Adventures in Pisgah

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Take a peak at the trees

So, do you all know what is going on with the trees I post pictures of?

I spotted these two pointing the way down Cedar Rock Mtn. a few weeks ago. The bend is rather high but the fact that there are two of them, pointing to exactly the same place - the only way up and down the mountain - makes me think that they are indeed trail trees.

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Here is another pair of strangely bent trees. These are on top of Bald Knob and are pointing to a pile of rocks. While almost all trail trees are exclusively white oaks these two trees are interestingly maples. Normally I would discount them based on species alone but since there are two, with the exact same bend, pointing at a pile of rocks puts them in the Yes category. 

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A bad picture but here is the point of the second tree:

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 I found this interesting tree on Trace Ridge. It is a white oak so the species is right and although the bend isn't quite as distinct as on other ones it does have the elbow like feature and the second trunk that is found on other known trail trees so I am thinking this tree could very well have been intentionally bent.

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Here is another one for the maybe category. I found this guy about halfway up to Clingman's Dome on Forney Ridge. It is a white oak but the bend isn't dramatic enough for me be certain it is a trail tree.



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If a dramatic bend is what you are after this tree on Clawhammer Mountain fits the bill. I have no doubt that this tree was intentionally bent by humans. Its location makes me think that it was marking the way along the ridge top. I know what you are thinking- I hear it all the time when I talk to people about these trees - that it is not big enough to be old enough to have been around in the time of the Cherokees. I am not convinced of that at all and ask that you consider all that a tree in the forest has to go through. A sapling might have to wait 20 years or more before another tree nearby falls and opens up enough of the canopy for it to really begin growing. I recommend reading the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben for a very good explanation of the challenges a tree faces. You also have to consider the stress that this tree must have faced when it was being deformed. The binding it went through would have been more than enough stress for it's growth to be stunted for a long time. 
 
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Further down the same ridge you'll find this trail tree. It is about the same size as the previous example so they could be from about the same period but this one is different because it is pointing directly at a seasonal spring/seep. It is very high on a dry ridge and if you dig directly below it's elbow you will find water. Perhaps the most famous trail tree is the one on the MST near Skinny Dip falls that also points directly at a spring. I have no doubt that this is a  trail tree.

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High on Sassafrass mountain you will find this old white oak with an interesting bend. I'm undecided about this one. Maybe?

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There is no indecision about this tree on the rim of Linville Gorge - it was intentionally bent by the Cherokees. A classic trail tree.

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Head south to Panthertown Valley and you might stumble across this tree and wonder if it too was bent by humans for unknown reasons.

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Nearby you will find this rather phallic looking tree and wonder about it as well. After scouring the forest for these trees sometimes your mind starts to play tricks on you and many trees start to look like trail trees.

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Back north to Mackey Mountain and there are no tricks about this tree. It is undoubtedly a trail tree. It is very old and the trunk has morphed into itself.

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Very close to that classic example were a couple of the phallic trees that had me wondering if these trees were part of the same old marking system.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Photobucket Blues

As you can see this blog has been decimated by photobucket's recent ransom and extortion attempt. I am aware of the problem but simply have not had time to fully asses the extent of the damage or come up with a viable solution. Paying the $400 ransom does not interest me. If anyone has any ideas as to what I can do to restore the pictures please contact me at clayfaine@gmail.com. Otherwise please bare with me until I get something figured out.

Happy trails to you all!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Chestnut

Jonathon and I got out for a fun adventure a few weeks ago that had Pisgah once again surprise me with more of her hidden treasures. We met up at The Hub with our only plan being to get on a rope somewhere and after a few minutes of pondering our options we settled on heading to Courthouse Falls where I figured we could rappel the waterfall a few times and have some fun swimming around. Once we got to the trail head we looked at the map again and decided to tack on Chestnut Falls as well. It looked like a nice little loop but a tad heavy on the road walk so we headed straight up Chestnut Creek.

I'd been to the waterfall before and expected a half an hour of walking up the creek before getting to the falls but after that half hour of walking we reached a hidden little shoot that we were unable to get up.

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This left us with no choice other than to bushwhack around it. Normally a little bushwhack like that would not be a big deal but it turned out that this required more than just a little bushwhack. Both sides of the creek were blocked by enormous stone walls and the only way out and up was through an impossible tangle of dog hobble that just kept going and going. There were long stretches when our feet were nowhere near the ground as we wrestled our way across the vegetation.

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We thought that all we had to do was get around that one little waterfall but somewhere along the madness we saw a second even larger waterfall blocking our way and continued to work our way through the jungle.

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That meant instead of just Chestnut Falls there would be two additional waterfalls to rappel and what we thought was going to a short little jaunt was turning into a full on canyon trip. We finally freed ourselves from the madness and made it to Chestnut Falls which served as a perfect warm up for the more challenging terrain that lied further downstream.

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The middle waterfall which we had only seen from the distance during the bushwhack proved to be very difficult to negotiate. We didn't know just how big it was and once we got to it there was a very serious pothole blocking the entrance at the top. I set up an anchor and rappelled down to the pothole where the creek narrowed to a foot wide torrent that was pouring into a seemingly bottomless hole before tumbling down the main drop. No matter how I tried I could not find a safe way to enter that hole and had to retreat back up the rope.

We scouted around and set up a second anchor off to the side of the creek and used it to rappel down to the top of the waterfall avoiding the hole of certain death. From there I set yet another anchor and we were able to finally descend the falls.

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After that all we had to do was descend that final little shoot that had stymied us in the first place. We had a good anchor that put us right in the flow and there was no choice but to go right through the water. A true class C rappel.

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From there it was just a short way back down the creek to the truck where we left Courthouse waiting for another day.




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wilson Creek SWEaTfest

Last weekend found me in Wilson Creek with Pisgah Nation for the annual SWEaTfest fun run. I did the run last year and really enjoyed the route as well as the company and have been looking forward to doing it again ever since. This year things would take an unexpected but interesting turn just a few miles in.

Just after crossing over Yellow Buck Mtn. I arrived at a trail junction I didn't remember from last year where another runner, Vince, was pondering the options. One trail was blocked by dead fall and the other one was clear but a trail sign seemed to be indicating that the dead fall trail was the way to the road where we were headed so that is the trail we picked. We started descending rapidly with lots more dead fall and I had a strong hunch it was the wrong way. I tried yelling for Vince but he had pulled way ahead and couldn't hear me so I just kept going. After a mile or so I arrived at a creek and the tell tale white circle blazes told me what I already knew - we had gone the wrong way and were at Harper Creek. What I couldn't figure out was where was Vince. I thought for sure he would have stopped at the creek to plot his next move but he was not there.  I ran a quarter mile upstream and then a quarter mile downstream hoping to find him but he was nowhere to be found. I decided he must have realized our mistake and picked an alternate route to run. I pulled out my map and did the same.

Instead of reversing course and finishing the route I opted to do a different route altogether that would have me on some new to me trails. I decided to go up Persimmon Ridge to the road and then down South Harper Creek before rejoining the route near the end. I figured Persimmon Ridge was bound to be the least used trail in the area and from the start the trail looked faint and indeed little used. It climbed steadily and steeply and I resigned myself to not worry about the time or where Vince might have gone and to instead just enjoy my day in the woods.

I stopped about three quarters of the way to the top to stretch my hip flexors and was enjoying a nice break when suddenly Vince appeared coming up the trail behind me. I wasn't expecting to see anyone on that trail, especially not Vince behind me. He quickly told me he figured out we were off course when he got to Bard Falls on Harper Creek and was reversing course so that he could finish the route. It took me a second to process what he was saying and I had to ask if he knew where he was.

"Not really," he said, "but once I get to the top where we missed the turn I will."

That didn't make sense either and it took a little more back and forth before I realized he thought he was on the same stretch of trail we had come down which was on the other side of the creek. I explained how he was nowhere near there and I had intentionally left the course after our wrong turn to do a different route. He was eager to finish the course so I gave him my map and went over what he needed to do to get back on course several times. I took a picture of the map in case I needed it and I wished him well before we went our separate ways.

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A short while later the forest opened up into a grand stand of old growth trees so spectacular I had to yell aloud in amazement and wonder.

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From there it was a short way up to the road and then a short stretch of gravel before descending the South Harper Creek trail. After a couple of miles on the trail a waterfall appeared and the run couldn't have gotten any better already. While not the biggest of waterfalls it was a nice spot and I pulled out my fishing pole to play around a bit. I didn't catch anything or even get a bite but that wasn't the point of the exercise.

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Back out on the trail and low and behold a short distance later another waterfall appeared. This one was much bigger, much more intriguing, and ripe for canyoning.

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From there it was a long distance across an overgrown trail covered in downed trees and littered with creek crossings. There was little running going on and I was getting concerned that other runners might be getting concerned about where I was so I did my best to push on as fast as I could.

After a seeming eternity I finally arrived at the final waterfall - Harper Creek Falls.

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I wasn't going to stop there but it was just too inviting so I decided to take a quick dip before running the final mile back to the trail head. I went up to the big pothole in the middle of the waterfall and swam around while I watched some young men demonstrate the power of team work to free a tangled rope.

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Then much to my relief I saw some other Pisgah Nation runners sliding down the falls and followed suite so I could talk to them as I was eager to know if they had seen Vince. They had not and I gave them the short version before they headed back to the beer. I hung out a little bit longer before making my own beer run.

Back at the trail head we hung out in Wilson Creek where the big question was "Where is Vince?". Hours passed and we started to get concerned but with no clue where he was there was nothing we could do but wait. He finally popped out of the woods with a smile on his face and told us about how his adventure had continued after I last saw him with more wrong turns but in the end he finished the route with an extra ten miles or so.

As for myself, Persimmon Ridge was the best wrong turn I have ever taken!

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Chattooga River Trail

A few weeks ago Yuri and I got out for a fun outing around the Chattooga River. At first we were headed for Panthertown but then decided to check out the trails in and around the northern part of  the Chattooga river instead since it was a place where neither of us had been before.

The trail alongside the river was great with many highlights, my favorite of which was going for my first swim of the year, but the best part of the run came just a few miles from the finish when we stumbled across a city of granite. This was a unique place with many nooks and crannies to explore. Like the rest of the run it was unexpected and unknown and as such we were unprepared. A rope, or at least a headlamp, would have been quite useful.  It is just seconds off the road and there isn't a whole lot in there but it makes a very nice addition to an outing in the area.  Find it if you need it.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Monday, May 22, 2017

Burning Down the Mountain - PRAR 2017

Sunrise Sunday morning and the storm was gone. The day broke bright with still cool temperatures but no rain in sight. At Smoker's Cove there were a few mountain biker type stragglers from the previous day's insanity hanging around the fringes as the runners prepared for their day. Our plan to take it easy on the bike so we could run strong on Sunday seemed to have worked as both Yuri and I were feeling good and ready to run.

The passports revealed that both mandatory checkpoints from Saturday were the same for Sunday. Everyone would be going to both Wagon Rd. Gap at South Mills River as well as Saddle Gap. The other three checkpoints were Wolf Ford, Barnett at Pink Beds and Club Gap. This would be the most difficult Pisgah Running Adventure Race  yet with everyone running an ultra marathon in order to finish. It only took us a brief glance at the passport to decide to go to Turkey Pen first and we headed up Black Mtn. trail just over twelve hours since we had last come down it. It was a glorious day and I put The Allman Brother's Band's Eat a Peach Album on and decided we weren't wasting time no more.

Slow and steady up Black was once again the game plan. We got passed by two fast teams right out of the gate and then were by ourselves for most of Black Mtn. until we were caught by three teams just before the turn onto Turkey Pen Gap. I chatted with them as we did the final little climb and then they all stopped at the intersection as Yuri and I rolled right on through. Turkey Pen Gap was still nice and fresh on our minds from the day before but was actually much more enjoyable on foot early in the day rather than pushing a bike up it at the end of the day. The other three teams quickly caught up to us again as we rolled up and down the gaps and I decided to hit the gas a little on one of the climbs to see what they had in their tanks. They stayed right with us and then passed us and I knew that was the last we would see of them.

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We made it down to the first checkpoint where some lady slippers were standing a silent vigil and then quickly headed on towards Wolf Ford via Horse Cove and Squirrel Gap trails. Cantrell and Horse Cove were wet messes as expected and I kept looking for other foot prints as I was curious what routes the teams in front of us would take. Would they be fooled by the flat South Mills River trail or would they know to do the extra climbing instead? A group of backpackers were at the intersection of Horse Cove and Squirrel and said at least three teams were twenty or minutes in front of us. That meant two teams could have taken South Mills River and the race was on.

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Wolf Ford came surprisingly easy and on the long circuitous climb back out we discussed our plan from there. Would we go to Pink Beds and hit all the checkpoints or would we settle for four? Yuri wanted to get all five so that we would clear the course both days but I was more concerned with trying to race smart and do what would result in the best finish. That made the question how long would it take to get the Pink Beds CP? I figured it was close to two hours and then once you figured in the extra time and mileage we could drastically slow down from there. Yuri agreed and it was pretty much decided we would settle for four and hope for the best.

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Two teams who had taken South Mills River passed us on the climb up to Buckhorn Gap
and when I saw them stopped at the gap I decided it was time to finish strong and burn the mountain down. I have worn a hole in Black Mtn. and the other trails in the Avery Creek drainage this year and was ready to make some time. With a couple of shouts as we made the turn onto Black Yuri commented that he would have just quietly slipped by but that is just not my style and I wante to make our presence known. We took our poles out and began to work our way up and down to Club Gap. Since we had decided to skip Pink Beds I figured it was time to put it all on the line and see what sort of damage we could do for the final stanza. I took the lead in an attempt to gap the teams behind us. We hit Barnett Branch in really good time, so good that I paused briefly and considered suggesting we go out and back to number five real fast, but Yuri was right behind me with a team on his heels and I just kept straight on Black without giving it another thought.

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We were making good time on the downhills as well as the uphills and were pulling out of  Club Gap just as the next team was pulling in. From there the trail tends downhill until you reach Avery Creek and we kept it rolling with Yuri in the lead pulling us across the flats. We had it on cruise control but the race was far from over with the difficult Pressley Cove climb before the final Black Mtn. descent. We discussed our water plans and final strategy just before slipping past our final checkpoint at Saddle Gap. Yuri kept the lead until just a few feet up Pressley Cove when he motioned for me to go by.

I run Pressley Cove frequently and am confident I know it better than anyone. I knew all I had to do was run that stretch of trail like I was fresh and before I knew it the race would be over and I would be sipping on a cold beer. So I dug in deep and declared aloud that we would be burning this mountain down. I gave it everything I had and while we didn't make record time up to the gap we did make good time and the end was actually in sight. Normally Yuri would go right by me on the downhills but I was determined to leave Black Mtn. little more than a smoldering pile of embers and kept the lead.

We ran that stretch of Black Mtn. faster than we have ever ran it before. Perhaps even faster than we had ridden it the day before. It was little more than a painful blur with my feet moving from memory as much as anything else. At the final turn at the intersection with Thrift Cove there were some mountain bikers stopped and I came down at full speed, screaming nonsense at the top of my lungs, and took a hurtling leap off the third waterbar up and that was enough for me. I switched it over to cruise control and let Yuri set the pace as we sent it on home.

We finished just minutes behind the first two other teams but I knew that wouldn't hold and sure enough two teams came in with five checkpoints and knocked us back to fifth. It is hard to say what would have happened it we had been smart enough to go out and back to Pink Beds but I have to think that we would not have been able to have our own little fireworks show at the end like we did.

Until the next time....