SHOOTING THE MOON
Last weekendís full moon was the largest in 18 years.† As it approached, it began to sound like it would be quite a spectacle.† I decided to take advantage of the opportunity with a weekend backpacking trip.† Unfortunately we had plans Saturday night.† My only option was to do the trip on Friday and Saturday.† The super moon was expected to occur on Saturday, but I figured it would still be impressive one night earlier.† It turns out that I was wrong in that regard, but more on that later.
Since the moon was the focal point of the trip, I wanted to camp somewhere with a good view of it.† I just so happens that Iíd been thinking about another backpacking trip to Cedar Rock, near the Pisgah Fish Hatchery outside of Brevard, NC.† Itís one of my favorite backcountry campsites, but I hadnít spent the night up there in years.† Cedar Rock offers many great views from its cliffs, including vistas to the west and east.† It would be the perfect place to see moonset and moonrise.
On Wednesday Bob J. decided to join me.† Since he was coming from a different direction, we made plans to meet at the Pisgah Ranger Station.† Our plan was to hike the Art Loeb Trail from the Davidson River Campground.† Weíd spend the night on Cedar Rock, before hiking out to the fish hatchery via Butter Gap on Saturday.† Along the way, I also hoped to check out a remote waterfall.
Bob and I met at the ranger station and shuttled my car over to the Fish Hatchery.† Luckily it is still possible to drive there.† The road beyond the Fish Hatchery is currently closed to all uses, including hiking.† Several other roads in the area, including Avery Creek and Yellow Gap, are also closed.† From there, we took Bobís car down to the Art Loeb Trailhead at the Davidson River.
It was after 11 when we finally hit the trail.† Weíd planned a later than normal start, since itís only about 7 Ĺ miles to Cedar Rock from Davidson River.† Early on we saw lots of joggers, dog walkers, and babies in strollers, as this first stretch of the Art Loeb is more of a greenway than a wilderness path.† Boone enjoyed the opportunity to play with a couple of other dogs though, and it wasnít long before we left the traffic behind.† We climbed out of the valley onto a less traveled stretch of trail and eventually reached the crest of Shut In Ridge.† Eventually we found a shady spot, where we stopped for an early lunch.† One pair of dayhikers passed us by while we were eating.† We wouldnít see anyone else for more than 24 hours.
On the ridge we passed a side trail marked with green and yellow ribbons.† I followed it for a few minutes as it descended to the south.† Initially I thought it might lead to a viewpoint, but the trail just kept going.† Eventually I gave up.† I have no idea where it leads, as it isnít shown on the map.
We reached a crossing of dirt Joel Branch Road, and I took Boone down to the creek for water.† The creek was flowing strong, which was good since it was the last water source we passed until we neared Cedar Rock.
We returned to the trail and continued up the ridge.† This part of the Art Loeb isnít terribly exciting, as there are no views and the forest is rather scrubby.† Before long we were all overheated, as it was unusually warm for the next to last day of winter.
Later we passed a loop trail heading back down to the campground, followed by another dirt road.† We did take one break at a dry campsite simply because there was a refreshing breeze in that particular spot.† We got moving rather quickly though, as we werenít making great time.† Bob really seemed to be struggling, largely because of the heat and the 5 month layoff since his last backpacking trip.† Anyone else who hiked that stretch of the Art Loeb last weekend mustíve been wondering what had left the odd tracks along the trail.† Not to worry, it wasnít from some mysterious animal - it was just from Bob dragging ass on the way up the mountain.
Later we passed the Cat Gap Loop Trail junction, which leads to John Rock and the Pisgah Fish Hatchery.† We continued on to Sand Gap though, and then down to the headwaters of one of the branches of Kuykendall Creek.† We loaded up on water here, as there are no water sources up on Cedar Rock.† I recently purchased a new filtration system, and it came in handy here.† To use it, I filled a 1 gallon plastic bladder with stream water. Once full, I hung the bladder on a branch and let gravity do the work.† The water ran down through the filter and into a second reservoir.† After filtering, I filled the first bladder with creek water that we could use for cooking and watering the dog.† It was the perfect system for staying at a dry camp.† Well, it was perfect except that my pack now weighed 16 pounds more than it had minutes earlier.† The hike up the steep trail to the summit was grueling thanks to the extra weight.
We settled into the campsite at the summit.† Once camp was set up, we wandered out to the cliffs on the west side of the peak.† We had happy hour there, and then went to work on dinner.† Cooking was a challenge, as it was suddenly windy out on the cliffs.† Plus, that spot was precarious.† If anything started to roll, thereíd be no stopping it.† Bob made a wise decision and boiled his water back in the shelter of the woods.† Eventually the wind proved too strong, and I was forced to join him.
After dinner we enjoyed a lovely sunset, as our perch at the top of the cliffs offered the perfect vantage point.† Once the colors faded, we hustled over to the lee side of the mountain to check on the moonrise.† We were a little late, as the moon was well above the horizon.† It was plenty bright, but not particularly large.† So much for my assumption that one day wouldnít make a big difference.† This was a little disappointing, but we still hung out on the cliffs and finished the wine that Bob had brought along.
I slept well that night, as the temperature was perfect (low 50ís).† I got up early though to have one more shot at the moon.† I was treated to a lovely moonset from the western cliffs, but the moon was rather small from my vantage point.† As soon as it dropped, I walked back over to the other side of the peak for sunrise.† It was an angry, red sunrise that seemed to suggest a change in the weather to come.† Bob joined me there for breakfast, and I attempted an elaborate meal.† My plan was to make bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread.† The bacon came out fine, but I managed to knock over my bowl of scrambled eggs before I could cook them.† It was a helpless feeling watching a long, thin river of egg running down the rock face below us.† Itís too bad I hadnít done that on Friday afternoon.† That afternoon had been so hot the eggs mightíve cooked right there on the rock.
I had bacon, cheese, and bread for breakfast, which was a little disappointing.† Afterwards we broke camp and headed back down to the Art Loeb Trail.† We followed it around the south side of the mountain, below impressive granite cliffs.† We passed the headwaters of two branches of Kuykendall Creek.† After the second, I began watching closely for an old dirt road coming up from the south.
My other goal for the trip was to find a remote waterfall on Kuykendall Creek.† Kevin Adamsí guide to NC Waterfalls and www.ncwaterfalls.com both have detailed directions to this waterfall.† However, their route requires hiking 4 miles one way on an old logging road.† That didnít sound like an exciting hike, which is the main reason I havenít visited this waterfall.† However, when researching this waterfall, I noticed that this same road ends at the Art Loeb Trail south of Cedar Rock.† From that point, the waterfall is perhaps a mile away.† All things considered, it seemed like a reasonable side trip from the Art Loeb.
The only problem was that we didnít see any sign of the road.† We reached the crest of the ridge separating Kuykendall Creek and Cedar Rock Creek (south) without spotting any hint of a road.† I did find a faint, steep trail leading down into the headwaters of Cedar Rock Creek (south) (also not on the map), but that was going the wrong direction, and certainly wasnít a road.
At this point the moon and breakfast had both been disappointments.† If we failed to find our way to the falls, the weekend would be a complete strike out.† We dropped our packs and began exploring around in hopes of stumbling on any trace of an old road.† I followed the ridge south and then dropped down towards where the map showed the road.† A couple of minutes later I found myself standing at the end of it.† The map shows it correctly, except that it ends a couple hundred yards short of the trail.† I followed a faint path back towards the trail and ran into Bob coming the other way.† He had spotted the path from the trail, even though the path is so littered with deadfall that itís barely better than bushwhacking.
Finding this path will be difficult, even for someone that is looking closely for it.† If hiking the Art Loeb west from Sand Gap, it will be after crossing the west branch of Kuykendall Creek and maybe 100 yards or so before reaching the ridge dividing Kuykendall Creek and Cedar Rock Creek (south).
We retrieved our packs and moved them to the end of the road.† There was a fair bit of trash there, along with some old horse crap (two things that often seem to go together, in my experience).† I grabbed my camera and tripod and we headed down the road, following contours above Kuykendall Creek.† The walking was generally easy, although there was enough deadfall to slow us down.† We passed through three coves, the last of which had a sizeable (though possibly seasonal) stream.† Beyond that cove, we drew closer to Kuykendall Creek.†
The trick to finding this waterfall is leaving the road at the right spot.† Unfortunately, the directions from Kevin and Rich were pretty useless since we were coming from the opposite direction.† We reached a point that I thought must be close to the falls and headed down.† The hillside was steep, but not really treacherous.† Fortunately the woods were fairly open, and there wasnít any Rhododendron to contend with.† We reached a placid stretch of the creek a few minutes later.† Now our only dilemma was whether the falls were upstream or down.† We wandered downstream and then up without seeing anything.† Finally, after a few minutes studying the map, I decided the falls must be downstream.† We headed that way, and reached the brink a few minutes later. †
Getting down from there was a bit tricky due to the vegetation, but we would not be denied.† The waterfall on Kuykendall Creek isnít the biggest around, but it sure is pretty.† Conditions were too sunny for optimal photography, but it wasnít terrible, either.† Plus, the blue sky above the falls was quite attractive.
We lingered for a few minutes before starting the grueling climb back to the road.† It was a grunt, and regaining the road was a relief.† We walked quickly back to our packs and had a quick snack before resuming the hike.
We followed the Art Loeb Trail to Butter Gap, passing numerous streams along the way.† At the Butter Gap Shelter we found two other backpackers.† We had enjoyed total solitude up to that point, but that was about to radically change.†
One final climb brought us to Butter Gap.† From there, we headed down the Butter Gap Trail towards the fish hatchery.† Iíve always liked this trail, but the experience was a little different on this day.† Early on we passed a couple of mountain bikers, then a few more.† Then there was a group of 12 or so, followed by another, even longer mountain bike parade.† At first this wasnít a big deal, even though I had to leash the dog to keep him out of the way.† However, before long we were literally encountering bikers every minute or two.† This was ridiculous, as we had to get out of their way each time.† Unfortunately, I needed to be home by 5:30, and we were making lousy time.† Eventually we kind of gave up on trying to get out of their way.† I wouldnít normally take that attitude, but it was so busy that is was virtually impossible to have any sort of normal hike.† We literally couldíve been waiting beside the trail all afternoon.
That particular trail is open to mountain bikers from Nov through April 15th.† Apparently the theory is that there are too many hikers on that trail in the warmer months for it to be safe for biking.† Well, I might suggest that this may apply to 70 degree Saturdayís in March as well.† The crowds werenít just limited to mountain bikers.† We saw three large groups of backpackers as well as many smaller groups of backpackers and dayhikers.† The meadows at Picklesimer Fields had so many tents we were wondering when the band was scheduled to start.
Iím not sure what was going on in that area, aside from the nice summer-like weather.† One contributing factor to the crowds may have been the closure of many of the forest roads in the area.† With several popular areas inaccessible, everyone may have been concentrated into a few small areas.† When we reached the fish hatchery we found the parking lot full.† There were cars lining both sides of the road on the way in.† The Looking Glass Trailhead looked like a Carmax dealership.† I shouldíve sold off my spot to one of the people searching for a place to park.†
Despite the crowds and profuse mud, I still enjoyed parts of the Butter Gap Trail.† There are several nice stretches of White Pine forest.† There are also two additional waterfalls, one on Grogan Creek and one on Cedar Rock Creek (north).† We didnít have time to stop at either of those falls, but weíd seen them before.† Still, the falls on Cedar Rock Creek looked particularly impressive from a distance thanks to heavy volume.
Although the trip didnít go exactly as planned, it was still a good one.† Camping on Cedar Rock was great, and the waterfall on Kuykendall Creek is a beauty.† Iíve long considered the loop hike from the fish hatchery combining John Rock, the summit of Cedar Rock, and the Butter Gap Trail, to be one of the best in the Pisgah National Forest.† If the falls on Kuykendall Creek are included, it may well be one of the best in the state.
Oh, and the super moon failed to show in Charlotte on Saturday evening.† The skies clouded up Saturday afternoon and stayed that way the rest of weekend.† So what did I miss?
Back to The Pisgah Ranger District
Back to North Carolina
Back to Hiking and Backpacking Trip Reports
Please remember to Leave No Trace!