Friday, November 1, 2013

Craggy Dome from Balsam Gap

I took the day off from work and Noelle gave me permission to go off and do something on my own. I opted to head towards the Blue Ridge Parkway and Craggy Gardens. My objective was to ascend two of the Southern 6,000 foot peaks: Craggy Dome and Blackstock Knob.

The drive through the mountains was uneventful. I stopped in Weaverville for a breakfast to go and headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. There were still some low clouds and fog in some areas, but it would all burn off before too long. My objective was Balsam Gap where I would park and then walk to Craggy Dome. Then I would turn around, walk past my car and hike up to Blackstock Knob before turning around again to return to my car.

I hit the trail just as the last of the fog started to burn off. Sunlight coursed through the fog and gave each ray of sunlight the look of a beam of illuminated cloud.
Almost all the leaves were down. The leaf litter, composed of newly fallen leaves made for a visually interesting hiking surface.
The trail I followed, the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) would ascend for a bit and then descend. It never strayed very far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. On a few occasions I even found myself at one of the many scenic overlooks at the side of the road.
Glassmine Falls Overlook
Graybeard Mtn View

The day had turned out to be much more pleasant than I had expected. I had packed my hat and gloves but I never needed them. In fact, I was able to hike the whole time in nothing but short sleeves.
hiker Eric
Soon I found myself at a section of  trail with exposed views of the surrounding mountains. I could see parts of the Black Range where Mount Mitchell is located
Looking towards Blacks
and nearby Bull head Mountain.
Bullhead Mountain and Parkway
I had originally thought that Bullhead was Craggy Dome, but when the trail skirted to the side of the summit I realized that it was not my first objective.

Soon enough the trail headed towards the parkway for a road crossing. this is where I would depart the Mountains to Sea Trail for a bit. I would be bushwacking up Craggy Dome. I wasn't sure what to expect as far as bushwacking conditions. At first there wasn't any type of defined user trail. I started to mentally prepare myself for the possibility of thrashing through rhododendron and blackberry. However, I soon found a user trail, or "manway" as they call it in this region of the United States. The unofficial trail was almost as well defined as some of the official trails in the area. It did get a little overgrown near the summit, but I was easily able to find the pipe that marks the summit. There was even a wooden sign on the ground at the bottom of the pipe.
Craggy Dome Summit

I took a photo at the summit and then backtracked a short way to a rock that made a convenient place to eat a snack. When I stood on the rock it offered great views of the surrounding mountains.
Black Range View
on exposed section
I looked at my map while eating and realized that the summit of Bullhead was just a short way off the Mountains to Sea Trail. I began to think of bagging three peaks instead of just two today!

After my snack I began my descent back to the MST for the return hike to the car. The hiking went pretty fast at first as it was mostly downhill. As I approached Bullhead Mountain I decided to try for the summit. It was a really rough bushwack up to a small, relatively flat summit area. There were two summits up there and i walked around as close to the tops of both of them as I could before I decided to head down. This is where my day got interesting. I started heading down in the direction that I thought would lead me back to the MST. I descended down, down, down through some really thick underbrush. Finally, when I got a clear view, I realized i was heading back towards Craggy Dome and not towards the Black Range like I should be. I was headed in the wrong direction!

I bashed my way back to the summit area, but I still wasn't confident about my orientation. I sat down and looked at the map for a bit and was able to successfully use surrounding landmarks  to orient myself. Then I headed down the thickly vegetated slope. I was relieved to see the MST just below me. I got back on trail and picked up the pace again. This little detour of mine had cost me more time and energy than I had expected. I began to reconsider my original goal of ascending Blackstock Knob.

The hiking went relatively quickly and the views from the open areas were amazing.
Valley View
Today had to have been one of the best weather days that we've had all year. I was quite tired by the time I approached the Asheville watershed protection area
water supply
and my car. I decided that I didn't have the energy for a 1,000 + foot ascent. I would be making the drive back home. While I didn't accomplish my original goal, I am still happy with my accomplishments for the day: One Southern 6,000 footer and one 5,000 foot peak! 


luksky said...

I like the way you always say "Noelle gave me permission". It's nice to see that a husband would even ask for "permission".

Pam said...

I am enjoying your adventures from here in the Southern Hemisphere...what a great way to enjoy your country without doing any of the footwork!