Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Undeterred by Willie's intimidation tactics at Grassy Creek Falls, Halley, John, and I were off to look for more waterfall adventure while waiting for some clouds to lift off of Mt. Mitchell. She suggested we carpool and I left my truck at a parking area just off the Blue Ridge Parkway for the drive down NC80 to Roaring Fork Falls. I was filled with adrenaline from our encounter with Willie and the fact I was going to see a new waterfall. We soon arrived at the trail head and a short half mile hike later, we were at the base of the falls. Roaring Fork comes tumbling from high off the mountain some 80ft later as it rushes past and continues....well, roaring, downstream. The sun was starting to peek out from behind the cloud cover making my photography a challenge but I still was able to snag a few decent shots. John climbed high up the right side of the waterfall and the further he got away, the more I could tell just how massive this place was! Here's a look at the falls without John.

Roaring Fork Falls.
Our next stop was just outside of Black Mountain Campground at Set Rock Falls. I had visited Set Rock Falls before but still was eager to return since the hike is short and beautiful and the payoff is a nice 55ft high waterfall. The wildflowers were in bloom as we followed the creek through the campground and some even had identification signs next to them which caught both mine and John's attention. As we closed in on the falls I was disappointed to see the sun squarely on the uppermost drop. Halley was unsure the last time she had been to the falls and John loved the way it stair stepped down the mountain, so seeing their excitement made me forget about the bad light. I stalked around the base trying to salvage some shots from the tripod and enjoyed the cool mist from the water. Satisfied with a few pictures and needing to take advantage of all we wanted to see that day, we were soon hiking out and to the highest peak east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell.
Set Rock Falls.
The water below the falls is really clear.
The gravel road from Black Mountain Campground is a beautiful ride from what I remember now. It follows a nice stream and is scenic all the way to where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway just shy of Mt. Mitchell. The speed limit on the parkway is 45 miles per hour, or if you are Halley Burleson, whatever your heart desires. I'm still digging pieces of her car seat from between my butt cheeks from our flight up the curvy road to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. As much as I hike and love the outdoors, I'm almost ashamed to admit it was my first time to the top of that mountain. Clouds hung on distant peaks and I could see below deep into the valleys while also being able to see the tops of the clouds and blue skies above, it's a surreal place to say the least. There is a large parking lot with a small snack bar and souvenir shack before the paved trail that leads to the observation deck a short distance higher. Halley told us the story of the old tower and how it was destroyed to make the handicapped accessible platform that exists today. I was really torn by the story, while the old tower was higher and more photogenic, the new platform opens up views for those confined to wheelchairs. I find it to be a healthy compromise as no one should be denied a magnificent view of God's creation, even if it is a slightly lower elevation. Several people were on the platform but there really wasn't a bad view to be had. John and I ran wildly around the platform clicking away at the ever changing scenery. Halley kind of hung back laughing at our size difference and our reactions to her personal playground. We posed for some pictures and even got the ultra touristy shot beside the 'Mt Mitchell Highest Peak East of the Mississippi' sign before retreating back to the parking area from the chilly temperatures. Halley suggested we eat at the restaurant on the mountain and I agreed, trail mix and beef jerky can only take me so far and my stomach was growling. The restaurant was wonderful and our view off the deck was even better. Halley gave us the grand tour and took us onto the back porch for some rocking chairs and hot chocolate. It's been several months as I write this, but that moment still sticks vividly with me.
Mt. Craig from Mt. Mitchell parking area.
Clouds burning off of Mt. Mitchell.
View from the restaurant.
The clouds moving in to drown out sunset at Mt. Mitchell.

It was growing increasingly cold and the clouds were moving in heavier by the minute, she decided to find another location to attempt some views of sunset. We left the mountain and rejoined the parkway heading toward Asheville. I had never traveled this area and was impressed with the killer views and we stopped at several overlooks. One overlook was across a gorge to a huge waterfall in the distance. Glassmine Falls is over 200ft high but begs to be explored more closely. We all agreed we had to find a route to it's base, if for nothing more than to say we had been there! From there we passed the Asheville watershed and one of the most beautiful views I think exists on the parkway. The evening sun lit the surrounding mountains perfectly and the large lake below looked like a mirror, I was truly in heaven. The sun was sinking quickly and I was unsure were we were heading as we pulled into the parking lot for Craggy Gardens. She pointed out a trail that led us through thick Rhododendron before opening up on a rocky peak with stunning views in every direction. There were a few people on the rock with us but they headed out as we arrived and we had the entire mountain to ourselves for sunset. The cold was fierce now but we all had blankets and staked our claims to separate rocks to watch the sun fall from the sky.
Asheville Watershed.
Sunset from Craggy.

The sunset was a perfect end to the day, purple and pinks dominated the horizon and as the last light faded we hiked out satisfied with one of our more adventurous days. Looking back on it now, it still stands as one of my favorite days in a year that's featured nearly 500 miles of hiking. Stay tuned as I have several big hikes planned to close the year, and hopefully some to get 2015 off to a great start. Until next time, happy trails!

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