Waterfalls, swimming and nearly 6000′ on Grandfather Mountain
August 10-12, 2013
The summer sweatfest was on. We tried to combine some low level walking with plenty of swimming opportunities and a bit of high ridge walking with good views, partially successful. The usual early departure and we were on the trail by 9:00. Parked Bob’s truck where the MST crosses NC 181 just east of Linville Gorge, muggy and some pesky gnats as we descended towards the first of our tens of stream crossings at Upper Creek
Plenty of water in all the streams after this really rainy summer. The only map we had was the large scale Trails Illustrated which leaves some to be desired but we could follow the trail fine with the MST blazes. Found the junction with the Raider Camp trail which we wanted to take over to South Harper creek. Somewhere it drops off the old road bed but we missed it and entered into some prominently marked private land but made our way to the creek just below a nice set of falls, first swim at noon
Bob wasn’t familiar with these falls but we ran into three gentlemen all dressed in kilts (anyone hear bag pipe music?) who assured us we were just above the really big South Harper Creek falls. Can’t really get a good picture from the top but they are 200 feet high.
We thrashed our way down stream with many crossings and twists and turns making it to the confluence of North and South Harper creeks where we stopped for lunch and swim number 2.
Now back on the MST we headed up North Harper creek and stopped for swim number 3 just above Bard falls
Not too far above the falls we turn onto the North Harper Creek short cut trail which takes you up to Forest Road 464 which you follow down hill for a bit to the Hunt Fish Falls trail and then on down hill to the falls on Little Cove Creek. There were a bunch of cars at the trail head and we first met the only other backpackers of the weekend coming up hill. Soon the bottom dropped out and it dumped rain. Pretty quickly many people started streaming up hill, back to their cars.
We get to the falls and have to take another swim in the huge pool despite the deluge, some by standers (under a tarp) thought we were a bit daft. On down Little Cove creek to Gragg Prong which the MST goes up. By now the heavy rain has turned the clear stream brown and the crossings got more and more difficult
The rain is slowing some as we slog up trail passing some campers and some crazy kids swimming in the plunge pools half way down the 100′ drop of Gragg Prong falls. Bob had come down this trail with Chuck and Don so he knew when we had crossed for the last time and we found a well drained campsite. Pretty tiring day, around 14 miles.
On the trail by 7:00 just because and we had a big climb today. Mostly clear skies and we quickly hit the next road and then turn up FS 192 which the MST follows for a few miles to Old House Gap and then turns left uphill towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some nice side hill trail but it seemed like it took a long time to make the climb up to Beacon Heights. Finally to the parkway and the south end of the Tanawha trail which the MST follows and it also runs along, and mostly above, the parkway for miles.
It is Sunday and there are a million people out on the parkway and sections of the trail, not very soothing. We get to the Linn Cove visitors center and there are a ton of people but we flop down on a nice grassy area for a long lunch and to dry out some stuff. On down the paved path to under the Linn Cove Viaduct along with all the touristas and their dogs.
Here we begin to lose most of the day hikers but still run into many every time the trail nears the road. Up and down and around lots of boulders and rocks and then a big climb. We thought it would be an easy walk contouring along the mountain but no. Finally we pop out at the best view of the trip on Rough Ridge, along with a billion other nitwits.
This pano is from Grandmother mountain (in the distance with the antenna tower on it), past the Viaduct and the ridge of Grandfather mountain with McRae Peak and the highest point Calloway Peak near where we are to camp tonight.
As we descend from the top there is a conga line of folks going up, at one point we pass a couple who Bob over hears saying about us “I can’t believe those guys where up there with crutches” what ever lady, we’ve already done 10 miles today with those crutches (hiking poles)!
After Rough Ridge the idiots disappeared and we had a pleasant walk to the base of the Daniel Boone Scout trail
We had a slow but steady climb up the much switched back trail to the first campsite where we filled up with water for the night and then made the last of the climb up to the main ridge line. We pulled into the Briar Patch campsite about 7:00. Over 15 miles today and 3500 feet of elevation gain.
Nice site, fairly open and the skies were trying to clear. We hoped it would clear because this was the peak of the Perseid meteor showers and what a great viewing point this would be. Storms off the the north and south but not over us. Nice camp and dinner on grass, Calloway peak in the distance.
We even had a pretty decent sunset
The stars came out but by midnight the clouds rolled in and we woke up in the mists, damn!
On up the ridge to Calloway peak with several ladder and cable climbs along the way
Finally to the top, Calloway peak is just a few feet under 6000, what a view!
After soaking in the views we climbed down the other side to Calloway gap and then plunged straight the f__k down the boulders of the Profile “trail” to Shanty spring and then a bit more gradual on down the rest of the 1700 foot drop. Had to stop at the Profile campsite so Bob could admire maybe the most perfect backcountry fire pit ever, stone couches and everything!
On down to the bottom by 11:00 after 4 miles and Betsy rolled in to pick us up. Drove back over to Bob’s truck and he headed to Durham and we over to Asheville.
The problem with trying to do something on Grandfather Mountain is there is no loop possibility so you have to do an in and out or go over the top and have two vehicles. There are nice views to be had and some nice campsites but only a few miles of trails so that is why we combined it with the Harpers Creek area to make it a 3 day event. This is a good route but Bob and I have decided no more summer death marches, just too damn sweaty and the chance of seeing anything other than the clouds and too many people is too high. Next summer trip might just have to be the Beartooths in Montana.