So after the girls left with Mimi and Papa to head to Memphis we started getting ready for our big backpacking adventure. Thursday night we headed to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp to ditch the trailblazer. We stopped in the office to talk to a Scout and he asked if we had our bear canisters as they were fining people without them. We said yes, but knew we didn’t have one. So we hauled but back to REI and bought one within 5 minutes of closing.
Also need to mention that we were celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary on June 12. Michael and I have been together for 20 years this August. No better way to celebrate than hiking one hard ass 34 mile trail, but it was absolutely beautiful and of course we had fun!
So we headed back home to get all the food, gear, and water ready. For some reason we decided to do it that hard-way which was from Davidson River Campground in Pisgah to the Boy Scout Camp. I really don’t even remember making a decision about which way to go, its just what we did.
We left Friday morning around 4:30 and that put us on the trail about 5:15. Here is a brief description of the trail (bold) with a little narrative input from me:
The trail is divided up into 4 sections by the Forest Service. Starting at the Davidson River near the Davidson River Campground, near Brevard, NC, Section 1 of the trail climbs Shut-In Ridge and travels generally west-southwest, where it takes you up and down knobs, along ridges, and down into gaps several gaps. It curves around Cedar Rock Mountain before crossing through Gloucester Gap to begin Section 2. This part of the hike was fun with rolling terrain and a few up and down climbs. We took breaks about every 2 hours or so. We also didn’t really have a plan as to where we would stop for the day as we didn’t know how my knees would hold out. I bought two knee braces and put them on the first break we took. The first part of the day I was doing fairly well. I can dominate uphills and then pull back on the downhills which is sort of the opposite for Michael. He loves downhills but he is stuck behind me inching along. Michael has all of the pictures and I will upload those when I get them from him. I just took a few! We were hoping to at least do about 10 miles a day. There are spots all over where you can stop and camp. But somewhere throughout the day we decided to push further and head to Deep Gap Shelter, 15 mile day.
From there the trail swings west-northwest and ascends Pilot Mountain, where it turns north toward the main Pisgah Ledge, the backbone of the mountains in this region. It ascends to over 6000 ft. in elevation, at a point above the Blue Ridge Parkway at Silvermine Bald – one of the more remote locations on the trail – before taking a level course through cool coniferous forests to reach Black Balsam Road.
Pilot mountain is not an easy mountain at all to climb. It wasn’t hands and feet climbing, but it was switchback after switchback after switchback. Little short ones too, towards the top we had false summit after false summit. It was hard work and we took a good bit of breaks. My feet were finished. I took my hiking sticks and used them to roll my feet out which helped tremendously. I repeated that about every 45 minutes. The right knee, which gave me the most pain before, didn’t hurt at all. I ended up taking the right brace off and putting it on the left knee for the descent down Pilot Mountain. On the descent, every thought in my head came out of my mouth and I threw in random cuss words as well. That was the hardest part of the trail…and it beat us down! At the bottom of Pilot Mountain we got off of the trail, not by choice but because people had cut a trail to a road, so we were walking down a gravel road trying to find the Deep Gap Shelter. I threw all my gear at a camp site and rolled my feet out while Michael tried to find the A-frame shelter. There were only two water sources on the whole trail and Deep Gap was one of them and we needed to find it to refill our systems. Michael found it and we had the whole shelter to ourselves. We filtered 275 ounces, made dinner, rolled feet out, and were in the tent at dusk. This was my first true experience with being out in the middle of nowhere. Once night fall hit I couldn’t even see my hand waving in front of my face. I was also very alert as to all the noises around me. I think I finally managed to go to sleep around 10 and got up before it was light out because I had to go to the bathroom, which I didn’t do cause I can freak myself out in a heart beat. I was also surprised that I wasn’t sore either. I was expecting my quads to be a little hammered, but everything felt good…legs, knees, and feet. We mowed down a weird sausage and egg dehydrated breakfast, packed our gear, and mosied onward.
The next section, before you get to the BRP was incredible. It reminded me of the PCT in the Cascade Mountains in Washington. The fir trees created that lush, cushy detrital layer for the trail. The terrain was flat to rolling as we were walking on the ridge. The weather was incredible. It was definitely one of my favorite sections of the trail.
Once you cross over the BRP…game on, rock climbing, and straight straight up. Shooey, but wasn’t near as tough as Pilot Mountain. As we reached the Black Balsam Road, the forest was once again rolling with the firs providing a pillowy trail experience. But once you get to Black Balsam, look out, people are everywhere. We threw our stuff down and ditched some trash in a pickup truck. I rolled my feet out and we put on sunscreen because the next section was full sun for the balds.
Section 3 begins across the road and parking area by climbing to Black Balsam Knob itself, where you’re sure to find crowds. On Black Balsam Knob, the trail’s high point, is a plaque commemorating Art Loeb and his eponymous trail. This is the most famous and most popular section of the trail, for good reason. The views and uniqueness of this section of trail are unsurpassed in the region. From there, it travels across several more mountain balds and through the Shining Rock Wilderness past Shining Rock itself, to end at Deep Gap. A spur trail leads to the summit of Cold Mountain.
The balds were beautiful, panoramic views from every direction. The terrain was good, as you are on top of a mountain, but it was rocky and the trail was so used that you were pretty much walking in a ditch. I didn’t stop too much to roll out my feet on this leg. We spent a little longer on the balds as this is one of the highlights of the trail. Although at Black Balsam Knob I was under attack by these tiny red bugs. Michael thought I was freaking out because of the little weevils, I didn’t mind them, but my bright ass yellow shirt was covered in these tiny tiny little red bugs. When I wiped them off my shirt they made a semi cloud in front of my face. Michael didn’t know that till after we got home when he kept harassing me. So I got off that section pretty quickly. Note to self, don’t look like a flower while hiking, muted colors for sure. We passed over Tenant Mountain and from there we were dumped out at Shining Rock Wilderness, which can be a risky place as no signs tell you where you are going. We had learned that Ivestors Gap had a slowly trickling water source. We had to take it easy on our water because we weren’t sure if we would find the source, and we needed enough to finish the trail. We had also learned that part of the trail was shut down because it was overgrown. So we took a nice flat trail around the mountain, and we were moving. We ended up finding the water source and we sat down and drank almost all of our water and refilled all our reservoirs back up. I took my socks and shoes off and let the water run over my feet, which felt so freaking nice! I let them dry, rolled them out once more, and put on some clean socks. Shining Rock Wilderness is beautiful. Snow quartz rock litter the landscape and the summits are made of the white rock. We decided the night before that we were going to push for 12 miles, which was more like 13 or 14 to the next Deep Gap area, the base of Cold Mountain. That last push to Deep Gap was a bit of a pickle too. Massive boulder, false summit after false summit. When we began our planning for this, we had thought about hiking Cold Mountain as well, but we soon discovered that we might not make it because of our food supply. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to make it because it was tough too. The area to get to the next Deep Gap is called the Narrows, single trail, straight up, and boulders, some climbing as well. Right about at the top we were questioning if we had went the right way. I sat down and rolled the feet out and ate while Michael pondered the map. He went down a ways and said he was fairly certain we were on the right track. We left our rock and headed on, unknowingly leaving our compass behind. Michael was sad, but it was fine as our phones have compasses too. We finally made it to Deep Gap, set up camp, wiped ourselves off with wipes, made dinner and dessert and sat around talking. We didn’t make fires either night. In Shining Rock they aren’t allowed at all, that’s how the balds became balds…fire devastation to the forests. We were too beat to even deal with a fire anyway. This camp site was super neat, we were high up, so it was cooler. We heard some thunder rumbling in the distance and did some waterproofing just in case. We never got rained on and for the first 2 hours after we laid down the moon was up and the fireflies were everywhere. It was beautiful! And then…and then I heard it. We put everything that had a scent, as well as our food, in our bear canister and then put it in our backpacks and suspended them from the tree away from our tent. I think it might have been around 11, the moon had disappeared, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, but the fireflies were still dancing all around. I heard some scratching around and some heavy sniffing and breathing in the area where we hand suspended our packs. My heartbeat was now pounding in my ears…I didn’t make a sound and let it happen 5 times before I woke Michael up. Michael started clapping and he never heard the noise. I never heard it either with the exception of smaller animals. I am fairly certain that was a bear, but I will never know. I can definitely tell you I hadn’t heard an animal like that while camping and we’ve had a ton! So I only slept from about 2-5 that night!
Section 4 of the trail is the descent to the end near the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp on the Little East Fork Pigeon River. This section is often used by itself, in combination with the Cold Mountain spur, as a way to “summit” that peak.
Michael finally got up and we ate and got ready to finish the last 4 miles of the trail, straight downhill. As mentioned previously no signage in Shining Rock which is so crazy to me, I told Michael someone needs to take a can of spray paint and mark the damn trail at Deep Gap, because once you are standing there, freaking 10 trails lead off. We realized quickly that we weren’t going the right way as we started to ascend, straight up. We realized that we were hiking up Cold Mountain and had to turn around and head back down. Then we saw another trail that was in the direction of the boy scout camp. We snuck past another tent and this one appeared to be the right one, as we were heading downhill. Then it just disappeared. Fantastic. I finally said to Michael, lets just ask those people. Luckily they had just woken up and stirring around and we asked them and they showed us where it was. It was off to the side, you couldn’t even see it from the main part of Deep Gap. Really, just a simple spray paint, cause that can be dangerous for some people! So off we went…down, down, down, and more down to Daniel Boone. I was doing good on the downhills and we had a good bit of momentum going. Most of the time when you are hiking you are looking down at your feet at rocks and roots making sure you aren’t going to kick or trip, next thing I know a big black blob is running directly at me! I screamed my but off! It was a damn black lab, scared the crap out of me! He followed us almost to the bottom and took off. This part of the trail was beautiful too, we passed many streams and stuck our feet in, put our bandanas in to cool us off. We had started that last leg around 6 and I think we were in the car around 10 or 11. We took some pictures and headed back to AVL. We stopped at a gas station and got chips and Dr. Peppers and probably scared some people to death with our smells and looks. That was a dern good Dr. Pepper and a dern good bag of Dill pickle chips!!
So Friday we hiked 15, Saturday 12-13, and Sunday 4-5. Michael’s pack was around 40 with the reservoirs filled up and mine was around 22. It was hard, it was beautiful, and we had a ton of fun.
If there had been more water or waterfalls it would have been a little bit easier, cold mountain water would have been so refreshing! Its amazing what water can do! So our next adventure which will be late July will have more water sources on the trial. I have just started researching that.
We got home and fixed all our gear to air it out, took long showers and headed to Sierra Nevada to celebrate us! I will never forget this trip!
Checking out the finish line Thursday night!
Start of the hike, maybe around 9 in the morning, we shared 3 beers! Got some looks but they were getting hot..plus the salt is good for you!
Top of Pilot Mountain…I can’t wait to share the picture of my face while climbing it though!
Sweaty! The rock behind us is Looking Glass Rock.
First night, after 15 miles, Deep Gap Shelter!
Top of Black Balsam.
Shining Rock Wilderness.
Second night, the other Deep Gap 28ish miles of dirt.
Headed down to Daniel Boone!
I have learned that I probably need a bigger knee brace, don’t wear yellow, and that I need to work the snot out of my hamstrings as I think that is why my right knee wasn’t hurting…hamstring work!