Sunday, October 4, 2009

B-Day Hiking Trip Report

Day One (Friday): Running Errands and Returning to the Scene of the "Crime"

The day started off early. We are so used to getting up early, that we even wake up early on weekends and days off. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, since we had a couple of errands to run before heading out of town. I also still had to pack, because I just couldn't get myself to do it the night before. After that we headed out to our chiropractor appointment and then grabbed some breakfast. I didn't have a good backpack for hiking day trips, so we also stopped by a couple of stores and now I am the owner of a brand new Camelbak Mule. Looking at the watch, it was almost 11AM by then and we decided, that we will stop by the Hincapie Sportsware Warehouse Sale. I was hoping to go there, but we originally thought that we would be already gone by the time the Sale started. It was certainly worth it... I wanted to get some winter gear and left the store with a winter bib, winter jacket, base layer, knickers and socks. NICE! :-) So there are no excuses this winter, not to ride the bike!

By 1PM we were finally on the road to Mount Mitchell State Park. We got on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville NC and for Terry it was a trip down memory lane. Just three weeks prior, he was running exactly this piece of road as his last (glorious) leg in the Blue Ridge Relay. Now I know, where he passed who and so on and so forth. Here, we also discovered that Karma gets motion sick... This time we were able to stop in time, the next time, we wouldn't get that lucky. We followed the Blue Ridge Parkway and made a couple of stops at overlook points. At milepost 364.5 Craggy Gardens we made a longer break for taking pictures and a little bit of walking.

We saw big clouds rolling in and it got worse each mile we travelled. By the time we finally reached the Mount Mitchell State Park, the visibility was basically zero. We parked at the visitor center and decided to take the two mile trail up to the summit. Right from the get-go the trail was rough, but was also a lot of fun and interesting to hike on. When we reached the intersection to the Mountain-To-Sea-Trail (MST) we somehow lost the trail and ended up hiking straight up the mountain through the woods until we finally hit another trail. We had the choice of following the trail to the left or to the right, we chose the left and 20 minutes later ended up on a camp site. Good thing was, that we finally knew where we were again, the bad thing was, that we were walking in the wrong direction away from the summit. On the camp site we ran into a ranger and he confirmed that the signs on the Old Mount Mitchell Trail are pretty confusing and gave us the shortest way back to the visitor center. Visibility has gotten even worse in the meantime and there wasn't really a point of going up to the summit anymore. In the Mount Mitchell State Park, there are signs posted everywhere that they have frequent black bear sightings... In this context, Terry made the quote of the day: "Karma, if Mr Bear comes, you are on your own!" ;-)

On our way to the hotel in Marion NC, we rode along the Blue Ridge Parkway and then switchbacks down the mountain. I assume that this is the last 25 miles the cyclist have to do when riding the Assault of Mount Mitchell... Tons of respect for these guys!

Day Two (Saturday): BEAR! and a lot of Hiking

We started Saturday out with breakfast and then made our way to Grandfather Mountain. We have been joking before about the bear advisory signs that are posted everywhere. While driving along a four lane highway, we all of a sudden saw a black bear sprinting across the road in front of us. Fortunately so far ahead, that there was never any danger of actually hitting the bear. So my first live and in color viewing of a bear happened out of the security of the car and I am not unhappy about that. Unfortunately, the cameras were tucked away in our backpacks on the back seat of the car, so we don't even have a picture to proof it. The speed the bear was sprinting was really impressive... There goes the illusion that you would be able to outrun a bear! :-) We kept on going and soon enough hit switchbacks again up the mountain. My stomach felt queasy and so it was no surprise that Karma got sick too... This time, she was a little too fast for us. But we learned and didn't give her food before arriving at Grandfather, so the mess didn't get too bad.

At Grandfather Mountain, we made a quick pit stop at the Nature Museum and then parked the car on the Hiking Parking Lot. From there we did the short hike up to the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

The bridge was shorter than I thought it would be, but it was still impressive. The wind was blowing like crazy up there, but we made our way across and walked over to the peak. Nice views all around... Clear blue skies and everything. Unfortunately, the Grandfather Trail access from the bridge was closed and therefore we had to hike back to the parking lot and go on the Grandfather Extension Trail, that leads to the same peaks. Our plan was to hike to Calloway Peak that would have been 2.7 miles one way. The trails where beautiful, but also very crowded, which was not surprising on such a beautiful day. It was leading through rhododendron bushes which makes me think that this might be worth paying the USD 15.- entrance fee again and come back when those bushes are blooming in the spring. The dirt trail became a rock trail and we went from hiking to mountain climbing in the matter of a couple of steps. The first obstacles, we were able to easily navigate and Karma showed her mountain goat potential. Once we hit the base of McCrae, things got a little more complicated. There were steal ropes fastened to the mountain on which we had to pull ourselves up and then came the first ladder.

Terry carried Karma up that one, but then we hit the next ladder and we had to give up right there... Maybe one mile into our hike and over an hour on the trail already. We looked at a series of wooden ladders up to the peak of McCrae. These ladders where basically fastened on the side of the mountain... There was no way, we could get the dog up to the peak. There was an alternative route, but that had ladders too. So I went up to the peak while Terry stayed with Karma and then he went up while I stayed with her. At least we saw the first peak and the stunning views before heading back to the parking lot.

We left Grandfather Mountain around 3.30PM, got a late lunch on the road and then stopped again at Linville Falls for an easy hike and really beautiful views on a nice water fall and a lot of nice people along the way we chatted with. The place was even more crowded than Grandfather Mountain before, but that didn't matter because the trails where nice and wide. We spent another 1.5 hours there and walked from one viewing area to the next.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Eddie's Spaghettis, the best Italian place in the county per vote in 2007. The food was alright and it made me wonder how many other Italian places are in the county. Honestly, I was so hungry, I would have eaten anything. Back in the hotel, we where glad to finally lay down and rest our legs a little. Later, we actually ended up walking to the gas station across the road for some ice creme before snoozing off.

Day Three (Sunday): Gem Mining and the Return to Reality

This morning we got up, had some breakfast and then headed out to find the Lucky Strike Recreational Mining Company. In the area are tons and tons of gold and gem mining places and we saw a report on the Travel Channel previously and thought we will try our luck with some mining. It was fun and we actually found some really nice precious and semi-precious stones. While talking with the lady that was running the diner that morning, we found out that the gem mining is basically just a fun activity for the ladies and the kids. They buy the stones and prep the buckets that they sell you. So it's kind of fake panning, but at least you are guaranteed to find some stones and really, it was fun! :-) The gold mining you can do there is for real though! After our treasure hunt, we hit the road again back to Greenville.

Halfway there, we passed the sign "Saluda Historic Downtown" and we took the exit to have a look at it. I was there before several years ago and yes, it's a cute historic downtown, it's just very tiny. Already heading back, I saw the sign for Keith's Bike and Tri Shop and decided to stop since Coach Katie once mentioned that they have cheap bathing suites. We probably spend an hour in the shop, chit-chatting with Keith and looking at tons of stuff and buying some of it.

We got back to Greenville in the early afternoon, so we had time for some cleaning and a nice 5.6 mile run... Since we haven't been on our legs enough over the weekend! :-)

This was an AWESOME birthday weekend... Couldn't have asked for anything more! THANKS, TERRY!

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