I didn’t have a lot of free time in 2015 to get out on the trail for various reasons. Without much notice I ended up driving my wife to a conference near Charlotte NC, and I had the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in the Shining Rock Wilderness. I arrived Thursday night and spent it in the Mt Pisgah campground as I forgot to pack my bear canister (required in Shining Rock now) in my rush to get ready. A quick trip in the morning to Asheville and I had a new BV500 to add to my gear list (figured I would get the larger one for future trips as I already had a BV450) and was on the trail by 10am. I usually hang my food and prefer not to mess with a canister, but like to follow the rules if I happen to be in those areas.
Friday was fantastic weather – mid 60s to 70s and fine views from Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain. This section gets totally overrun on the weekends, but there were few people out on Friday morning.
It’s been 20 years since I did the Art Loeb Trail and I quickly remembered why it is so popular. The views are excellent – some of the best in the southeast. This has taken its toll on the trail though, as I don’t remember the rutted out sections from all the traffic that make you feel a couple of feet shorter. That issue is quickly washed away by the beauty of the trail both long distance and close up.
I anticipated crowds on the trail Friday but saw no one. I always enjoyed this part of the Art Loeb heading toward the Shining Rock, because it is not often you get to see your goal at each peak along the way (at least in the southeastern forests). Tough to see in the first photo, but the Shining Rock is in all of them.
After taking an afternoon break on the Shining Rock, I decided to stay off the Art Loeb as it would get more crowded on Friday night and headed down to Beech Spring Gap for a quiet night. The Rock is not on the Art Loeb Trail by the way…a common misconception as it is just off the trail toward the northeast. As rain threatened, I took an early camp near a spring that is shown on the USGS map, and had a chance to air out the sleeping bag before a few rain showers came in.
After searching through brush for 30 minutes, I found the spring dry so changed up my menu for the evening to last until the next water break (I always carry extra on the last haul of the day if water is in question).
After a restful night in my current favorite combo – the Lightheart Gear Solong 6, Feathered Friends Osprey UL30, and NEMO Astro Insulated Lite, I enjoyed a cup of coffee watching the light outline the forest nearby.
A quick water stop near Flower Knob the next morning and I was ready for the trail. As it was Saturday, I assumed the Art Loeb would be packed, so headed back along Ivestor Trail and saw no one all morning. The mist and clouds were rolling in today, which is some of my favorite walking weather. Still warm enough in the 50s to stay in a shirt but not sweat.
At Ivestor Gap, I ran into the suspected crowds – a day hiking group of scouts numbering around 30! Despite that, I decided to jump back onto the Art Loeb back over Tennent and Black Balsam as I love hiking in the clouds. This was the last photo I got before it rolled in a little thicker.
A nice lunch on Tennent without much company due to the weather, and finished up with a hot cup of coffee to get going again. As I had to pick up my wife early on Sunday, I decided to camp near the car and explore the Flat Laurel Creek area which I had never been to before. It seems pretty popular as there are a lot of campsites along the creek, but the cold snap must have kept some people away as it was pretty quiet.
Flat Laurel is a pretty stream that looks to have good trout potential for those interested, and its an easy walk in from the Black Balsam parking lot. Afternoon storms threatened, so I had the awning up for a while, then was able to sleep with a relatively unobstructed view as the clouds rolled away and the stars came out.
A quick cup of soup in the Caldera Sidewinder Ti-Tri took the edge off my appetite as I lazed around the “kitchen” (about 200 ft from my tent – it is bear country after all).
With nearby water to haul out and do dishes (well away from the stream). Dinner was my usual barley stew…the last night of the trip standard.
A last night on a way too short trip and a good night’s rest, then waking up to a cold morning to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in bed.
It was a chilly morning, which is my favorite weather and I enjoyed a brisk hike back to the Black Balsam parking lot.
Hopped to the car and was on time to pick up the better half and enjoy the company on the drive home. A nice way to spend a short weekend!