jump to navigation

Boteler Peak March 15, 2013

Posted by Jenny in conservation, hiking, Nantahala National Forest, Wilderness Society.
Tags: , , , , ,
7 comments
View northwest from Boteler Peak

View northwest from Boteler Peak.

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. The review of  management plans for Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests is now underway.

Boteler Peak (elev. 5010′) links the Tusquitee Bald/Fires Creek Rim area with the southern Nantahala mountains. The area contains significant old-growth acreage, although big portions of the lower elevations have been logged. It is known for outcrops of serpentine rocks and unusual combinations of plants in what are called the serpentine barrens.

Boteler is reached via the portion of the Chunky Gal trail that goes northwest from Glade Gap on US 64. When I set off to visit Boteler yesterday, the toughest challenge I met was finding the trailhead. If you are driving from Franklin NC, you’ll find it several miles west of the Macon – Clay county line. The best tactic is to look out for the top of a sustained climb, where you find a side road on the right marked “Old Hwy 64” just before the main highway drops down toward Hayesville. That is where you pull off.  It is hard to spot the Forest Service marker from the highway.

This is the second marker, tucked into the woods.

This is the second marker, tucked into the woods.

After a false start on a gravel road just down the highway, I figured things out and set off along the dirt road where the trail starts. Following blue blazes, I dropped down into the valley of Glade Creek and started to climb along the stream. Total elevation gain was 1500′, and distance was about 6 miles roundtrip.

I crossed the stream at a pretty spot where rhodo overhung a small cascade.

Pretty little waterfall.

Pretty little waterfall.

The night before, temps got down into the teens at this elevation, and ice was hanging on even though it was now in the low 40s.

I liked this ice formation.

I liked this ice formation.

I figured it was too early for spring wildflowers above 3600′. (I spotted my first trout lilies of the year the other day at 3000′ in the Plotts.) So I looked for other forms of interest.

This club moss provided a luxuriant shade of green.

This club moss provided a luxuriant shade of green.

A squirrel could take a shortcut underneath.

A squirrel could take a shortcut underneath.

The trail reached an old Forest Service road and followed the road for a half mile or so. It is well-signed and easy to follow. (The Mountain High Hikers based in Young Harris, Georgia, maintain it.)

Forest Service road.

Forest Service road.

I’d heard that wild hogs are common in the area, and I saw their hoofprints and signs of rooting in several places.

Earth rooted up by hogs.

Earth rooted up by hogs.

At the point where the trail left the road again to climb along the ridge, I saw something that really startled me: balsams. I would never expect to see them as low as 4500′, nearly down at the Georgia line. Planted by stealth? Escapees from a Fraser fir plantation? Beats me.

They stood innocently along the edge of the road.

They stood innocently along the edge of the road.

Yes, they really were balsams.

Yes, they really were balsams.

A few more spindly ones appeared on the other side of the trail, and then they disappeared, replaced by the occasional unhealthy hemlock that one would expect.

I passed a few more interesting specimens of plant life.

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

Reindeer moss.

Reindeer moss.

The trail stayed almost level for a while as it followed the ridge. It went through a series of rhodo tunnels.

Sun-dappled rhodo tunnel.

Sun-dappled rhodo tunnel. (The sun was soon to disappear.)

I will have to come back in June.

I will have to come back in June.

As I climbed slightly higher, I entered a zone affected by wind and fog. Twisted oaks rose above the rhodo understory, their branches covered with the lichens and moss caused by long immersion in mist. Areas of severe wind damage had been tended to by the Mountain High Hikers: I saw stacks of rhodo blowdown laid neatly beside the trail. I passed a tree that had become a real mecca for woodpeckers.

Woodpecker heaven.

Woodpecker heaven.

After following the ridge without much change in elevation for quite a while, I passed what I thought might be the high point and dropped down. I’d heard of a side trail to a view, so I kept going. Apparently this side trail has been improved by the Mountain High Hikers in the past couple of years.

Boteler or Boetler? It's anyone's guess.

Boteler or Boetler? It’s anyone’s guess.

From that point I climbed another 150′, to what was the true high point, before I reached the dramatic viewpoint among yellow birches and low, huddled vegetation—perhaps the serpentine barrens? The best view was across to the Tusquitee range.

We could be looking at Potrock Bald and Tusquitee Bald. Correct me if I'm wrong.

We could be looking at Potrock Bald and Tusquitee Bald. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I liked the wind-stunted birches, but it was surprisingly chilly up there. I had two layers of fleece under my shell, plus my mittens. The sky had turned overcast. I could swear it was completely clear until I approached the summit and then cleared up again as soon as I left.

Yellow birches clung to the boulders.

Yellow birches clung to the boulders.

Christmas ferns embraced by birch root.

Polypody ferns embraced by birch root.

As I headed back down the side trail, I noticed an ancient laurel. Its trunk was massive.

The texture of the bark was beautiful.

The texture of the bark was beautiful.

I had glimpses of Chatuge Lake to the south (see photo at bottom).

The trip back to the trailhead went uneventfully. As I reached my car, another car pulled up and a man with a map stepped out. “Can you tell us where to find the Chunky Gal trail?” I pointed to the obscure Forest Service marker just a few yards away.  It turned out he had a house near Tusquitee Bald and was scouting out the trailhead location for a weekend hike. I gave him some information about my trip to Boteler, and he thanked me profusely.

I got in my car and headed home toward Sylva. As I neared the A.T. crossing, I sped past three hitchhikers with large packs. I thought, “I can’t fit them into my small car!” and drove by. But a minute later I was turning around to pick them up. We’d figure out a way to squeeze everyone in. Sure enough, they were thru-hikers, and they’d had a tough day. Their water had frozen solid the previous night, and they’d gone quite a few miles without anything to drink. It had been a chilly day. They were headed into Franklin for some R&R and a “zero” day (a rest day with zero mileage). I was happy to take them to the place they planned to spend the night in downtown Franklin. “You made our day!” they said.

No, you made my day. It is such a pleasure to be able to help.

View to Lake Chatuge.

View to Lake Chatuge.

Fires Creek basin November 15, 2012

Posted by Jenny in conservation, hiking, Nantahala National Forest, Southern Appalachians, Wilderness Society.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

Looking across the Fires Creek basin

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.

The Wilderness Society refers to this area as the Tusquitee Bald Mountain Treasure. Tusquitee is located at the far eastern end of the tract, and since my exploration was at the far western end, I use the other name as the title for this post to avoid false advertising.

This is one of the largest unprotected primitive areas in Nantahala National Forest—close to 30,000 acres altogether, of which 14,000 are roadless. It mainly consists of the Fires Creek drainage: the stream and the horseshoe-shaped bowl of mountains around it. The 26-mile Fires Creek Rim Trail circles around the upper limit of the watershed. (For a good description of backpacking the whole trail, see this link.)

I started at the easiest access point, the Leatherwood Falls picnic area west of Hayesville, NC, and followed the Rim trail up to the ridgeline. I got as far as Big Peachtree Bald before turning around. It was a hike of about 9 miles and 2500′ vertical.

The threat of development in the whole area becomes apparent as you drive in the side road to the picnic area. You immediately see a billboard with one of those maps indicating lot sizes and boundaries. This eyesore is located in front of an entrance road with a big blue street sign that says “Spectacular Boulevard,” leading up to pillars of brick and a gate of thin, ornate metal bars.  In these gated communities, they always seem to build the gate first and then sell the lots—clearly it’s the gate itself that has such a deep symbolic meaning.

Across the street from “Spectacular Boulevard” is a pretty little picnic pavillion on a stream with not just one, but three signs in a row saying “Private Property—No Trespassing.”

I arrived at the Forest Service picnic area, which—it being a Wednesday in November—I had all to myself. You can see the lower section of Leatherwood Falls right from the parking lot. It would be possible to wade over there immediately for a close-up view, but with a temp in the upper 30s it wasn’t wading weather, and I figured I’d get a better view by going around on the trail.

As it turned out, the side of the Leatherwood Falls Loop that overlaps with the Rim Trail takes you past several segments of upper Leatherwood Falls in distinct increments, sort of like “Leatherwood Chapters 1, 2, and 3.” I took pictures of those and didn’t get the larger lower falls until I came back and the light conditions were not as favorable (see photo at end of post).

But these upper segments were pretty in the morning light.

Leatherwood Creek between falls segments

One of the middle falls

The uppermost falls

The trail climbed up and crossed a Forest Service road. I noticed that even though the forests had gone into their seasonal monotone, there were splashes of color in small tree sprouts here and there.

Sourwood sprout. They are usually salmon-colored in the fall, but this one was really red.

Sprouts of red maple

I climbed to the first piece of ridge and spotted a fire to the west. Between that and the many signs of past fires I saw in the trees around me, “Fires Creek” seemed to earn its designation.

Fire in the distance, and charred stump in the foreground.

I passed through an area of white pines around 3000′.

White pines and laurel

Beyond the pines, I returned to pure hardwoods. The battle between the November grays and browns and the few straggling colors continued.

Color versus monotone

Color was also provided by a few fading gentians and by these great little purple flowers, which I couldn’t identify.

I couldn’t find these in my flower book.

The trail sidehills along a steep slope as it approaches Shortoff Mountain. The treadway is beginning to slide down the mountain, and between that and the thick covering of fall leaves, the footing was a bit tricky. However, it was in this section that I saw a large flock of turkeys and a deer. I spotted a pair of turkeys first, then looked up the slope and could pick out the pink necks of numerous turkeys against the background, which were easier to see at a distance than their bodies. No good photos, unfortunately. I passed a birch whose nurse log had disappeared.

Birch roots

The trail crosses the Cherokee/Clay county line and contours along the side of Shortoff before climbing up Big Peachtree. The summit must have no views at all in the summer but offers restricted glimpses this time of year.

Restricted view from Big Peachtree Bald.

As clouds moved in and I returned in flat, gray light, the trail almost disappeared in places.

The trail lies straight ahead!

I retraced my steps and finally snapped a photo of lower Leatherwood Falls.

Lower Leatherwood Falls