MOUNTAINS IN THE MIST
I spent the second weekend of October in Boone. I left early on Saturday morning so I could spend some time on the Parkway before the ASU football game. I drove up through Hickory and Lenoir in rain and fog, wondering why I hadn’t slept in. Things improved suddenly just below Blowing Rock, when I popped out of the fog. I stopped twice over the next two miles to take in the view of the distant mountains peaking up out of the mist.
From there I headed over to Price Lake. Fall color was at its peak, so I took some photos around the lake. Then I walked the dogs and let them go swimming. I was just about to head up to Rough Ridge on Grandfather Mountain to check out the fall foliage when the fog rolled back in and the rain resumed. I reconsidered, and headed into to Boone. I met my friend Eric at our usual tailgating area shortly after the rain ended. First, we took the dogs down Rivers Street to see the homecoming parade. We met the new ASU Chancellor, and she loves our dogs! So obviously I approve of the new Chancellor. Unfortunately, Kona does not love parades. In fact, we can add marching bands, tractors, and kazoos to the ever-growing list of things that terrify Kona.
The tailgating was quite good, despite the rainy weather. There are some advantages to tailgating in a parking deck! We did move from our usual spot on the open balcony on the third level to a different location under the roof to avoid the rain. Unfortunately, the game itself wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the tailgating.
Later that night I drove out through Linville and down a forest road into the Wilson Creek area. I found a vacant campsite, set up camp, and went straight to bed. I had made tentative plans to meet my friend Johnny there, but he wasn’t around when I arrived. I slept fairly well that night, despite hours of heavy rain. Luckily it eased up by first light. I got up, broke camp, and made breakfast on the tailgate of Christy’s Honda Element. I was eating when Johnny pulled up. It turns out he had slept in his truck a ˝ mile down the road.
We chatted a bit and waited for Brenda. When she didn’t show up at 9am, we figured she was probably lost. We didn’t have a cell signal, so we split up. Johnny headed down FR 58 towards Kanawa, because he’d discovered that there was a good cell signal down there. I headed back up the forest road to the first junction, at the Baptist Church. I figured that was the turn she missed. I was able to reach her by phone at that point, and waited for her there. She then followed me back down to a parking area near where I’d camped.
Johnny joined us there, and we discussed our options. Originally I’d planned to hit South Harper Creek Falls first. However, the view of the waterfall is from a cliff on the far side of the gorge. It was a foggy, drizzly morning, and I was afraid the view would be completely fogged in. I suggested a change in plans. My backup idea was a loop hike combining North Harper Creek and Little Lost Cove Cliffs. We’d start out hiking downstream along the creek. After visiting North Harper Creek Falls and Chestnut Branch Falls, we’d climb up to the cliffs. Hopefully the fog would clear by the afternoon, so that we could enjoy the views from the cliffs.
The hike downstream was beautiful but slippery thanks to the recent rain. A couple of spots were a bit treacherous, but we managed without incident. We were able to rock hop the first couple of crossings, but the next two required wading. The water level had risen significantly from the recent rain! The fall foliage was fantastic along here. It was more advanced than I expected at this elevation. In fact, it was close to peak. This was surprising, since colors were still at their peak up on Grandfather Mountain.
That first stretch of creek features a long run of slides and cascades. The trail stays high above them though, and we were well downstream from the best action when we finally found a reasonably safe route to descend. After a short break below a cascade we returned to the trail and headed down to the brink of North Harper Creek Falls. This waterfall starts with a long slide across a broad rock face, before ending with a nearly vertical 40’ drop. I was looking forward to checking out the fall color from the top, but it was largely obscured by the fog.
We waded the creek again, just upstream from the brink of the falls. Then we descended a switchback in the woods to the base. The view here was fog-free, and lovely. After some photos, we continued downstream a short distance to campsite, which was the perfect lunch spot. Afterwards, we were getting ready to leave when I decided to walk back down to the creek. There I found the ideal vantage point for photos. The waterfall was visible, and there was a lovely cascade in the foreground. And the base of the falls was a riot of fall color.
After more photos, we continued downstream to another creek crossing. Just beyond, we reached the brink of Chestnut Branch Falls – another sliding cascade across a steep rock face. There was no fog here, so we were able to enjoy the view. Then we hiked the trail down adjacent to the falls. When we reached the bottom, we bushwhacked over to a pool at the base of the falls. The view from here is nice, but I actually like it better from the top. Either way, it’s fairly minor compared to other waterfalls in the area.
We returned to the top of Chestnut Branch Falls and picked up the North Harper Creek Falls Access Trail. We climbed steeply, before leveling off on an old grade. Uneventful hiking led to an old homesite, complete with an impressive chimney. We reached the forest road, and picked up the Little Lost Cove Cliffs Trail. It led us up through an old apple orchard. Once upon a time we would hike here in October and harvest wild apples. However, we didn’t find any on our last couple of visits. I thought the trees were no longer producing, so I was thrilled to find some apples this time. Unfortunately almost all of them had been on the ground too long and were rotten. I did find one that was edible, and it was delicious! It was small, but I still shared some of it with Johnny and Brenda.
From there we climbed the rest of the way up to the cliffs. Unfortunately, the whole area was completely fogged in. We will have to return to see the views! The view from there is one of the best in the state, particularly at the peak of fall color:
From the cliffs we descended back down to the forest road. A short walk up the road returned us to our cars. It was great hiking with Brenda and Johnny again!
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