I live in an astonishingly beautiful and cool place - Chimney Rock, NC. It's only 25 miles south and east of Asheville, but what a difference 25 miles makes. I'm smack in the middle of some incredible country- Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure, and Rumbling Bald Mountain are all within a mile of me. In fact, my house sits at the base of Round Top Mountain and the view of this beauty from my kitchen window is amazing.
A word about Round Top Mountain...First, and you can almost see it from the picture above, I have direct access to it from my yard via a trail that connects to Silver City Road. Silver City Road takes you right up to the base of it, where the picture below was taken. Another very cool thing about this mountain: it was featured heavily in "Last of the Mohicans" as the Indian Village.
Like I said, there is a trail just 25 feet from my back door that leads to Silver City Road, which then accesses trails that dart in and out of State Park and Private Property. No driving necessary. It's really incredible.
I've already spoken with the Ranger who said I'm fine to be back there because my property accesses the State Park property directly. Although, he said, I may encounter problems with the owners of the private property. Which I did, one day. Said owner indeed has a lot of issues, but apparently none with me. I finally had to ask him, straight out, "So, are you going to be upset if I run back here?" to which he said, "Hell, No! I don't care if you're back here!!" (He's a real character). So, case closed. In my mind, I'm free to make the entire gorge my playground.
Recently, I've had two really good adventures "exploring" my backyard. This is the first adventure...
I went home early on the Wednesday before Pinhoti to get a run in and explore the trails behind my house. I wanted to see where one particular trail led, because the last time I was back there, it seemed to literally just "end", and I am finding that this is true of these trails- there's no defined trail system, per se, just a bunch of interconnected trails that locals and hunters (and rock climbers) know and use. Often, they just "end".
So, I left the house at 4:00 p.m., completely unaware I was in for one of the best adventures EVER and would not be home until after 11:00 that night.
It took 45 minutes to get to the point where the trail appeared to dead end. You go in between these two amazing rocks and are kind of dumped into a rock garden and the trail disappears.
I explored the possibility that the trail went up the side of a mountain here, and I spent a good 30 minutes hiking/ bush whacking up the mountain and eventually concluded there was no way that was a real trail. It terminated at a junction where you had to traverse a sheer drop-off that I was far too scared to even attempt.
As I was climbing down the mountain, I gave Charles a call because I'd learned that reception was good here. I told him about what I was doing, to which he said. "Just don't get lost, honey." Of course, I said I was insulted that he would say such a thing, and then assured him I'd be really careful.
Then I made a stupid mistake. I went back to the spot where there was clear trail and explored the possibility it crossed a small creek and took up again on this hillside. There was no real trail to follow, and all I was going to do was to bush whack around a big rock outcropping and see if the trail appeared anywhere on the other side. When I got around the other side, I saw that clearly there was no trail there and Idecided to head back and call it a day as it was now close to 6:00 p.m. and I would soon be losing the light.
Well, the big rock outcropping that was so recognizable on way over was not nearly as recognizable coming from the other direction. In fact, I suddenly didn't recognize anything and even though I had come only about 100 feet, I began to fear I wouldn't make it back before I lost the light. I suddenly felt stupid for laughing at Charles' request for me to not get lost.
It was getting darker, and I was where I thought the creek HAD to be, but instead of a little creek crossing, I came to a giant granite drop off and had to retrace my steps back, which was even more disorienting. I tried to think. It seemed logical to head down, as eventually I would have to come out somewhere near or on Memorial Highway. So down I headed, and I went quite a ways only to come to another giant granite dropoff. I now head my head lamp on, and decided I was done trying to find my way down. With all the leaves, I couldn't see where sure footing was, and it just seemed far more dangerous to climb down than to climb up. Plus, I had talked to David about this area, and he said that if you climb up you will intersect a road at some point.
Honestly, I didn't know what to do, and I was on the verge of panicking. Instead, I just decided to make a decision and stick with it. I was going to climb up, and I picked a line to follow and hoped I would intersect a road. It was completely dark now, and I was bush whacking up the side of a mountain, going up, over and around granite rock outcroppings.
This picture is from adventure #2, but is an example of the rock structures I had to traverse....in the night!
At one point, I climbed up a large rock structure that brought me to the saddle of the mountain. I went down the saddle, only to discover I had to climb some more if I had any hope of accessing a jeep road or any road at all. This last climb was so densely forested that I was climbing on my belly in spots so that I could go under the branches of trees because they were too thick to get through any other way. The branches had snagged my pack and opened it and I lost my jacket, gloves, and water bottle. Now I was really thirsty and I had no water.
Hours went by and I kept bush whacking...just straight up- hoping for...I don't know what. When suddenly...jeep road! I had intersected what was clearly a jeep road. Hooray!! I called Charles and told him, and I decided to follow the road to the right as it went slightly down hill. After about 200 feet, it became more and more over grown, and finally it was clear that the road just ended there. Damn!
I turned around and went the other way, and the road at least did continue. It became a more and more pronounced road, and after climbing a bit, started a descent. It seemed like I went about 2 miles or so, and then I saw lights of a house. That was comforting. Suddenly about 1/2 mile later, the road dumped out onto a paved road, and all of a sudden I knew exactly where I was. I was at the top of Old Schumont Mountain Road!! Amazing. What a relief to know where I was! David lives about 2 miles away and I texted him to see if he was home. He was, so I asked if he could come get me and give me aride home, which he did.
Even though I know it was stupid to get myself in to that situation, I have to say that bush whacking up Schumont Mountain in the dark, and then suddenly popping out onto the road and knowing where I was...was thrilling. I was proud of myself for keeping my wits about me and not panicking. Right or wrong, I made a decision and stuck with it- and it just happened to work out well for me.
To be continued...