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.