jump to navigation

Blackrock hike August 27, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
Tags: , , , , ,

Butterfly on Filmy Angelica at 5000 feet

Two or three times a week, I hike in the nearby Plott Balsam range for exercise—and for more intangible reasons. I feel very fortunate that, living in Sylva NC, I have these mountains so close. The Plotts represent the divide between the Tuckasegee River (I live with the Tuck right on my doorstep) and the Oconaluftee, over by Cherokee. They lie just southeast of the Smokies.

The Plotts boast five summits higher than 6000′. As suggested by the name, fragrant balsams flourish all along their crest. The other part of the name, “Plott,” comes from a prominent family of German descent that settled in the area and also gave their name to a breed of hounds.

The town of Sylva has created a park out of what used to be property developed for the municipal water supply on Fisher Creek. The lowest part of the park lies at 3000′. From there you have a choice of going up the West Fork or the East Fork of Fisher. Either way can lead to Blackrock Mountain (5810′) and, if you are ambitious, on along the crest to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You might want a car shuttle for that.

There are many variations, but I much prefer the East Fork to the West, which follows an old rubbly road. The East Fork is an overgrown footpath that climbs steeply (800′ vertical in a little more than a half mile) along a beautiful stream. My most frequent exercise options are to climb 1000′ vertical, 1400′, or 1700′ along the East Fork and descend the same way. Now, in late summer, I have to bushwhack a short distance to avoid a thriving patch of knee-high poison ivy, since I’m so allergic that even if I wear long pants, the toxic juice on the fabric would attack me.

A couple days ago I made the 2800′ vertical, 8-mile round trip hike to Blackrock, which I don’t do all that often. It’s a fairly strenuous hike whose last section climbs 800′ in less  than half a mile. You feel impressed with yourself for doing it until you hear about the “Assault on Blackrock” trailrunning race in which people have done the whole thing, round trip, in 1 hour 30 minutes. That boggles my mind. It takes me about two hours longer. Oh well, that must be because of the time I spend lingering on the summit!

Going up to Blackrock via the East Fork, you climb steadily to around the 5000′ level, and then head east 0.7 miles along an old roadway that contours around. That is your breather. You then exit the easy stuff and climb up a rough footway over boulders to the ridge of the balsams. From this point on, the trails are just old manways not laid out by anyone aiming at systematic trail construction. You top out on the ridge, catch your breath, and continue past a rock crag that is not the true summit, though you can climb it either by making creative use of a dead tree leaning against the rock or going around to the other side and scrambling up a crack.

Toward the true summit, a multitude of rough paths veer in various directions. The one I chose the other day led to a vertical outcrop that I traversed while clinging to laurel branches. That was not the easiest way. There is a fairly simple way over toward the northeast side of the crag.

I will return to this subject and post more photos, but for now here are a few pictures.

From Blackrock summit looking toward Yellowface and Waterrock.

The side ridges plunge thousands of vertical feet.

At the moment, Filmy Angelica is the ascendant wildflower above 4500′. But the Plotts are just loaded with wildflowers—and with mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors (I’ve found morels there earlier in the season). For the season of flaming azalea and laurel, I’ve written about it on my other blog, here.

Glade of Filmy Angelica.

Peculiar rock near Blackrock summit. Lots of peculiar rocks reside up there.

The same butterfly as at top, entranced by its flower.