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Black Mountain via Pressley Cove January 28, 2010

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Southern Appalachians.
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The interesting bridge in Pressley Cove

This was a consolation hike—I’d been planning an off-trail trip up past Fort Harry Falls in the Smokies, but it turned out there was new snow and ice on LeConte, and I’d decided the trip was better done with bare ground so as to study some old paths around the falls.  So I looked on the Pisgah map for something close to home, and something that would involve some steep climbing.  That is oddly hard to come by in this national forest.

I came across a mention of Pressley Cove in my Pisgah hiking guide.  It gets a passing reference in the writeup for “Avery Creek Loop #3,” but the authors say: “The Pressley Cove Trail isn’t included in this book, however, because it is so steep.”  Well, that seemed kind of wimpy to me.  It does have a stretch where it climbs about 600 feet in a half mile. (Compare the King Ravine trail up Mt. Adams in the Whites, which climbs 1100 feet in the same distance going up the headwall.)

It follows a beautiful narrow stream that cascades in a long silver strand down the mountain, and the steep part comes when the trail dives right into the shadowy stream valley.  The first crossing is an easy rockhop, but the upper one was bridged by a semi-rotted log that had become detached from the handrail.

You could enjoy these cascades as you sidestepped across the log

At Pressley Gap, you take a Forest Service road that leads up to the Black Mountain ridge.  Mountain bikes are permitted on the road and on the Black Mountain trail but are not supposed to go on the Pressley Cove trail.

Somewhere around 3800 feet I started seeing tremendous damage from a windstorm that occurred a couple of weeks ago.  The first thing I noticed was a lot of raw, broken-off tree tops, the fresh scars very visible.  Then the blowdowns became nearly continuous.

Wind damage

It was a certain type of damage: trees were not uprooted, but their branches were ripped and lacerated.  I would be interested to know what different wind and soil conditions create different kinds of damage.

Lots of small branches in the trail

When I reached the point where the trail makes its closest approach to the true summit of Black Mountain (4286′), I did a short, easy bushwhack up to the top.  Along the way I saw a rhododendron tree.  It had an enormous trunk, maybe 20 inches in diameter. I have never seen anything quite like it.

The rhododendron tree

Notice that even this sturdy survivor has a damaged branch.

I had a pleasant lunch next to the survey marker.

It's always nice to find a survey marker

I meandered my way back down in the afternoon sun.  The blowdowns are probably too much of a pain for mountain bikers to deal with, but it wasn’t that hard to walk around them.