Sunday, December 4, 2011

Southern Appalachians, North Carolina, USA

Toyohashi Alpine Club
Southern Appalachians
North Carolina, USA
Tuesday 25th - Thursday 27th September, 1996
Report by: Iain Williams



Like so many good trips this one quickly came out of the blue.  The purpose of my visit to the US was to catch up with John, who I taught with in Toyohashi plus climbed Fuji with, and to run a 10km road race. My knowledge of North American mountains is not what it should be and my knowledge of the Appalachians prior to my visit was non-existent.

Whilst staying with John in Atlanta we formulated a plan to do a couple of the nearest peaks. We set off from Atlanta on a warm humid Tuesday lunchtime. Our first port of call was Tallulah Gorge in NE Georgia at the southern end of the Appalachians. The drive up there was very pleasant even though we were on the wrong side of the road. Before heading down into the gorge we registered ourselves in the local visitor's centre. We were told that the descent was about 700ft and steeper than 45'. It was then a short drive back to a small well hidden car park. After moaning about the car park we commenced our descent. It was very steep and very rocky. Shoes with good grip were definitely the order of the day.

Once at the bottom we found ourselves beside a rocky pool surrounded by the gorges near vertical walls. There was a 20m rock slide leading into the pool. A man was swimming around while his partner watched. Within minutes we were in the water eyeing the rock slide. Before long and after consultation with the other bloke we were on the slippy rock sliding into the water below. Excellent fun. After getting dressed we walked down the gorge for a short distance and saw some fine high granite walls that swept down to us. They were very impressive but were weeping too much for rock climbing. Finding pro would have been testing. We walked on a little further on a sandy track through some small trees. John remarked that he wasn't keen to meet any snakes. Walking behind him I immediately spotted a perfectly shaped, dead, black, leafless branch and quickly threw it down beside where he was walking. It had the desired effect. John sprung to the right in horror while I laughed at the expression on his face. I learnt this little piece of knavishness from Wyane Daly who did the same to me on Ishimaki just after we really had seen a snake.

Climbing back out of the gorge was a real sweat producing exercise and I was glad it wasn't any longer than 700ft, John even more so.  Back in the car we drove on up to a paper mill town called Canton for dinner at the local Pizza Hut. After the pizza we crossed the car park to a MacD's for an ice cream. Standing in the queue we were behind a mother with her two young kids. John whispered to me that the kids had real redneck accents which amused me. The mother also heard John and wasn't so amused and gave him a dirty stare.  Unfortunately she never threw a cheeseburger at him.

The plan for the next day was to do Grandfather Mountain (1818m) which was about 2 hours NE of where we were. Our guidebook described it as strenuous and dangerous with not too much of an elevation gain. It sounded good although the name didn't do much in the way o striking fear into our hearts. That morning we stopped for breakfast just outside Asheville in a Waffle House before heading up through the mountains.

Again the drive was very scenic and in many ways it reminded me of Japan, although I don't think this impressed John. The mountains were of a similar height and were covered in thick forest, all be it, of a more deciduous variety. We drove high on to the mountain whereupon we came to the gates and forked out $9 each entrance fee. Ouch! The mountain was on private land. It was then up to the top car park where we parked and got ready.

The weather didn't look too great. There was a lot of cloud around and rain was forecast for later in the day. This didn't have the usual effect on me. It was great to be where I was. We headed off into the forested mountainside in search of our summit. We passed a few people of the pure tourist variety and then the track started to descend. In front of us we could see the first of the summits that we were to encounter. The climb up to it didn't look too tough and before not too long we found ourselves sweating and steadily ascending. In the guidebook we were warned of rock pitches on ladders and dangerous ground. As we hiked up we met a man who had turned back after encountering the ladders. He didn't like them and had decided to plump for the easier route. This sounded interesting. We arrived at the ladders and moved up without any problems. If they hadn't been there it would have been an easy rock climb. Once on flat ground we found ourselves standing below a rocky tor with a ladder tied to the side of it. We climbed on to the top and took a few photos. We were standing atop of Macrea Peak (1810m).

The mountain was made up of several peaks. We had to climb three of them with the third one being the highest. Leaving Macrea we marched on and down towards the next one. We were on a ridge and in amongst cloud which did nothing to enhance the impressive surroundings. Nevertheless I was enjoying it. I'm sure I could also feel some effect from the altitude, I'm surprised to say. Not being very high I wasn't too happy with how I felt. As we approached th next peak we climbed up some more ladders and we then entered what was called the chute, a steep rocky gully. At the top of the chute we found ourselves on top of Attic Window Peak (1813m) where there was a couple sitting down. The bloke was clearly a mountain man, out to try and impress his woman. I found it quite amusing listening to him. We were also a bit on the tired side so took a 5 minute chocolate and water break.

As we set off John was looking a bit worn out and the thought of descending and ascending again wasn't a pleasant one for him. As we scrambled down we went off track and followed a sign post to an old Indian cave. The outside was a huge ceiling. If we'd had headtorches it would have been interesting to have a look in the small interior. Leaving the cave we made out way along the ridge which was now flatter and friendlier and headed up to Calloway Peak (1818m). As we both hiked up through the trees I think we were both thinking I hope its not too far. It wasn't, and we were soon on a large flat top in amongst bushes, small trees and long grass. In trying to find the top we were not the proud recipients of the "22B Baker St Award" for summit finding. After about 5 minutes of careful thought, consulting the map and realising that the track descended in both directions we arrived at the conclusion that we were actually on top of Grandfather Mountain (1818m). Worn out after straining our powers of deduction we took a break and some photos before heading back.

The trek back to the car park was pretty much the same and we moved at a leisurely pace. It never rained on us but it came very close. Climbing down all the ladders was done with ease and about 2 hours later we were back at the car park. Next to the car park was the "mile high" swinging bridge. We had a look around before jumping into the car and driving back down the steep wiggly waggly road which Forrest Gump ran up in the movie. The cloud still blocked out any good views.

Our next plan was to drive down to Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain on the east side of the US. Our route took us down the Blue Ridge Parkway, a very scenic route on a beautifully smooth road that was devoid of any commercial traffic. The views from the road were extremely picturesque and I was very impressed. About an hour later we were driving up Mt. Mitchell and back into the cloud. The road terminated in a large car park, surrounded by some rather poor looking trees. The trees on the upper slopes of the mountain have allegedly died from air pollution. It did seem strange to us that only these trees had been affected and none lower down or on the adjacent mountains. Mt. Mitchell was my kind of mountain though. From the car it was a 200m walk up to the top (2037m). After effortlessly conquering it we did the usual photo shoot and headed back down to the car with hungry rumbling stomachs. Our mission was now to head into Asheville for a feast and to find a motel. This we did and had a well earnt meal in an Olive Garden followed by a swim, video and a good night's sleep in the Holiday Inn.

I started the next day with a swim which was followed by a longish drive south to Whiteside Mountain (1503m). Again the drive was very scenic and enjoyable. The guidebook said Whiteside was easy and would take only a couple of hours. It was also a popular rock climbing destination and its name came from the white granite cliffs that surrounded it. In the car park the weather didn't look at all promising. Our route was a loop basically going around the top of the mountain, taking in the high point, through damp woodland. Because of cloud, views were nonexistent. It wasn't a climb, we walked and talked about war and never realised when we passed over the highest point. Most of the route ws in the trees with one exposed section where the wind was rather strong. On that stretch we managed to see the upper sections of one of the cliffs. Unfortunately that was all we saw in the way of views. We were back at the car before we knew it and driving south towards Atlanta.

The other memorable excursions on the trip happened on the first weekend. The Saturday afternoon after the race we drove out to Stone Mountain with my father. Stone Mountain is supposedly the largest outcrop of granite in North America and in my opinion was not unlike Ayres Rock. The three of us hiked up to the top, had a coke, sat on a slope and watched some small looking golfers playing some interesting water holes well below. As impressive as the rock was I didn't spot any interesting routes for climbing. It was an interesting place though, one side of the rock had a huge engraving of three Civil War generals (sorry John but I can't remember all their names).

The following morning we were up at 5:30, which must have been hell for John as it was his second early morning in a row but was no problem for me as my body was on English time. We drove north just into Tennessee. It was an interesting drive for me. Once it got light it was very misty and rural. It felt like a damp misty morning in England. The nearer we got to our destination the hillier it got. John's plan was to take me white water rafting and it was a damn good one. Stopping at the first rafting establishment we got in with a group for a cheap $25 each. A bus took us up a road that ran beside the river. We were slightly downstream from where the Olympic kayaking events had taken place a few months earlier. The valley was full of trees and the early morning mist was still clinging to them. The drive of the bus, John whispered to me had a strong redneck accent, again it was very amusing to listen to. Once off the bus we carried our blue inflatable down to the water with three others plus guide, received a few dos and don'ts and set off. Going down through the rapids and bubbling water between the large rounded boulders was excellent fun. The slowly lifting mist and steep tree clad valley sides also added to the experience. We also had a long drift down a calm stretch where I jumped in and floated down. It was very relaxing. The sun by then had started to break through, clearing the mist and giving us blue sky patches and a little extra warmth. Back on board we went down through some more white water and ended up getting thrown out which came as a real surprise as the rapids there were small and we'd been through much bigger drops. We swam to the side and regrouped and set off again on the prowl for John's paddle which he had so carelessly and thoughtlessly lost. As we neared the end I was feeling quite cold and when we finally got back to the car it was nice to put some dry clothes back on. It had been great fun and a totally unexpected pleasure. We spent the rest of the day driving around the mountain roads of NE Georgia.

All in all my experiences in and around Georgia were excellent. John made some first class suggestions as to what we should do. I just hope that when he gets to the UK I can better him as a host and guide. It's good to know that the Southern USA branch of the Toyohashi Alpine Club is in good hands.