A NEW ADVENTURE IN AN UNEXPECTED PLACE
We were in Winston-Salem last weekend, and I was looking for a place to hike on Sunday. The ice storm of the previous week had made a huge mess, so I was looking for something close to home. I considered Hanging Rock and the Uwharries before Pilot Mountain came to mind. I hadn't been to Pilot Mountain since I was a teenager, despite living most of my life in the area. I guess I had come to view Pilot Mountain as somewhat beneath me. There isn't any real hiking at Pilot Mountain, is there? I took a long look at the park map, and discovered that it was possible to create a 10-mile loop by linking together a whole series of trails.
Patrick, Bob, Laura, and Joel met me at the park ranger station Sunday morning. We checked in with the ranger, who warned us to expect dreadful trail conditions. The ice storm had caused numerous blow-downs. One six-mile trail alone was estimated to have 100 fallen trees across it.
At 10 AM we walked up the park road from the ranger station. We cut through the park campground, and found the beginning of the Grindstone Trail between campsites 16&17. We followed the trail towards the summit of Pilot Mountain. The path alternated between wet and rocky and wet and muddy. Luckily though, we didn't have much trouble with fallen trees. It was a fair climb, but we reached the top of the ridge well before noon. From there we walked out to a row of cliffs, which provided an ideal spot for an early lunch. The mountain was fogged in, so there wasn't really a view, but it was still a cool spot. From the cliffs it was a sheer 100' drop to a ledge just visible below.
We hadn't seen anyone all day, but our afternoon destination would take us into the land of the tourist. We followed a wide trail towards the summit. We passed the picnic area and skirted the edge of the parking lot. From there, we followed a paved trail out to the Little Pinnacle overlook. The fog had partially cleared, and we had a nice view of the Big Pinnacle, with Sauratown Mountain and Hanging Rock in the distance.
From the overlook we followed a popular trail towards Big Pinnacle. This path looped around the summit (which is not accessible). The sheer rock walls of the Pinnacle were impressive as we hiked around it. We passed numerous rock gardens and overhangs, which were fun to explore.
We left Big Pinnacle and followed the Ledge Springs Trail along the base of more impressive cliffs. This trail was actually challenging, with lots of wet, loose rock. There was also some lingering ice here. In a few spots it was rather deep, as if someone had dumped a giant cooler. The wet weather created a couple of spray waterfalls, which we tried to avoid as we skirted the cliffs. Eventually we passed directly below our lunch spot. Then we passed a few rock climbers before starting our descent on the Mountain Trail.
The Mountain Trail was apparently designed by an idiot. We descended some distance, only to turn and climb back up a couple of hundred feet for no apparent reason. We repeated this pattern several times before finally heading down for good. At one point, a large limb broke off of a tree 60' up. We heard it break loose, and watched as it tumbled seemingly in slow motion. It landed vertically, and buried itself into the ground like a spear. That particular spot was an excellent place not to be, but it was only 20' away.
We hiked on, but kept our eyes skyward for falling limbs. We encountered a couple of major deadfalls, but we were able to get around them. We then descended to what I thought was the junction with the Grassy Gap trail. A sign said that the Corridor Trail (which we didn't want) was to the right. An unsigned trail marked with blue ribbons went to the left. This looked correct, so we followed it. It wasn't. It took us to a muddy road, which turned in the wrong direction. We debated backtracking, but decided to follow it to see where it would lead. It wound around aimlessly, before turning back in the correct direction. Eventually we intersected the correct trail, which was quite a relief.
We followed the Grassy Gap Trail back to the rangers station. Along the way, we passed an old tobacco barn still in its natural condition. From there the trail passed very close to highway 52, which was a bit of a disappointment. The final mile was uneventful, but it was good to get back early. We had hiked most of the trails in the park in a little less than 6 hours. For me, it was a great day to reacquaint myself with an overlooked park.
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