Wilson Creek area (Harper creeks and the Lost Coves), 10/20

Oct. 21 & 22, 2020

21 miles

Bob and I badly needed to get out after long backpacking hiatuses due to the coronavirus.  8 months for Bob and 10 for me except I did slip out for a few nights in August.  We bandied about a few places and because Bob only wanted to do an overnight and it was going to be so warm I suggested the Wilson Creek area for lots of options and the copious creek crossings would be more pleasant in warmer weather.  Had I known that his last trip was a very cold one to almost the exact same places with David, in early March, I would have offered another location but he didn’t remind or tell me about it so off we went.

The SOP 5:30 departure and three hours later we were to the Harper Creek East trail head where we found no cars.  Even though it was in the 50’s we immediately started in shorts and T-shirts knowing it would quickly warm up.  We passed the only backpackers we would see as we approached Harper Creek falls which were spectacular and hard to get a full shot of.

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Beautiful morning and we are maybe just past peak fall color but still stunning.  We ambled along Harper creek with the first of what would be 14 crossings for the day.

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Soon to the North Harper creek fork which we head up and stop at the spectacular Bard Falls for lunch.

Getting warm and we were beginning to sweat as we continued on up N. Harper creek past where the MST turns off towards Hunt Fish falls. The creek is getting smaller but still plenty of wading

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We stop at the top of a small drop and decide it is time for an afternoon siesta on a large boulder with ample white noise.

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We get to Chestnut Branch Falls and take another break from the heat before turning away from N. Harper creek and start the climb up to Little Lost Cove cliffs.

A steep climb away from the creek then a contour over to the road where we find five cars but only pass two groups of day hikers as we climb up to the cliffs. We stop at the first outcrop with spectacular views and then head on over to the second, higher outcrop which we had all to ourselves. Grandfather Mountain on the right, Grandmother with the tower and Big Lost Cove ridge in the left foreground which is were we are heading for the night.

We continue on the ridge and drop down to the road which we walk up for about a half a mile and stop for water from the very head of Little Lost Cove creek. There we meet three bikepackers who are out for a week long gravel ride from Damascus to Asheville, almost entirely on gravel roads. Another mile on the road and we head up a trail to the top of Big Lost Cove ridge and then another mile plus out to even grander cliffs than those on Little Lost Cove. We pass two sets of day hikers but have the cliffs and camping all to ourselves.

About 13 miles for the day and over 3000′ of climbing in the warm weather and we are glad to be done for the day. We take in the view and then head back into the woods to a really nice campsite with big fire ring and plenty of fire wood for the perfect food. We have dinner and a few sips of bourbon and then decide to carry every thing back out to the cliffs to spend the night.

Day two

It clears off completely overnight with great stars and the remnants of the Orionid meteor shower. Lows in the 50’s and a heavy dew.

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We are up with coffee and breakfast as the sun starts to rise, giving us a beautiful fall color view over the Lost Cove creek valley and the Grandfather Mountain ridge as the clouds burn off.

The morning’s test was to see if a trail I had found on some maps but not on others actually existed that would allow us to drop off the side of Big Lost Cove ridge all the way down to the Lost Cove creek trail. It didn’t show on Bob’s Wilson creek area map at all. It in fact was an old logging road/slide that dropped straight down the mountain to an old road that switch backed it’s way down to the creek and came out where the Bee Mountain trail intersects with the Lost Cove creek trail. It is what makes this loop a possibility

It was then an easy stroll down to Hunt Fish Falls with four more creek crossings. En route we passed a day hiker and then 3 more at the falls. We take a long break at the falls where Bob has to go for a swim.

Before noon we start the steep 600′ climb up to the road and then walked down the road for about a mile to the Yellow Buck Mountain trail which we start down, initially a pleasant old road along the ridge. Bob had said that the climb up Yellow Buck Mountain and back down was a bear and in a deeply eroded ditch. It was both a lung buster and a sweat fest going up and a thigh buster going down, not to be repeated. The the last mile drops 1000′ straight down. Back to the car by 2:00 with a parking lot full. A little over 8 miles for the day, we turn on the air conditioning and head home.

This is actually a great little loop with one change needed. Instead of doing the Yellow Buck Mountain slog, one should drop down the Persimmon Ridge trail back to N. Harper creek and back to the trail head that way. It would add 1.5 miles in distance but probably no more time and would be much more scenic and enjoyable.

The next trip with Bob will be our 50th together, I am sure it will be one for the books!

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