The Magical Views From Winding Stair Gap

It’ll never be the same again. Sure you’re standing in the same spot, in the same scenic overlook, but you’ll never experience the same view.

And that’s what makes Winding Stair Gap so magical.

The light changes, the clouds change, the shadows, the seasons, the color of the sky and the color of the leaves change. Thousands – maybe millions – of variables determine what you’re going to see on any visit to Winding Stair Gap.

You can stop everyday and see a completely different vista, a different mood, a different place. A single magical moment where all the variables come together to produce YOUR unique view; your once in a lifetime view…because it’ll never look like that again.

Winding Stair Gap, on Hwy 64, is much more than a way point between Franklin and Murphy, NC. It’s a destination all on its own.

And should you ever have the opportunity to stop, you should. Take it all in. Take a photo. Send a copy of your pic to me – if you want – and I’ll add it to the Winding Stair Gap Photo Gallery along with any new pics I take.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, enjoy these magical views….

A gorgeous view of a layer of clouds below and blue sky above Winding Stair Gap.

An early spring morning at Winding Stair Gap.

A beautiful harvest moon rising over Winding Stair Gap.

Harvest Moon rising over Winding Stair Gap.

 

Winding Stair Gap just before the storm arrived.

Before the storm…

Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock in Ravenel Park

You want a view! Have we got views for you. Everywhere you turn in the mountains of western North Carolina you’re treated to another outstanding vista.

Breathtaking. Majestic. Awe inspiring. The sort of views that keep life in perspective; a glimpse which offers so much more than our usual hustle and bustle.

Seriously! Take your pick. BUT if you should find yourself in Highlands, NC, then you’ll want to visit the gorgeous long range, mountain views from Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock.

Blue sky over Sunset Rock.

This is looking north from the bottom of Sunset Rock. It’s much bigger than it looks in the photo.

And, if you time your visit perfectly, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing mountain sunrise or sunset, and you’ll swear you’ve just witnessed the soul – and grandeur – of life itself.

Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock sit at the top of Ravenel Park, a tract of land given to the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust in 1914. That’s right – 1914!

And you’ve guessed it. This year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Ravenel Park – or what the mayor of Highlands, NC has declared as the “Sunsetennial: 100 Years of Sunsets and Sunrises Together.”

It’s a big to do. You can learn more about the Sunsetennial, it’s history and special events, and the great work of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust by visiting their website.

Like with any outing, it’s always best to plan ahead.

Taking in the gorgeous view from Sunrise Rock in Ravenel Park.

Looking east from Sunrise Rock.

There are two parking lots for Sunset Rock. Each one offering very few spaces, so it would be in your best interest to plan ahead and time your visit so you have a decent place to park. Of course, there’s always the option of staying at the Old Edward’s Inn and walking to the park from there.

Located off of Horse Cove Road, which is a continuation of Main Street heading east out of Highlands, and on the right hand side just past the Highlands Nature Center is Sunset Road, a one-lane gravel drive.

You can park in a small lot just before Sunset Road and walk two miles up to the top or, if you get there early enough, drive up to the top and walk about a tenth of a mile to either Sunset or Sunrise Rock.

If you plan on seeing a sunrise or sunset, make sure you have flashlights or headlamps, a jacket, blankets to sit on and some water (you might get thirsty after the walk up or down). And if you happen to take any food, be sure to practice “Leave No Trace” principles and pack out ALL of your garbage.

Taking in the long views of the Natahala Mountains from Sunset Rock.

OK! So you’ll have to imagine a sunset, but this is the dramatic view from Sunset Rock.

You can visit Sunset Rock any time of year, weather permitting, but I would imagine fall would be particularly special with the autumn colors at their peak.

Oh! One last thing. Take a camera. You’ll want to show all of your friends the beautiful sunrise or sunset.

Do you have a favorite place to watch the sun rise or set? Share it with us in the comments.

See ya’ on the trail,
Michael (aka Tastelikchickn)

Appalachian Trail Class of 2014 Hiker ProfileS

What a treat! Last Friday night I had the honor of spending my evening with four fantastic Appalachian Trail Thru-hikers.

It was fun getting to know them, hearing their hilarious stories, and living the vicarious trail life through them.

Since none of them are in witness protection, they gave me permission to take their picture and introduce them to you. Well, at least introduce them by their “trail names.”

Four hungry thru-hikers having dinner in Franklin, NC.

From left to right: Wayne, SAS, Paperweight, and Handlebar

Wayne, a fellow member of the Google+ Thru-hiking Community, was my introduction to this rag-tag group of fabulous hikers. As of his stop in Franklin, he hasn’t received a trail name yet and he’s a bit surprised he hasn’t done something stupid enough to warrant one. No worries, Wayne, the trail WILL find a name for you. For now, keep working on your trail legs and building up your hiker appetite. Oh! And keep those community updates coming!

UPDATE: It’s official. Wayne’s trail name stuck! He’s now going by Crinkleroot, named after the beloved character in Jim Arnosky’s children’s books. You can learn more about his namesake at www.crinkleroot.com.

SAS is a fifth grade school teacher on sabbatical – forced upon her due to budgetary cuts. Not one to sit around, she decided to hike the AT this year. Her trail name is an acronym for “slow and steady,” and she’s considering writing a book about her AT experience. You can learn more about SAS and follow her progress at Hikergirl86.

Paperweight – yes he carries a paperweight in his pack – is a wanderer, and a funny one at that. When you ask him where he’s from, you either get the shelter he slept in the night before or a laundry list of locations around the country. His main purpose for hiking the AT, as near as I can tell, is to meet a woman named Bobbie Sue. So if your name is Bobbie Sue, look for Paperweight at your nearest trail crossing – and make his day.

Handlebar, aptly named for his fantastic handlebar mustache, is, to me, the quintessential thru-hiker. He’s also very sharp witted, funny and confidently laid back. Always on the lookout for Michigan micro brews (he’s from MI), he was thrilled to find one at the Rock House Lodge in Franklin’s local outfitter, Outdoor76.

Best of luck on your thru-hike. I hope you all can stay together until you reach Mt. Katahdin.

If you’re ever hiking the AT or the Bartram Trail, for that matter, and find yourself in Franklin, NC, let me know. I’d love to meet up with you and get to know you too.

One can never have too many trail friends.

See ya’ on the trail,
Michael

Appalachian Trail Class of 2014 Hiker Profile – Michael from PA

Meet Michael. He’s an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker from PA. We found him walking along Hwy 64, west of Franklin, on his way to Winding Stair Gap. He had another 7 to 8 miles to go – uphill – before he even reached the trailhead.

Having some time on our hands – we were scouting locations to take prom photos of our kids – my wife and I turned around and offered Michael a ride.

Michael and me at the AT trailhead at Winding Stair Gap.

Meet Michael – a thru-hiker from PA. He’s the guy on the left.

Turns out he missed the earlier shuttle because he had gone to the local podiatrist to have his blisters looked after. He was relieved to get a ride.

Michael said he was hiking the AT because he lost a bet with his brother. Apparently they’re a betting bunch and the stakes are generally pretty high. All of their bets are blind wagers, meaning you don’t know what you’ll have to pay until the bet is lost and you pull it out of the wager box.

The last time Michael won a bet, his brother had to learn to speak Chinese. It took him two years to become fluent enough to pay off his debt. As Michael explained, there’s a betting moratorium during the time it takes to complete the payoff, giving everyone a chance to breathe a little easier.

Michael’s brother thru-hiked the AT about 20 years ago. He was balancing on a rock on top of Mt Katahdin when the rock shifted, exposing a 1939 nickel. He’s kept it ever since.

When Michael lost his last bet to his brother, he reached into the blind wager box and pulled out his wager; he had to replace the 1939 nickel to its original resting place on top of Mt. Katahdin.

So began Michael’s thru-hike.

People hike the AT for a multitude of reasons. This has got to be the most unique reason I’ve ever heard.

We dropped Michael off at the northbound trailhead at Winding Stair Gap and said goodbye. We watched him disappear into the woods.

I walked back to our car, humming, “My name is Michael. I’ve got a nickle. I’ve got a nickel, shiny and…old.”

Happy trails, Michael!

Why did you thru-hike the AT? Let us know in the comments below.

See ya’ on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

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,
Tastelikchickn

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,

Tastelikchickn