I still have not been riding a bicycle much recently. I drive around with it in my truck at least three days every week but rarely can bring myself to actually ride it. Saturday I made it as far as the Corn Mill Shoals parking lot but when I started to get all the gear and stuff together it seemed way too involved for four o' clock on a Saturday afternoon in December so I drove home and took the dog for a run instead. I know I'll be riding again, perhaps soon, as I have some ideas brewing that necessitate a bicycle but for now I'll just drive around with it in the truck. I kind of like driving around with a bike in the truck - it is nice and sporting.
Sunday I did not ride but instead met Zak all the way up at Richland Balsam for a little exploration along Lickstone Ridge. With other obligations later in the day we started a little early and I opted to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway from Bent Creek to get to our rendevous point. The drive itself was notable as I started in darkness with very heavy fog but as the sun rose and I began the climb up the parkway I quickly was above the fog and in brilliant sunlight. The bulk of the drive was simply amazing with outstanding views around every corner. I've seen all these same mountains many times and the differences that come with the ever changing seasons and weather never fail to completly blow me away.
At 6410 feet Richland Balsam is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the highest point Pisgah Ranger District lies just south of its summit. So as I continued my drive up it did not come as a surprise when I entered a third climate zone for the day somewhere around the 5500' mark as the blue skies gave way to ominous black clouds, blowing cold wind and spitting drizzle. Before we even started the walking part of the day the trip had already been a brilliant success based on the amazing views alone.
We started the walk on the short trail that leads to the top of Richland Balsam. Within 15 minutes of starting we walking we submitted our first 6000' peak of the day.
Lickstone Ridge has been on my to do list for awhile now and I knew that there would be a trail running the entire length as well as several trails leading up from Sunburst. But there was no telling what state of disrepair the trail would be in or what the terrain would be like. We poked around near the top for awhile trying to figure out exactly where the trail was and just as we started to bushwhack our way we found the old trail right where it was supposed to be. It was littered with a never ending tangle of dead fall but it was a trail and a good sign of what was to come. Our plan was to stick to the ridge and go as far as we could with the time we had and then turn around and hit Rienhart Knob on the way back for our second sixer of the day.
It was very pleasant but slow walking across the old trail through a predominantly frazier fir forest which seemed fitting for the holiday season and my date with Terri later in the day to pick out our Christmas tree. At some point along the way we lost the trail and found ourselves in some very tight and painful brush. We tracked back and forth across the ridge trying to regain the trail but all we found was more brush and more frustration. We tried our best to skirt it an pushed on through.
Along the way we found an old paint can which is easily explained by trail and property boundary blazes. Where the trail was wasn't as easily explained.
Once we got to Double Spring Gap the trail was right where it was supposed to be and we got a chuckle to see how close to it we had been the whole time. As we climbed up to Cold Spring Knob the trail once again started to fade at times but there was an old fence to follow and it was much easier going.
We paused at the top of the knob and when the dogs decided to act up we called it good enough and made our retreat. We managed to follow the trail all the way back which made for a much faster return trip and left us with plenty of time to go out and back to the top of Rienhart Knob. To get to it we walked on the parkway and then did the bushwhack up to it from the Beartrail Ridge Overlook. It was a tough hike through more spruce/ fir blowdown and by the time we decided which hump at the top was the summit we had all had enough of downed trees and briars so we didn't linger and then took the most direct line back down to the road.
The fog lifted long enough for us to get a good look at Lickstone Ridge as we walked back to our vehicles.