You would think following hiking instructions from a book would be rather simple. Much like baking a cake where you dump in the mix, the eggs, some oil, and bake for 25 minutes… following hiking instructions should be the same way. Go 1 mile, turn right at the sign, go up the hill, turn left at sign, etc.
Clawhammer mountain worked that way (look back a few posts…), so I figured if I followed the instructions in “Backpacking Overnights” and went to Deep Gap, the same thing would happen; A fairly uneventful but pretty trip.
Wrong. Henceforth what happened was my longest single day hike so far. I met up with Paul and Carol. I was hoping the trip would have a few more attendees, but as it happened, it was good these experienced backpackers were the only ones that went.
This is what we were supposed to do (reproduced without permission). I will tell you what we did, and if you want to hike this route, what you should change. We parked at the wildlife center and had to walk about half a mile up the road, then off to the left. This part was okay, not much to see besides a bunch of plants and gravel.
A much better place to park would be where the two little tents are on the map… When we crossed the road, the instructions simply said “Turn right on 475 and then left into Cove Creek group camp”. Following instructions, we turned right on 475 and walked half a mile. No camp signs… We turned around and walked the other way. It turns out he got his instructions backwards. We should have turned LEFT on 475, gone just around the corner 100 yards and RIGHT into Cove Creek. oops. Cove creek was easier to navigate than we thought, the “unmarked trail” mentioned in the instructions cannot be missed. We followed it up to 5046 and turned left, as instructed.
Unfortunately, it was sort of a four way intersection, like a X. Instead of going left, we really should have gone straight across (a little left instead of a hard left). We walked a mile up the hill before the “road” ran out, and we had to backtrack. You can see the little spur below going to the top of the hill all by itself…
Once we came down and made the REAL left, we continued down to an impressive waterfall, and stopped for lunch. I found a geocache (yay!)
At this point we kept running into campers walking the short distance up the road from campsites. Remember I told you to park at the two little tents? Yeah, it would have saved a lot of trouble. You could walk up to the waterfall, turn back to the car, pick up packs and do the rest of this hike.
We followed the Davidson River for quite a ways, and crossed streams a number of times (three good ones that I remember). It was a very pretty, wet place. At least on this part of the hike. It would lull us into a false sense of security that would haunt us later in the day. The weather was beautiful for this time of year. Cool and overcast at first, giving way to mild and clear later on. The 30% chance of rain never really happened to us, except on the drive up.
Onwards to Farlow gap and the hardest part of the trip. After another brief stop and refill at a waterfall crossing, we then began the steep uphill climb to the Art Loeb trail intersection. And Steep and Climb it was. Carol lagged behind me at this point, While Paul was way out in front. Much like the Clawhammer trip, at times you felt you were hiking solo. I got to what looked like a wall in front of me, and looked up. I think I said something like, “surely not…” but there was no other trail, and there did appear to be a sort of trail in front of us, even a blaze or two on the trees. I never quite got to the point I was having to scramble, but several times I probably could have.
This up up up continued for about forty-five minutes. I had a waypoint in the GPS telling me where Art Loeb was. I would pace out a hundred steps, stop and wait for the pounding in my ears and chest to slow down to tolerable levels, and then go another hundred steps. I passed two good campsites (with water) on the way. I can see why people would give up and stop, but we had other destinations in mind. We stopped briefly to rest, and then continued down the Art Loeb trail. It was supposed to be a mile to the shelter, water and rest.
We never made it. See – at this point in the book, the instructions say you can take the old road around sassafrass knob, and then turn right and get to the shelter, OR, you can take the Art Loeb OVER Sassafrass knob and go right to the shelter. Having just done enough Up, we decided the road would work better.
We never found the small stream and the right turn. We wound up in the parking area for Pilot mountain, and after backtracking to a trail intersection (visible in my map above as the little spur off Pilot Mountain), the only thing we could do was go up. The GPS pointed down a drop-off and said we were only 250 feet from the shelter, but I couldn’t see it through the brush.
So at this point we wound up on the switchbacks from hell, up the side of Pilot Mountain. Our theory was that we would summit the mountain, go down the other side, and find some water and somewhere to camp. We got to the top and had a very impressive view.
Having Supper (as it was almost 5) made the trip up worthwhile. It was a view you had to earn. Car rides don’t provide this sort of view, and a single photo from a point and shoot camera doesn’t do it justice. It was a view that teased and taunted us as we came up the hill, finally exploding into us full force as the plants ended and we walked out onto the exposed rock. Truly a magnificent thing to behold.
So then we began the switchbacks from hell down the other side, and something became clear as we got into the flatter areas. This side of the mountain, unlike the other one, was almost completely dry. Sure there were puddles in the trail, but no streams of water. Following the map and the GPS, we continued down the hill and through another series of switchbacks, finally getting us to an intersection with 475.
At this point Carol was done, we were out of water, and were considering abandoning the entire hike. The book instructions really should have mentioned the fact that there was no water on this entire side…
As we sat there, a car drove up, and we discussed maybe taking Carol back to the fish hatchery. They gave us some canned sparkling water and a banana, and told us down the hill about 300 yards was a waterfall. We followed 475 and found the waterfall, which was not very impressive, but cold and fast.
At this point we had done almost 16 miles, only three miles shy of what should have been the entire two day hike, and we still would have 7 miles to go the next day. We walked along 475 for another half mile to a trail, hoping once again to find a campsite. Paul explored the trail ahead for us, but said it was terrible for camping. Just a long corridor of brush. It was getting dusk by then, and instead of trying to camp by the road, he said he would run to the car and come get us. It was a straight shot down 475 for three miles or so. He took off and soon after a jeep came by going the right way. I flagged them down and told them what happened, and they agreed to pick Paul up. Roughly thirty minutes after he left, we were greeted with the happy sight of Carol’s Jeep coming around the corner.
So – I learned a few things on this hike… Scouting out an unknown trip is always a good plan. If we had six people with us, including a few newbies, it could have been worse. Of course, we also could have wound up at one of the earlier campsites. If water is an unknown, top up when you can. I could have carried another liter from the last fill-up, but figured, “what the hell, there’s water everywhere”. Don’t count on someone’s instructions. They may be wrong.
Overall we had fun, even though we did way more hiking than we had planned. We saw some good sights, proved we CAN hike 16 miles if we want or need to, and the weather was great.
And now for the stats. This hike was supposed to be 18 miles, with 4500 feet of ups. We didn’t do the second half, maybe five miles, but what we wound up with were:
16.9 miles of total walking distance, and 6163 feet of ups. Very impressive to me…
I’ve never walked 16.9 miles, and I’ve never walked up 6163 feet… so this was my longest and highest day yet. And I’m done hiking until the end of October, so hopefully the weather will continue to imrove and we will have some good leaf-peeping come time for Panther Town.