Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Whiteside Mountain

Hike: Whiteside Mountain
Nearby Town: Highlands, NC
Elevation (Max): 4,930'
Elevation Gained: ~550'
Mileage: 2.03
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: From Highlands, follow US-64 E/N out of town.  Continue to follow until turning right on Whiteside Mountain Rd after about 5 or 5.5 miles.  Turn left into the parking area.  The trail leaves near the middle of the parking lot.
Web Site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiteside_Mountain

While spending a fantastic weekend in Highlands at the incredible Old Edwards Inn and Spa, E and I knew we had to take advantage of being this far out in Western North Carolina by getting in a hike.  After doing a little research, we figured out Whiteside Mountain would meet our needs.  It is close to Highlands, about 15 minutes away, it is a relatively short hike and not very strenuous, and it is exceptionally scenic.  About one half of the loop trail takes hikers along the top of some of the tallest cliffs in the Eastern United States.

I enjoy when she does this

The hike is a pretty simple and obvious loop.  We began the loop by going left up the double track path that made the ascent quite gentle.  We did this hike in February, so it was pretty cold, but the winds were light and the sun was bright so it was still a very pleasant hike.  Along the way up the trail, there were many interesting ice formations including some growing on exposed rock on the side of the mountain and also large chunks of ice that had tumbled down the peak onto the trail.

The trail leaving the parking area

Ice coming out of the rocks

Balls of ice that tumbled down the mountain

When the trail begins to curve to form the loop, the view opens up dramatically to the north, east, and south.  We spent a little time here just enjoying the long views of the dramatic landscape.  Then we began the cliff-top portion of the hike.  There is a cable fence along much of this section of the trail, and it is definitely important to be cautious because it is a very long way down.  The views stretch into South Carolina and probably Georgia, too.  We also enjoyed watching several birds soaring on the updrafts created by the cliff.  After the cliff-top walk, the trail turns back towards the parking area and descends pretty quickly to complete the loop.

Looking north

Oh, hello, South Carolina

Walking along the cliff

A little bit of the cliff

Keeping it safe on the cables

E and I definitely plan to return to Highlands some day--ideally for a longer stay during the summer so we can explore more of the numerous outdoor activities around the Highlands area.  Check out the GPS-generated map below.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Morrow Mountain

Hike:  Morrow Mountain
Nearby Town: Albemarle, NC
Elevation (Max): 906'
 Elevation Gained: ~1000'
Mileage: 5.46
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: From the Triangle, take US-64 W until Asheboro.  Then head south on I-73 S/I-74 E until reaching NC 24/27, on which you want to head west.  Just a little while after crossing the Pee Dee River, turn right on Valley Dr.  Then turn right on Morrow Mountain Rd.  Park in the horse trailer parking on the right after the Ranger Residence (and before the intersection).
Web Site: http://ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/momo/main.php

On a warm, late-winter day, E and I decided to explore a new area for hiking.  We set our sights west on the Uwharrie National Forest/Morrow Mountain State Park area in central North Carolina.  I had read about this hike in Hiking North Carolina, and it sounded intriguing with steep hills set in the gentle rolling Piedmont with a river cutting through them.

Unfortunately, there were a few things that diminished our enjoyment of this hike.  The first was the drive.  The second half of our drive to the park was a very frustrating slog trailing behind other cars on a two lane road.  This wouldn't have been bad if there was some nice countryside to enjoy, but since it was late winter everything was still brown, and much of the land along the road was clear cut.  On the drive back, we took the longer way as the crow flies, but it turned out to be much quicker to return to the Triangle via I-73N to Route 64E (this is the route described in the trailhead directions).

The second let down was the hike itself.  The topography of the area is really interesting--there are almost conical hills scattered around the park next to the river.  Unfortunately, we never got a clear vista of the park during this hike, which was a big let down.  To make matters worse, on a smaller scale, there just weren't many interesting things to look at.  No neat rock formations, cool trees, caves, or streams to speak of.  It was all rather dull.


Onto the directions.  We designed our hike to be a loop that would take us to the two tallest hills in the park, Sugarloaf Mountain and Morrow Mountain.  We headed east out of the parking lot on a hiking trail (there is also a bridle trail that accesses the parking lot, which we used on the return).  This hiking trail splits almost immediately, stay left to be able to make the loop.  Cross the street and continue up the ridge of Sugarloaf Mountain.  You can catch some views of the water and nearby Tater Top Mountain from here (at least we could at that time of year, the view might disappear when the trees are in leaf).  Follow the trail around the east side of Sugarloaf, which includes some pretty steep descents at times.  The trail will flatten out and reach a T with another trail.  Turn right to stay on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail.  Just follow this trail until you turn left onto Morrow Mountain Trail.  If you look at the GPS map for this hike, you'll notice that we took a little detour before reaching Morrow Mountain Trail.  I just wanted to scout out the campsites down a side trail, so this is a section of the hike that can be cut out.

Rounding Sugarloaf Mountain

Below Sugarloaf Mountain on the way to Morrow Mountain Trail

The Morrow Mountain Trail begins ascending again.  First, gradually, then very steeply up a slope of loose stones.  This section was very strenuous, but it was brief.  After that ascent, the trail just parallels the auto road that goes to the summit until the trail accesses the parking lot at the top of the hill.  From here, you can see Charlotte in the distance to the southwest.  There is also a nice little exhibit on the summit about the Indian artifacts that have been found in this area.  By this time, the sun was starting to get low, so we didn't loiter for long before beginning our descent.

 Near the summit

Looking northeast from the summit

We went down the Morrow Mountain Trail the way we came until it intersected a bridle trail.  We turned left on the bridle trail as a short cut.  You could keep going and just turn left on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail to return to your car as well.  Follow the bridle trail across the road that leads to the summit.  Soon you will notice another bridle trail that goes to the right, and you want to take this trail to get back to your car.

Unfortunately, we didn't see Morrow Mountain in its best light, it was late winter so everything was brown, there was simply no variety in the scenery for almost the whole hike--just brown leaves underfoot and naked trees above.  I imagine that this hike would be more enjoyable during the summer or fall, but even then, if you're going to pick a hike that's 2 hours away from the Triangle, Hanging Rock State Park is probably a better choice.   Below is a GPS-generated map of our hike.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chimney Rock State Park

Hike: Chimney Rock
Nearby Town: Chimney Rock, NC
Elevation (Max): 2,480'
Elevation Gained: ~700'
Mileage: 2.15
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: There is really only one place you can start a hike at Chimney Rock State Park since you have to be shuttled up from the parking lot to where all the trails begin.  The park is adjacent to Lake Lure, which is about 40 minutes southeast of Asheville on US-74 Alt E.
Web Site: http://www.chimneyrockpark.com/index.php

E and I have made it a tradition to spend an October weekend in the mountains of western North Carolina, and when we went a couple years ago, we visited Chimney Rock State Park.  The drive from Asheville to Chimney Rock is really enjoyable with hairpin turns, apple orchards, and tiny towns perched along a river's edge (including a village called Bat Cave).  Chimney Rock is a pretty developed park that attracts a lot of people.  The geological features are very interesting, it is perched above the tourist area of Lake Lure, and The Last of the Mohicans was filmed there.

 Looking up to Chimney Rock

Lake Lure

Emily and I visited on a perfect October day with just a little chill in the air but plenty of warmth to be had in the bright sunshine.  We parked our car in the lot and boarded the bus that takes visitors to Chimney Rock (a big, cylindrical monolith).  From the lot, we descended a long set of stairs to join the Hickory Nut Falls trail, which is an easy, flat trail that goes out to a small waterfall that drops over a very tall cliff (the falls are 404' tall but the flow rate isn't all that impressive).  Though the falls aren't roaring, I would definitely recommend doing this trail because the falls are still very impressive due to their height alone, and it's a good warm up for the more vertical portion of the hike that is to come.

After enjoying the falls, turn around and return to the stairs you started on, but now continue up the stairs above where you began.  It won't take long before you realize this hike seems to mostly be stairs.  These stairs lead into the Outcroppings Trail which visits interesting features in the rocks such as Moonshiner's Cave which goes about 30 feet into Chimney Rock and Vista Rock which is sort of a mini Chimney Rock located just below Chimney Rock proper.  There are other features as well like the Grotto and Subway, but the trails to these areas were closed when we visited.  After getting some good exploration under your belt, continue up the trail to Chimney Rock.

Hickory Nut Falls

 Looking across Hickory Nut Gorge from the base of the falls

This is a common sight

Once on Chimney Rock, the view opens up in 3 directions, looking up the gorge, across the gorge, and down to where the river below empties into Lake Lure.  It's a very enjoyable view, but you will be sharing it with a number of friends, as this is an easily accessible spot (it's even accessible for handicapped folks).  The downside of having this be such a crowded spot, besides the lack of solitude, is the fact that it seems to have prompted the people in charge to erect a metal fence along the edge of the rock that can get in the way of photography.  After getting your fill of the view, head up a set of stairs to join the Skyline Trail, which will stop by a couple interesting features such as the Opera Box and Devil's Head before reaching its terminus at Exclamation Point, which provides a fantastic view of Hickory Nut Gorge below.  This would be a good place to enjoy a snack before returning the way you came on Skyline Trail.

 E in the Opera Box

Devil's Head

Hickory Nut Gorge

Once you return to Chimney Rock, you have a choice: descend the way you climbed or take the elevator.  Yes, I said elevator--I did mention earlier this place is handicapped accessible.  We opted for the elevator to take it easy on our knees and just because we were curious.  Turns out the elevators aren't exactly high-capacity so we waited in line for a little while (maybe 10 minutes) in the gift shop they have set up around the elevators.  The elevator ride itself wasn't really remarkable, but the exit off the elevator was pretty cool.  The doors open to a long, dark tunnel carved into the rock that leads to where we began and where the shuttle buses will pick you up to take you back to your car.  Sadly, the tunnel was filled with folks (not handicapped) who were waiting for a ride to the top.  If you're going to Chimney Rock and are able-bodied, I would strongly encourage hiking to the top so you can enjoy the fresh air, skip the line, check out the neat rock features, and work on your fitness.  And when you get the top, it will be that much more enjoyable since it was your feet that got you there.  Below is a GPS-generated map of the hike.

Leave me a comment below if you know some good places to visit in the Chimney Rock/Lake Lure area!

 Chimney Rock and Lake Lure

Monday, August 6, 2012

Camden Hills State Park

Hike: Camden Hills
Nearby Town: Camden, ME
Elevation (Max): 1,300'
Elevation Gained: ~987'
Mileage: 2.59
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Camden Hills is in Camden, Maine, which is about 1h 45m north of Portland and 1h 45m south of Acadia National Park. From Route 1 just northeast of Camden, turn left onto Mt Battie Road, take the second left to continue on Mt Battie Rd, and then park in the lot on the right.
Web Site: http://www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/doc/parksearch/search_name.pl?state_park=14&historic_site=&public_reserved_land=&shared_use_trails=&option=search

Working through the hiking backlog...

A couple years ago, while we were in Maine for E's sister's wedding, I decided it was a shame that I had been going to Maine all those years without getting in a hike.  So, I started doing some planning.  Katahdin was a bit too far and so was Acadia.  Lucky for me, there is a park called Camden Hill State Park that is perfectly located right on the coast of Maine (its slogan is "where the mountains meet the sea").  E and I made the drive up, crawled through the traffic on the main road through Camden, which looks like a Maine vacation town ought to look, and parked the car in the first lot off Mt. Battie Rd.  Its was a gray, cool day, which was somewhat disappointing because we knew the views from the peak would be amazing on a clear day, but I was very happy to hike a new place regardless.

The trailhead for the Megunticook Trail is at the back of the parking lot and you begin by going north until you reach the point where the trail turns to the left and begins the climb.  We found the trail to be fairly busy, which is to be expected for being so easily accessible from a popular summer town.  Eventually you will arrive at a point where a smaller trail breaks off on the left.  You can take this trail (Adam's Lookout Trail), but we decided to continue on the Megunticook Trail and use the Adam's Lookout Trail for the return trip.  The trail will curve west until eventually you reach Ocean Lookout, 1,300 feet above the sea right beneath you.  Ocean Lookout is a rocky area with fantastic views of Camden, the harbor, nearby hills to the west and northwest, and islands dotting Penobscot Bay.  Sadly, the overcast skies detracted from the views just a bit as the sky, ocean, and islands all blended together in different shades of gray.  Despite this, we were pretty sure that far out to the east we could see the peaks of Acadia National Park.  After hanging around up there for a while, we decided to head back down since we still had wedding duties to attend to.  However, the actual summit is a bit further up the Ridge Trail, which we would certainly have done if not for the time constraints.  If you're tired after the hike thus far, though, I can't imagine the summit of Mount Megunticook providing significantly better views than Ocean Lookout since it's only 85 feet higher, so this would make a good turnaround point.

To head back down, we took the Adam's Lookout Trail, which brought us to another great vantage point before reconnecting with the Megunticook Trail.  Turn right going downhill on the Megunticook Trail and soon enough you'll be back at the parking lot.  This is an ideally located state park that appears well-maintained and is unique along the Maine coast (until you get up to Bar Harbor, of course).  There are many more trails in the park that provide different types of hikes, or you can combine some to make a pretty decent circuit.

Sadly, I deleted the pictures from this hike off my camera before I loaded them onto my computer so the Flickr photo below will have to do.  I do have the GPS-generated map, though!

Penobscot Bay from Adam's Lookout with town of Camden on the right (via Flickr)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sleeping Bear Dunes--Take Two

Hike: Lake Trail
Location: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Nearby Town: Glen Arbor, MI
Elevation (Max): 858'
Elevation Gained: ~690'
Mileage: 3.74
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: From the South: Take Rte 22 north until after Empire, then turn left onto Rte 109. Parking will be on the left (opposite Glen Lake). From the North: Take Rte 22 into Glen Arbor, where 22 intersects with Rte 109, stay straight to take 109 south. Parking will be on the right. The parking is very obvious from 109.
Fees: The NPS charges $10 per vehicle--so pack everyone in.
Website: http://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm

After exploring a new area at Platte Plains with a hike through the woods, my family took to the classic hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore--the Lake Trail across the Sleeping Bear Dunes themselves. This is a hike that I've posted on before when I hiked it with my then-girlfriend (now fiancee) and parents on a previous trip to Michigan. As you may recall, E and I successfully hiked to Lake Michigan across the dunes but then got pretty lost on the return hike because we tried to make a loop instead of doing the out and back. This time, I was with my parents, aunts, and sisters and we wisely decided to do the out and back. Since I've already described the hike, this will be mostly a photography post with a GPS-generated track at the end. Enjoy!

The start of the hike, known simply as The Climb

Historic DH Day Farm

Looking back at Glen Lake

View of Lake Michigan

We went out one way and came back the other way

Soothing, clear waters of Lake Michigan after the hike across the sand

Looking north towards North Manitou Island

Sailboat framed by South and North Manitou Islands

Heading back

Siblings almost done with the hike

The pictures below are not from the hike, but rather from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which is just south of the hike, and I definitely recommend it.

I hope this sign and the pictures below can adequately convey the height and steepness of this bluff

We talked to one woman whose son was climbing, and she said he does it every day while they're there and he averages about 15 minutes--pretty impressive.


Looking north

Looking south over North Bar Lake toward Empire