Wilderness Challenge Report

This May, Terry Powell became the first person to complete the Our Wild NC Wilderness Challenge.  The challenge has been extended through the end of 2015; so, there's still time for you to finish, too! Here is Terry's brief account of her year long challenge.

by Terry Powell

On May 3, 2014, Brad Herr and I joined Foothills outing leader, Kathy Rigsbee, on a day hike to the Linville Gorge Wilderness.  Although I knew this was the 40thanniversary of the NC Wilderness Act, I had not heard of the challenge before.  On July 12, we joined Henry Fansler of the Foothills group to hike in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness.   So, I had already done two, why not try for them all!! We continued the endeavor, from hiking in a torrential rain storm in Ellicott Rock Wilderness to standing on a dock in the Pocosin Wilderness.  Our accommodations were mostly our camper, but we checked off a three on the coast by staying in a B&B in Little Washington and a friend’s home in Emerald Isle.

By the middle of May, 2015 all the Wilderness Areas had been visited, leaving the five wilderness study areas. With six weeks left we hit the road in the camper and completed all five in eight days.  We were more than a little tired at the end.  It was truly a great experience.  Certainly, one challenge was finding those places that are less popular.  Some of the locals had never heard of them and had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for directions.  One person in a convenience store near Joyce Kilmer, when asked about Snowbird, said “but there’s nothing there!”

We live in a beautiful state with many great parks, both state and national.  These wilderness areas are very precious.  Get out there and appreciate them!

Teryy Powell and others at Table Rock in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.

Left to right: Dave Fairall, Fiammetta Rivers, Linda McCorkindale, Cara Youngblood, Joel Wooten, Mitch Davidson, John Dimling, Terry Powell, Brad Herr, Kathy Rigsbee, Jonathan Burgess.

Wilderness Spotlight: Swanquarter Wilderness

By Nancy Card

The Swanquarter Wilderness contains 8,785 acres and as part of the Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), it is the only wilderness area in North Carolina managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (rather than the US Forestry Service).  Swanquarter was formally proposed for Wilderness designation by President Gerald Ford in 1974.  His proposal recognized that “in addition to accommodating more than 200 species of birds, this island refuge serves as the northernmost range of the endangered American alligators.”

Much of the wilderness is accessible only by boat.  Swanquarter, Great and Judith Islands are entirely estuarine.  A part of Marsh Island and a stretch of the mainland along Juniper Bay contain the only upland areas.  The wilderness makes up half of the landmass of the wildlife refuge which contains over 27,000 acres of open water.

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Swanquarter Wilderness is located in Hyde County.  A ferry ride from the town of Swan Quarter to Okracoke Island passes through the center of the wilderness and may offer the best views (map).  The majority of visitors to the refuge come to fish in the warmer months, but hunting is allowed in some areas as well.  In winter, thousands of migratory water fowl take up residence in Swanquarter and nearby Mattamuskeet and Pocosin NWRs.  You really must see it to believe it!

The Wilderness Areas of the Croatan National Forest

by Nancy Card

 “Wilderness for wilderness’ sake, for preservation, for wildlife and for man, that’s what the Croatan National Forest is” begins A Walk on the Wild Side, Croatan National Forest.*  The 160,000-acre Croatan National Forest lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Neuse River and contains a variety of ecosystems which are further protected within four separate wilderness areas set aside in 1984.

Catfish Lake South Wilderness has a total of 8,530 acres bordered by roads on all sides except the northeast border on Catfish Lake.  Five types of insectivorous plants thrive in the coastal bogs here: the pitcher plant, sundew, butterwort, bladderwort and Venus flytrap.  The area is also home to deer, bear, mink, otter, numerous birds and the American alligator.

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia rubra)  – photo by Ralph Tramontano

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia rubra)  – photo by Ralph Tramontano

There are no trails within this wilderness area, but fishing is popular at Catfish Lake, named after the native bullhead catfish.  Several factors including the high acidity level in the lake create difficult conditions for other species to thrive. 

Catfish Lake South Wilderness is located in Jones County east of Maysville and is best accessed from Catfish Lake Road (NC-1005).

Read NC Chair, Robert Scull’s account of his visit to Catfish Lake here.

Pocosin Wilderness, located in Craven and Carteret Counties, west of Newport contains 11,709 acres.  It received its name from the area’s raised bogs, or pocosins, a word derived from an Eastern Algonquin term meaning “swamp on a hill”.  No waterbodies border this wilderness, but otherwise the terrain is similar to the Catfish Lake area.  The area can be accessed from a network of National Forest roads as shown on this map by Wilderness.net.

Pond Pine Wilderness, located in Jones and Craven Counties, is the smallest of North Carolina’s wilderness areas containing only 1,685 acres.  Great Lake, another of the Carolina Bay lakes in the Croatan National Forest forms the north border of the wilderness.  The area offers much of the same flora and fauna as the other Croatan wilderness areas, and also contains no trails or designated camping sites.  The entire western border of Pond Pine Wilderness can be seen along Great Lake Road.  Take NC-1105, then Great Lake Road, north of Stella. 

Read Robert Scull’s report on his visit to Great Lake here

Foothills Outings Leader, Henry Fansler, crossing Pond Pine Wilderness

Foothills Outings Leader, Henry Fansler, crossing Pond Pine Wilderness

Sheep Ridge Wilderness, has a total of 9,297 acres, all of which are located in Craven County. The area can be accessed by taking Catfish Lake Road west from US 70 at Croatan.  Although the area has much the same plant and animal life as the other wilderness areas of the Croatan Forest, it may contain the largest variety of ecosystems: high and low pocosins, pine stands, bay forests and cypress bogs. 

Pine forest in Sheep Ridge Wilderness

Pine forest in Sheep Ridge Wilderness

None of these four areas contain the amenities that hikers and campers will find in the Croatan National Forest, but they are, after all, wilderness.  The cooler months of late fall and winter, when biting insects are not active, are the perfect time to visit these unusual areas.

NC Chapter Chair and Croatan Group Outings Leader, Robert Scull, has a paddle outing in Great Lake scheduled for Saturday, November 20.  Weather permitting, participants will paddle from Pond Pine Wilderness northward across the lake to Sheep Ridge Wilderness.  Watch for this outing to be posted on the Outings Calendar.

* A Walk on the Wild Side, Croatan National Forest is a collaborative work by seniors in the Coastal Biology class of Linwood Swain, New Bern Senior High School, published in 1987.  

2014 Go Week Recap

By Kelly Mieszkalski, Sierra Club Volunteer, North Carolina Chapter Outings Chair, Durham, NC 

Kelly Mieszkalski (NC), Congressman David Price (NC), Jonathan Matthews (MT)

Kelly Mieszkalski (NC), Congressman David Price (NC), Jonathan Matthews (MT)


I recently trekked up to Washington DC for Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week) June 23-26 to speak with many of our North Carolina representatives about protecting America's public lands and getting kids outdoors and to also participate in various GO week events.  As part of the Sierra Club, I lobbied in support of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (H.R.  4706/S. 2367), a bill to connect more Americans with the outdoors via state-level incentives for agencies and partners across sectors to develop comprehensive strategies to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors, in addition to legislation to designate new wilderness areas though out our nation.


Highlights of my trip included:

  • Meeting with Congressman David to thank him for his letter to the EPA urging strong coal ash rules, for being a co-sponsor of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act and for all his work to protect our environment.  I also enjoyed meeting with the offices of Representatives Mike McIntyre, Robert Pittenger, Mark Meadows, Renee Ellmers, Patrick McHenry, and Senator Kay Hagan's office. 


  • Getting to see the posters in Congressman Price’s office that show how his district so radically changed due to the last redistricting in 2011:

Before                                                  After


  • Getting to push my pin at Senator Kay Hagan’s office (that’s me—that orange sphere in the heart of Durham!
  • Attending a lively GO Week Welcome Reception with my fellow GO Week participants from all over the country in the Ansel Adams Gallery of the Wilderness Society.  I was excited and surprised to bump into Scott Breen, fellow Sierra Club “Train the Trainer” participant!

Sierra Club Volunteers Jonathan Matthews (MT), Kelly Mieszkalski (NC), Lance Hollter (HI), Scott Breen (IN)

  • Attending the Congressional Issue Briefing on Outdoor Recreation and Conservation among Latino Youth—an engaging conversation about the role of Latino youth in the future of the conservation and outdoor recreation movements, including existing legislative, nonprofit, and federal agency programs. The panel included representatives from the Natural Leaders Network in partnership with The REI Foundation, The Hispanic Access Foundation, The Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, and the Wilderness Society, and was led by Juan Martinez, Board member of the Sierra Club Foundation.  I am so grateful for these organizations for reaching out and trying to bring more Latino youth into the outdoors!
  • Attending the sold-out premier screening of “An American Ascent”—the documentary film that captured the expedition of the first African American team attempting to summit Alaska’s Denali, the tallest peak in North America, in June 2013. I was able to meet many of the climbers and felt incredibly inspired by their determination, humility and desire to reach out and inspire youth of color to connect with America’s outdoor wild places.  I hope we can bring them all to North Carolina to share their stories with our local youth soon!

  • Attending the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) Youth Outdoors Festival at Bladensburg Waterfront Park on the Anacostia River, featuring Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile and outdoor activity stations hosted by OAK member organizations.  Over 300 local youth participated in nature-based activities on the water and on land including canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, and putting up tents!  I was surprised by how few kids had been in a tent before, how many were uncomfortable getting on mountain bikes and how many of them didn’t even want to try. I was also super-inspired by the many kids who showed NO FEAR on the climbing wall! It was wonderful to see these kids getting opportunities to try many outdoor activities that were previously foreign to them! 
  • Attending the Congressional Issue Briefing on The effects of Nature and Healing our Veterans in the Outdoors.  Sierra Club, Georgetown University and Outward Bound announced a new effort to add an outdoor therapy component to the Veterans Administration’s (VA) existing PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) based treatment. The project, launching later this year, will develop recommendations for the VA to integrate outdoor therapy into their existing mental health treatment. The initial pilot project will include participants from Sierra Clubs military, ICO, and local outings programs. The research, conducted by University of California at Berkeley through the outdoor laboratory of the Sierra Club, will have far reaching impacts on veterans’ physical and mental practices.  You have probably heard many anecdotal stories about the healing effects of nature and now the Sierra Club will help in conducting the research that may actually document this!

I’m looking forward to returning to Washington DC in September for Wilderness Week in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and to participating in future GO Weeks.  I had so much fun getting to know fellow advocates for the outdoors from all over the country and from so many different organizations like the Wilderness Society, REI, NOLS, Wilderness Inquiry, Outward Bounds, Natural Leaders Network, and more!

Thank you to the Sierra Club for providing me with the opportunity to participate and speak up for those of us here in North Carolina who care so deeply about connecting America with the outdoors and protecting our wild places. 

Wilderness Spotlight: Southern Nantahala Wilderness

The United States Congress designated the Southern Nantahala Wilderness in 1984 and its 23,473 acres are divided almost evenly between North Carolina and Georgia.  The area is most often visited from the popular Standing Indian Campground, about 20 minutes southwest of Franklin, NC.   Though the campground provides amenities such as hot showers, the Southern Nantahala Wilderness offers outstanding backpacking opportunities from rugged, primitive trails. 

By Wncoutdoors (NorthCarolinaWaterfalls.info) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Wncoutdoors (NorthCarolinaWaterfalls.info) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Within the NC section, thirty-two miles of the Appalachian Trail yield spectacular views of mountains over 5,000 feet.  The highest peak in the area is Standing Indian Mountain, elevation 5,499 feet.  According to legend, the mountain is named for a Cherokee warrior turned to stone while battling a winged monster who had stolen a child from the tribe.  The same lightning that transformed the guard created the area balds, removing cover from the mountaintops - places where the monster could hide.

The original timber was removed by early loggers and today rhododendron, spruce and fir grow on the ridges, while mid-range slopes are covered in mixed hardwoods.  Numerous streams cut through the area feeding the Nantahala, Hiwasee and Tallulah Rivers and bogs support species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. 

With autumn leaf season at its peak in North Carolina, it’s a great time to get out and explore the Southern Nantahala Wilderness.  The most popular trails are Lower Ridge Trail (4.1 miles), Big Indian Loop (8 miles) and Beech Gap (2.8 miles).  For maps and more information, see www.wilderness.net

Middle Prong Wilderness Scouting Hike

By Kathy Rigsbee, Foothills Outing Leader

On the Summer Solstice this June, Maribeth Weinman, Linda McCorkindale and I decided to find our way into the Middle Prong Wilderness. If it seemed like a good hike, I’d lead an outing there in the future.

Maribeth Weinman (left) and Linda McCorkindale pose alongside the Middle Prong Wilderness sign.

Maribeth Weinman (left) and Linda McCorkindale pose alongside the Middle Prong Wilderness sign.

To find the trailhead from the Blue Ridge Parkway, look for Scenic Hwy 215 located between mileposts 423 and 424. If you head north on 215, after about 1/4 mile, you will see a parking area on the left. The trailhead is a few yards further north on the left.

The plan for the day was to start on the Mountain-to-Sea Trail (#440), turn off onto Green Mountain Trail (#113), to our final destination, Green Knob, then return. We were using National Geographic Map #780 and the trail description from a blog written by Jeff Clark called Meanderthals.  He gave such details we felt good about our progress. As we made our way through open meadows, tall with grasses and wild blackberry and blueberry bushes, it was as described.  We saw evidence of coyotes and bear - none fresh thank you!   Along the way we passed through black balsam forests with their intoxicating aroma, waist high ferns, streams and even spotted the nest of a gray Dark-eyed Junco built right under the lip of the trail. We climbed until we reached the ridge where the view was wonderful, but the trail ended in a tall patch of berry bushes. We were puzzled as to where we missed the Green Mountain trail. We backtracked down the mountain to the point where we turned left when we should have gone right. So off we went again and soon ran into other hikers who assured us we were now on the right path.


Again we climbed, and again we went through the same description of scenery as before, only this time we found the campsites we missed on the other trail. We were now on Fork Ridge heading north, pondering how it got its name, when we came upon FRESH bear scat. Following a short discussion, we decided we'd had enough trail time for one day and headed back the way we came. We stopped in the shade of a mixed evergreen forest to have a late lunch and gaze at the mountain we had climbed earlier. All in all it was the perfect Wilderness experience.

Wilderness Spotlight: Ellicott Rock Wilderness

Ellicott Rock is unique among wilderness areas in that it is shared between three states: North Carolina (3,394 acres), Georgia (2,021 acres) and South Carolina (2,859 acres).  The area was designated as wilderness in 1975.  It received its name for the “N G” chiseled in a rock by surveyor Andrew Ellicott in 1811 indicating the point of beginning of the dividing line between North Carolina and Georgia.  However, two years later, a second rock was declared the true beginning point by commissioners from NC and SC.  Both Ellicott and Commissioners rocks can be seen during periods of low water in the Chattooga River flowing through the center of the wilderness area.

There are two entrances into Ellicott Rock Wilderness on the NC side and both have trails which will lead you to the rocks.  The Ellicott Rock Trail is found at the western entrance, southeast of Highlands, NC.   The shorter, Bad Creek Trail, is accessed from the eastern entrance south of Cashiers on Bull Pen Road.

You’ll find a handful of primitive campsites along Bull Pen Road at Ammons Branch Campground and more in the gorge by the river.  This stretch of the Chattooga is popular with trout fishermen but it’s not easy to reach.  The last three miles go straight down – or up on your return.  The hike will reward you with solitude through rugged terrain, second-growth forests and lush flora created by the near rainforest conditions in the area which averages between 70 and 80 inches of rainfall each year.

Another way to explore the wilderness is from the Chattooga itself. Protected in 1974 by The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, it is considered by most to be the premier whitewater river in the Southeast, though the wildest sections are south of the NC line.  http://www.rivers.gov/rivers/chattooga.php  

Wilderness Spotlight: Middle Prong

Post contributed by Nancy Card

Middle Prong Wilderness, established by the NC Wilderness Act of 1984, takes in 7,900 acres according to the US Forest Service which manages the land. It’s bordered by Shining Rock Wilderness to the northeast, by the Blue Ridge Parkway to the southwest and received its name from the middle prong of the Pigeon River which bisects the area.

Click image for a map of the Middle Prong Wilderness via wilderness.net 

Click image for a map of the Middle Prong Wilderness via wilderness.net 

The land, once inhabited by the Cherokee, was settled by pioneers beginning in the late 1700’s.  A town sprung up at the confluence of the river’s branches.  Lumber companies cut large areas of native spruce, fir, hemlocks and hardwoods and built a railway system to haul the wood away.  These railroad beds have become part of today’s trail system for hiking in Middle Prong. 

 The Mountains-to Sea Trail crosses the southern portion of the wilderness area; that, the Buckeye Gap and Green Mountain Trails are popular.  Most hikes are rated difficult - elevations range from 3,200 to 6,400 feet near Richland Balsam – but, visitors are rewarded with views of rugged terrain covered in second-growth evergreens as well as grassy balds atop the ridges.  And the river at the heart of it all is fed by numerous rushing streams.

This is a relatively small wilderness area now, but it has been proposed to extend the wilderness northward, nearly doubling its size.  This wilderness area is part of the Pisgah National Forest and may be impacted by the US Forest Service Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Plan Revision.  To learn more see http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=STELPRDB5397660

Also, click on the image above or here for a map of the Middle Prong Wilderness Are via wilderness.net!

Trip Report from Shining Rock Wilderness

by Jerry Weston

Shining Rock Wilderness is located about thirty Blue Ridge Parkway miles south of Asheville.  It includes 18,483 acres, which makes it the largest wilderness in North Carolina.  The terrain is very steep and rugged with five peaks above 6,000 feet.  Cold Mountain (6,030 feet) is not the highest.  Height belongs to Black Balsam (6,214 feet), the highest point on the Art Loeb Trail.  Almost all the trails are rated as difficult.  There are no blazes or trail signs, many intersecting trails and the trails can be difficult to follow…….as we learned Saturday.

We were disappointed that we did not reach our goal, the top of Cold Mountain, particularly on the fourth try.  February I posted twice and we were weathered out both times by winter storms.  I posted again for May and work conflicts for participants forced a cancellation.  This time we made it to the Shining Rock, just not to the top of the mountain.  A weekend in the wilderness with friends is still an enjoyable pastime.

Mike, Liz, Jon and I met at Stoney Creek in Greensboro at 8:30.  We consolidated gear into Mike’s car and headed out.

Mike had never been to the Moose Café in Asheville and that became our choice for lunch.  We arrived around 11:30.  Complimentary, huge biscuits with apple butter and molasses, as always, were promptly placed on the table.  So many menu choices made selections difficult.  We chowed down on the Friday Pollock fish special (three huge pieces, crisply and lightly breaded, and not greasy), BBQ plate, hamburger steak with onions and gravy, absolutely scrumptious sweet potato casserole, collards and slaw.

The weather forecast was very mixed for the weekend.  Clouds.  Fifty percent chance of showers.  Sunshine.  We had a shower driving south on the BRP, which stopped by the time we reached the East Fork Parking Lot on NC 276.  We learned on Sunday from backpackers in the parking lot who had been there since Wednesday that there had been heavy rain onFriday before we arrived and on much of Thursday.

I made this trip with Steve, who had a work conflict this year and could not join us, and others about ten years ago.  There are four options for reaching Chestnut Ridge and the Art Loeb Trail, along which you reach the 1.4 mile spur trail to Cold Mountain.  Art Loeb from the Boy Scout camp on the west; Art Loeb from Sam’s Knob to the south; and two choices from the NC 276 parking lot: Shining Creek or Old Butt (so named because it will “kick your butt”) trail. Shining Creek and Old Butt trails share a common start from the parking lot.  I chose Shining Creek for our trip because I hiked this trail on my prior trip.  Our information indicated that Shining Creek is moderate in the first mile and then climbs 2,300 feet to the Art Loeb Trail on Chestnut Ridge with Flower Gap a short distance to the left.  Old Butt forks right off Shining Creek about .70 miles in from the parking lot and then climbs 1,500 feet in .50 miles.  Old Butt then levels out, if you want to call it “leveling”, after another mile or so.   Several people had warned me that Old Butt is extremely difficult and is known by hikers as “Kick Your Old Butt”.

Geared up, we headed up Shining Creek Trail about 2:00 p.m.  The trail initially follows along the Big East Fork of the Pigeon River.  The trail leaves the river shortly and ascends to the right.  Everything was fine to this point.  When we reached the fork in the trail where I expected Shining Rock to go left and Old Butt uphill to the right, that left fork, presumed to be Shining Creek, was blocked with crossed logs.  I knew from my earlier trip that Old Butt goes to the right.  Crossed logs means, “Don’t go there”.  We agreed, even if Old Butt did “kick our butts”, it was safer to go to the right.

After reaching this fork and turning right up what we thought was Old Butt, we never saw another fork to the right.  Somewhere after passing Old Butt, that we never saw, the trail descends to follow Shining Creek for about two miles.  There are several good swimming holes and camp sites in this section.

Dinah Creek runs into Shining Creek at 3.0 miles at a large, sliding rock…..where Jon went in over his boot tops.

Another .1 mile and we and we crossed the North Prong of Shining Creek.
We followed Shining Creek for another .1 miles, then began a series of switchbacks towards Shining Rock Gap and Chestnut Ridge.

I became more and more puzzled as we continued our climb to the ridge.  Ten years ago there had been a fresh rock slide on the Shining Creek Trail. We had had to climb and scramble over boulders.  I recall particularly because I slipped on one of the boulders and chipped an elbow.  

This year there was no “slide”.  We did cross a jumble of rocks from a slide.  Blame it on faulty memory or the passage of ten years or the slide had overgrown?  The slide did not appear as I recalled from the first trip.  Also, things looked familiar now, which they should not have since we were on Old Butt not Shining Creek.  

I had this eerie feeling in the last few hundred yards before gaining the ridge that I had seen the switchbacks through hemlocks we were traversing  in another life!  Saturday, when we untangled the puzzle of Shining Creek and Old Butt trails, we would find out that I had seen before.  We were on Shining Creek Trail, not Old Butt.
I did surprise me on the pack-in Friday by keeping the group in sight on what is a tough climb.  

Four hours of really tough packing brought us to the ridge.  We turned left towards Flower Gap.  There are plenty of springs and camping sites along this section of the ridge.  Also plenty of people.  I was surprised to find so many campers at this elevation.  Most, I think from our conversations with them during the weekend, had taken the Art Loeb Trail from either the south or west to reach the ridge, not Shining Creek or Old Butt.  
We found a secluded spot 150 feet off the Art Loeb Trail in a small clearing among hemlocks and set camp.

It was 6:00 by the time we reached the ridge and after 8:00 before we had set camp, filtered water and prepared dinner.  This made it too late to explore and we were too tired anyway.

We greeted bright blue, clear skies and a temperature of 54 deg Saturday morning.  

Temperatures during the day were mid-70s with a mild breeze, though the air was very humid.

Temperatures during the day were mid-70s with a mild breeze, though the air was very humid.

We were out of camp around 8:00 and headed north on the Art Loeb Trail to Shining Rock, a spectacular quartz wall perhaps 50 to 100 feet high  in places that gives the name to the wilderness area.

The large leaves are Clintonian in bloom?  Trillium and unknown.

The large leaves are Clintonian in bloom?  Trillium and unknown.

This is the south face of Shining Rock.

This is the south face of Shining Rock.

This is the debris field at the base of Shining Rock.

This is the debris field at the base of Shining Rock.

We had a puzzle to solve when we were ready to leave Shining Rock.  The Shining Rock Wilderness Area is a true wilderness area, similar to Linville Gorge.  There is very little trail maintenance, no blazes and no trail signs.  There are a multitude of trails that people have “walked” out and the lack of trail signs makes the area really difficult.  The Art Loeb Trail leads directly to the southeast face of Shining Rock.  We could not find where the trail continued north to Cold Mountain.  We scouted around the sides of the rock and finally had to bushwhack a bit to pickup what we learned, on our way back to camp later Saturday, is actually a “walked” trail and not the Art Loeb Trail.

The trail we found led us to the top of a knob a short distance north of Shining Rock and a four way split in the trail.  We had seen several rock cairns on Friday that pointed the way to Chestnut Ridge.  A small cairn at this intersection indicated to us  that we should turn right, which would be away from Cold Mountain, to continue on the Art Loeb Trail to the mountain.  This did not seem a problem at the moment.  

The trail descended almost immediately turned back north……and then south…..and then east….and then north.  We still seemed to be going in a general direction towards the mountain.  I knew that we had at least 600 to 800 feet of elevation change in crossing Stairs Mountain and the Narrows, and then passing through Deep Gap.  The descent of these traverses did not particularly concern me.  A problem that contributed to our direction finding is that there are limited vistas from the trail and we could not see Cold Mountain, a prominent feature in this area.  We met several groups during the morning   hiking south.  All confirmed that, “Yes, this trail will take you to the mountain”.  It never occurred to us to ask, “Cold Mountain”?  What other mountain would one mean in this area? 

About 12:00 or 12:30 we met a man coming uphill on the trail.  He confirmed to us that we were on Old Butt trail and only about twenty minutes from the parking lot where we had left the car!  What a bummer.  We were within twenty minutes of the parking lot where we had started on Friday and nearly to the bottom of  Old Butt, the really, really tough trail that we did not want to climb because  in the first half mile of leaving the parking lot it gains 1,500 feet!  We had done six miles plus of very difficult trail in the wrong direction.  There was no choice at this time of day but turn around and head back up hill to the ridge and then to our camp.  

We stopped after a short distance and enjoyed lunch on some rocks in the shade.  

This is the view from our lunch spot.

This is the view from our lunch spot.

Lunch finished, we took up the climb again.  Old Butt, now that we knew we had taken Shining Creek to the ridge on Friday and were now on Old Butt, certainly deserves its name.  Its angle, elevation gain/loss, many roots and rock steps makes it far more difficult than Shining Creek.
We found the Art Loeb Trail at the top of the ridge.  There is a short side trail to the top of Shining Rock.   We made the climb for a view.  Not much to see.  Fog had covered the mountains and we were limited to several hundred feet of view.


We were back in camp by 4:00.  Spritz baths on the lower level of our spring and a power nap renewed our energy for dinner.   We passed the evening until around 9:00 with pleasant conversation and Mike’s stories.  I never understand how Mike can constantly talk from 7:00 a.m. wake-up until 9:00 p.m. tent-time without repeating a story!

We had seen a “Bear Warning” sign at the trailhead kiosk.  A bear checked us out in the night.  It woke everyone with its snuffling and pawing around camp.  Flapping on tents and yelling chased it away.  Sunday morning we found that the only damage was two holes in a Nalgene bottle of water that Mike had left in our cook area. 


he bear visit came not long before grey light.  We were all awake and talking tent-to-tents by 6:00 and decided to pack out.

The temperature was in the low 50s and this morning we had an overcast sky.

We discussed whether to return on Shining Creek or take the alternate of Old Butt now that we knew its location off the ridge.  We did not know where near the parking lot Old Butt joined Shining Creek, as we had not seen the fork on the way up Friday.  We did know, from Saturday’s mistake, that Old Butt would be even more difficult than Shining Creek due to the rocks and step-downs.  We decided to follow Shining Creek and were back at the car in three hours.

The East Fork Parking Lot is ten minutes from Pisgah Inn (5,000 ft) and highest point on the BRP.  There was dense fog on the BRP.  Our timing was great.  We arrived five minutes before lunch serving.  I had not eaten at the Inn in at least ten years.  I have been by several times since but it is always packed.  The food is still very good.  Three of us enjoyed the chicken pot pie.   Liz ordered a Monte Cristo.  There were several choices of sides.  I had an excellent cream of cauliflower soup.

The fog cleared as we drove north towards Asheville.

The distance and elevation gain from the East Fork Parking Lot to our camp site on Chestnut Ridge made for a long Friday.  Saturday’s mistake that took us almost all the way to the bottom of Old Butt was tiring.  Thanks to Liz, Jon and Mike for making the entire weekend so pleasant in spite of mistakenly descending Old Butt and missing Cold Mountain.

I am working on a return trip in the fall that will take us to Cold Mountain without climbing to the ridge.  


Central Piedmont Group Outing: Linville Gorge June 7-8

 by David Underwood

The native American word for Linville Gorge is pronounced ee-see-oh which means river of many cliffs. I have hiked and backpacked there a number of times and I’m always blown away by the beauty and peacefulness of the “grand canyon of the east”.

The Central Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club hiked and camped at Linville the weekend of June 7-8. Linda Alley and I made several trips to map a route on the western side of the gorge that incorporated a loop utilizing the Linville Gorge Trail (LGT). Eventually we decided to do an out and back instead. The LGT has numerous trees and rockslides across it that make portions of the trail difficult to follow. The hike we had planned for Sunday June 8 was a 7.5 mile trek from the Conley Cove trailhead to the Linville River and then along the LGT to the point where it intersects the former Spence Ridge bridge (which was washed out by a storm in May 2013).
Six of us went up the day before the official hike (Saturday), and set up camp near the Bynum Bluff trail. We then hiked the Bynum Bluff to the river and enjoyed playing and swimming in the stream. We then hiked back on the Pine Gap trail admiring the beauty of the mixed forest wildflowers and mushrooms. While not technically described as easy, these are the easiest trails on the west rim of Linville.

We returned to the forest service road at the top of the gorge and followed the road back to the Bynum Bluff trail and our camp, about a 3 mile loop altogether. We had a nice evening of food and conservation around our campfire Saturday night. About 9:30 PM the sky opened up and we all went to bed. It rained off and on all night and was still drizzling the next morning so we decided to cancel the Sunday hike and notified the folks who had planned to come up Sunday. While it was disappointing to have to cancel Sunday, we can reschedule this hike for another day and we have a ready-made excuse to return to one of the most dramatically beautiful wild places in North Carolina.

Experiences in Shining Rock Wilderness

By Bill Gowan

Thanksgiving of 1977, I joined some friends on my first-ever backpacking trip to Shining Rock Wilderness. Growing up in the foothills of Rutherford County, I had spent a lot of time outdoors and in the woods, hunting, hiking and camping.  I thought I had a good idea of what I was in for, but backpacking as an activity and Shining Rock as a destination made such an impression that I've returned there again and again.

Driving in, it was clear that these were some impressive peaks, but the real grandeur of the wilderness revealed itself hour-by-hour as we hiked. Over the years, I walked most of these trails and came to know the diverse landscape and plant and animal life.  On a three-day hike, you can walk over bald knobs covered in grasses,  through patches of scrubby pine trees, of dense hardwood, fields of fern, walls of rhododendron and mountain laurel. The valleys offer welcoming campsites next to rushing creeks. Take the trails that go up and across the ridges and you'll look out over miles of tree-covered mountain peaks.  (Looking down at the distant lights of Brevard from one of those trails one cold night during that first backpacking trip, my friend John said, "There's a warm bed under every one of those lights.") The quartz outcropping known as Shining Rock is a fabulous spot to take in a sunset.

Shining Rock Wilderness has been the site of many good memories for me, including a tenth anniversary trip with my wife and an introductory trip for my son and godson.  A few days in Shining Rock is an outstanding way to leave the world behind; I'm looking forward to my next visit!


Thanks to our guest writer this month, Bill Gowan.  Bill lives in Raleigh with his wife and son, and works as a project manager in product development for Plexus Engineering Solutions.  Many of his photos are found on our website www.OurWildNC.org and his Shining Rock album covering several decades can be viewed at


The Bandanna Project

The Bandanna Project

In an age when children seem tethered to electronic devices and screens, the Chapter’s Wilderness Committee is hoping to put something young people’s hands, a bandanna.  The committee received a grant to produce up to 600 bandannas to distribute to children across the state.  If you are wondering how a bandanna can help connect children to wilderness, well, then you likely haven’t seen the design yet.