OPTION TWO, PLAN B, REVISED (ALTERNATE)
Last weekend, Christy and I met up with Myron and Dorcas to walk the dogs. Well, technically the goal was to go hiking, but when Boone and Matilda get together, everything seems to revolve around them!
I initially came up with three route suggestions for our hike. Reaction to those options can best be described as either indifference, or extreme open-mindedness. Since nobody expressed a preference by Saturday evening, I settled on the third option – an exploratory hike in Linville Gorge.
It wasn’t until we were on the road Sunday morning that Christy admitted that the Linville Gorge hike was her least-favorite option. Sigh. After we met Myron, Dorcas, and Matilda in Hickory, I had Christy drive while I scrambled to come up with a backup plan. Option #1 was no longer in consideration, as it would’ve required a long drive from Hickory. So I reverted to option #2 – a hike to Woods Mountain. We had hiked Woods Mountain a couple of times before, but I had something a little more adventurous in mind. DeHart’s guidebook gives a two-sentence description of the Armstrong Creek Trail, which starts at the Armstrong Creek fish hatchery below Little Switzerland and climbs up to Buck Creek Gap. At the gap, it joins the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which continues out to Woods Mountain. I decided we’d give this route a try. I was curious about Armstrong Creek, as I’d never been there before. Plus, I knew there were a couple of good views on the way out to Woods Mountain, so if we made it up there, our efforts would be rewarded.
Myron and Dorcas were following us, but they had no idea where we were going. I thought about taking advantage of this situation for some entertainment, but time was dragging on, and I was ready to get on the trail. We drove up through Marion and Woodlawn, before heading up 226A towards Little Switzerland. The turn to the fish hatchery was well-marked, and we continued up the Armstrong Creek valley. The highlight of the drive was a hand-made sign along the roadside that said “NO TRUSPASN”. At least I’m pretty sure that’s how it was spelled! I meant to get a photo of it on the way back out, but I completely forgot to stop.
We passed not one, but two trout hatcheries, before reaching the end of the road at a gate and a small parking area. There were no signs to indicate a trail, but a jeep road continues beyond the gate, and it was blazed yellow. We figured that was it, so we gathered our gear and the dogs and headed up the trail.
We only walked about 5 minutes before we reached the first creek crossing. Immediately we realized that we were going to have problems completing the hike. Several inches of rain had fallen on Thursday and Friday, and the water was definitely up. Rock-hopping wasn’t an option, and DeHart’s guide promised 7 more crossings beyond this one. There was an old, rotten log spanning the creek, but we knew we probably wouldn’t get that lucky 7 more times. To make matters worse, I had forgotten my trusty stick, which is extremely valuable on creek crossings. In fact, my stick was only one of several key items I’d left behind. We’d brought soup in a thermos for lunch, but I’d forgotten bowls and spoons. Boone’s water dish had also been overlooked, along with the insoles for my boots. Dayhiking really doesn’t require much gear. It’s a good thing we weren’t backpacking this weekend!
Once upon a time, we would’ve waded the creek without hesitation. These days though, were definitely older, if not wiser. With temps in the 30’s, nobody wanted to get wet. After a brief debate, we decided to return here in warmer or drier weather to make another attempt at Woods Mountain.
We returned to the cars and reconsidered our options. I spontaneously suggested a hike to Toms Creek Falls near Woodlawn. Christy and I had been there years earlier, but it would be a new one for Myron and Dorcas. Another guidebook I have suggests that the hike is a 2-mile roundtrip. That wasn’t much, but I knew there was an old logging road nearby. I figured we could hike to the falls and then get in some extra miles walking the road (up towards Woods Mountain, ironically).
We drove back out to 226A, and I made a spontaneous change in plans. Instead of turning right towards Woodlawn, I had Christy go left, up the mountain. This must have puzzled Myron and Dorcas, but they’re good sports. They followed along behind us, as we wound our way up to Little Switzerland. At the top of the mountain, I was relieved to find the Parkway open. This was fortunate, as there was a dusting of snow in places, along with some ice along the road. After a few miles on the Parkway, we arrived at the Crabtree Meadows campground. The campground is closed in the winter, so we parked near the gate for a hike to Crabtree Falls.
Myron had never been to Crabtree Falls, and Dorcas, Christy, and I hadn’t been there in years. It was breezy and cold in the parking area, so we hustled up the road and through the campground. We eventually found our way to the actual trailhead, where the sign indicated that the hike would be strenuous. This drew some grumbling, as I had promised everyone an easy hike. At this point, Myron and I had to try to explain that the Park Service operates on a different scale from us. I suppose the hike to the falls could be strenuous, if you hiked it in flip flops while carrying a toddler on your back. By any other standards though, this is an easy hike.
We took the short end of the loop to the falls, as we were all ready for lunch. We descended to a bridge over Crabtree Creek, right at the base of the falls. The view from here was great, and we stopped there for lunch. Fortunately, Christy had picked up some plastic spoons from a gas station before we met up with Myron and Dorcas. Before eating though, I spent some time taking photos. Crabtree Falls is one of the nicest waterfalls in the area, and the cloudy skies offered good photographic conditions.
After lunch, we hiked up out of the gorge. The best vantage for photos turned out to be a short distance up the trail. So we stopped again, and I even attempted some group shots. Oh, the folly of trying to use a slow shutter speed with 3 people and 2 puppies in the picture!
From there, we hiked high above the creek. We passed some minor cliffs featuring dozens of icicles. Beyond, we rejoined the creek and wandered upstream, passing a natural rock slide. As we hiked, Boone and Matilda played. They spent most of the day chasing each other around in circles. Christy and I thought this was wonderful, as Boone’s behavior seems to improve with fatigue! Before long, we found ourselves back in the campground. We ended up walking most of it. Christy and I wanted to get some additional exercise, and Myron and Dorcas was scouting it out for future car camping.
We returned to our cars by early afternoon. Since it was still early, we decided to stop at Tom’s Creek Falls on the way home. When we reached the creek, we found a new trailhead parking area under development. This was a bit of a surprise, as Tom’s Creek Falls isn’t very well known (despite being only a few miles from Marion). We hiked the trail upstream to the falls. The walk only took about 10 minutes, so I don’t think it was a full mile one-way. Oh well, at least the falls were worth the visit! With the water up, the falls were an impressive site. I definitely recommend checking this waterfall out if you’re in the area. Just try to go after a good rain.
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