Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tanawha Trail and Calloway Peak

A few weeks ago I headed up to the high country for a run with the Pisgah Nation. Our route was to be a point to point on the Tanawha Trail with an out and back on the Daniel Boone Scout trail to the summit of Calloway Peak on Grandfather Mountain. This whole area was new to me and I was excited to get to see some new trails and mountains.

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Things started innocently enough when we met at Beacon Heights where a false peak on Grandfather Mountain had Calloway Peak looking deceivingly close and easy.

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From there we shuttled on down to a frozen Price Lake where four of us started our journey. We had gotten a big snow fall just a week earlier and though the temperatures were nearing 60 the frozen lake was an omen of the winter conditions to come.

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I had no clue what to expect from the Tanawha Trail. I hadn't done any research on it so all I knew was it is near Grandfather Mountain, is part of the Mountains to Sea trail and roughly follows the parkway. I'd assumed that Calloway Peak would be the highlight of the run but in the end it would be the Tanawha that would linger in my mind longest. Things started innocently enough running through eight inches or so of snow through some rhododendron tunnels before popping out onto some open meadows with Grandfather hovering over the horizon.

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Everyone else had set off at to fast of a pace for me given the conditions and I urged them to not wait for me. I knew this was only the beginning and the conditions would only get worse so if I was going to finish the full 20 mile route  I would really have to try and pace myself. I just kept trudging along following the blazes and tracks in the snow having a great time running by myself. At one point I reached a trail intersection where I heard voices on what I assumed was a road just above me. I took a few seconds to study the signs, made sure I was on the right trail and continued on down the trail and away from the voices.

I kept running merrily along but after a mile or two I realized there was apparently only one set of tracks in the snow in front of me. That was odd because there had been three other runners on the trail in front of me. As I continued to run down the trail I pondered what it meant. I figured that either I took the wrong trail, the other three runners were running at the exact same cadence and following the leader's tracks exactly, the three others all took the wrong trail, or the group had split up. The middle two options were both very unlikely so I just kept going forward hoping to see a blaze to confirm I was still on the MST. After a frustrating mile or so I did finally see a blaze and was able to focus on the run again. A short ways later I crossed paths with a couple of hikers who told me a single runner had come by just a little bit earlier.

From there it was a six mile out and back to the top of Calloway Peak. It was a big climb and I expected deep snow and slow miles and that was about right. Whatever semblance of running I had been doing quickly ground to a halt. I really wasn't that bad though. Just slow and slippery. The conditions were otherwise perfect: blue skies and warm temperatures coupled with abundant views and interesting ecosystems. The ladders and cables along the way were all easily passable though I did choose to use my spikes on one section of trail.



Excellent views from the top!



Straight back down to the Tanawha Trail where I was hoping for a lot less snow and a much easier seven miles to the finish. Instead I was to be greeted by a heavy blanket of snow with a single set of tracks  through it. The run remained a slog and I knew there would be no easy miles this day. But I had all day so there was no reason not to just continue on and enjoy it.


On a run with many highlights Rough Ridge probably stands out the most to me. Amazing views on a gorgeous day!



From there I became aware that the trail was hugging the side of the mountain right where the famous Linn Cove viaduct snakes above the woods. The going was still slow and I was happy to amble along through the rocks and snow.




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