Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pisgah National Forest: Camp Creek Bald Via Hickey Fork White Oak Loop

I was given permission for a solo hike today and I decided I wanted to hike something that would be challenging but that I wouldn’t have to drive too far for. The loop on Hickey Fork and White Oak trails with side trip up the Pounding Mill Trail to Camp Creek Bald seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Having just driven up to Camp Creek Bald for my hike on the Appalachian Trail Relocation over Big Firescald Knob, I had some familiarity with the mountain itself, but the approach from North Carolina and the supposedly very rugged Shelton Laurel Backcountry Area would be a new experience.

I set out on the road and drove the Asheville Highway up into North Carolina and eventually turned left onto Franklin Mountain Road. I followed Franklin Mountain Road for a few miles to North Carolina Highway 212 and followed this highway for a while before turning off onto Hickey Fork Road which is signed for the Shelton Laurel Backcountry Area. I was worried that the road to the trailhead would be too rugged for my Honda Civic, but it turned out to be a nice smooth drive on a well-graded gravel road.

Trailhead
From the trailhead I set out on an interesting footbridge and crossed the high Hickey Fork.
Foot Bridge
The trail meandered around for a bit and then started a little bit of an ascent to Prong Hickey Fork. As the weather has been quite wet recently there were lots of snails, red efts and even some slugs on the trail.
Big Slug
I closely followed the cascading Prong Hickey Fork for a while before I found myself above the waterfall on the stream. The falls sounded impressive, but from the trail I just couldn’t get a good view of them. I backtracked a bit and found a user trail down the steep stream bank to the falls.
Hickey Branch Falls
The falls wasn’t particularly high, but was still impressive given the recent wet weather and the volume of water pouring over the rock.

I admired the falls for a bit and then made my way back to the main trail. I followed the trail further upstream. I had read on the internet that the trail above the falls gets little use, but I still found route finding to be easy and the trail’s route was never in doubt. However, the stinging nettle did get thick along the upper reaches of the trail and since I was wearing shorts the skin on my legs did get a bit irritated.
At the end of the Hickey Fork Trail I found myself on an old road, the bed of the Pounding Mill Trail. Following this trail in its lower reaches was exceedingly easy work as it followed the road for miles.
Along the way I found another one of the Trails Illustrated maps that I had been using for navigation.
Two Maps
I guess someone dropped it while hiking this route recently. After I came to the junction with the White Oak Trail I continued on the Pounding Mill Trail headed for Camp Creek Bald, but his would be my route for the return to the trailhead. Once I got a little past the White Oak trail the road started to get a bit over grown, but it was still easy to follow. I found myself on the Appalachian Trail where I ate a snack before following the last section of the Pounding Mill Trail along the boundary of Tennessee and North Carolina
Tennessee North Carolina Boundary
to the fire tower and decrepit looking buildings on top of Camp Creek Bald.
Camp Creek Bald Firetower

There’s not much beauty to this mountain, at least not in its present state, covered in towers and old cinderblock buildings, and so after taking my photo at the summit I began my descent.
On Camp Creek Bald
The going was fast on the descent and before I knew it I was on the White Oak Trail.
White Oak Trail
I was impressed with how distinct the upper portions of the White Oak Trail were.
On the Trail
There wasn’t any thick stinging nettle like I had encountered on the Hickey Fork Trail. There were some birds
Ovenbird?
and insects
Centipede
that made their presence known as I hiked, but no large animals. I made fast time as I descended through tunnels of mountain laurel and azalea.
In the Rhododendron and Azalea
Soon I was on the road that led back to the car. It was still a long walk back to it though. Luckily the walk on the road was very pleasant as I passed alongside the cascading Hickey Fork on the gently graded, gravel surface.
Hickey Branch
It was a nice hike, one that I wouldn’t mind doing again some day.              

1 comment:

Roger Phillips said...

Was wondering if you came across any camping spots on this loop.