Table Rock Scope Out Route
I met up with Den, Phyllis, and Mark to check out a potential course route for a future trail race coming up next year. Mark and I had talked it over and now was a chance to cover all of the course except the first 3 miles.
We started at the top of Craig Creek Rd and began our warmup jog of 4.5 miles to our first turn. This stretch on Craig Creek Rd was beautiful. Although just gravel, I really enjoyed it as it gently climbed alongside a small creek and then ramped up the grade the last mile or so to the turn off, weaving in and out of small drainages.
We then turned on FS 198, a less maintained gravel rd that one could consider a double track since most of it had a nice grass median up the middle. The views toward Brown Mountain and out onto the Catawba valley where very nice and the grade was gentle. We found ourselves running more of this road than we anticipated. After about 3 miles, we finally hit the Mountains-to-sea trail and would follow it for most of the remainder of our run. This section of the MST is one of my favorites! It is all runnable and follows and old road bed from years gone by. It bends and turns through coves and is a joy to run. But soon, you have to cross Upper Creek and then it gets real. The next 1.25 miles is about a 900' climb back up to NC 181. We all just settled into a hike and before we knew it, it was over.
After refilling our bottles from Den's water drop, it was time to tackle a brand new section of the MST for me, the Steels Creek Trail. I've heard a ton of good things about this trail from friends and I finally got to see it for myself. The trail starts off very similar to what you just got off of, with it following an old road bed. You cross a few cold streams, but it is nice to cool off the feet sometimes. Soon, it turns to a lush single track that hugs the cliff down to the creek and follows it for the rest of its journey. If you look over towards the creek you could catch a glimpse of numerous waterfalls trickling down the mountain. Some were quite large and I would have loved to get a closer view, but the big mileage of the day did not dictate it.
At the bottom of this trail, I rolled my ankle pretty good and the rest of the day became pretty painful. I still had about 15 miles to go as well and a huge climb up to the top of Table Rock. The climb went well with it being about third running, a third walking, and a third crawling. Man that mountain is steep! We took a few photos from the top and started our way back down the leaf strewn MST to cross back over Steels Creek and finish on a FS rd back to the car. I was running funny back down due to the ankle and was ready to get onto the gravel so I could start running normal again. Phyllis decided to get some actual running in once we hit the gravel road to get away from us smelly men and beat us all back to the car.
At the end of the day, we traveled 29 miles, climbed 8000ft and enjoyed the immense beauty of the creek and the gorge. On a sad note, just 3 days after our summit of Table Rock, some idiot let a camp fire get out of hand and today more than 2000 acres of the gorge, including the route we took to the top is burned and still burning.
Weekend of Waterfalls New and Old
Due to the gorge being on fire, I decided to explore some more trails I hadn't previously been on in the Wilson Creek area. One of those is called the Greentown Shortcut trail that apparently leads to a waterfall. I convinced Tom to join me on the exploration and we got started on a foggy Saturday afternoon.
We parked the car about a mile down Craig Creek Rd and began our ascent up FS 197 that was following Upper Creek for a 1.5 miles before it ends and the trail begins. The first mile of the trail was easy enough, but soon the trail got tighter, steeper, and more slippier. It had rained the night before and the leaf coverage was a ton, so grip was little to none. Oh, and this trail was on the side of a cliff. We got turned around a couple of times on this unmarked trail, but soon found our way after a lot of hard power hiking and sliding. Once you cross a small stream emptying into Upper Creek, you follow it up steam a couple hundred yards until you come to a massive mossy surine cliff with boulders strewn all around at its base. The water trickles over the cliff and dives about 40' onto the boulders below and then squeezes and drops it way through those. This waterfall, called Burnthouse Branch Falls had both Tom and I in awe. It was well worth the hard climb to get to.
From the waterfall, the trail ends (I think) and we just decided to bushwhack up the mountain about a quarter of a mile to intersect the MST, which we did after some more power hiking and sliding. Once on the trail, it was sweet relief to know that we could actually run almost the entire rest of our planned route. Because of the fog, I abandoned the idea of summiting Chestnut Mountain and decided to show Tom South Harper Creek Falls as well. We enjoyed our jog over to the view of the falls and then soaked in another amazing feature of the Wilson Creek area. Nothing quite like viewing a 200'+ sliding falls, from a perched up 300' cliff. Good times, good views.
We decided to take FS 198 back (same as week before) and I really enjoyed the views going down the road as to compared to going up it like last week. I really like this stretch and plan to implement it a lot into future runs. Still got to summit Chestnut Mountain that there is a clear trail to that isn't on the map. Love exploring unmapped trails and penciling them into the map.
The next day, since the church Hannah and visited was so close by, I made another trip into the Wilson Creek area. This time I check out the Pine Ridge Trail. This trail starts right behind the visitor center and it was a beauty. It climbs steadily for the first couple of miles on pristine and smooth single track. I imagine the views were nice from the trail, but the fog wasn't letting me see any of that. The trail soon begins to follow and old road bed similar to the MST between 181 and South Harper Creek Falls. It was a nice gentle descent as it was looping me back to the car. But soon, it falls off the face of the planet on a tight single track beside a small tributary stream and dumps you out onto the MST.
Since I was so close to Harper Creek Falls, I decided a nice side trip out to it was in order so headed on over. I wasn't expecting to see anyone there due to the crummy weather, but I guess some dare devil kayakers had the same thing in mind. As I arrived, two kayakers were climbing up the falls to attempt to head down them. I couldn't help but stay and watch and found a nice rock and waited for the kayaker to take his plunge. It took awhile, but the dude did it and it was awesome. I gave him a wheehewww!!!! before I took off and tried to warm myself back up. The rain was really picking up, but I enjoyed the cool feeling of the rain and it made me run faster.
After getting dumped back onto Brown Mountain Beach Rd, I high taled it the next 2 miles back to the car and my exploration weekend of the Creek was done. Looking forward to the next few weeks to get out there and do some more exploring.