July 15th, 2017
This past Saturday, Wayne, Pam, and I met at the Mountain View Restaurant in Walhalla, early in the morning for a quick breakfast (Yes, I ordered a biscuit, with sausage and egg to be specific), then headed up the road towards Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina. We made our usual brief stop at the Ranger Station along the way to use the bathrooms, talk to the rangers, and to look over their map. Afterwards, we climbed back into Pam’s vehicle and finished our drive to the Buck Spring trailhead.
After taking a few minutes to gear up, we took a couple of pictures, then turned to begin our hike. We probably hadn’t gone more than a step or two, when Pam slipped on a rock and landed on her backside. That’s got to be some kind of record for falling at the start of a hike. Fortunately, no harm was done (except maybe to Pam’s pride) and once she had dusted herself off, we were off and running.
When we had hiked for about a mile we arrived at the junction for the Mountains to Sea Trail. The Mountains to Sea Trail stretches for 1,175 miles from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to the Great Smoky Mountains. We wouldn’t be tackling that on this day (lol), but maybe next time. Instead, we followed the Buck Spring Trail for another two-tenths of a mile or so to where it joins the Barnett Branch Trail. The Barnett Branch Trail descends steeply at first and passes by the base of a small waterfall as it makes its way towards Yellow Gap Road.
After crossing Yellow Gap Road, the trail levels, then enters an area where floods, together with beaver activity have created a bit of a swamp. A nice, long boardwalk has been built by volunteers and makes the passage through the marshiest segment much easier. The Barnett Branch Trail bisects the 5.1 mile long Pink Beds Trail in two locations along here and also crosses the South Fork Mills River, before beginning a steep climb up towards the junction for the Black Mountain Trail.
It was on this climb that the weather, which of course had been hot and humid, began to change. The forecast had called for an 85 percent chance of rain with possible thunderstorms beginning around 1 pm. Pretty much right on schedule, the clouds gathered, the sky darkened, and we began to hear some distant rumblings. It appeared that a storm was imminent, but after a few minutes, the sun attempted to break through the cloud cover. I thought to myself that we might have gotten lucky and that the worst of the weather had passed us by. As it turned out though, the break in the cloud cover was short-lived. At first, the rain fell only lightly, but it soon became a full-on torrential downpour. We stopped long enough to put on our rain gear, then continued our climb.
Originally, we had planned to follow the Black Mountain Trail from the junction up towards the summit before turning around to begin our hike back out. Because of the weather, we decided that we shouldn’t continue to climb higher, and that instead we would turn around at the junction and head back down. It was no doubt a good decision. In addition to the heavy rain, there was also lots of lightning flashing overhead. One strike in particular was very close by and was accompanied almost immediately by a huge clap of thunder.
On the way out, although the rain hadn’t ceased entirely, it had let up considerably, so we decided to take a detour and to hike along a portion of the Pink Beds Trail. Even though it was a muddy mess, it meant that we’d get in a couple of extra miles before finishing. It’s amazing what a single heavy rain storm can do. The volume of water flowing down the river, through all of the various creeks, and over the waterfall had increased by probably three times the volume that we had observed on our hike in.
After hiking for 6 hours and 39 minutes, we finally arrived back at the trailhead. It had rained on us for something like four hours of that time, having halted completely only at the very end. In all, we had hiked a total of 12.9 miles and had climbed approximately 1,950 feet. At the trailhead, we removed our packs, spent a few minutes towelling ourselves off, then drove into town for dinner. After satisfying our hunger, the three of us climbed back into Pam’s vehicle and settled in for the long drive home.
Below are some images from our hike. Unfortunately, once it began to rain, I wasn’t able to take anymore pictures. Thanks for reading.