Happy Trails

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until the end.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, ’til we meet again.”

Dale Evans & Roy Rogers

A happy trail blaze found along the Cullowhee Connector trail at Western Carolina University.

A happy trail blaze found along the Cullowhee Connector trail at Western Carolina University.

Friends In High Places – Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob On The Bartram Trail

You really need to do this hike. Seriously!

OK! So it’s off the beaten path. I’ll give you that. But you won’t be disappointed. The views from Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob are worth it. I promise!

A gorgeous long-view of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.

View of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.

And, it’s one of the easiest hikes along the Bartram Trail (BT). This is a promise too.

Granted. I haven’t hiked the entire BT – yet – but this section is certainly nothing like the grueling section from Wallace Branch to Wayah Bald. That’s practically straight up hill for 11 miles.

Fortunately – and you’ll be happy to know this – you do most of your climbing in the car on your way to the trailhead for Whiterock Mountain. What a relief, right?

With A Little Help From My Friends

Amazing things happen when you have supportive friends.

I’m starting a new venture. It’s called Mountain Trails Yoga and it’s a fusion of two of my favorite things; the cardio workout of a vigorous hike and the strength, balance, and flexibility of yoga. And it’s a blast too.

Well, I mentioned this idea to some friends who just so happen to be board members of the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society and they immediately started suggesting great places for a yoga hike.

Signs indicating the beginning of Forest Service road 4522 to Jones Gap.

Entrance to Forest Service road 4522, leading to Jones Gap.

Doing Tree Pose on top of Whiterock Mountain.

A perfect spot for some hiking yoga!

One of their suggestions was the hike from Jones Gap (elev 4360) to Whiterock Mountain (elev 4480) on the BT. And it turned out to be a perfect place for a yoga hike – complete with open rocky balds and breathtaking views.

It’s the sort of mountain top you might imagine a yogi sitting cross-legged, practicing levitation.

So, anyway, we picked a day, invited more friends in high places – a couple who work for the National Park Service and another couple who are scientists at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory – and headed out.

On The Trail Again

Once you get to the trailhead and put on your pack, go north through the Forest Service gate and along the old service road. This will pass through a wildlife clearing which ends at the junction of the yellow blazed BT and the blue blazed trail to Jones Knob (elev 4622).

If you’ve got the time, take the short trail up to Jones Knob. You’ll get a great view of Whiterock Mountain and wonderful perspective of the whole hike.

An amazing view of Whiterock Mountain, looking from Jones Knob

Looking towards Whiterock Mountain from Jones Knob.

Taking in the view from Jones Knob.

Taking in the view from Jones Knob.

Beyond Jones Knob, the BT basically follows a gently undulating ridge line towards Whiterock Mountain. I’d classify this hike as easy to moderate and very family friendly. Just be mindful of your children and pets once you reach the open rock faces.

The trail winds through rhododendron tunnels and shady hardwood forests. Besides the occasional view between the trees, there are two points of interest between Jones Knob and Whiterock Mountain.

The first one is the graveyard. It’s not really a graveyard but it certainly gives the appearance of one. The graveyard is an open rock face, looking over the Tessentee Valley and toward Whiterock. Large flat boulders litter the rocky prominence, giving the impression of toppled tombstones. It’s a nice spot to rest, have a picnic, do some yoga or simply contemplate your life.

Happy hikers enjoying the views from the Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.

The Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.

The view of Whiterock Mountain from The Graveyard.

Whiterock Mountain as seen from The Graveyard.

A weathered old sign welcoming hikers to Whiterock Gap.

Whiterock Gap with directions to one of the two water sources.

The second point of interest is Whiterock Gap (elev 4120). There’s a well-marked water source – one of two on this section of trail – right below Whiterock Gap, which adds to its appeal as a comfortable campsite.

And this spot could come in handy for you. A lot of people will visit Whiterock for the spectacular mountain sunsets. So if you’d rather not do a “night hike” after the sun goes down you can always camp here instead and hike out in the morning.

Not long after Whiterock Gap you’ll come to the blue blazed junction for Whiterock Mountain (the BT continues on its way to Fishhawk Mountain). This short spur gives way to a rocky path that eventually opens up dramatically to the most amazing views in the southern Appalachians.

A sign indicating the short blue blazed trail to Whiterock Mountain.

Look for this sign and the blue blazes that lead to the Whiterock Mountain overlook.

A group of hikers sitting on Whiterock Mountain, enjoying the views.

Friends in high places – basking in the glorious views from Whiterock Mountain.

This is Whiterock!

You’ve made it! Sit and rest and bask in the sunshine. Take in the views of the Tessentee Valley below you and the southern Nantahala Mountains to your west. On a good day you can see Albert Mountain and maybe even Wayah Bald.

Saying you can see forever might sound like an exaggeration, but when you’re up here on Whiterock…you can almost believe it.

Don’t rush! Take your time and enjoy this magical place. And when you’re ready, simply retrace your steps to the trailhead at Jones Gap.

A young woman sitting on Whiterock Mountain.

Taking it all in on Whiterock Mountain.

What is it about sitting on top of a mountain that makes your spirit soar? Drop us a comment and let us know what it is for you.

See ya on the trail,

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 3.5 miles one way to Whiterock Mtn – plus an additional 0.3 mile to Jones Knob
Elevation change: 120 ft to Whiterock/262 ft to Jones Knob
Water sources: Streams
Trailhead: From Franklin, NC: drive 9.5 miles on 64/28 towards Highlands. Turn right on Gold Mine Rd. Travel 0.8 mile and then turn left on Dendy Orchard Rd. Go 2.6 miles and turn right on FR 4522 (Jones Gap Rd). Drive 2 more miles to the Jones Gap trailhead.


Appalachian Trail Class of 2014 Hiker Profile – Three Mile and Little D

It’s that time of year again – Springer Fever is going around. NOBOs are making their way up the Appalachian Trail on their way to Maine, and, alas, I’m not one of them this year.

But I do have the next best thing available to me – I live in a trail town. Since most thru-hikers “zero” – as in zero miles or a rest day – in my hometown of Franklin, NC, it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up with thru-hikers and share a little trail magic with them.

It’s fun too! You ought to try it sometime.

Anyway, I met Three Mile, also known as Fred Beck, through our Google Plus Thru-hiking Community. It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know a perfect stranger – with similar interests – in such a short time on Google Plus.

So even though we’ve known each other for a while, this past weekend was the first time we met face-to-face. And, if that weren’t exciting enough already, I got to meet Fred’s wife, Debbie – or Little D – too.

Hiker friends, Michael, Deb and Fred visiting together.

Yes! That would be me, Debbie and Fred.

Hikers generally have a lot of chores when they get to a trail town; things like doing laundry, resupplying, replacing gear, eating, bathing, resting, and…eating. I was very grateful that Fred and Debbie found some time to have lunch with me. (Woohoo! Another opportunity to eat!) We had a lot of fun and lots of laughs! (Thanks, guys!)

Hopefully the following highlights from our conversation will give you some idea of what it’s like to hike the AT, a little insight into why people, like Fred and Debbie, hike it, and how much fun it can be.

Where Do You Live and What Do You Do When You’re Not Hiking?

Fred and Debbie are wedding photographers in Kansas City. And good ones, I might add.

What Are The Most Commonly Asked Question From Non-hikers?

  • Where do you go to the bathroom?
  • How do you carry six months of food?

What Are Your Trail Names?

For those who don’t know, a trail name is a nickname that is given to you when you are hiking. Fred is known as “Three Mile” because whenever anyone asks him how far it is to the next shelter, landmark, or town, his answer is always three miles.

Debbie goes by the trail name “Little D” which was shortened from “Little Debbie Short Legs.” But don’t let the name fool you. She’s already taken on some tough mountains and beat them.

What Is Your Funniest Experience So Far?

In trail terms, Fred and Debbie are still in their AT infancy. They’ve walked just over 100 miles – including the 8 mile approach trail to Springer Mountain (I added that for you, Debbie). With over 2000 miles yet to go, there are plenty more opportunities for funny things to happen.

Fred’s funniest experience so far was when they stopped for a rest and a BIG dog, named Moose, peed on his backpack.

Debbie’s funniest moment happened when she was asleep, cozy in her comfy sleeping bag, dreaming of looking for a toilet. You know where this is going, don’t you? The sudden sense of relief. That warm feeling. Well she woke up just in time to dash out of the tent to relieve herself. It’s one of the many things that happen on the trail where you can look back and laugh about it.

What Is Your Favorite Equipment?

Fred loves his Sea-to-Summit sleeping bag liner (it came in handy when the temps dropped into the teens) and their Nemo LOSI 3 person tent (which nearly folded flat in the strongest winds they’d ever experienced one night, but snapped right back without breaking – note: impressive product plug by Fred).

Debbie’s favorite; her nighttime pee jar (see her funniest experience above).

How Have You Managed To Stay Warm At Night Sleeping On The Ground?

Temperatures have been brutal this year, even down here in the south. Fred and Debbie, using 20 and 15 degree bags, have managed to keep warm at night by sleeping on a Big Agnes sleeping pad on top of a Thermarest Z Lite – no more cold ground for them.

What Is Your Most Memorable View So Far?

No question! It was Albert Mountain, NC (5250 ft) for Fred. They were lucky to have a clear, sunny day and he said you could see forever. (His runner up for most memorable was the rock scramble up to Albert Mountain.)

Debbie suggests you take in the nighttime view from atop Tray Mountain, GA (4430 ft) if you’re looking for the best view so far on the AT.

A nice view of the fire tower on Albert Mountain, NC.

OK! So it’s not the view, but it is the fire tower on Albert Mountain on a beautiful day.

What’s Your Newest Experience So Far?

For Debbie, it was hitchhiking at Winding Stair Gap…and she had beginners luck right away. Debbie, Fred and another hiker were standing along the road when some guy pulled up in a little green Miata, jumped put, pointed at Debbie and said, “I’ll take her!” To which, Fred replied, “That’s my wife. Take him.” And pointed to their friend.

Did Fred and Debbie ever make it into Franklin? Sure! But not without the scariest ride of their life. They were in the back seat of a car going 80 MPH down Winding Stair Gap – you know, one of those scary “Trucks Use Low Gear” kind of curvy mountain roads. They made it to town alright, but were grateful to get out of the car.

What Are You Looking Forward To The Most As You Hike Up The AT?

Fred has a special place in his heart for Newfound Gap (5048 ft) in the Smoky Mountains. He’s hiked up to it and driven over it many times, but he’s never crossed Newfound Gap via the AT.

Taking in the view of Harper’s Ferry from the AT keeps Debbie motivated to keep going.

What’s Been Your Hardest Day So Far?

Kelly Knob (4280 ft) in GA gave Debbie a hard time. It was one of those days. She reached the top of Kelly Knob in tears almost ready to throw in the towel. She bumped into a couple of 19 year old thru-hikers resting at the top who told her Kelly Knob kicked their asses too. It helped to lift her spirits to keep going.

What’s The Latest You’ve Stayed Up At Night?

8:30 PM

What’s The Earliest You’ve Gotten Up?

7:00 AM

(Hmm. That’s more sleep than I get. You’d think it was hard work hiking the AT. ;-))

What’s Your Reason For Hiking the AT?

Fred and Debbie are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary by hiking the AT. Isn’t that romantic? Seriously! I can’t think of any better way to celebrate 30 years of marriage. But, then again, I’m a hiker. Congratulations by the way!

Fred and Deb enjoying some well-earned calories.

Peach Cobbler! A great source of well-earned calories for a hungry hiker.

Time To Go

I picked Fred and Debbie up Sunday morning at their hotel and got them safely back to the AT, driving a respectable 55 MPH. We said our good-byes and hugged at the trailhead. Last time I saw them they were following white blazes into the woods northbound from Winding Stair Gap, refreshed and ready to go.

Happy trails, Fred and Debbie. Thank you for sharing your thru-hike with me. I’m looking forward to your updates.

It’s hard to sum up two weeks of hiking in one lunch. If you’re interested, you can learn more about Fred and Debbie and follow their progress by visiting their blog, TheTrailBeckons.com. (Deb is also a contributing blogger at AppalachianTrials.com.)

Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet you on the AT some day too. Let me know when you’re passing through the Franklin, NC area. It would be fun to get together.

See ya’ on the trail,




A Little Love At Standing Indian

Where some might look at a tree and see only its knots, others will see only its perfection.

A heart-shaped tree knot.I must have walked past this rhododendron tree a hundred times. For some reason, as I ambled along the bank of the Upper Nantahala River today, this heart-shaped knot caught my attention.

Maybe the light was just right? Maybe I was looking in the right direction?

Who knows? I’m not going to get all mystical on you.

But…I can tell you this. It isn’t the first time I’ve found something magical at Standing Indian.

What sort of surprises have you found along your path?

See ya’ on the trail,

Walking Along The Little Tennessee River Greenway

Well. I haven’t been a complete slug. Sure the holidays kept me busy and I wasn’t able to hike in the woods, but I didn’t sit on my butt at home and eat Snickerdoodles either.

That’s not my style. I’m like a herding dog. You know what happens when they don’t get enough exercise. They’ll drive you crazy.

Walking along the Little Tennessee River Greenway.Greenway sign for the historic Tallulah Falls Rail Road.Some of the many people who enjoy the Greenway daily.The thing is…I will too! So, when I can’t hike, I walk. And, fortunately, we have a great place to do it.

The historic Nickajack Bridge on the Greenway.There are many scenic spots along the Greenway.One of the many mile markers on the path.This great place is called The Little Tennessee River Greenway. And for a public green space, it is well used – and loved – by many people around here.

Open meadows and wooded areas offer a variety of enjoyable walks.With benches and shady gazebos, you can take in the peaceful views.Berry picking is a popular summer activity on the Greenway.On any given day, no matter what the weather, you’ll find walkers, joggers, runners, bicyclists, bird watchers, dog walkers, berry pickers, amateur botanists, picnic-ers, Frisbee golfers and even geocachers enjoying this four mile riverside trail.

There are numerous flowering plants adorning the Greenway.The meandering Greenway.One of several bridges as the Greenway crisscrosses the Little Tennessee River.Obviously it’s not the Appalachian Trail, but it’s a great place to stay in shape, get outdoors and breathe in some fresh air.

There are lots of public green spaces popping up around the country. Got one near you?

See ya’ on the trail (or maybe on the Greenway),

New Year’s Day on the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop Trail

Green moss encroaching on a blue blaze.How did I let this happen? It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to hike in the woods.

Somehow October and November got away from me. I was beginning to show signs of Cabin Fever. And that’s not good…for anyone.

What to do?

You and I both know there’s only one cure for Cabin Fever; lace up your boots and hit the trail. Sounds like the perfect prescription, doesn’t it?

I love where I live! I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a million more times. But there are hundreds of trails within a short drive of my home. It’s really a hiker’s paradise.

Choosing a trail, however, can feel like standing in the middle of a video store and trying to decide what movie you want to watch.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to pick this time. I headed straight to Standing Indian so I could hike one of my favorite loops; the Park Creek-Park Ridge loop.

The beautiful Upper Nantahala River.Follow the sign to the various trailheads.There's always some green to find in the winter woods.The Trail

The Park Creek and Park Ridge trails are actually two different trails and fabulous in their own way. Taking the half mile connector between the two trails turns an “out-and-back” trip into a very nice roundabout walk, bringing you right back to where you started. It’s perfect for families and hikers of almost any age.

Though there are no scenic overlooks or amazing waterfalls along this trail…or any “special” places you need to see – it still offers plenty of lush beauty, the solitude of the backcountry and the soothing sound of babbling water practically anywhere on the trail.

In fact, like most trails in Standing Indian, there are several places along this loop where it’s hard to discern the trail from the stream. But that’s all part of its charm.

Leaving the Backcountry Info Center, follow the signs and the blue blazed trail through the Standing Indian Campground. Various trailheads will branch off from this feeder trail.

I always start with the Park Creek trail first. It travels for about a mile along the Upper Nantahala River on what I think is an old railroad grade. History buffs might know for sure, but I do know there are other old grades in the basin.

Take your time as you pass through the thick rhododendron and dog hobble and check out some of the large boulders and rocky places along the river. Little side trails will reveal nice long views of the river, swimming holes, and some beautiful whitewater cascades.

A bridge over Park Creek.Leading the way on Park Creek Trail.One of the many cascades on Park Creek.The trail takes a sharp left turn when it reaches Park Creek. For the next mile and a half the path meanders around this bold tributary and begins a gentle, long climb.

I don’t think many hikers venture pass this point. Park Creek Trail begins to narrow and you’re likely to find fewer signs of travelers and many more tree branches and blow downs across the path.

This was the first time I’ve hiked the trail in the dead of winter. And, to my surprise, after about two miles in, I found a clearing I had never seen before. It was about twenty feet off the path. The thicket that separated it from the path is obviously too dense to permit detection in the summer.

It’s always fun finding these woodland meadows. The forest service maintains these openings for wildlife, but they’re nonetheless surprising when you happen upon one – a clearing in the middle of seemingly nowhere.

Doghobble encroaching on the path.

The trail crossing Park Creek.

Moss covered stone on Park Creek Trail.

Somewhere around the 2.5 mile mark, you’ll have to ford Park Creek. It’s fairly wide at this point and, depending on the amount of recent rain, the large stepping stones can sometimes be submerged.

It’s always a good idea whenever you’re hiking in Standing Indian to use trekking poles or a walking stick. With as much water on the trails and the numerous stream crossings, trekking poles come in handy, providing extra balance and stability.

There’s nothing worse in the winter than slipping off a rock and getting your foot soaked.

In about another tenth of a mile and you’ll come to a fork in the path. Park Creek Trail continues to the right and the Connector Trail to Park Ridge Trail turns left. This spot is generally well marked (although the sign looked like it was in need of some repair when I was there on New Year’s Day).

Trail marker for Park Ridge Trail.Rhododendrons along Park Ridge Trail.A spring running through the middle of Park Ridge Trail.There’s only about 550 feet of elevation gain on Park Creek-Park Ridge loop and most of it comes in the last quarter mile of the Connector Trail. It’s easy enough with switchbacks and when you reach the top you’ll find yourself at the intersection of three forest service roads.

These grassy roads are not on any of the maps I own, but one of the roads has a sign indicating it connects with Kimsey Creek Trail.

Turn right once you reach the forest service road, walk about 20 yards and take the Park Ridge return trail on your left. You’ll notice a set of stairs to the right. This is the continuation of the Park Ridge Trail which follows the ridge line between Park Creek and Kimsey Creek.

The Return Trip

A map of the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop trail.

Park Creek Trail is marked as 33 and Park Ridge Trail is marked as 32 and 32A, which is the Connector Trail. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the AT at Rock Gap. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

From here it’s all downhill. For the next mile or so, you’ll amble around tall poplars, oaks and an occasional beech tree. Every now and again you’ll come across a rhododendron thicket hiding another soggy branch you’ll have to cross.

Eventually this will intersect with the old railroad grade you started on. Turn right and follow the signs back to the Backcountry Info Center.

Anytime of year is great time to hike this trail. In the summer, it offers a lush forest, cool shade and plenty of watery distractions. In the winter, when the leaves are gone, you can see the incredible contours of the land around you as it makes a big circle around Bee Tree Knob.

Just shy of five miles, this fantastic loop is great for a family hike, power walk or even some scenic trail running. Let me know what you think if you ever get the chance to try it.

Where did you hike on New Year’s Day?