Monday, April 15, 2013

I last set foot on Grandfather Mountain twenty eight years ago. I really don't have a good excuse as to why I haven't been back but I have tried in recent months to make the trip. On two separate occasions, I arrived at the gate to find the park closed for weather conditions even though there was no snow to be seen anywhere. The frustration from those trips added to  my desire to go back even more, and yesterday, I finally got to throw my $18 bucks in the pile and head toward the towering peaks and world famous swinging bridge.
The view near the swinging bridge parking.
Just above my shoulder is Hump Mountain.
On the swinging bridge.
Amber on the far side of the swinging bridge.
Pooled water on the Grandfather.
The small sign at the bottom is point of no return and site of two deaths.

When you mention Grandfather to most people, the first thing they mention is the mile high swinging bridge, but I was more interested in the hiking trails, particularly, the Grandfather Trail. The trail is known as one of the more extreme hikes in the south with cables and ladders helping hikers up and over the massive peaks on the mountain. Steve and I were excited to tear the trail up and scratch another goal off our hiking bucket lists, but the girls were more interested in the animal exhibits and swinging bridge.
Find Steve, it's not that hard.
The legendary swinging bridge atop Grandfather Mountain.

We spent the first part of our visit playing on and around the swinging bridge. Many people think the bridge is a mile high above the drop which it's not. The measurement comes from the bottom of the mountain and at the midway point in the bridge you are 5, 280ft above the ground, or one mile. The bridge was wooden when I visited as a child, but has since been upgraded to a metal structure that still features some pretty good movement and when the wind howls through it, the sound is deafening. I had mentioned when we were coming up the mountain that a scene from Forrest Gump was filmed in one of the curves near the top. Steve was thrilled with this and demanded we visit it and recreate the scene of Forrest running around the curve. The park service doesn't allow parking or walking along the road but we were able to sneak off trail and set up the cameras for Steve to come running by with the look of delight plastered all over his face.
Some curves near the top.
The high point for Steve yesterday.
Step out into Heaven.

It was already early in the afternoon when we finished and I knew the trails closed at 4pm. You can't park at the top of the mountain to hike the trails because of the many people that want to visit the bridge so we had the girls drop us off at the top at the Grandfather trail head and they went down the mountain to visit the animals. As we left the parking lot, a park employee greeted us at the start of the trail, he told us that we could hike as far as Macrae Peak but that we shouldn't continue past that point with our footwear due to four inches of ice accumulated on the shaded backside of the mountain! I agreed and asked where the trail was and he pointed up a rocky ravine with a blue blaze on rocks up the ridge and out of sight. I laughed at the prospect of what awaited us and started hopping from rock to rock up the trail. At the top of the ridge the trail flattened and winded through the forest at a peaceful pace. We arrived at the first attraction known as the Patio and found a wooden bench and views of Macrae's Peak rising steeply above us. The trail headed downhill and under some large boulders that were difficult for me to walk under. Soon after we arrived at the first set of cables bolted in a large sloping uphill rock. We made it up with no problems and wound into a larger rock field and in a large crack I saw the first ladder. It wasn't very hard to negotiate but very necessary to continue on. At the top of the ladder, I had a great view of the swinging bridge in the distance and took some time taking a few pictures. The trail climbed steadily and was tough with the mud and tree roots. We came to our second small ladder and once we made it to the top we were stopped in awe of what lied before us. Three laddders rose steeply up the cliff side of Macrae Peak. Each ladder was more closely located to the edge than the last and I had to steady my nerves to even think about continuing. The wind at this point was howling and I placed my hat and glasses in Steve's pack. the first ladder of the three wasn't bad but the second one was long and intimidating with at least 25 rungs. Steve went first and at the top was greeted with a tiny ledge to stand on and a cable bolted in the rock to hold onto. I literally felt sick at the thoughts of going on but he coaxed me up each rung and eventually I joined him on that tiny ledge on the cliff. We scooted around the narrow ledge onto a larger flat rock to regroup. I doubt I have ever had a finer view. I could see as far as my eyes would let me and several distinct peaks could be seen in the distance, including my favorite, Hump Mountain. After a few minutes a younger hiker came over to join us, he took some photos and continued on the last ladder of Macrae Peak which is also the most exposed. Steve watched him and said, "you can't let him out do you, you are Jason Horton." We gathered our gear and made the summit of Macrae. I took pictures at a blistering pace and declared I had proved my point and was heading back down.
The start of the Grandfather Trail. (blue blazed)
Holding up the trail
rocky travels on the Grandfather.
cable action.
Ladder #1
Heading up.
You know how they say "don't look down?"
The cliff to the right is where we are heading.
Ladder #2

Heading down was no easy chore. The wind continued to beat us against the mountain and squeezed those ladder rungs so hard I thought they might smash in half. Steve was ahead of me and moved at a more deliberate pace. I was so terrified I was moving much faster and we found ourselves clustered together on the 25 rung ladder. I wish someone had been there to take that picture, I'm sure it was hilarious. I stopped long enough to let Steve continue on and before I knew it we were off the ladder portion of the trail.
Ladders #3 and #4
Steve waiting and coaching me up.
Its' intense.
200 foot drop just to my left.
Steve clinging to the cable and for his life.
This was terrifying for me.
But I did it.
What a view!
Heading down

The hike back was as a pleasant one that I have ever done. It was a great feeling to still be alive and we stopped frequently for photo ops before finding ourselves back at the swinging bridge parking lot. The girls were nowhere to be seen and Steve and I almost were featured on an episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive before they finally showed up over an hour later, and both of us almost frozen solid. We rode down and walked through the animal exhibits before leaving the park for the day.
The ladders on the mountain, sheltered by the ridge in the foreground.
Last obstacle
Split Rock
Amber showcasing her climbing skills.
Goodbye to the Grandfather.

I still can't believe it had been 28 years since I was there, and I have to say the $18 is a fair admission price. There is so much to do and we only hiked a small portion of the Grandfather Trail. I have a feeling next year I will be purchasing the season pass so I can see all the other trails and explore every inch of the most intimidating mountain I have tackled to date. Until next time, happy trails!

No comments:

Post a Comment