by the trail. This wasn’t a peakbagging mission.

Much to our surprise, after we made the tough descent from Winter Star (6203′), we found about 30 people camping in Deep Gap (5700′). There was a trail crew, a youth group, and what looked like several large family groups. There wasn’t a lot of space for our tents, but we found what turned out to be quite a nice flat, grassy spot to pitch them side by side.

A bit dark---Nan and Terri, and our three side-by-side tents

On both of our outings, my companions have completely put me to shame with their tasty, complex menus of backpacking food. Fortunately, it doesn’t actually bother me that much to be the “boring food person.” I had Thai noodles with Spam. Hmm, maybe that’s weird enough not to be boring.

So we climbed over (or close to) the summits of Cattail Peak (6600′), Balsam Cone (6611′), Big Tom (6581′), Mt. Craig (6647′), and finally to Mitchell. The ascents and descents were rocky and steep, and reminded me very much of northern New England: the balsams and spruce, the mountain ash and birch, the northern plants like Clintonia lily. There were a couple of steep, rocky places where a fixed rope had been provided. I didn’t think the ropes were necessary, but some people (like a cheery guy that we passed) thought they were fun. I realize I’m a New England hiking snob: there are many places like Huntington Ravine, Great Gulf, King Ravine, Great Gully, and the Castles that are harder and don’t have ropes. But that’s okay.

Looking from Mt. Craig to Mt. Mitchell

The closer we got to the top of Mitchell, the more improved the trail became, until it turned into something like a walkway in a formal garden.

Quite different from trail conditions further north!

So we lunched, went up to the observation deck, and generally milled around the summit for a while.

Jenny near Mitchell summit

We took our time getting back to Deep Gap and had a relaxing dinner before settling in for the night. The next day, our descent into Colbert Ridge was punctuated by episodes of Foot Issues, but we made it down to the car, shuttled back to the north, and enjoyed a patch of incredibly delicious ripe blackberries (people driving by were slowing down and staring at the three women who were picking the berries with remarkable speed and efficiency, tasting all along the way)!

Resting on the return from Mitchell to Deep Gap