Last weekend, I met up with Myron, Dorcas, Bob, Laura, and Joel for our semi-annual reunion hike.  Well, sort of.  There wasn’t anything official about it, but it seems like we all manage to get together for a hike a couple of times a year.  We used to do so every weekend, but of course things change.


On this particular Sunday, Bob and Laura were heading to Mount Pisgah for a couple of nights of camping.  Meanwhile, Myron and Dorcas were planning on spending the evening in Morganton.  I was given the task of coming up with a hike that would suit all of our schedules.  That likely meant a hike in the mountains east of Asheville.


I decided that we’d start with Catawba Falls.  I knew Bob wouldn’t be real excited about it, as he’d been there a couple of times recently.  I wanted to see it with some actual water though, as it had been rather dry during my only previous visit.  Plus, I was pretty sure Myron and Dorcas hadn’t been there.  The only problem with Catawba Falls is that it’s only a 4-mile round trip including the upper falls.  We’d need something else to do afterwards.


I mulled over all of the other likely options in the area, including Montreat, High Windy, and the Curtis Creek area.  Then I remembered reading somewhere about a small network of trails at Christmount.  Christmount is another church conference center in the Black Mountain area, like Montreat and Ridgecrest.  My pre-trip research seemed to indicate that their trails are open to the public.  I suggested to everyone that we give it a try, with Montreat as a possible backup option.


Everyone met in Icard that morning and got reacquainted.  Boone also got reintroduced to Myron and Dorcas’ puppy, Matilda.  Boone was delighted, as Matilda is one of his favorite playmates.  I think Matilda was shocked at Boone’s size though.  Since they’d last played together in December, Boone has gained 30 or 40 pounds!


Joel rode with me, and we all caravanned to the Catawba Falls trailhead outside Old Fort.  Fortunately there was only one car there when we arrived.  I’m sure this parking area gets overwhelmed on busy afternoons.


We hit the ground running, or at least the dogs did.  Once we passed the private property, I freed Boone from his leash.  He and Matilda spent most of the hike chasing each other up and down the trail.  I was delighted by this, because he would be exhausted.  A tired dog is a good dog!


After a few minutes, we reached a crossing of the Catawba River.  Water levels were up a little, but we were all still able to rock hop without much trouble, thanks to lots of well-placed rocks.  Once across, we followed an old roadbed upstream, passing the remains of an old building and a dam.  There’s a small but nice waterfall below the remains of the dam, and I briefly started down to the river to get photos.  I changed my mind though, as I was eager to get up to the main falls before the sun came out.


We rock hopped two side streams, with the second being a bit more challenging than the river.  From there, we scrambled over a few rocks to reach the base of the falls.  Catawba Falls is a high, broad waterfall, but it’s obscured by a virtual jungle of vegetation.  It looked good today though, as the water levels were up enough to give it adequate volume.  I definitely recommend visiting this waterfall after wet weather.


After a brief break, most of us embarked on the journey to the upper falls.  This requires a steep climb on a badly eroded “trail”.  A few areas require some scrambling, but a fixed rope helps with the worst part.  Joel decided to skip this, opting to wait for us at the base of the lower falls.  Everyone else decided to at least make an attempt, although Laura stated that she would turn back if she was uncomfortable.


Myron and I led the way.  We made a rugged climb alongside Catawba Falls, and at several points we were treated to views of the upper part of the falls (which can’t be seen from the base).  After a bit we reached the rope.  It isn’t necessary (or even desirable) to climb the rope, but it does provide a handy safety line.  Unfortunately, the dogs have yet to develop opposable thumbs, so the rope was of no use to them.  Both dogs struggled to get up this part of the trail, and before long Boone was whining and barking below us. 


It took several minutes to coax them up the rocks.  Finally they made it, and I heaped praise on Boone as we continued on towards the upper falls.  A bit more scrambling delivered us to the top of Catawba Falls, and from there we made an easy stroll to the base of the upper falls.


While Catawba Falls is nice, the upper falls is the real gem.  In my opinion, it’s among the finest waterfalls in the southeast.  I was thrilled that cloudy skies on this occasion gave me a great photographic opportunity.  I took a few shots from downstream, and then moved closer to the base for some direct shots.  While I was taking photos, Myron, Dorcas, and Bob caught up to me.  Unfortunately, Laura didn’t quite make it, although she had climbed most of the way to the top of Catawba Falls.  She had done the hard part, so hopefully she’ll make it back and go the whole way next time.


We hung out for a bit, before making the treacherous trip back down.  We reached the bottom a bit before noon, and decided to enjoy lunch there.  After a leisurely meal, other folks began to arrive.  It was starting to get crowded, so we took our cue and started the hike back to the cars.


Once back, we drove to Old Fort and made a quick stop at the McToilet.  From there it was over the Blue Ridge to Black Mountain.  We found Christmount, a church conference center, a short distance south of town.  There, we stopped in at the office to register for our hike.  Christmount is private property, but they generously allow public access to their trails.


We checked in and got a map and drove up to the Lee Moore trailhead.  We found it without any problem, but there was no parking there.  After a bit of confusion, we decided to try another trailhead.  This one also was devoid of parking, so we all parked at the community center and walked from there.  This only required a short walk on the pavement, although it was uphill.


We followed the other end of the Lee Moore trail up a ridgeline to a minor knob.  From there, we dropped down to a 4-way junction.  A left turn here would’ve taken us out to the trailhead we had originally planned on.  Ahead of us was the Glade Mountain Trail, but that was our return route.  We turned right instead, and descend gradually to meet the Blue Ridge Trail.  We followed this path uphill, walking close to a small stream.  The creek offered water for the dogs, but I had to wade through thickets of stinging nettle to lead Boone to it.


The climb from here was hot and tedious.  I suspect these trails don’t get a lot of use, because some stretches were a bit overgrown.  Some of the minor side trails, such as the Wildflower Trail, had all but disappeared.  We stuck with the main route, and were treated to tons of wildflowers.  We saw Sundrops and Spidewort, along with impressive amounts of Flame Azalea and Mountain Laurel.  We also passed by a stone chimney, which was all that remained of a former homestead.


We eventually emerged from the woods onto a gravel road.  We followed it the rest of the way up Glade Mountain.  Near the top we were treated to one nice view of Little Pisgah Mountain and more peaks to the south.  Unfortunately, there was a powerline in the view, so I skipped taking a photo. 


At the top of Glade Mountain, we found a communications tower, but no more views.  We continued ahead into the woods, now on the Glade Mountain Trail.  We descended along the ridge through more stinging nettle before reaching a gap.  The trail was almost completely overgrown here, but the abundant wildflowers compensated for the discomfort.  There were hundreds of Spideworts, along with a few Wild Columbine.  We took a few minutes to appreciate them before fervently hunting for the trail down.  We eventually hacked through the undergrowth and stumbled back upon it.  From there, we descended an incredibly steep ridge.  It was a relief when we reached the 4-way intersection we’d passed earlier.  From that point, it was easy to backtrack out on the Lee Moore Trail.


It was getting late, so we decided to skip the hike on the Rocky Knob Trail.  It’s supposed to have the best view in Chirstmount.  Oh well, I guess that gives me an excuse to go back!  Overall, I wasn’t that thrilled with the Christmount Trails.  The ones we hiked were steep, occasionally overgrown, and offered few views.  The wildflowers were great though, and we didn’t see anyone else on the trails all day.  I’ll probably plan a return trip there to check out Rocky Knob, but I’m more likely to do it earlier in the spring, when even more flowers are out. 

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