Friday, April 29, 2011

Down...

Well, while Im not back home yet. We are officially out of the mountains. A weekend wedding in Indiana and then back home on Sunday. There are a ton of pictures, some video and many rants and raves as well as a few speechless moments Ill attempt to put into writing. All coming this following week.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Almost at the Smoky Mountains...

Well, we have everything about as ready as we can get it. Will open up the pop up tomorrow and make sure everything is ok and dry in there. Now, if only these next couple of days could go by in a hurry.

Here are planned hikes,

Charlies Bunion
Ramsey Cascades
Rainbow Falls
Grotto Falls
Hen Wallow Falls
Alum Caves
Porter Creek Trail
Chimney Tops (really looking forward to this one)
Laurel Falls

Anyone gone on any of these trails or locations? Would love to hear any comments.


Heres one from last April. A hike up Twenty Mile trail up to Shuckstack, starting at campsite 93.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Storms over North Carolina

My heart goes out to everyone who was in the path of nature yesterday. We were fortunate. I watched as the three storms split up just miles south of our house.

I wish speedy recovery to everyone affected.

This shot was taken right after the first storm split right by us.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Friday, April 15, 2011

Juney Whank Falls - Smoky Mountains

My co-hiker takes a moment to write into his journal as we take a break just under Juney Whank falls. Is there no better place? When youre hot and sweaty and the falls mist right over you as you sit directly underneath them?


Got any pictures of Juney Whank? Share them.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Deep Creek - Smoky Mountains

In anticipation of my hike next week up in the Smoky Mountains, Ill post a few of my pictures from my previous times there.

Here is one, taken six miles up on the Deep Creek Trail, one of my favorite trails at the park.


Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Every Trail - New phone app.

I found a very interesting app called Every Trail. I have an Android smartphone which I keep charged via solar power on my hikes. Generally, Ive only used it for keeping notes, but this app will allow me to map out the whole trail and then everyone can view the exact route I took on the site Every Trails. I will try it out next week at Uwharrie. Should prove interesting.

http://www.everytrail.com/

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Eagle Creek Trail - Smoky Mountains

Well, there was no hiking done this past weekend as we did spring cleaning, yard sale and got the garden planted. Worthy excuses to have to give up hiking for. Next weekend, we are tackling some trails in Uwharrie. Look for that.

Anyways, while there was no hiking, there are plenty of trails Id like to report from times in the past, especially trails that really have stuck in my memory for various reason, be they challenging, visually satisfying, or due to something interesting happening on the way. A three day trip into the Smokeys back in the autumn of 2008 had all three elements.

That fall, myself and a group of my high school students hit the trails in the Smokeys starting at Fontana dam. This impressive dams (arent they all really?) holds the water back on Fontana dam, although it had been partially drained to get it ready for the spring rains that swell it up. That look gives it a peculiar look as 20-40 feet from the normal shore its as if there is a drought. The boys and I got our gear ready and headed out northeasterly on the Lakeshore trail.


As you can see from that picture, one of our first challenges was up. It was raining when the forecast had called for nothing for three days. Of course, the unexpected would happen. It was about to make that day very interesting. Our hike started out around 1 pm that Thursday with a light drizzle leading us into the first trail.

The Lakeshore trail is a long trail that extends for 21 miles along the Fontana Lake. It intersects with a wide variety of trails along the way, most of them heading straight up the mountains up to the Appalachian trail. While not entirely challenging, its visuals are nice as one is constantly in view of the lake from about 400-800 feet above it as the trail winds around the mountains. In the heavy woods of this trail, the rain wasn't pouring down on us as badly as we thought it would. What IS visually interesting on this trail is the fact that a good portion of it used to be an old road back before this area was a national park and people lived in these areas. The path is wide enough for a small modern vehicle and there are clear remnants of this long past era alongside the trail, in an eerie reminder of humanity's progress.

The section of the Lakeshore trail we were taking was only 5.2 miles. At about mile 4.5, it climbs up steeply, maybe 200 feet then drops steeply again to our campsite about 900 feet below. At the top of this really short climb though, there are no trees, and we were suddenly poured on by the heavens above. Only half of us really had our rain gear in a really good spot to get it and thankfully it wasn't that cold or we might have been in trouble. Lesson learned, keep the rain gear in a quick to access location.

We reached campsite 90 at about 4 pm, a slower hike that I would have liked, but the boys were still getting used to carrying extra weight. Campsite 90 is one of the few non-shelter sites that actually require reservation.  Its got ample space, a very large river nearby and a nice open meadow with a large circular rock formation thats great for sitting under the stars and talking the evening away. Sadly, as we descended into this great campsite, we were still being drenched. Luckily for us, one of the boys had brought along a nice lightweight tarp which we strung up between two trees and got ourselves out from under the rain. We snacked and waited for the rain to stop before pulling out the tents. That would be 2 hours later. We all crashed to bed tired, wet and hoping it would be a better day after a good night sleep.
My tent and the tarp we managed to set up the night before.
The next morning came with bright sun and hopes for no more rain. Many of the boys had slept in next to nothing in hopes of their clothes drying out. This is, though, the Smokey's. Nothing dries out until you leave. Lack of a fire the night before helped keep everything damp too. There were plenty of moans and groans as the boys put on their damp clothes back on. It was going to be an interesting day.

The plan was to take Eagle Creek trail up to the AT, spend the night, then return back down it, the Lakeshore once again, then head out. We had chosen Eagle Creek because it offered 15 stream crossings, something the boys had really asked for. They were even more excited as we moved out, and we saw our first stream crossing as a rudimentary log bridge.

What we didn't know was this was a luxury that was soon to be our last.

Eagle Creek appears to crawl up this seemingly little stream up the mountain. But at every "stream crossing" we were suddenly faced with a far larger stream than it appeared. This criss crossing action continued for about 7 miles, and while we had a good pace on dry land, each stream crossing turned into a 20 minute or more affair as in most cases, we could only cross one at a time. A few of the boys fell in, nothing deep, but more than enough to soak up boots. The sound of sloshing boots became common after only six crossings. A few of us learned tricks, using our trekking poles to balance our way across, looking for larger stones just barely under the water or moving downed logs into position to cross. After crossing the stream for the last time (15th) we took a break and had our lunch at about 3 pm. At this point there were only two miles left, so we thought wed done great.

The last two miles though, would prove to be killer. From this point the trail veers off the stream and follows an old creek bed straight up. Yes, apparently, they forgot to implement switchbacks of any degree on this trail, especially where it probably needed them the most. We were already quite tired when we began hiking straight up, along a path that was made mostly of slick stream bed stones. The pace was brutal. I remember at one point, taking one step, stopping, breathing, then taking another step. On two occasions, the trail would level out a bit and we would cheer, thinking we had arrived. We were tricked on both occasions with yet more incline. I have no pictures of this section because I was far too tired to even think about taking out the camera. Those last two miles we went up almost 3000 feet.

We did all finally reach the top, to the shelter called Spence field. There was a nice small spring next to it which I think we dried as we sucked down water as fast as we could filter it. We got up there at 7 pm right as the sun was about to go down over the top of the mountain and most of us just sat there in stunned silence and exhaustion. I was able to get up and walk around a little bit, hoping not to get too stiff. It was during this period that I was able to take some of my favorite pictures ever taken.



After about 15 minutes of rest, I got the boys up. We gathered enough firewood to get a nice large fire going inside this shelter, which was one of the nicest ones I had ever seen here in the Smokeys. As the fire settled, the boys cracked out their large variety of meals, all of us happy that we would be able to enjoy hot food tonight without threat of rain. As they got their bellies full, their voices rang out with the tales of the day, the slipping in the stream, the sloshing of the boots (most were drying next to the fire) and the lessons learned from that day. By 9 pm we were dead asleep.

The return trip was quite uneventful. It was of course, all downhill now and despite the soreness from the day before, we had a head of steam heading down the mountain. On top of that, we all had dry clothing on for the first time in two days. The lessons learned from crossing the stream helped us cross the 15 crossings with only one slip. We were all in really good spirits, first knowing that a really large meal awaited us after Fontana dam, but also knowing that we had defeated Eagle Creek. As we reached campsite 90 and stopped for lunch, this time at 1 pm, I took time to take one last meaningful picture, another one that makes me love these mountains so very much.

They were nice and loud at the restaurant, but at the hotel we had that night, there was silence and most were out by even 8...after showers of course.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Friday, April 8, 2011

Jones Lake State Park

Official site for the park can be found here - Jones Lake State Park

As North Carolina's tricky spring started rolling out at the end of February, you know, the hot one day, cold the next, I knew it was time to get back out hiking. Obviously, if you live in this state and are a fan of hiking, your eyes will nearly always look westwards towards the mountains, and I would be the same way. But living in Fayetteville puts me too far away from the mountains for a good dayhike, therefore, I needed to find areas close by where I could at least satisfy my hiking desire and start losing some of that winter fat. Raven Rock is nearby in Lillington, but that is still a little over an hour away and I had been there weekly when I lived in Lillington. No, I needed something closer, and I found this at Jones Lake, a mere 25 minute drive with 0 traffic.

Jones Lake is one of the Carolina Bay lakes, bodies of water oriented from southeast to northwest. There are many theories on how they were formed. They are, except for one lake, highly acidic and while the water is clear, its a dark brown color because of all the tanins in the water. Because of its high acidity, fish don't thrive there as much as in other places, although, fishing is still fun there.

The park is comprised of two lakes, Jones and Salters lake. The park entrance is at Jones lake, with a really nice picnic area, sand volleyball and a small but nice sandy beach. Again, while the water is dark, its not cloudy. As the lakes are really shallow, the kids love this aspect. Within the park you have three distinct areas, the lake and its shore, the bay area directly around each lake, and the pine forest in between the lakes.

There are also only two trails at the park, the main trail, a five mile hike around Jones lake, goes through all three of these areas and provides a nice change in scenery in this short hike. Halfway into the Bay Trail, one can take a  1.75 there and back trail into Salters Lake, leaving the pine forest and entering the Bay and then seeing the lake. Added all together, this almost seven mile hike makes the time spent there more than worthwhile.

The trails are, of course, flat. But this is the only simple part of it. In the bay area, the trail is covered in roots and rocks, making one constantly be aware of where they are stepping. Once one clears the bay and enters the pine forest the path becomes sandy, and nothing is more tricky to someones fatigue level than a flat sandy trail. You get much more of a workout than one imagines at first.

Again, the variety in the scenery is really nice, but what Ive always enjoyed about this trail (I have returned on many occasions) is the fact that there is so much visible fauna there. The proximity of the water brings them all out. Birds are seemingly constantly flying about while frogs seem to only stop their song when you near their water hole. In my couple of hikes I have seen a Red Bellied water snake, a Copperhead and a Corn snake. Yes, I yielded to the Copperhead.

The main trail also has three overlooks, where the lake rushes into view from the dense bay brush, and also links up with the fishing pier. Its possible to see the fire watch tower from the fishing pier. I really need to find a way to get up there to take pictures. There is camping available there with showers and running water and one of these days Im gonna camp there to wake up at sunrise and get pictures of the sun coming up over the lake.

I have always been a mountain hiker, or at least hills. But I have begun broadening where I hike, and I look forward to checking out more trails along the coast and its coastal lands.

I do have one thought though. I enjoy biking as well. This park has service road that goes deep into the park itself, part of the bay trail goes on it. I could see them allowing bikes on that road and bringing in even more people. I wonder if anyone has thought of that or if there is a specific reason they don't allow it.

If you're ever down this way, check it out, its an easy dayhike with a picnic area available.

If you have been, Id love to hear what you think about this park.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Overlook #1

The pine forest. Such a dramatic change from the bay brush.

Fearless trooper. He still swears he sees a bear every time we go.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eno River State Park Western Trails

The official site for Eno River State Park can be found here - North Carolina State Parks.

The map of the trails on the wester portion of the park can be found here - Eno River Trail Map, PDF


My wife and I and the two kids, boy almost 3 and a girl 8 going on 19, checked out this section of trails on the Eno river on March 26th. It was a cool, cloudy, drizzly day. We went for the purpose of testing out my new rain gear, but, never really had the chance to test it as it never poured.

This section of the state park is the one that is advertised by all the signs leading up the it. The main information center and the ranger station are located here. There are two large parking lots with modern bathrooms and water fountains. There is also a rather large picnic area located close to the bathrooms.

This section is clearly the more popular section as well. The large group campsites are here, about 1-2 miles from the parking lot. On that day, there were about 3 separate groups of kids and fathers hiking down to the campsites. Its always nice to see people, even if some looked completely out of place, attempting to hike and camp.

The first set of trails include the Cox Mountain trail and Fanny's Ford trail. Both are loops and link up to provide a longer hike. Combined, they provide just a little over 5 miles of hiking. The Cox Mountain trail includes a short but steep hike up about 450 feet, a great little challenge to anyone who has never really hiked serious mountain trails. There are a few visual treats. The first is the free swinging footbridge that crosses the Eno. I'm a huge fan of any kind of bridge while I'm hiking, even if its just a couple of boards over a small creek, therefore, this footbridge is a blast. Of course, having my almost 3 year old think about climbing the rails and almost fall was not so fun. There is also an old wooden cabin that has been converted into a picnic area deep in the hike.

After a lunch back at the parking lot, we hit the other trails. The Buckquarter Creek trail, loops into the Ridge Trail, a long one way trail that leads deep into the woods there a good ways away from the parking lot, but offers another large group campsite for those willing to hike about 4.7 miles in. The Ridge trail holds two really old homes, 19th century homes, within the tall pines and oaks, and offers a unique sight while on the hike. Once we returned from the Ridge trail, we looped back into the Holden Mill trail, dropping down into a small valley that was crisscrossed with small creeks, with a lush green grass growing. It was a beautiful sight. The Holden Mill trail is another loop that hikes up about 200 feet then drops down and comes back along the Eno. The trail here really hugs the river, at times there is no clear path, and one has to hike and climb rocks where one slip will land you in the water. Be warned if you have little ones, you will have to help them up and over the rocks, but we managed just fine.

All in all we hiked 9.7 miles. We did not take two smaller trails at the end of the Ridge trail, Shakori and Knight trail. There are plans to make the Shakori trail loop up into the Holden Mill trail, then offering a 10 mile loop in the near future.

This is one of those sets of trails where, if you just want a day of good hiking, especially if you live nearby, you will gladly return here multiple times.

More to come. Enjoy the pictures.

Happy Hiking,

Xcrown

Cardinal.
Hes loving it.

It's looking at me funny.

One of the few flowers that day.

Footbridge over the Eno.

One of the two 19th century homes. 

Starting off the Cox Mountain trail.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Eno River State Park Eastern Trails

This is my first official post, but is actually fifth hike this year. We have been doing one hike each Saturday while I have been sneaking in a few during the week as well along with biking a few trails as well. I will catch you all up on those trails in the coming days.

The official site for Eno River State Park can be found here - North Carolina State Parks.
The map of the trails on the eastern portion of the park can be found here - Eno River Trail Map, PDF

We had already done the western portion of the trails the previous Saturday and were now tackling the eastern portion. The Eno River is located just north of Durham and is a rather simply drive from Fayetteville, up i95, then i40, NC147, then i85. There are a few signs to the park, but its easy to find. The trick is, to get to the eastern trails, you ignore the sign that leads to the park on Cole Mill Road, and take the opposite way. Eventually you'll see  the entrance to the Cole Mill section of the park. The eastern trails also include the Pump Station area of the park. More on that later.

The Cole Mill area has a small parking lot with two pit toilets, which are probably the nicest pit toilets I have ever seen. There are two spigots near each toilet that provide city water, great for loading up on water before heading off. Maps are also available at both toilets.

We began by taking the Cole Mill trail, which would link up to the Bobbitt Hole Trail. These two trails make up the trails south of Cole Mill road. They both are looping, so you can easily take one, and if you're feeling it, take the next one. Both climb some mild hills and then drop down into one of the campsites available there. There are a couple of streams it crosses until it reaches Bobbitt Hole, a swirling pool of water that most likely forms a great fishing hole along the river. The trails then double back on their loop heading along the Eno River, which on this day was swollen from a few days of raining. The trail can be a little thin and certainly hugs the river, so be careful if you have little ones. Our two have the tendency of not really watching where they walk.

Once these two trails loop back to the parking lot, we took the Pea Creek and Dunnagan trails, both do linking loops north of Cole Mill road. Pea Creek is the shorter, but includes a few quick but steep climbs over a bunch of small boulders. Dunnagan is longer and includes plenty of ups and downs. There are few old stone foundations and even five (from what we saw) tombstones. One of them was inscribed with the years 1826-1914. All four of these trails logged around 5.2 miles on my watch, we completed them in 2:35 of actual hiking time.

Going back on the road and driving south on Cole Mill road, you take a right on Rivermont Rd, stay on it till it turns to gravel and you find the entrance to the Pump Station. Here, Nancy Rhodes creek was damned up and that water was pumped back into the town. The remains of this large building are still there along with some old stone foundations as well. The short Pump Station trail loops around all of these buildings and along the Eno River as well. Having hiked the Dunnagan trail, we could see this trail from the opposite side. Off of Pump Station trail is the Laurel Bluff trail. This trail goes north along the Eno, with plenty of ups and downs and going along cliffs along the Eno. There are plenty of good views of the river. This trail is one way though, 2.5 miles either way unless you want to hitch a ride at the end of it back to your car parked on Rivermont rd. We took this trail as the last trail of the day and it really beat us good. We had to turn back with about .8 miles left because rain clouds came in in a hurry. Either way, it was a good trail, and if done there and back, its an even 5 miles.

These trails were not nearly as interesting as the western trails, but still quite enjoyable. There were plenty of people there, with their children or dogs. I counted 25 turtles, all soaking in the sun that day. With NC spring coming around, many bulbs were up and about to bloom, adding a strong hint of green to the mostly brown winter look. The parking lot was more than large enough and there were picnic tables aplenty nearby. The only downside to these trails is its location. The park is a sliver of land along the Eno River and there is ample evidence of the close homes. We ran into a father and son using a dirt bike and four wheeler along the trail, prohibited of course. There is also that hint of trash the further away you were from the parking lot.

Total hiked, 8.9 miles. 4:37 actually hiking. Not really unique enough to do again, but if you never have, do the trails at least once.

Favorite Trail: Dunagan Trail, because of the old stone foundations and the tombstones. An odd silence and look back into the past.

Happy Hiking,
Xcrown

Going outside

I grew up in the countryside of a tropical island. I spent most of my free time outside, trekking through the hills and mountains, streams and valleys of that little island. It seems to me that I have spent a vast majority of the rest of my life attempting to return to that idyllic life. As an adult, I have taken up back-country hiking and enjoy it immensely. Sadly, as with many other people, I am simply unable to take days or even weeks off at one time to truly enjoy backpacking into the woods and mountains, away from everything else. I'm married and have children who, while they enjoy hiking with me, simply aren't able to do those long trails I enjoy.

But as time went by and the kids slowly grew older and more able, I knew that I simply couldn't allow this "limitation" to be the excuse for not hiking. I proposed to myself then, to simply find places nearby where I could hike, with my wife and children, put in some decent mileage, but still enjoy time outside with my family.

I currently live in Fayetteville, NC. I have now lived in North Carolina for almost 10 years, and while Im nowhere near a native, I have fallen in love with this state, primarily because of the opportunities it has for an avid hiker like myself. But, while I love Smokey Mountains National Park, and have hiked there quite a bit, I simply wasn't familiar with all the smaller locations, the state and county parks, the national forest areas and even the rails to trails that are fun to bike on. Finding any kind of review of these smaller parks was almost impossible, despite the almighty Google at my disposal.

Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to review all of these smaller locations. Maybe someone else has my similar issues and finds my reviews helpful. Maybe, its just a fun way for me to discuss these unique places Ive visited. Maybe, Ill get massive hiking gear endorsement deals. Sure.

If you run across this site, Id love to hear your comments, especially if you have hiked the trails I have been on. You can also find me on Facebook here - Xcrown,  as well as my Facebook hiking group here - Anonymous North Carolina Hikers Organization.

I have already gone on a few hikes this spring, and will review those as soon as I can, but I will start the one we did this past weekend.

Happy Trails,

Xcrown