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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

Thistles

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′

Bearwallow Mountain February 13, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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Bearwallow Mountain. Photo source: Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

Once again, I’m falling down in the photography department. It was so cold and windy on the summit of Bearwallow on Saturday that the handful of photos I took look windblown themselves—not of acceptable quality. I did take one waterfall picture which I will include at the bottom. But I wanted to at least mention the hike here, since Bearwallow is a remarkable place.

Bearwallow is located along 74-A in Gerton, east of Asheville and out toward Bat Cave and Chimney Rock. The summit area has recently been protected by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy under a conservation easement. This outing was a joint hike by CMLC and the Carolina Mountain Club, and a frigid trip it turned out to be. You could tell a whole new weather system was moving in, with the temperature dropping into the low 20s over the course of the day.

The 4232′ open summit was absolutely blasted with wind. But we had a luxurious approach through the woods on a brand-new trail built by the two groups, together with local volunteers. It was a Cadillac among trails, full of intricately built rock stairs and lots of switchbacks.

My friend Peter Barr was the leader. He pointed out many features, including the actual place where the bears wallow, a depression in the midst of a pasture, perfectly suited to accomodate an ample-size black bear.

Peter’s job with CMLC seems like a dream job to me. He gets to go out to beautiful areas and talk to landowners about their personal stories of their property. In the case of Bearwallow, he chatted with oldtimer Clyde Curtis, who worked at the fire tower from 1957 to 1992 (it was decommissioned shortly thereafter). He lived up there full time with his wife in a little frame house, surviving lightning strikes, deep snow, and howling winds.

After our group visited the wallow, some of the party retreated back down that nice trail and the rest of us followed a rough footpath marked with orange flagging that will someday also become a maintained trail. It winds down into Upper Hickory Nut Gorge, passing a lookout rock called Wildcat Rock and a cascade maybe 100′ high—very impressive. The plan was to have lunch at Wildcat Rock, but we all huddled beneath or beside the rock instead of sitting atop it. Down in the more protected woods, we enjoyed the sight of a pretty waterfall along the creek.

CMLC is offering a “Hiking Challenge” which calls for people to complete eight hikes (including Bearwallow) to earn a patch showing a white squirrel wearing jaunty hiking apparel, plus a $20 gift card to the Mast General store outdoor department. You can find out more about the challenge by going here.

CMLC is based in Hendersonville and works with landowners to conserve threatened properties in Henderson and Transylvania Counties together with parts of neighboring counties.