Christy and I spent another wonderful weekend in the mountains recently. We drove up to Boone with our friend Mark for Appalachian's football game with arch-nemesis Georgia Southern. It was another perfect fall day, with pleasant temperatures and a cloud-free sky. We chose to spend Saturday tailgating. We enjoyed a variety of adult beverages, as well as thick, juicy steaks from the grill. The game was also enjoyable, as my Mountaineers upset our rivals and sent them home with a case of the Statesboro Blues. The victory was met with enthusiasm, as the occasion apparently warranted the removal of the goal posts from the south end zone. A good time was had by all.

After the game we went out to dinner and then parted ways. Christy had to be in Charlotte Sunday for a meeting, so Mark took her back. Saucony and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to spend an extra day in the mountains. I drove to Linville late that night. Then I took the narrow, rutted, gravel road down towards Mortimer. It was a spooky drive on the windy forest road in total darkness. I was heading for an area with roadside campsites, but was distraught to discover all of them full. I continued down the mountain, and found a mediocre spot in a small pulloff. There wasn't much room, but it was late and I was tired. I pitched camp by the light of my headlights, and dropped off to sleep quickly. My rest was only interrupted by the sound of the occasional pickup truck passing by. My tent was close enough to the road that it sounded as if I was about to be run over.

I got up after 8, having enjoyed 10 hours of sleep. I had totally lost my voice from yelling at the game, but didn't really have anyone to speak to anyway. I made an egg and cheese bagel sandwich for breakfast, and drove to the North Harper Creek Trailhead to meet Joel.

I passed Joel on the way there, and he followed me to the trailhead. I hadn't seen Joel in months. He had just returned from a 2-week trip to the Rockies. He'd backpacked through the Maroon Bells Wilderness, and visited Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, as well as Dinosaur National Monument.

We hiked back down the road and picked up the trail to Little Lost Cove Cliffs. We ascended through a forest that was still sporting some fall color. All of the color had disappeared from the higher elevations the week before. Down in the coves though, it was just hitting its peak. Unfortunately, peak color this year was rather disappointing. It's been several years since we've had a really colorful autumn, but this year was particularly dull. The wet summer may have contributed to the lack of color. Another factor was the big storm last week, which brought 60-mph winds. It seems that just about the time the color was getting good, all the leaves were blown off the trees.

The colors may have been disappointing, but the view from Little Lost Cove Cliffs was not. It's one of the best views around, and it was crystal clear Sunday morning. We enjoyed a spectacular view of Grandfather Mountain looming over Lost Cove. We wandered around on the cliffs for awhile, and enjoyed ourselves so much we took a side trip up to a second set of cliffs before descending. We encountered a photographer, some dayhikers, and a group of ASU students rock climbing on the lower cliffs. It was still too early for lunch though, so we pried ourselves away and headed for North Harper Creek.

We descended to the road and followed it a short distance. We reached my campsite from the previous night, and descended a primitive path marked by a post as trail 89. This path led through numerous deadfalls that added some challenge to the hike. The path got steep near the bottom, but we still reached a small campsite on North Harper Creek in plenty of time for lunch.

After eating, we hiked upstream. Two tricky rock hops led us to the biggest climb of the day. Soon we were hiking a rugged trail up past cascades, boulders, chutes, and swimming holes. North Harper has always been one of my favorite streams, and today I was reminded why. Finally we ascended past a long sliding cascade and crossed the creek one more time. Just beyond, we passed a campsite and arrived at the base of North Harper Creek Falls. The waterfall starts as a long smooth waterslide, but it is not recommended for body surfing. At the end it plunges over a 50' sheer drop. We paused at the base of the drop to enjoy the moment and attempt some photographs.

We climbed to the top of the falls and crossed the creek once again. From the open rock face above the falls we were treated to the best fall color of the weekend. The mountain opposite from us was gold in the afternoon sun. I attempted to capture the moment on film before we resumed the hike.

We continued upstream, crossing the creek 3 more times. We passed an old cabin, and I knew we were close to the end. Then the trail wandered away from the creek, and we started up the final hill to the road. We arrived around mid-afternoon. It was a short, easy hike, but it's still one of the best around. In fact, it's one that I find myself doing over and over again. The loop combines the cascades and waterfalls of North Harper Creek with the distant views from Little Lost Cove Cliffs. The hike also afforded us the opportunity to stop at the old apple orchard and collect some fruit. The apples are incredibly sweet, despite the neglect the orchard has suffered over the years. Christy had promised an apple pie if I brought back enough apples. I managed to find a sack full, among the rotten ones on the ground. Well, enough of this typing; my pie is getting cold.

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