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Trip Reports The Trip Reports forum is for backpackers to share their actual (not links to) trip reports and/or journal entries for their wilderness backpacking and day-hiking trips. Please include photos and information regarding what worked (e.g. gear) and what didn't.


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  #1  
Old 07-14-2010, 04:21 PM
© 2006-2016 Practical Backpacking™ / All Rights Reserved
Ted Ted is offline
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Backpack: Golite Jam, ULA Circuit
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Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 45
Black Balsam Knob to Cold Mt (North Carolina)

On July 2, I did a two day out and back on the Art Loeb Trail from Black Balsam Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Asheville NC, north to Cold Mountain (the one in the book and movie) and back. About 16 miles total across two 6,000' elevation balds, the highest ground in the area, with side loops on the return along the parallel Ivestor Trail that pretty much follows the 5,800' contour.

Started the hike at about 9:00am in the public parking area just off the Parkway. A young thirty-something fellow was gearing up next to me and we found we were heading the same way and decided to stick together. Morning fog was thick but we figured it would burn off pretty soon.

Went down the access road to the Art Loeb connection and headed uphill. Couldn't see a thing because of the fog, or more properly, thick clouds, since we were starting at about 5,500' elevation.

Moved steadily upgrade on switchbacks, crossing lots of bare granite and high grass and brush, but the trail was easily followed even with poor 50'-75' visibility. No trees at all and the 3' tall grass and brush overhanging the 12"-18" wide trail was dripping with water from the fog. We were both soaked up the the waist within a short distance, but the temps were mild, so no problem. These balds were reportedly created in the early 1900s by fierce forest fires that scorched them to the underlying rock. Trees never grew there again.

Topped 6,200' elevation Black Balsam Knob in about an hour but still could not see anything for the fog. Drifted downgrade for a while, again over lots of exposed rock and high grass and then back up another bald, Tennet Mountain, which is about the same elevation as Black Balsam. Still no visibility, although we knew the views must be magnificent. Headed downgrade on switchbacks into a real thicket of brush, briars and small trees crowding the narrow trail. Kept getting wetter until hitting a clear and level area on the north side of Tennet at about 5,700' elevation. This put us about two miles from the trailhead and the fog was clearing a bit. No views but we could see 200'-300' by then. Five trails intersect at this point so you have to study your map carefully.

The Art Loeb continued north over Grassy Cove Top and downhill into Flower Gap. Again, a thicket each side of the trail and visibility had not improved to the point we could see much. Flower Gap was a bit of a slog and we decided to bypass it on the return by shifting over to the parallel Ivestor Trail at a lower elevation.

Uphill again across Flower Knob at about 5,700' elevation and then downhill again towards Shining Rock Gap. Visibility was improving by this time, about midday, but still not clear. We were beginning to enter an area of spruce and fir forest. Very different from crossing the bare balds. Lots of rock about and soon we bumped right into Shining Rock, an immense area of vertical snow white quartz rising out of the forest floor. Quite impressive. Passed downhill to the west of the quartz formation and landed on the Ivestor Trail, an old logging/mining road, which led us downhill further into Crawford Creek Gap. Hope to get water here but saw none. Hiking these high trails, you need to remember that water is not always easy to find, usually seeps or small drainages. Of course, by this time we could have wrung out our clothes and picked up a few liters.

From Crawford Creek Gap and again on the Art Loeb, we began the climb up Stairs Mountain to 5,900' elevation. Not a hard climb, but just long, steady, unbroken uphill walk, very tiring. The clouds were lifting by this time and we could get a glimpse of great views through the trees to the east and west. We realized how great the views must have been from the socked-in balds we just passed over and decided to backtrack across them on the way out the next day, hoping the fog would be gone by afternoon.

From Stairs Mountain the trail began a steady 900' descent along a narrow ridge called The Narrows, of all things. The ridge was no more than 10' wide in some places and weaved awkwardly around rock formations and required a little climbing in a few spots.

Got steeper and steeper but flattened out into high brush/briar thickets before opening into a beautiful clear, grassy campsite at Deep Gap at the base of Cold Mountain. Tired and wet, we set up camp and got comfortable and ready for dinner break.

Both of us are hammock campers (HH me, Clark him) and there were plenty of good trees at the campsite. A nap and good dinner made a big difference in morale (rice noodles with chicken and an amusing merlot). Near dusk, three hikers coming the other direction, uphill, from the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp about five miles to the west came into the clearing. They were planning to press on but we told them they had a couple of hours of potentially dangerous climbing in the dark before finding a decent campsite, so they stopped for the night. One of these guys was a former AT thru-hiker and we enjoyed talking with him. Temps dropped to high 50s that night (Deep Gap is at 5,000'), so I had to stuff all my extra clothing under me to stay comfy in the hammock. Didn't think it would get that chilly.

The next morning, my new hiking friend headed for the summit of Cold Mountain 1,000' above us, armed with only a Camelbak. I, showing greater discretion, heading about 1/8 mile downtrail to the west to find water for our dwindling supply. We had a lot of climbing to do that morning and didn't want to do it dry. He was back in two hours and we broke camp and began our return trip.

After climbing out of Deep Gap, we threaded our way back, shifting over to the the parallel Ivestor Trail until reaching the base of Tennet Mountain. The weather had cleared and the balds were sunny with great visibility. We laborously climbed the balds through the same switchbacks and thickets and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains from the highest point in the area. This is a particularly good hike for views since in most of the Appalachians, you can see only as far as the next tree line. Here you can see forever.

The good weather had drawn a lot of people to the balds to enjoy the views. It was, of course, deserted the day before. We enjoyed the great views for a while and headed down to the parking lot to wind up the trip.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Black Balsam.jpg (45.8 KB, 23 views)
File Type: jpg Black Balsam 2.jpg (44.5 KB, 21 views)
File Type: jpg Art Loeb.jpg (45.4 KB, 26 views)
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  #2  
Old 07-14-2010, 06:33 PM
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tonto tonto is offline
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Thanks For The Memories

Thanks for the great trip report.
I hiked and camped there with my family a few years back in the late fall.
The weather was perfect and clear, the leaves had turned, and the views where great.
Your pictures bring back all the great memories.
I'm looking forward to a return visit soon.
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  #3  
Old 07-18-2010, 06:59 AM
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Ted Ted is offline
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Hope you get back soon, Tonto. The entire area around the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Shining Rock Wilderness is a wealth of great hikes ranging from easy to goodgodawmighty, and the scenery can't be beat. I'm going to tackle Pisgah Loop in the next week or two, which is south of the Parkway. Will post a report when done. Good hiking!
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Old 06-06-2015, 06:00 PM
© 2006-2016 Practical Backpacking™ / All Rights Reserved
Ted Ted is offline
Practical Backpacking™ Junior Member
Backpack: Golite Jam, ULA Circuit
Sleeping Gear: Lafuma 1000g DN
Shelter: Hennessy ULBA
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 45
Requiem

The young man I met in the trailhead parking lot at Black Balsam Knob in 2010, to whom I refer in my trip report, became a fast friend and trail partner. Over the next five years we hiked hundreds of miles together in the southern Appalachians. He died unexpectedly on May 22, 2015 at the age of 39. I've known few with his love of the backcountry and of the southern mountains. His loss at such an early age may be tempered somewhat by the meaningfulness of the time he was able to spend in the wilderness, where he was happiest. We are all on a trip, after all, and should enjoy it.
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