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Archive for the 'Vacation' Category

10. The Appalachian Trail to Siler Bald

Monday, September 10th, 2007

We woke up Monday morning to find ourselves in a log cabin in the mountains. What a way to wake up! We took a few minutes to get up, and explored our surroundings.

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The front of the cabin (and my bicycle)

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The view from the gazebo in the back yard

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Inside the cabin

One thing Sarah and I wanted to do on our vacation was hike part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the hikes in the Franklin, NC area we had found took the Appalachian Trail up to Siler Bald (not to be confused with Siler’s Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), so we decided to do this hike. First, we stopped for breakfast at the Sunset Restaurant. We were probably the only ones under 50, and the place had a blue and yellow color scheme that was rather interesting and had Bible verses in the menu.

We enjoyed driving back into Franklin and seeing all the scenery we had missed in the darkness of night on our way to the cabin. We were surrounded by mountains and farms nestled into the mountains. This was an interesting area, because it was away from tourism; for the people who lived here, the mountains were just an everyday part of their lives. It was a very different way to experience the mountains.

We were also impressed with Franklin, it’s a very small town, but still has a fair number of restaurants and businesses, and the downtown area has an very quaint feel, with some shops with art by local artists and numerous other small, local businesses.  There were many signed bicycle routes through and around town. We didn’t take time to explore Franklin at this time, though, as we were anxious to hike up to Siler Bald.

Our map of Macon County proved useful once again, as the directions to the trailhead were a little unclear. Thanks to the map, we found it without too much difficulty.

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The trailhead was at this picnic area / White blaze indicating the Appalachian Trail

The hike was about two miles uphill, but it was very gradual climbing, for the most part. The trail surface wasn’t as rugged as the one at South Mountains State Park, but still had a lot of character.

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Creek crossing on the AT

It was warm, but not hot, especially compared to Charlotte. As we climbed, we noticed more and more of a breeze, and you could get a sense of the elevation through the trees, although you couldn’t see much at this point. Eventually, we reached a clearing and saw Siler Bald looming over us. This was the steep part of the climb, but the higher you went, the better the views. It was exhilarating, and very cool to be able to see further, since it was, you know, bald.image_37857132007826195147
Siler Bald looms before us

I went a little bit ahead of Sarah and got some shots of her hiking toward me. I think they turned out pretty cool, having her in the shots gives them more of a sense of scale.

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Sarah climbs Siler Bald

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We thought we were going to get rained on, as some dark clouds were overhead, and we even felt a few drops — but we were lucky. The clouds blew over without raining on us.

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It was a long way up …

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But it was also well worth the effort

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Weird split tree on top of Siler Bald

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View from the top
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Sarah on Siler Bald

The trip down was significantly easier, even though I like to claim that the trip down is harder than the trip up. Usually, that’s not the case — unless it’s extremely steep. It was great to hike on the AT and see Siler Bald. We didn’t see or hear any other people there. I was amazed that we had such an incredible mountain all to ourselves.

We contemplated going to nearby Wayah Bald, but decided against it. Someday, we’ll go back and check that out. Supposedly, there’s a lookout tower there, with unique views of its own.

9. How to find a remote cabin on a gravel road in the mountains at night, or: “Veer right where the old Citgo used to be”

Friday, September 7th, 2007

After hiking Whiteside Mountain, Sarah and I continued toward Franklin to find the cabin we had reserved for this night and the following night. The guy who owns the cabin had given us some directions, but we were having trouble figuring out from what direction he assumed we were coming. We stopped at a gas station and got some gas, beer for later (a semi-local extra pale ale from Atlanta, the name of which I’ve forgotten), and a map of Macon County, where Franklin is located. The map purchase ended up being a smart move, as we would have had a lot of difficulty finding the cabin without it. In fact, it also had bicycle routes marked on it, which would prove useful later on.

We decided to grab some food in Franklin before heading to the cabin, not having much of an idea how far it was, or how long it would take to find it. I was already nervous about finding it in the dark, and trying to get my 1996 Ford Taurus up the gravel road the owner said goes up the side of the mountain to the cabin. We almost got to a barbeque restaurant before it closed, but it was a little too late. We ended up eating McDonald’s, which was fine with me. We were hungry, and just glad to find some food.

By the time we got back on the road, it was completely dark. We found our way out of town to Highway 28, which is similar to 64 in its windiness and even joins with 64 for a while. It was a fun road to drive on, but in the dark, it was very challenging and a bit nerve-wracking. I got a lot better at driving on roads like this one over the course of the trip, but it was scary at first. We couldn’t really see the mountains, or much of anything, but we found ourselves pretty far out of town, in an area that felt very remote. This was what we wanted, but it was hard to find at night. We put in a Mercury Rev album, perfect for a warm summer night drive through unfamiliar country.

The directions got more obtuse, saying to veer right after Citgo station on the left. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but as we passed the landmarks on the map, and then something that looked like what the owner described, only with a BP station, we figured that must have been the turn we needed. It turned out to be the right road; apparently, the Citgo was turned into a BP station. I cracked a joke about the directions saying to “veer right where the old Citgo used to be,” referencing an 80s comedy (bonus points if you can guess the movie).

We followed this road which I believe was Cowee Creek Road (there were also Cowee Valley Road, Cowee Vista Road, Cowee Lane, and other variants) and came to the Cherokee Ruby Mine. We turned left on the gravel road there as instructed, drove over a creek, and the road became very steep, went through several 180-degree switchbacks, and eventually came to the driveway to the cabin. After making that probably 150-degree turn, we drove up the driveway and saw the cabin!

The Taurus had performed admirably in conditions it wasn’t designed to handle. I was impressed. The cabin stood before us, illuminated only by the headlights of the car, but it looked impressive to my eyes. It was a real, honest-to-goodness log cabin. I sort of expected a quaint, small house that was only actually a cabin in name, but this was the real deal, as far as we could tell. We found the key under the mat, as promised.

We got inside and were even more impressed. The cabin had one large room that functioned as living room/dining room/kitchen, a loft, a bathroom, and one bedroom. The bedroom and large room had window AC units, so we turned those on. It had been a long, hot day in an un-airconditioned car. We had to turn on the circuit breaker to the water heater.

We drank some beer and attempted to write in our journals before bed. It was really difficult to do, though, and we soon gave up and went to bed. We were anxious to see what the cabin actually looked like, the promised mountain view out the gazebo in back, and what the area looked like, but those things would have to wait until morning. There wasn’t enough light to see any of it.

7. US Highway 64; 8. Whiteside Mountain

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Saturday night, after hiking at South Mountains State Park, we headed back to Charlotte and got some German food for dinner. German food isn’t something I normally seek out, but I always enjoy it when I eat it, and this restaurant was particularly good. Sunday morning, we went to breakfast and Michael and Laurel gave us a brief car tour of Charlotte. We hadn’t seen any of Charlotte yet, so it was cool to get a tour, but I still didn’t get much of a sense of what it’s like there. Maybe next time, we can do some things in Charlotte.

Sunday afternoon, Sarah and I headed out to go to the cabin we rented in Franklin, NC. We were on interstates for about half of the way, but we got tired of that and really wanted to see the area more, so we ditched the interstate for U.S. Highway 64. This turned out to be an excellent choice, because it was the coolest road I had ever driven on, winding through mountains with a lot of switchbacks and sharp turns, ups and downs, and a whole lot of beautiful scenery along the way. In fact, it’s part of a scenic byway of some sort (I’ll have to look up exactly what) and followed a river for a long while, also going near many waterfalls. This route took a lot longer than the interstate would have, but it was so much better that it was well worth it.

Shortly after passing through Highlands, NC, which seemed to have a huge golf resort, we happened to a sign for the Whiteside Mountain trail, which we had on our list of possible hikes in the Franklin area. We decided to stop and hike it right then. This would probably mean trying to find the cabin in the dark, which concerned me, but I wanted a break from driving, and this was probably the only way we could fit in a hike on Sunday.

Whiteside Mountain wasn’t the longest hike, or the most difficult hike, but it turned out to be our favorite hike of the whole trip. It’s about a 2-mile loop, and the description we read said that it was a little better to go up the steeper way and come back down on the more gradual part of the trail. So that’s what we decided to do. It was fairly steep, with rocky sections and steps through part of it, but it wasn’t too bad.

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Sarah on the Whiteside Mountain trail

After climbing for a while, we found ourselves at an overlook with a rock surface onto which I climbed a bit.

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Rock wall on Whiteside Mountain. I climbed out for a better view.

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The view from the wall

As we were admiring and photographing the view and I was on the rock wall, Sarah dropped her camera bag. It rolled a bit down the mountain. I climbed back down from the wall and found a good path to her camera case, and retrieved it. We continued hiking, and saw a small trail going off to the right. We followed it and found another overlook, with a place you could go out onto the rocky face of the mountain. We worked our way out there and took a break, drinking some water and sharing a granola bar.

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Sarah at the second overlook

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Sarah, by the edge

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View from the second overlook

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A rock “face”

We went back to the main trail, hiked some more, and saw another side trail. There were probably 5-7 of these overlooks, and each one had a significantly different view. Here are some more photos from the other overlooks.

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The coolest thing about these overlooks was that on most of them, you could go right out to the edge of the mountain, with no railings or anything like that. You had to be careful, but these were some of the most spectacular views of our entire trip. Not only that, the feeling of being on top of the world, and being right on the edge, is incredible.

The hike down the side of the mountain was pretty easy, part of it taking an old road. Supposedly, there used to be a post office at the top where you could mail postcards to people. That sounds convenient, but I was glad it wasn’t like that. We only saw a few other people during this hike. It was our mountain.

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