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Snowbird Creek July 29, 2012

Posted by Jenny in conservation, Nantahala National Forest, nature.
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This large, deep pool on Snowbird Creek glinted with a peacock green color

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.

Snowbird Creek is a major stream that drains the roadless slopes lying west of Robbinsville in Graham County NC.  The watershed extends from Hooper Bald (5425′) on the north to the Snowbird Mountains on the south. (Don’t confuse this area with Snowbird Mountain on the A.T. between I-40 and Hot Springs.) The area was logged in the early 1940s, and signs of old logging operations remain, but its remoteness gives it a feeling of pleasant obscurity. It’s mainly visited by roadside campers and trout fishermen.

Snowbird Creek

Snowbird Creek isn’t all that easy to get to. I used three different sets of questionable directions and triangulated between them. I got there.

The main thing is, after you pass Robbinson’s Grocery, look carefully for the bridge where Big Snowbird Road turns off Little Snowbird Road. Then you’ll drive past some designated campsites to the end of the road at the place called Junction where the logging company shifted from standard gauge to narrow gauge.

Logging trestle on the creek

My goal was to follow the King Meadows trail from the creek to the top of Hooper Bald. I’d read that the trail was overgrown in sections, so I brought a topo map. After about a mile I got more and more of this kind of stuff:

Blowdown across trail

And then, where the trail entered a rhodo zone, the footway disappeared, except that you could see people had gone upslope looking for it. I followed their tracks for a while, but I knew the trail wouldn’t suddenly head straight up the ridge when it had been contouring along comfortably. The improvised footway went underneath some rhodo.

It was dark in there!

I went back down looking for any sort of rough bench the trail might be following. Something vaguely looked like sidehill construction, but it led straight into more rhodo. I decided that five more miles of this kind of uncertainty up to the top of Hooper Bald was more than I wanted to deal with, so I retreated.

Snowbird Creek itself has a more heavily used trail along it, but it takes a very gradual ascent with many stream crossings, more suitable for fishermen than for my style of hiking. Backpacking to the upper creek (with wading shoes) and doing a bushwhack from there might be interesting.

As I drove away, I started thinking about other short but interesting hikes I might do in the general vicinity. On the approach to Stecoah Gap, it suddenly hit me that I could hike on the A.T. from the gap toward Cheoah Bald. I hiked only as far as Locust Cove Gap, but I saw a couple of interesting wildflowers.

Yellow fringed orchid

The yellow fringed orchid runs the same range of colors as the flame azaleas, from yellow to true deep orange. This was about halfway along that spectrum.

Then I saw a lily like a Turk’s Cap except about a third of the size. I took a couple of pictures with the blossom against my hand to show the scale. When I got home, I looked it up and found that it was a Carolina Lily. I don’t believe I’ve ever noticed one of these before!

Carolina Lily with my hand behind it for scale

No, I didn’t pick the blossom (God forbid), I gently pulled the stem into the sunlight for a better picture of the colors.

All in all, a good day.

Lily bud with Christmas ferns