Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beyond 6,000 in the Great Balsam Mountains

It was an early wake up this morning. I got up at 5:15, fed and walked Parker, and then hit the road. It would be a long 2 hour drive into the Great Balsam Mountains off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I arrived around 8 am, but found a parking lot already full with people parked all along the road, even in places that were clearly marked "No Parking". Yes, today's hike featured very pretty scenery, as well as lots of people.

I started the hike by making my way through a large group of boy scouts that were loitering near the trailhead. I quickly turned onto the Art Loeb Spur Trail and ascended up to the main Art Leob Trail where the views were already amazing.
Eric overlooking Sam Knob
I stopped at a rock outcrop to admire the view and then moved on to my first peak-bagging objective for the day: Black Balsam Knob.
Art Loeab rock
There were lots of tents scattered around on the grassy ridgeline,
grassy campsite
including very near to the summit of Black Balsam. I stood on the small exposed rock outcrop that marked the summit, but with all the tents around I did not bother to photo document my conquest. I did notice an unusual little shrine set up near the summit though.
offerings on summit of Black Balsam

After a moment on the summit it was time to move on. The views remained spectacular due to the lack of tree coverage.
vista east
This lack of trees is not a natural phenomenon here. These mountains were logged extensively in the past and evidence of the logging operations could be found in the form of a cable exposed on the trail in a few locations.
cable
It was a quick walk over to Tennent Mountain where I photographed the summit plaque
Tennent Mountain Summit
and checked out the view near the summit.
Eric near Tennent Summit
Then I headed further north towards my next objective Grassy Cove Top.
heading north
hiker headed to Grassy Cove Top

Just before arriving at the base of Grassy Cove Top, the trail enters into the Shining Rock Wilderness.
Shining Rock Wilderness
The trails got a little bit confusing upon entering into the wilderness and I found myself on an old section of the Art Loeb Trail that was conveniently labeled as eroded.
Obvious Erosion
I found the relocated, new trail and made my way around the east side of Grassy Cove Top's Summit. At the north end of the relocation, I followed the old Art Loeb Trail south up to the summit of Grassy Cove Top. It's just a small rock off to the side of the trail.
Grassy Cove Top Summit
I took a photo and then moved on.

Soon my next objective came into view: Shining Rock with its line of exposed white quartz that seems to shine in the sunlight.
Shining Rock
I descended through wonderful scenery to Shining Rock Gap.
view west

another view west
Shortly after passing through the gap I found a trail leading to the right. I figured this to be the Old Butt Knob Trail. however, the trail was quite overgrown and the area it led into was a maze of social trails or "manways" as they are called in these parts. I picked my way through the maze and eventually found myself standing on a large boulder of snow quartz;
Snow Quartz
one of the two summit blocks of Shining Rock.
near summit
I ate a snack sitting on the cool rock and was soon joined by a group of boys from Durham. They soon moved on to the other summit and shortly after I tagged the second summit as well. I then headed back to the Art Loeb Trail via a better maintained trail.

I followed the Art Loeb Trail south for a bit to Shining Rock Gap. Here I left the Art Loeb and followed the Ivestor Gap Trail Instead.
Ivestor Gap Trail
This trail is actually an old road and hiking it was extremely easy and went very fast. There were limited views off to the west every now and then,
looking back
another Sam Knob view
but generally the scenery on the Ivestor Gap Trail was not nearly impressive as on the Art Loeb. Before I knew it I was back at the parking lot. My hike, however, was not finished yet. I still wanted to hike over to a fifth and final 6,000 footer for the day: Sam Knob.

I had gotten lots of great views of Sam Knob throughout my hike, finally I would ascend it. The start of the Sam Knob Trail was level and easy, another old road I believe. Then the trail descended a steep rutted section into a meadow with an imposing view of Sam Knob.
Sam knob Trail
The trail traversed the meadow and then headed into the woods for an ascent of Sam Knob. The hiking wasn't too difficult. There were lots of flowers in bloom,
bluets
cherry flowers
3 violets
rhododendron in bloom
twin trillium
but not much in the way of views until I reached the summit area. There are actually two summits to Sam Knob and I touched both of them, starting with the north summit. This summit features a wonderful view from a rock outcrop near a steep drop-off.
near North Summit of Sam Knob
I lounged there for a bit and then headed over to the south summit. From the south summit I retraced my steps back through the meadow
Leaving Sam Knob
and then back to a very crowded parking lot and road.                              

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