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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′

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