One beautiful morning I spontaneously decided to take a weekend trip with a group of friends One of the wonderful things about living in North Carolina is that you don’t have to go far to find adventure. From mountains to ocean, raging white-water rivers to beautiful flat, open water, the opportunities are almost endless. After considering many options, we decided that Linville Gorge would be an ideal choice given the variety of terrain and beautiful scenery waiting there.
After a quick look at GOPC Backpacker Checklist, we packed the essentials and gathered those extra items needed for our specific plans. These included: the climbing gear needed to safely enjoy the legendary routes in the area. Technical layers to help manage the cold nights, warm days and rainfall we may encounter. We also knew we needed to pack Smartwool socks that not only keep your feet warm but help prevent blisters .
A couple of the guys in the group were already familiar with the area and came up with the plan to hike into the gorge on the Babel Tower Trail until we arrived at a sweet campsite they had stayed at before, which overlooked the gorge.
After a wonderful night of rest, a good breakfast, and some jet-boil coffee, we were off hiking down into the gorge for a full day of playing. We did end up encountering a perfect repelling/climbing area which included a good 30′ free-rappel zone, followed by another 30-40′ rock face. Once we were ready to move on, we decided to head on down to the river and go exploring.
We hiked up the river to a chute that offered an adrenaline rush, then down the river to a good cliff-jumping spot, then back to the campsite for supper, hammock time, and an evening around the fire with hot chocolate and good stories.
A weekend gives the perfect amount of time to travel almost anywhere in our state, have a full day to play, a good evening of fellowship around a campfire, and still time on Sunday to pack up, hike out, stop at a good local diner for lunch and be home by 5pm. All you’ve got to do is get the right gear and do it.
Mom and daughter will walk the ancient Camino de Santiago to raise funds for RHA Howell. On October 30, 2013, Greensboro, NC, mother and daughter Deborah and Brenna Berman flew to Madrid, Spain, to embark on a grueling 500-mile hike across northern Spain to raise funds for RHA Howell, a state-wide non-profit organization that serves children and adults with disabilities.
This journey is taking the mother-daughter team six weeks to hike the Camino de Santiago, or Saint James Way, a pilgrimage route that culminates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain.
For the past three weeks, we’ve been extolling the virtues of hiking in North Carolina. We’ve talked about all the great trails, from the coastal Neusiok Trail penetrating the swamp forest of the Croatan National Forest, to the 5.5-mile Black Mountain Trail, which ends 6,684 feet above sea level, the highest any trail can go along the East Coast. And we’ve talked about the great trails practically out your back door, regardless of where you live. North Carolina’s trails are diverse, they’re accessible, and they’re some of the best in the nation.
So why aren’t you hiking? Or hiking more?
We have some theories.
You aren’t sure where to go. Maybe you’ve heard of Umstead, or Eno River or another great state park nearby, and maybe you’ve even looked them up on the web. There’s a road map that takes you do the trailhead and even a map of the trails — but who can tell from an online map what the trails are like? Does it have lots of hills? Do you have to cross water? Is it nice and smooth or are there rocks and tree roots to navigate? What if I can’t deal it?
You’re intimidated by the wild. The thought if escaping your well-manicured existence is appealing but just how wild is it out there? Ticks bearing Lyme disease, rabid raccoons, venomous snakes — and every few years a bear wanders through the Triangle! How much risk can one person handle?
You’d hike with a group but what if they’re faster and you get dropped and you suddenly find yourself alone, in the woods, not sure where you are and not sure where to go? Being chosen last, being left behind (inadvertently or intentionally), having others hide from you, experiences that all leave a deep and sometimes indelible scar. Can I trust someone I’ve just met to take me into the forest and lead me back out?
Answers: You can. A lot more than you think. And, yes, because you’ll be with us. We answer your concerns with confidence because we’re going to go out into the woods with you — and not leave you high, dry and fretting.
Welcome to the first season of GetHiking! with Great Outdoor Provision Co. GetHiking! is a free program of weekly hikes and monthly seminars targeted to both beginners and to hikers who get out occasionally but would love to step up their game. Starting on Saturday, Sept. 14, local outdoor adventure writer and hiking coach Joe Miller will lead a weekly hike on a different trail in the Triangle. The hikes will be short (2-3 miles) and mellow at first, and grow in distance and difficulty as we progress into the fall.
Here’s what you can expect from our hikes:
• Custom maps. The week before each hike we’ll make available a custom map for the route we’ll take. The map will include at least two hike options: one for beginners, one for more experienced hikers. We’ll also include an interactive Google map to make it easy to get to the trailhead.
• No-drop hiking. Joe leads hikes from the rear, meaning he’ll almost always be with the slowest hikers in the pack. On occasion, he’ll advance to the front to make sure those folks are where they should be, but in general, he’s in the rear. This means you’ll have time to inquire about some of those fears, such as ticks (do a thorough tick check after every hike regardless of the time of year; remove them quickly and you won’t have a problem), rabid raccoons (extremely rare), venomous snakes (copperheads are the only ones in the Triangle; you leave them alone, they leave you alone) and bears (they do occasionally wander through the Triangle, but oddly they avoid the places where we hike).
• Mid-week and weekend hiking. Roughly half of our hikes will be on Saturday, the rest will be mid-week, after work. “But won’t it be dark after work before long?” you ask. Yes, which brings us to another cool feature of our program … .
• Night hiking. If you’re leery of hiking in broad daylight you’re probably thinking the notion of hiking at night is daft. In fact, being in the woods after sunset is a unique outdoors experience, and hiking under a headlamp is a good skill to have going into winter when daylight becomes scarce.
• Discover local trails. Hikers with some experience will benefit from learning of new places to hike. Our fall schedule (see below) includes 12 hikes on 12 different trails. We’ll hike at three state parks (Eno River, Umstead and Hanging Rock), a state recreation area (Falls Lake), a county park (Harris Lake), a nature preserve (Johnston Mill), a national forest (Uwharrie) and on a trail that runs the width of the state (Mountains-to-Sea Trail). We’ll hike on the weekends, we’ll hike after work, and we’ll share the thrill of hiking at night (under a headlamp). Further, we’ll expose you to 25 trails and trail networks in the Triangle alone.
• Monthly seminars. As you grow comfortable on the trail, you’ll want to know more about hiking. On the second Thursday of every month — in September, October and November — we’ll hold seminars at our stores in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. We’ll talk some about gear, we’ll talk some about trails to explore.
• Earn gear. Here’s something you won’t find in other hiking groups: the chance to earn gear. Each GetHiking! participant gets a punch card: attend three events (hikes or seminars) and get a GOPC Water Bottle, six events enters you in a drawing for a pair of Oboz Footwear, nine hikes earns a shot at a pair of Salewa footwear, 12 events gets you a 30 percent discount on Black Diamond trekking poles, and attend all 15 events and you could win a free Osprey hydration pack!
• Meet other hikers. Eventually, you’ll want to be out on the trail more than once a week. When that happens you’ll have a new collection of friends to hike with.
We’ll keep in close contact with you in three ways:
• GetHiking! with Great Outdoor Provision Meetup. All of our hikes will be announced on our Meetup site well in advance (go there now and you’ll see all hikes scheduled for September). Join the Meetup (there’s no charge), find out the hike details, then sign up.
• Facebook. We’ll communicate with you on the Great Outdoor Provision Co. Facebook page with photos on the past week’s hike and details on the hike ahead.
• E-newsletter. We’ll send a quick e-newsletter each week with information and a map of the next hike.
To register for our GetHiking! program, you can either join our GetHiking! with Great Outdoor Provision Co. Meetup group or stop by either our Raleigh store in Cameron Village or our Chapel Hill Store in the Eastgate Shopping Center and register.
You can also sign up at our GetHiking! kickoff Thursday, Sept. 12, at our Cameron Village store. We’ll go from 6:30 to 7:30, and everyone who attends gets a free pair of SmartWool hiking socks!
We’re excited about spending time with you on the trail this fall and exposing you to the wonderful world of North Carolina hiking!
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Here’s a rundown of hikes for fall of 2013. Detailed maps of the route, with information on getting to the trailhead, will be available online a week before the hike.
September 12 (Thursday) — Kickoff at Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Cameron Village
September 14 (Saturday) — Umstead State Park, Raleigh: Company Mill Trail. 8 a.m. Hikes of 2, 4.5 and 6 miles.
September 18 (Wednesday) — Johnston Mill Nature Preserve, Chapel Hill. 6 p.m. 3 miles
September 25 (Wednesday) — Umstead State Park, Raleigh: Sal’s Branch Trail. 6 p.m. 3 miles
September 28 (Saturday) — Harris Lake County Park, New Hill: Peninsula Trail, 8 a.m. 6 miles
October 2 (Wednesday) — Eno River State Park, Durham: Laurel Branch Trail, 7 p.m. (n) 5 miles
October 10 (Thursday) — Seminar in Chapel Hill, 7 p.m.
October 12 (Saturday) — Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Falls Lake: Rollingview to Little Lick Creek, 8 a.m. 8 miles
October 16 (Wednesday) — Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Falls Lake: Barton Creek Boat Ramp (n), 7 p.m. 5 miles
October 26 (Saturday) — Umstead State Park, Raleigh: Company Mill/Sycamore Loop option, 8 a.m. 6, 9 miles.
November 6 (Wednesday) — Eno River State Park, Durham: Pump Station Access, 6 p.m. 3 miles.
November 14 (Thursday) — Seminar in Raleigh, 7 p.m.
November 16 (Saturday) — Uwharrie Mountains, west of Asheboro: Birkhead Wilderness, 7.4 miles
November 20 (Wednesday) — Umstead State Park, Raleigh: Bike & Bridle Trail, 7 p.m. 4 miles.
November 23 (Saturday) — Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury: approximately 10 miles. 8 a.m. (carpool from the Triangle)
As part of our GetHiking! program, which we introduced last week and will launch Sept. 12, we’re spending August extolling the virtues of hiking in North Carolina. Today, a look at why you love to hike and where you like to do it.
Many of you are fans of any trail with a waterfall. Good views are also a hit. And, frankly, you don’t mind having a little scare thrown into you as you make your way down the trail.
When we asked on our Facebook page why you love to hike and where you like to do it, we got some predictable — and some not so — responses.
“I hiked to the top of “Mt. LeConte,” wrote Debbie. “Awesome and a bit scary in places!!”
Ditto Stephanie, who wrote of hiking in Montana’s Glacier National Park, “Gorgeous hike….almost killed me but it was a GREAT adventure!”
For the most part, though, your responses struck a familiar chord.
“Waterfalls and blueberries,” wrote Eleni Karaganis-Gomez. “I need no more.”
Those two pre-requisites are only part of the reason her favorite place to hike is Graveyard Fields, off the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Mount Pisgah, where a pair of forest fires in the early 20th century have left an exposed — and slightly eerie — landscape that’s a popular roadside stop.
“The length is perfect,” says Eleni. “It’s 3.1 miles, I think, a moderate hike. And if you don’t want to hike all way you can turn back. It’s got a lot of diversity: blueberries, creeks, Yellowstone Rock, Upper and Lower Falls. It’s a challenging hike, but not too much so.”
Stone Mountain: “…last fall we took 3 separate trips to hike and see as much as possible with the colorful leaves turning.” — Nancy
Eleni Karaganis-Gomez says she, her husband and her daughter got into hiking eight or nine years ago. Her daughter, now 16, still loves to hike with her parents.
“It’s so relaxing,” says Eleni of hiking’s allure. “If i could have done life over I’d be a rock collector or a geologist — I just love dirt!”
Jon Holliday grew up in Raleigh, fell in love with hiking as a Boy Scout, and hiked pretty much non-stop until a demanding work schedule sidelined him about seven years ago. Then, two years ago he decided to reignite his passion by signing up for the Ultimate Hike, a 28.3-mile fundraising hike.
That did the trick.
He and his wife started focusing their vacations on hiking national parks, and last year he started the Triangle Trail Hikers Meetup Group. Today, the group has 375 members.
“I worked from home and I couldn’t sit in the house day and night,” Jon says of his motivation to start a hiking club. “I created a Meetup to make new friends and have people to hike with.”
“I enjoy being outside,” adds Jon. “I like seeing nature. Exercise,” he says, “is pretty far down the list as far as motivation.”
Through his Meetup, Jon tries to share his love of the outdoors. He also thinks he knows why more people don’t hike.
Group hikes are a great way for newcomers to get introduced to the activity. “But the biggest fear of every one of them is that they’re not going to be able to keep up with people they’re hiking with. I tell everyone to hike your own speed. Most people can do the distance, but they need to do it at their own pace.”
So where does a hike leader who leads at least a hike a week prefer to lead hikes?
“I like Umstead,” says Jon. “But I won’t go there on weekends because of the crowds.”
Where does he go to avoid crowds?
“New Hope Overlook, at Jordan Lake,” he says. “The trail is about as long as Company Mill [a popular Umstead trail], about five and three-quarter miles, but it’s got a lot less roots and rocks.” He reserves that hike for mid-fall, in part for the great color along the lake, in part because there’s no longer a $6 entry fee beginning in October.
Most of our hikers focused on the macro — the waterfalls, the expansive views. But pay close attention and you’ll never know what you’ll see at trail’s edge.
Jon saw purple mushrooms with white polka dots on a recent trip to the Nantahala National Forest. Thomas, a Facebook responder, saw a bear on a June trip on the Appalachian Trail. And on a recent Sunday hike at Umstead, Raleigh hiker Craig Jarvis saw nature in action.
“I’ve been hiking, running & biking in Umstead for 20 years now,” says Jarvis, “but today is the first time that I’ve seen a snake catch a fish. Right out of Sycamore Creek. That was amazing.”
“The lesson,” he adds, noting the more relaxed pace of his form of adventure that Sunday, “hiking is best.”
As part of our GetHiking! program, which we introduced last week and will launch Sept. 12, we’re spending August extolling the virtues of hiking in North Carolina. Today, a look at some of the most notable trails in the state.
There’s a moment in Jay Leutze’s “Stand Up That Mountain,” his first-hand account of the battle to save a mountain from strip mining in western North Carolina, where the clued-in reader knows that if Leutze can make one thing happen, the mountain will be saved. Leutze is trying to get a group of key decision makers to hike a stretch of the Appalachian Trail from which they’ll be able to appreciate the potential scenic (and thus, legal) damage the mine will cause. The hike is to Hump Mountain.
Hump Mountain sits on the AT, on the North Carolina/Tennessee line between Carver’s Gap and U.S. 19E. It’s a 13.7-mile stretch that begins, from Carver’s Gap, with three open balds (Round, Jane and Grassy Ridge), tucks into a tight grove of alder, passes through three gaps and climbs 5,459-foot Little Hump Mountain before cresting 5,587-foot Hump Mountain. One late summer afternoon in 2009 I climbed the exposed Hump Mountain, took in the 360-degree view and decided to stay a while. Sitting on my pack facing southwest into Tennessee, I started counting the ridgelines that disappeared into the horizon: Big Ridge, Hampton Creek Ridge, Heaton Creek Ridge, Heaton Ridge … I got up to seven ridges, squinted, and made out one more. There was the lightest of Southern Appalachian hazes, a gentle breeze helping visibility. For much of that 360 degrees, including in the direction of “Stand Up’s” nemesis Putnam Mine, the only sign of man visible was the trail I’d hiked in on. I declared it the most visually stunning spot in the state. And I knew that if Leutze could pull his hike together, the Putnam Mine would be doomed.
Such a declaration of scenic superiority did not come lightly. Hump Mountain and the 13.7-mile stretch of the AT it resides on have plenty of competition in North Carolina.
Prior to Hump Mountain, Shining Rock got my vote for best scenery. The wilderness and adjoining national forest certainly gets it for most diverse scenery. There’s the eerie passage through Graveyard Fields and the lasting impact of two devastating forest fires from a century ago. The run of waterfalls along Yellowstone Prong from Graveyard Fields and on down the East Fork of the Pigeon River. The rugged climbs up the east flank of the Balsam Mountains and the narrow ridgeline passage along the Shining Rock Ledge. There’s the scrambling atop the white quartz of Shining Rock, the passage through stands of black balsam, the three peaks above 6,000 feet. Most notable are the miles of open passage accessed by the Ivestor Gap and Art Loeb trails. Proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway gives easy access to the southern edge of Shining Rock, miles of trail, unmarked in the wilderness itself, assure the likelihood of solitary travels.
Says Backpacker.com: “Dense rhododendrons, unmarked trails, and a knee-pounding 2,000-foot descent to its namesake river are par for the course in Linville Gorge. The reward? The wildest beauty in the Southeast.” Enter from the southeast edge of the 13-mile gorge and after a short but stout climb up Shortoff Mountain the trail eases as it follows the eastern rim north past The Chimneys, a popular rock climbing area, and Table Rock Mountain’s great views. Less than a mile beyond, Spence Ridge Trail offers the most civil access into the gorge and the lone footbridge across the Linville River. The trails here are neither marked nor maintained (officially, at least). Again, as Backpacker.com says, some of the wildest beauty in the Southeast.
Like the Appalachian Trail, like Shining Rock and like the Linville Gorge, the Black Mountain Crest Trail offers intensely challenging hiking and scenic reward. But it also offers novices a chance to sample the experience. The Black Mountain Crest Trail’s southern trailhead is in Mount Mitchell State Park. The park may be home to the highest peak east of South Dakota’s Black Hills (6,684-foot Mount Mitchell), but it’s also home to a restaurant, gift shop and a paved road that goes to within a couple hundred feet of the summit. From the parking lot, the novice can challenge himself or herself to hike the one mile north to Mount Craig, a fellow member of the 6,000-foot club. The more experienced hiker can continue another 12 miles on the Crest Trail to Bowlen’s Creek on a path that sometimes requires the use of anchored climbing rope to negotiate. In summer, a machete isn’t a bad idea, either.
If you’ve been to Grandfather Mountain but have never been past the swinging bridge, then you haven’t been to Grandfather Mountain. Forget the visitor center and gift shop: trails, both around three miles in length, lead to the crest from both the mountain’s east flank (Daniel Boone Scout Trail) and west (Profile Trail). Both tap into the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail, which follows the spine of Grandfather Mountain, where the harshest weather in North Carolina has been recorded — including a 200-mile wind gust in 2006. You can spend a full day hiking this 2.4-mile stretch, climbing ladders, scooting across rock slabs with the aid of cables, climbing a chimney littered with car-size boulders. Wild, wild stuff.
What’s remarkable about Umstead? It’s a 5,700-acre forest located in the heart of the nation’s 49th largest metro area. Hikers, bikers and runners start arriving at Umstead around 5:30 every morning (the park officially opens at 8 a.m.) and some don’t leave until well after the park rangers have switched off the “Welcome” sign for the evening. Umstead gets 1.2 million visitors a year, many of whom are drawn to the park’s 20 miles of hiking trail. Take a short hike on the Sal’s Branch, Pott’s Branch or Oak Rock trails (all under three miles), or explore the interior of the park on the Company Mill (5.8 miles) or Sycamore trails (7.2 miles) trails. The Piedmont hardwood forest at Umstead has been recovering from agricultural use since the 1930s and has matured quite nicely.
Croatan National Forest. A 20-mile hike through a coastal forest may not be something you care to do in July — unless you’re good at outrunning various forms of flying and slithering varmints — but it is a true treat in winter. Especially intriguing is the northernmost 6.7 miles, from NC 306 to the northern trailhead in the Pine Cliff Recreation Area. This stretch of trail takes in a beach along the Neuse River (2.5 miles wide at this point), a typical coastal pine savannah and a not-so-typical encounter with galax and holly, flora more commonly associated with the Southern Appalachians. You’ll also pass some great local history: long-abandoned stills are visible every so often.
In the Triangle you don’t need to look far. Here’s a rundown of 25 trails and trail networks in the region totaling 275 miles. All are natural surface trails (with the exception of part of the American Tobacco Trail); they range in length from less than a mile to 60 miles.
1. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area I 20 miles
Mostly short trails in and around beaches and camping areas (some of the latter are restricted to registered campers); New Hope area has loops of 5.5 and 2.7 miles.
Little Creek loop offers green hiking year-round, Raven Rock loop takes in the 150-foot bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River, and the 5-mile Campbell Creek loop offers a nice escape from park’s more visited trails.
19. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, Cary | 3 miles
Best-tended trail in the Triangle, the three loops comprising the trail network are mulch-covered and hiker friendly — though you will find a stout climb or two. Hike in the mountains through the park’s anomalous hemlock stand, hike (on boardwalk) through a coastal swamp.
23. Umstead State Park, Raleigh | 20 miles of hiking trail, 13 miles of bike & bridle trail
Popular 5,700-acre state park in the heart of the Triangle. Don’t let the crowded parking lots cow you; get much more than a mile from the trailheads of 5.8-mile Company Mill Trail and 7.2-mile Sycamore Trail and the crowds diminish significantly.
24. American Tobacco Trail, Wake, Chatham, Durham counties | 22 miles
In fact, only the southernmost 6 miles of the ATT, in Wake County, are natural surface. The 4.5 miles through Chatham County is a mix of natural surface and pavement, while most of the Durham County stretch is paved. The spine of the Triangle’s trail system.
Sometime in the next week or two, it will happen. Maybe you’ll be walking to your car one morning and a gentle breeze will send an unexpected chill up your arm. Perhaps you’ll be leaving work and notice the light has changed, that the shadows extend farther than they did the day before. Or one afternoon you’ll notice that the sky seems especially crisp, the air noticeably drier.
You’ll experience one of these things and experience something else.
After a long summer of 90/90s — 90 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity — you’ll get your first sign that fall and its enticing weather are on the way. A sign that soon it will be safe to leave your climate-controlled world and return to a land where gentle breezes and crisp light and dry air have a way of rejuvenating the soul like processed air just can’t.
There’s no better way to experience this rejuvenation of fall than on a hiking trail. And there are few places better to enjoy a day on the trail than in North Carolina. Allow us a moment to make our case.
Living in the population center of the state, in the arc running through the rolling Piedmont from Charlotte northeast to the Triad and across to the Triangle then down to Fayetteville, you have access to some of the best urban hiking around. In the Triangle, you might be content with Umstead State Park, a 5,700-acre preserve smack in the center of it all that last year gave escape to nearly 1.2 million visitors. With 21 miles of hiking trail and another 13 miles of multiuse trail, Umstead offers quick, easy escape. Likewise Eno River State Park in and around Durham. That park’s 28 miles of trail takes hikers on a variety of escapes, some of which make you feel you’ve been transported to the mountains.
And there’s more. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through the northern Triangle, spending 60 miles along the southern banks of Falls Lake, making it one of the longest urban hiking trails in the country. The MST will soon extend an additional 14 miles to the west and another 32 miles east (the latter on paved greenway). Soon, you’ll be able to walk from Clayton in Johnston County west to near Hillsborough in Orange County.
In the Triad, you have Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain state parks. Still in the Piedmont, both parks offer a taste of the mountains, with elevations exceeding 2,500 feet. To the south, a national forest, the Uwharrie, offers another taste of alpine hiking.
Charlotte has Crowders Mountain State Park and quick access to our second argument for why North Carolina is a hiking heaven: the Southern Appalachians. The stellar hiking of our high country greets you at the Blue Ridge Escarpment, an impressive rise that should feel like a foreboding rampart but instead offers a welcoming and memorable introduction thanks to Stone Mountain State Park, Doughton Park, Wilson Creek, Linville Gorge and Graybeard Mountain, among other venues. Just beyond, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail rims 300 miles of the escarpment. Beyond that you’ll find the hiking responsible for North Carolina’s reputation.
Between them, the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests cover more than a billion acres of western North Carolina. The Shining Rock Wilderness, much of it between 5,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation, is one of the few exposed areas of the mountains and thus offers some of North Carolina’s best views. In the Black Mountains, you’re on top of the East Coast, with elevations approaching 6,700 feet, the highest east of South Dakota’s Black Hills and with terrain more appropriate for a northern boreal forest than one in the Southern Appalachians. In the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest you’ll be hiking in one of the best stands of virgin forest in the East, on the 100-mile Bartram Trail you’ll be walking in the footsteps of botanist William Bartram, one of the first and most comprehensive chroniclers of the southeast in the late 1700s, and in the Great Smoky Mountains you’ll walk through some of the best forest in the country, period.
So many great opportunities. Which makes living in North Carolina and not being a hiker akin to being a fish but not knowing how to swim.
We’d like to change that.
We’d like to take you non-hikers and occasional hikers, throw you into the pool and make bonafide hikers out of you.
Introducing GetHiking! Starting in early September — once those arm-cooling breezes and crisp, clear skies become more commonplace — we’re going to conduct weekly guided hikes. The hikes will be lead by Joe Miller, through our ongoing partnership with his adventure living blog, GetGoingNC.com Joe is no stranger to hiking, having written “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina” and “Backpacking North Carolina.” He’s also familiar with coaching hiking, as the lead coach for the Ultimate Hike’s Triangle chapter.
We’ll provide more details on the GetHiking! program over the next couple of weeks. The only thing you’ll need to bring to the program is a good pair of hiking shoes or boots and a sprit of adventure. We’ll provide the guidance, direction and more.
In the meantime, check out the accompanying slide show of some of our favorite places to hike in North Carolina. To whet your appetite further, here’s a list of venues mentioned in today’s post with a quick description and a link for more information.
We’ll be back next week with more details.
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Listed in order of appearance in today’s post:
Umstead State Park, Raleigh. 5,700-acre forest in the heart of the Triangle, with 21 miles of dedicated hiking trail and another 13 miles of multiuse trail.
Eno River State Park, Orange and Durham counties. 28 miles of trail in this linear park, which runs from Guess Road in Durham west to just east of Hillsborough.
Mountains-to-Sea Trail, statewide, passing through the Triangle along the Eno River, Falls Lake and the Neuse River. More than 100 miles of this trail is finished through the Triangle, including 60 miles of intimate, natural surface trail along Falls Lake.
Hanging Rock State Park, north of Greensboro. More than 18 miles of trail, nestled in the Piedmont but with the waterfalls, rock outcrops, cliffs and elevation you’d associate with the mountains.
Pilot Mountain State Park, northwest of Winston-Salem. Like Hanging Rock, part of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. About 25 miles of trail, some open to horses, with lots of great views.
Uwharrie National Forest, southwest of Asheboro. Often pitched as North Carolina’s Central Park, the Uwharries feature the 20-mile Uwharrie National Recreation Trail and the 7.2-mile Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Loop.
Crowders Mountain State Park, west of Charlotte. Numerous hiking trails centered around two ridges. One trail links the park with parks in South Carolina.
Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway. Perhaps the best hiking along the Blue Ridge escarpment, with hiking through open meadows up top, hiking through wild forest on down the mountain.
Wilson Creek, Morganton. Nearly 50,000 acres of mostly rock and water, well accessed by trail.
Linville Gorge Wilderness, / Linville. Described by some as the wildest spot in the East, this 2,000-foot-deep gorge is accessed by several steep trails and the 13-mile Linville Gorge Trail, which follows, or tries to, the Linville River.
Graybeard Mountain, Montreat. A surprisingly challenging 7-plus mile loop trail through a surprisingly verdant forest.
In 2010, Cory Richards put his name in the American alpine record books by becoming the first American climber to summit and 8,000-meter peak in winter. His climbing party’s summit celebration atop 8035-meter Gasherbrum II in Pakistan was subdued and short-lived, based on a healthy respect for the mountain and the season, and the fact that the summit is only the mid-point in a successful climb. Richards and climbing partners Simone Moro and Dennis Urubko saved the real celebration for after they miraculously survived an avalanche on the descent. This past May, the 30-year-old Boulder, Colo.-based climber and photographer had another scare when, as part of a National Geographic/North Face team attempting to summit Mount Everest via the West Shoulder, he began experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath and had to be helicoptered off the mountain at 23,000 feet.
Richards will be in Raleigh Oct. 10 speaking on “Both Sides of the Lens” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. He’ll talk about his life as a climber and as an award-winning photographer as part of the North Face Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series. We caught up with Richards on assignment in the Crimea — “shooting and climbing a North Face expedition … . Big limestone walls above the Black Sea…amazing” — where he discussed growing up, dropping out of high school and the ironic situation that caused his evacuation from Mount Everest.
- – - – - Great Outdoor Provision Co: You credit your parents with instilling an appreciation of the outdoors in you and your brother. Could you talk a little about your upbringing, about climbing with your dad, about where you grew up? Cory Richards: We actually “grew up” in Salt Lake City. My brother and I were tremendously lucky to have parents that made us fit into their lifestyle vs. adjusting it to fit our needs. If they wanted to go backpacking, then we were expected to be a part of that…it was a theme that started before we could think and just carried on through. Dave [my brother] and I didn’t know any other way. In the summer, it was going climbing/backpacking in the WInd Rivers of Wyoming or the Unitas in Utah, in the winters it was school and skiing on the weekends. We didn’t really have a choice — and I am thankful for that. I started climbing when I was 5. We have some amazing family photos of me tied up in a makeshift swami-belt about as tall as my dad’s thigh. Those experiences slowly led to others. Some of them saw us benighted under boulders because my brother and I were too slow to get up and off a climb in a day, which of course would send my mom into random fits of panic when her three boys didn’t make it back to camp at night. It was those experiences, however, the standouts and the stories, that ended up taking root in me and steering me towards the path I’m on now. My parents believed that the best education could be found under and on top of rocks, in skinned knees, and cold fingers …and I’m very thankful for that.
- – - – - GOPC: There’s a current reexamination of the importance of higher education in this country; the Thiel Fellowships, for instance, are targeted to kids who don’t pursue higher ed but go directly into working on their passion. You dropped out of high school: Could you talk a little about that, about what was going on with you at the time and how that decision has helped shape you as a climber, a photographer and a person? CR: I ended up in a high school setting two years early, meaning I was 12 going to school with 18 year olds. I think my personality naturally gravitated towards the social aspects vs. continuing to focus on the classroom. Over the following two years, I attended three different high schools and finally dropped out altogether at 14. Four years of mostly bad choices followed until my uncle finally persuaded me to try to go back to school. My SAT scores were pretty bad as I had spent the better part of my teenage years partying and making a mess of myself.
Thankfully, I can write reasonably well, and I used that skill set to put together an essay for a small school in Montana. For whatever reason, they took a chance. Bottom line, I have made a tremendous amount of poor choices in my life, some very hurtful to family, friends and acquaintances — and I am very lucky that anyone in my family still talks to me and I am thankful for every friend I have. Oddly enough, I think it was largely those poor choices that led me to the career I have now.
The combination of climbing and skiing as a child that eventually brought me back to the outdoors, and photography was a creative outlet for telling that story, the story of struggle both internal and external, which I need. There is some darkness in me that art helps channel. Adventure photography is just a way to go beat myself up while telling the story visually. I love mountains — they put you in your place.
But truthfully, I am more lucky than talented. Professionally, if I surround myself with talented capable people and make myself the weakest link, I know exactly how strong the chain is. It’s a way of gauging exactly how far I can push myself as both an athlete and photographer in the mountains. I rely heavily on the people I work with to bring out the best in me. Conversely, I am an open book and source for them: it’s a give and take. While the decision to drop out was made in foggy haste, and the darkness that followed was nothing if not a struggle, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
Those years taught me to endure and to thrive when things are, well, hard. That has carried over into my athleticism as well as my art. I could never tell a student what they should do. But what I can say is that the idea that you can do anything IS true. That said, if you choose the road less traveled, you’ll have to work harder than anyone else around you.
- – - – - GOPC: You’ve been climbing since you were a kid; when and how did you get into photography? Are you entirely self-trained? CR: After going to school in Montana for a year and a half, I moved to Salzburg, Austria, through the study abroad program. It was there, at Salzburg College, that I met and began studying under Andrew Phelps. Andrew was the one who ultimately pushed me in the direction of photography. It was interesting, though, the last thing he said to me after a year of studying with him was, “Remember that photography is only what you do, not who you are.” I’ve tried to carry that into all things that I do, including climbing. I’m not self trained, but my formal schooling was limited.
After Salzburg, I moved to Seattle where I went to school for another year until one of my instructors actually urged me to drop out and just start working as an assistant. I did, and subsequently spent seven years assisting fashion, saving the money I earned to go on climbing trips and other random adventures. I worked for a guy named Bill Cannon for most of that time. He was very hard on me, but he gave me a work ethic and he eventually ended up as groomsman in my wedding — my 65-year-old groomsman.
- – - – - GOPC: Whenever we see a close-up photo of a climber glued to sketchy wall, our first thought is, “There’s another guy there doing essentially the same thing — with a camera.” How does that work, and what are the biggest challenges you face climbing and shooting? CR: The greatest challenge is not the athletic part…it’s the balance of knowing when to be an athlete and when to be a photographer. And furthermore, when to be a child, brother, friend, and husband. Sure it’s hard to get in position at times, and it’s hard to anticipate and be ahead of the game as it unfolds. But honestly, it’s the life balance that is hardest. That is what the Speaker Series presentation is all about…being on both sides of the lens. On the one hand, knowing both sides allows you to understand them more intimately, but on the other, it demands a constant immersion. Finding the balance is the key. It’s a vital part of the journey and the balance is constantly redefining itself.
- – - – - GOPC: Have you figured out what happened to you on Everest in April? How long did it take you to recover? Was that the worst physical problem you’ve had in the mountains? CR: Everest was a massive ego check, and one that I needed. Oddly enough, I over-heated. I had a heat stroke on the highest mountain in the world — isn’t that the best cosmic joke of them all? But more importantly, that heat stroke triggered something more acute. Basically, I had taken on too much, said yes to too many people, and was trying to climb the hardest route of my life, and the bottom just fell out. I couldn’t sustain the pace or the pressure and the heat-stroke triggered a full-on release of that stress. There seems to be an expectation — a myth — that alpine climbers are impervious to fear and stress. It’s just not true. Everyone experiences both of those things on a somewhat constant basis while in the mountains, and for me, they boiled over. But I don’t want to give away too much. Otherwise, the event won’t be as fun!
- – - – - GOPC: In 2011 you became the first American to summit an 8,000 meter peak in winter, which resulted in your documentary, “Cold.” Grayson Schaffer’s piece in Outside did a great job of depicting your harrowing descent from the summit and the sense of foreboding that tempered your celebration at the top. I think most people, especially non-climbers, think you pop open champaign at the summit, party for a few minutes, then open a backdoor and are magically back at base camp. Can you explain what a summit is really like, how you really feel and what’s going through your mind at the time? CR: Most of the time, when you are that extended, your mind is fairly vacuous. Alpine climbing is hard work. Alpine climbing at 8,000 meters is really hard work. Your actions are a reduction of necessity and she you get to the top, you may cry a bit, you may collapse and lay still for a moment, but in general, you are numb. The summit is a halfway point and not a place for celebration — after all, it doesn’t matter if you make it to the top if you don’t make it down. There is an awesome quote from Alex Lowe, the father of The North Face team, that says “Going up is optional, but coming down is mandatory.” There is a muted sense of joy that exists but can only be experienced to it’s fullest when we are down safely. Often times, getting down is the hardest part.
- – - – - GOPC: What’s your next big expedition? CR: Antarctica. It’ll be my seventh continent, and I’m very very excited.
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“Both Sides of the Lens,” Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series
Who: Cory Richards, climber and photographer
When: Oct. 10, 7 p.m.
Where: Main Auditorium, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 W. Jones Street, Raleigh
Cost: $20, including exclusive VIP reception at 6 p.m., $8 for reserved seat, free for general attendance (based on availability). Proceeds benefit the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
For tickets, go here
It began in 1949 when Warren Miller, then a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, bought an 8 mm film camera and decided to make a little movie about life on the slopes. The finished product went over well with the folks who saw it in local halls and theaters, so he made another the following year. And so on and so on, a ritual that continues 63 years later, with the company Miller created (and left in 2004) still producing one greatly anticipated feature-length ski flick a year.
The genre Miller essentially created has, over the last 20 years, expanded greatly. An explosion of photogenic adventure pursuits — led by whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, bouldering, mountain biking, snowboarding and skateboarding — has provided the material, a similar explosion in sophisticated video technology available on the cheap has provided the means for aspiring dirtbag directors to load their buddies into the microbus and head to the gnarliest whitewater, the steepest drops, the most impossible routes to nab a few minutes of jaw-dropping footage.
The result: film festivals such as the Radical Reels Tour 2012, a collection of 11 short films representing the best action sport films to come out of the celebrated Banff Mountain Film Festival. This is the ninth annual Radical Reels Tour and will air Sept. 6 in Chapel Hill at the Varsity Theater and Sept. 7 at the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem.
The films, ranging in length from four to 22 minutes, cover a variety of pursuits: skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, freeride mountain biking, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. As you might guess from having seen similar shorts (or extreme videos on You Tube) the people behind the lens are often every bit as involved in the filming as the stars themselves.
Rush Sturges, for example, is the force behind “Frontier,” a 20-minute ode to whitewater kayaking around the globe. Sturges grew up on the Salmon River, won the Junior World Championships of freestyle kayaking in 2003 and continues to compete professionally — when he’s not on the river filming for his River Roots studio, which produced “Frontier.” (Or when he’s not performing adventure-themed hip-hop under the name AdrenalineRush).
Darrell Miller is a veteran of the modern ski filmmaking industry, best known for shooting in his native Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His “Miller’s Thriller: Ski BASE” focuses on the extreme of extreme skiing — ski BASE jumping, and also includes some vintage footage dating back to the early 1990s (older skiers will be reminded of how much has changed in just 20 years).
One of the more curious entries comes from bobsled-track-skateborder-for-hire Danny Strasser, a German whose 7-minute-long “Concrete Dreams” is basically him longboarding down some of Europe’s more renowned “bobtracks.” As his press notes note, “Bobtrack downhill skateboarding is a sport that didn’t actually exist— until Danny Strasser … .” Riveting for the first couple minutes, not so much for the last five.
Mountain bikers will like the collaborative work of The Coastal Crew and Anthill Films, the latter of which has compiled some of the best and most diverse fat tire footage around.
You’ll get a taste of the self-indulgence that occasionally infuses today’s adventure shorts (“Here We Go Again,” “Cat Skiing”) as well as a hilarious sendup of the same in Bill Donavan’s “Narsicame,” which salutes the work of the Narsicame Institute for Healing in its tireless effort to help the Hero cam addicted point the camera toward subjects other than themselves.
And there’s the topical. “Reel Rock: Race for the Nose,” winner of the Radical Reels People’s Choice Award takes a look at speed climbing, specifically Hans Florine and Dean Potter’s competition to be the fastest to scale Yosemite’s El Capitan. (The current record to ascend the 3,000-foot wall: 2 hours, 37 minutes, 5 seconds.) At 22 minutes, it’s the longest film in the Radical Reels collection and the one that passes quickest as it explores the ego and insanity of the anything-goes sport of speed climbing.
Eleven films, more than a half dozen disciplines, 109 minutes of total footage — coming September 6 and 7 to a theater near you (provided you live in the Triangle or Triad).
Radical Reels showings
Thursday, September 6 – Chapel Hill, NC
Doors 6:30 / Show 7:00 Varsity Theater
123 East Franklin Street Tickets: $15 “Pre-Sale” special at the Chapel Hill Eastgate GOPC; $17 online or at box office
Friday, September 7 – Winston Salem, NC
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM Hanesbrands Theatre
209 North Spruce St. Tickets: $15 “Pre-Sale” special at the Winston-Salem Thruway GOPC; $17 online or at box office
Radical Reels lineup
All.I.Can: Perseverance (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)
Directed by: Dave Mossop, Eric Crosland
Produced by: Malcolm Sangster, Eric Crosland
Awards: Best Feature-length Mountain Film, Sponsored by Town of Banff
Quick hit: Mellow environmental theme in this pean to the beauty and beastliness of skiing. Features the usual ski bum suspects, as well as 76-year-old Mary Woodward, who skis 100-plus days a year and scoffs at anything that doesn’t involve deep powder.
Quick hit: Snowboarders, including Travis Rice, spend more time flying over the snow than plowing through it. Includes a guy riding the cables of a ski lift, as well as lots of high-def, slo-mo footage.
Produced and directed by: Darren Rayner, Callum Jelley, Mason Mashon
Quick hit: Pretty much 7 minutes of Danny Strasser skateboarding (on a longboard) some of the more renowned “bobtracks” (“bobsled runs,” for the uninitiated) of Europe. Much of the footage shows Strasser grabbing his butt — understandably. Raises the question: How does he stop? Or even slow down?
From the Inside Out (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)
Quick hit: Mountain bikers will love this look at freeriding in British Columbia and elsewhere, starting with how a trail is carved through a dense Pacific Northwest forest, then on to the riding. They make it look so easy!
Quick hit: Includes jaw-dropping footage of whitewater kayakers frolicking in big, ugly water, of course, but also some insight into why these guys do what they do and how they do it. It’s like “solving a puzzle” one kayaker offers.
Here We Go Again (custom edit for the Radical Reels Tour)
Quick hit: You no doubt know this person, you may well be this person: he/she (but more than likely “he”) can’t make a move on his bike/board/boat without documenting it on his Hero cam. This 4-minute public service announcement from the Narsicame Institute for Healing may be the first step toward ignoring the flashing red light.
Reel Rock: Race for the Nose
Produced & directed by: Nick Rosen, Peter Mortimer
Quick hit: It is perhaps the craziest type of competition in the adrenal arts: speed climbing. Especially when it comes to the likes of trying to be the fastest up the 3,000-vertical-foot Nose route of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. This film looks specifically at the competition between Hans Florine and Dean Potter’s ego as they attempt to break the current record of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 5 seconds. As one observer in the film notes: “Anything goes, pulling on gear, stepping on somebody … .”
Quick hit: Six elite kayakers participate in a six-stage competition on some of the biggest, widest, tallest, roiliest whitewater around. Some fun footage as well, such as an overhead shot of gull in the foreground that appears to be pacing one of the paddlers below.
Written by Sean Oakley, Footwear Expert at Charlotte GOPC
Running has always been a somewhat selfish venture for me. Whether for stress relief, health reasons or just to get outdoors, it has always been a very personal endeavor. Inspired by the recent record setting run on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail by Diane Van Deren – which she used to help raise money and awareness to help complete the trail – I have sought out ways to use my passion for running to help others.
Great Outdoor Provision Co. has been outfitting and sponsoring the Extreme Hike for the Cure of Cystic Fibrosis for the past several years. I have personally outfitted hikers for the two previous events, and in doing so made loose promises that I would one day participate – perhaps even run it. The passion and excitement the people I met had for finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis was contagious. As they pointed out to me, we all probably know someone who suffers from CF. I indeed found out a few months ago that they were correct – two very close old friends of mine in Raleigh have a beautiful daughter who was born with Cystic Fibrosis.
CF is inherited and affects the digestive system and lungs. Lung infections are common and life threatening, and the body has increased difficulty breaking down and absorbing food. The good news is that there are many incredibly motivated people searching for a cure, and thanks to the CF Foundation, they are getting much needed funds. The Extreme Hike is one fundraiser that has been very successful at getting money raised and into the right hands. A majority of the drugs that help folks live longer with CF were funded by the CF Foundation. But there is no cure yet, so more money is needed.
Originally started by three friends in 2009 as a way to get outdoors and raise funds for CF research, the Extreme Hike has grown tremendously in the past three years. It has expanded to include hikes in Massachusetts and the hope is to set one up out west as well. The Appalachian Trail has been the setting for the two previous Extreme Hikes, and this fall marks the move to the Art Loeb Trail. Generally considered one of the most technical and difficult trails in our region, most hikers take on the 30.1 mile trail over 2-3 days. Some would say that the word “extreme” gets used a little too liberally – not on this hike! Fewer people have completed the Art Loeb in one day than have reached the summit of Everest. I have decided to up the ante and combine my love for trail running with this very well organized hike and attempt to run a majority of the trail – all to help raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis research.
The furthest distance I have ever run is a marathon, 26.2 miles. This run will push me into “ultra” territory, which is generally considered any run further than a marathon. My love for running is renewed, but my goals are far different than ever before. I am taking on a distance further than I have ever run on a trail, and more difficult than any I have traversed. But the training runs have gotten surprisingly easier – no amount of pain or exhaustion can keep me down for too long. I just need to remind myself that every day I wake up free of the ailments that CF sufferers face, and the next step I take becomes a lot lighter and easier.
If you would like to donate to the Extreme Hike for the Cure of CF, please donate here. Donations are tax deductible and can be made with credit card.
Please visit www.cff.org to learn more about the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Driving to the trailhead I wondered if we’d packed enough cold gear. Snow had been reported at Wilburn Ridge with an overnight low in the 20’s. My buddy and I have a crew of eight high school kids with a collective playlist of nearly 10K songs but did they pack enough insulation?
My concerns are dismissed once we reach Grayson Highlands. Our midnight arrival stirs a Park Ranger who provides an adequate shake-down of the party. She’s impressed to see a group of young people, 4 girls, 4 guys and two dads, out in the woods. She also cautions us to be careful – “Deer season opens tomorrow at sunrise.”
After finding gloves, hats and headlamps we hoist our packs and head north to connect with the Appalachian Spur Trail and over Wilburn Ridge. Our party carries a variety of packs – the majority being Osprey Packs. Two boys lead the way as they’ve hiked this area with their Scout Troop. The girls help with reading the map. Everyone is excited to get on the trail and enjoys the night hike experience. Jokes are passed down the line as we discuss who brought along a blaze orange vest and who brought the antlers.
I kid you not, a rifle shot awakens me just before dawn. Unable to return to sleep I decide to crawl out of a cozy MSR Carbon Reflex 2 and explore the area where we’d chosen to camp. The shelter was occupied when we passed it at 1am so we hiked a bit further before pitching our tents. The babbling of Big Wilson Creek has me digging out the Platypus Gravity Works (video demo here) as I do my best to appear non-deer-like making my way to the creek. Water filters as I fire up the MSR Pocket Rocket and take in the sunrise with a cup of coffee.
The next two days with the crew were great. These young people share a profound connection with this wilderness and each other. Away from our busy city life we can live in the moment – present and connected to the beauty all around. We talk about how the most difficult part of the trip is returning home. They want to do this again – soon – and bring along more friends. We all have a new sense of adventure – maybe it comes from the from the night hike, or stream crossing, or maybe from meeting the hunter who shared his story – but that sense of adventure remains with us long after we return home. Kids these days are eager to get outside and share that adventure with others. They are the next generation of conservationists and it was a privilege to join them on this trip.
Thanks to the folks at Outdoor Sports Marketing and my skillet carrying friend, Blake, who help to make this and many other Scout and Youth adventures possible.