Our daughter Emily was in town this week and so of course we wanted to show off the beautiful mountains here in Western North Carolina and since the weather has been so beautiful, we thought it would be a good time for a hike. Naturally, being the uber-competitive people we are, we opted for one of the more difficult hikes in the area, but one which promised spectacular views.
Greybeard Mountain is located in the town of Montreat. Montreat, for those of you over the age of 40, is the home of Billy Graham and Montreat College. It is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, The Asheville Watershed Lands and Mount Mitchell State Park. Greybeard Mountain rises more than 5000 feet above it and, along with the ridge crest trail of the Seven Sisters, affords some of the most beautiful views in the area. But first one has to get up there!
A FALSE START
I had been wearing my most sturdy hiking boots for most of the trails here but recently found my day hikers in the attic at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast where they had been stored for about three years. So I threw them into the car and changed into them we we arrived. Within ten minutes of setting off, it felt distinctly peculiar when I walked, and the gales of laughter from Emily behind me as she videotaped me (seen here) were a clue that something was amiss. Apparently the heat in the attic (probably coupled with the heat on board ship when they were moved from Singapore) caused the rubber of the soles to completely
disintegrate. Thank goodness we are in the Blue Ridge Mountains where just about every town has a mountaineering supply store! 20 minutes later after a quick stop at “Take A Hike” in Black Mountain, we were back on the trail, new shoes and all.
Right from the beginning we knew we were in for a challenging hike as warning signs were posted at the beginning of the trail (more about those signs later…)
The trail quickly began to climb as it ran along Flat Creek, which we occasionally crossed on slippery flat stones. There were multiple waterfalls, all of which were running strongly since this spring has had ample rainfall.
As we walked we were able to enjoy small flowers peeping up through the rocks. While this early spring foliage was out, many of the trees were still bare which made it possible to enjoy views which would otherwise have been obscured. An number of trees sported a new sign which warned us in both English and Spanish that it was illegal to pick Galax. This was helpful and we remarked that if we knew what Galax was we would be sure not to pick it. It turns out it is an evergreen plant which is indigenous to the Appalachian mountains. It is used extensively in flower arrangements and there is some fear that it is being over-harvested. I guess they didn’t want to give the game away by posting a picture along with the warning.
About fifteen minutes into the climb we came upon a large rock with a plaque embedded in it, proclaiming this the ” Lou and Wade Boggs Wilderness Area”. I have since spent quite a bit of time trying to find out who Lou and Wade Boggs were and why this was their wilderness area. No trace seems to remain of them. The best I can come up with is that they must have been active members of the Montreat Mountain Retreat Association which was founded in 1974. In 2004, the 2,460 Acres of the Montreat Wilderness were placed under conservation easement which will permanently protect the mountain from development. (Well done, Lou and Wade!!)
After ascending about 800 ft, the trail ran into a series of swtichbacks which were what remained of an old logger’s railroad track. The switchbacks gave us a chance to catch our breath and to put on our rain gear as a fine rain had started to fall. Emily and I had proper raingear but James had brought along an orange “poncho in a packet” which we quickly renamed the “orange sauna” as wearing a plastic bag while hiking is definitely hot!
The switchbacks ended and we climbed straight up another 700 ft before stopping for lunch. While eating we noticed this tree and seems most likely that these marks were made by a bear. Great! Another thing to think about while hiking: hungry bears which have just woken up! Later on we happened to “flush” a pheasant and I don’t know who jumped more, the bird or me. Stupid bird kept moving ahead of us a short distance, hiding in the rhododendrons and flying off again with a loud rush of flapping feathers and I screamed (a little) every time!
Here is a picture of James and me at our picnic spot. One of the pluses of having Emily along is a seldom seen shot of the two of us together. This is only about halfway to the summit. Our climb eventually took us up over 2,500 feet in four miles.
Some of these were very muddy miles. The rain, which stopped during lunch, started again in earnest 3/10ths of a mile from the summit. But we made it up and looked enviously across at the neighbouring mountains in the sunshine!
After patting ourselves on the back for getting up there, we still had to get back down. Returning to the sign which marked the last 3/10 of a mile up to the summit, we passed through the Western North Carolina equivalent of an English country turnstile. There was another more serious warning sign here, telling us to not even thinkof starting down this trail late in the day. We knew it was four miles down and we had a least four hours of sunlight (as it were) left so off we went. As James remarked it did feel a little like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz entering the Wicked Witch’s lands. (Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!)
But there was no question that this was a trail worth taking. For the first two miles we hiked along a ridge on the top of the Seven Sisters. With the Asheville watershed property on one side of us and the Mountain Wilderness area on the other side we had stunning views all along the way.
I have to admit, however, that I was glad when the trail finally started to descend. This was a long hike and we were definitely tired. Going down was significantly steeper than going up with some really large rocks and boulders to climb over. We had actually intended to come up this way but had been unable to find the starting point so did it in reverse. I’m not sure which would have been harder! But in the end, it was a fabulous day with lots of interesting sites. I would not attempt this trail without hiking boots, with small children or unless you were in relatively good shape, but if you meet those criteria definitely give it a go!