Hike to Looking Glass Rock, Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

Last weekend a group of 8 hiked to the view on Looking Glass Rock trail in Pisgah Forest.  This is a very popular trail in the area and therefore if you are looking for solitude you will not find it here.  That being said, there are actually two great views on this trail: one at the very end and the other beyond the helicopter landing area about two-thirds of the way up. Give yourself plenty of time to sit and enjoy the views at both places.

DSCN1032View past the helicopter pad.

Unlike most trailheads, there is actually a pretty decent size parking lot here but cars quickly build up on the roadside. It’s always a good idea to double up if you can and park behind someone you are hiking with to leave space for others.

The trail starts a gentle climb immediately and the climb continues pretty much to the top.  Lots of switchbacks at the very beginning and then the trail appears to make its way up a ridgeline.  We noted several campsites very close to trail end but water would have to be carried up.  There was one small seep I noted going up but not sure it would be adequate for a water source. There are a several small creeks close to the beginning of the trail.


Views at the top of Looking Glass Rock. Watch your footing on the slopes! There is another view at the top around the left side of the rock similar to what you would see at the helicopter pad. And a place to sit if you want a little solitude. It’s worth walking around to check it out.

This being mid-October, I would have expected more change in the leaves but unfortunately I think we still have at least one more week until the leaves at this elevation and location are at their peak this year.  On the actual trail itself, there were signs of changes in the canopy and lot of leaves have already fallen on the trail but at the views it was clear that we still have a little way to go.

DSCN1054Trail conditions are pretty good but you still have to watch your footing. Lots of wear and tear on the trail which I suspect is due to its popularity which I especially noticed at the upper portion of the hike.

Distance: 6.4 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 1649 ft.


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New Hike Link Page: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

I’ve created a hiking link page at my photography website, PhikeArts.com

Here’s the link:  http://www.phikearts.com/external-links

If you have a link to a web site you’d like to share, please email me at PhikeArts@gmail.com and I’ll take a look at it.



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I’m Awesome!

Lots of us have a habit of saying negative things to ourselves.  We are fat, ugly, not good enough, and the list just goes on and on.  Instead of doing this, I have started to just put my arms up in the air and yell “I’m awesome.” Sometimes I even get some of my hiking friends to do the same.  I know it sounds odd but I think it helps.

Today’s the day. You’re awesome!


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Hiking the Seven Sisters Loop at Montreat, North Carolina

A few weeks ago we hiked with Upstate Hiking on what I like to call the Seven Sisters loop.  This is not the trail’s official name. I just made it up because of the series of seven knobs on the ridgeline.  In fact, this loop does not catch all the sisters at all but that’s okay.  It was tough enough like it was.

Here’s the link for photos:   http://www.meetup.com/upstate-hiking-and-outdoor-adventures/photos/24794212/

Montreat is a private community but it allows hiking on its property. Check out the links below for more information.  We parked at the hiker’s parking lot on Graybeard Trail (parking is very limited here) and walked up to Suwanee Drive  and turned right. After about a 10 minute walk, we found the trailhead for Big Piney Ridge Trail which also includes the trailhead for Lower Piney Trail.  Apparently the Big Piney Ridge Trail has been rerouted for a brief period on the Lower Piney so watch for the signs.  Big Piney  is a strenuous  1.54 mile trail that Ts off at the West Ridge Trail where you turn right and head north up the Seven Sisters.  There is one nice view on the Lower Piney reroute just before you turn back onto Big Piney. Before you hit the T with the West Ridge, you will find a small bald looking southwest where you can take a brief rest from your uphill exertions and snap a few photos if the weather is clear.

The West Ridge Trail is pretty much an uphill climb but much easier than Big Piney.  There are several decent views through the trees on your right hand side as you make your way towards Walker’s Knob.  There are also some interesting rock formations you will pass over.  Look for the small markers noting the Sisters.  You will eventually reach a wooden fence corral you will have to pass through at the intersection to the turn to Graybeard Mountain.  We decided to forgo this because my past experience has been that the view was just not good enough to justify the in and out hike and the added mileage.  At this point, the trail starts its descent. I took a nice photo of berries on the trail.  Here’s the link if you’re interested:  http://www.phikearts.com/p390867070/h9fad14e#h9fad14e

Our next stop was the shelter where we ran into one lone camper.  The group made a brief rest stop on the benches where we then took the side trail to Walker’s Knob to check out the view.  Unfortunately the afternoon haze impeded the view somewhat but on a clear day it would be a good place to sit for a bit and have a nice lunch (if you are coming from the other direction) or a rest stop.

We made the return trip to the shelter and continued down the Graybeard Trail.  This trail  winds itself down the mountain passing by Graybeard Falls.  The falls itself did not have a lot of water that day but the trail was a bit muddy.  We met 6 or 7 hikers coming up on this trail towards us, the most all day.  We actually did not see any other hikers until we hit the shelter! about 3.5 to 4 hours into our hike. Mr. T and I have hiked Big Piney and West Ridge before and never ran into anyone on those two trails. In addition, on this portion of the trail, we ran into several groups who were camping by the stream. One fellow was actually putting up a tent in the middle of the trail to Graybeard Falls and we had to walk around it to get to the falls. I pointed out to him mildly that did not seem like the best place for a tent but of course I was ignored. Sometimes people just don’t have any sense.  Well if they wanted to camp there, they were going to have to put up with hikers traipsing through their campsite.  We saw one other group camping downstream from here.  This particular area on our hike seemed to be the most heavily used.

The hike eventually ended at the parking lot we started off at as we crossed what I think was Little Slaty Branch  on a substantial wooden bridge.  I think we were all ready to get back to our cars. This is actually a very nice loop hike with some decent views with a waterfall thrown in. It’s not for the beginning hiker though especially if you take the up at Big Piney! It might be a bit more doable starting from the opposite direction. Maybe we’ll try it that way next time.

Mileage about 10.5 miles.

Rating: Strenuous

Elevation Gain: At least 2200



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Our Three Day Hiking, Camping, and Rafting Trip in Western North Carolina

Last month, we camped two nights at the Tsali Campground on Fontana Lake west of Cherokee, North Carolina. Our group met in Travelers Rest and drove up to North Carolina.  It took us about two hours to reach the campground where we drove around and chose our site.  Fortunately the five of us could fit on one site so we set up our camp.  DSC02132Camping in the national forest there typically costs $15 a night but we had someone with an Eagle pass so we got it half price! I guess there are some benefits to getting older. Some.

After eating a quick lunch, we headed out on foot from the campground and took the Mouse Branch Loop trail making a loop, one side of which skirted Fontana Lake.  The hike we did was an easy 7 plus miles.  August is really a green month and while there were some wildflowers they were not nearly as numerous as they might be in the spring. DSC02111 These trails are typically used by mountain bikers. Tsali is very popular among the biking crowd.DSC02124

Having finished the loop we returned to the campground to enjoy some happy hour.  The national forest allows alcohol which can be a blessing and a curse as we were to find out later that weekend.  It wouldn’t be camping without a nice fire which we sat around and enjoyed.  About 9 o’clock, a few more campers started to pull in, one group next to us and the other across from them.  The second crowd I dubbed the Kum Ba Yah crowd as they started singing about an hour after quiet time which was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and the police had to be called to get them to quiet down. The neighbors next door had settled in and we watched them in amazement as the father figure started a fire and then squirted a whole bottle of lighter fluid on the burning flames! Dangerous. We had a family member die from doing this so not a good thing to do.  Even the camp host could see his fire from her site a little way down the road. I forgot to add that our neighbor apparently brought his leaf blower from home to blow liberally on the fire to get it to burn. Okay.

We decided to hit the tents because we were planning to hike the Appalachian Trail in the morning but we no sooner lay down to sleep than our fire starting neighbor started screaming so the whole campground could hear that someone needed to come and get their black lab and that it was hurt.  He did this two times.  Apparently he had broken his crutch over the dog, claiming that it was attacking his dog. We got out of the tents and Mr. D made a risky but brave move and  went over to try and intervene on the dog’s behalf.  He managed to get the dog back to our site without getting into an altercation. In the meantime, the campground host came over and called the number on the dog’s collar.  It turned out she was a hunting dog who was allowed to run loose. I later learned the owner said she was very gentle and would never attack another dog unless it attacked her first.  She was very gentle and we petted her while we waited for the dog’s owner to be contacted.  Finally all the fun for Friday night was over so we all went back to bed.

Saturday morning we all got up, had breakfast, and got ready for our hike.  The fisherman, who had come into the camp the night before, very kindly offered us some eggs they were not going to use.  So we did have some good and kind neighbors.  They were very quiet and well behaved the whole weekend.   I had run up to take a hot shower, which is a luxury while camped, and wandered by the camp host’s site and she came down to talk. DSCN0506 She said this was only the second time the police had been called while she had been there.  She also indicated she had had more excitement that morning (which we did not hear) as one of the campers, who had been drinking the night before, decided to wake the camp up with a very loud “cockle doodle doo” first thing in the  morning!  The Kum Ba Yah crowd packed up and left Saturday morning and I am assuming the police officer who showed up that morning had something to do with it.

The group got in Mr. W’s very nice Kia with 2 sunroofs (we were impressed) and drove across Fontana Dam to the AT trailhead to begin our hike to Shuckstack Tower.  The hike to the tower was a continuous up with some flat spaces in between. DSCN0524 At one point, we stopped for a short rest on a log.  When I got up, I realized I had a yellow jacket in my boot under the flap and it stung me several times before I sat down and released it!  Mr. T was calling me to run but it is hard to run from something in your shoe.  Good advice on most other occasions when you can potentially outrun them. I had just been thinking that I had gone all summer without a bite so I think I jinxed myself!! I was glad I had followed my own advice and updated my first aid kit with the proper items to treat a sting.  (I just heard a story about a local hike on the Foothills Trail where several people got stung by yellow jackets, one fellow apparently looking like he had twenty stings. So I have nothing to complain about).  The rest of the hike was uneventful. We reached the tower after a couple hours and stopped to have a little lunch. DSCN0519I waited until lunch was over to climb the tower but some of the group went up immediately which worked out.  The tower has a 360 degree view which is very nice although it was somewhat hazy on Saturday.  We returned the same way we came pretty much all downhill.

After a brief look at the Fontana Dam, which has hot showers for the AT hikers (I’m obviously hot water obsessed), we got back to the campground. It was happy hour time once again and we sat down and enjoyed the peace and quiet, a nice fire and smores, which lasted until about the time we decided to go to bed.  That’s when some other campers close by started swearing and calling out the names of people.  I’d really be interested to know who Alan and Ray are. Apparently at least one of them had been drinking all day and was pretty inebriated by that time. DSCN0535 This went on for some time.  Ms. J was so disgusted she got out of her tent and went over to talk to the camp host who told her the police were already on their way as someone else complained. Ms. J then went over and asked the rowdies to quiet down.  One group settled down immediately but the sole holdout continue to scream, yell, and swear.  Once the police arrived, it appears they were able to settle him down for the night.  He left in the morning and I assume this is because he was asked to.  Mr. Fire Starter and his group were very quiet Saturday so that was a relief.  The only other nuisance noise was the barking of numerous dogs in the campground!

Sunday morning we got ready to leave as we were planning to raft the Nantahala River.  Once camp was taken down, we took a brief 3 mile hike on the Right Loop Trail.DSC02116 It was pretty much a flat trail used mostly by bike riders and we met several on this particular hike.  This hike also follows the edge of the Fontana Lake.

The group left in two stages, one group heading directly to the Nantahala Outdoor Center to see about purchasing a few items. The second car consisting of me and Mr. T left a little behind and stopped at several campgrounds as Mr. T wanted to check out the sites and the cost.  We reached the NOC and met up with the other group, had a little lunch, before the scheduled rafting time. DSCN0564

Three other friends drove up together from SC to raft with us on the Nantahala. We drove to the rafting vendor and got our instructions and our gear.  We took 4 per raft and Mr. T was in charge of our raft.  The river had enough water in it to give us a pretty good ride. We got stuck on a  couple of rocks and several nice individuals came over to give us some instructions on how to get off the rocks.  Fortunately, we managed to stay in our raft the whole time although the front passengers did get soaked several times.  The weekend ended with supper in Asheville at the Asiana Buffet.  The food is good and they have nice seafood.

So thinking about about a moral to this story. It is nice to be able to have an alcoholic beverage while camping but the downside is that other campers abuse it.  We weren’t overly thrilled with all the barking dogs but we had more trouble with the people than the dogs. I wish I did not get stung by a yellow jacket but it could have been much worse so I’m good with it. Would I go back to Tsali Campground? I’m on the fence about that.  It was well kept up and clean. Most of the people were nice and respectful.  It only takes a few people at such a small campground to make everybody else miserable.  We need to make sure we aren’t one of them.

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Getting Lost or Separated While #Hiking and Controlling the Panic Response

I have been in several situations where panic on a hike has reared its ugly head.  The first was when we lost someone.  That individual got separated from the group on an unfamiliar trail; they did not stop and think.  Instead they gave in to panic and ran headlong down the trail, crossed a river multiple times, apparently at one point even thinking maybe they had passed us but never sat down to wait.

The next time panic almost struck was when we crossed over our trail without noticing it and ended up in a place where the map was unhelpful.  We then made a decision to go down a certain trail but it felt like it was going in the wrong direction.  I asked Mr. T to stop and told him it felt wrong. We decided to backtrack a little and then to use the compass to hike out to a road.  But at that point when we started heading in the wrong direction, I started to have a feeling of panic come on me. Fortunately or unfortunately there were five or six other people to whom I was responsible so I had to push down the panic and help make some decisions.

So what is panic?  One definition is that it is fear or fright that results in “unthinking behavior.” One example of panic that appears frequently is when people become frightened in a stadium and head for the exits trampling everything in their wake. There is no thinking in this situation.  They are running blindly for the exits.

If you are in the woods, and you panic, you can do things that can put you and your group into more danger.

I’m going to suggest a few things:

1.  Don’t give in to your fright. Focus on positive thoughts and avoid negativity.

2.  Slow things way down. Down make rash decisions. Sit down in the trail if you have to. Have a conversation and think about the things you can do to get yourself out of whatever bad situation you find yourself in.

3.  Don’t go running off through the woods without stopping and thinking about where you are and what your best course of action would be.  It might be backtracking the way you came. It might be using your compass to get to the nearest road.  Or it might be sitting and waiting for help.  But running in the wrong direction is liable to get you more lost than you already are so you have to think it through before you move on.

4. If you are the leader, it is important to convey a sense of confidence that everything will be okay. Giving in to personal feelings of panic will only cause the group to panic as well and that is not constructive. It is not going to resolve your problem whatever it is and may exacerbate it.

5.  If you have a hiker who is involved in an accident, you need to take stock of the situation, stabilize the individual, and then make a decision about how you are going to resolve it.  But if you give in to feelings of panic, you may not be able to handle the situation correctly which might cause a poor outcome for someone else.

In a nutshell, what it all boils down to is self control when an emergency comes up whether it is getting lost or dealing with an illness or accident. Panic is a natural response to a frightening situation but you must tell yourself that you can deal with it and then stop and take stock of where you are.  Once the situation has been resolved, it is okay to acknowledge those feelings and even share them.

Everyone has the potential to succumb to panic. The trick is to recognize what you are feeling and suppress it so that you can deal with whatever situation you find yourself in effectively.

Happy hiking!


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Random Thoughts on Taking Photographs

I really didn’t start off being a photographer. I actually just started off hiking, watching my feet, and snapping photos on the run! It wasn’t until I met this wonderful lady over in Spartanburg that I even thought my photos were anything special.  But once it was pointed out to me, I decided that maybe if I tried a little harder I could take better pictures.  But becoming a photographer is another story.  It is like any label that we take on, sometimes at first the ‘shirt’ doesn’t fit quite right and we struggle against it.  Eventually the title starts to be more comfortable and we can be okay with it.

It was kind of like that when I started leading group hikes. I was supposed to lead one hike and here I am 7 plus years later still leading them. And I’m okay with that.  Being a leader to me means being willing to take on the responsibility of the bad and the good even when it’s uncomfortable.

I spend a lot of my lunches wandering around trying to improve my skills.  Sometimes it’s a challenge when you know a place well but things are always changing so it’s not that hard to find something new in Greenville to photograph.  I have several cameras and am still working to master what I call the fancier model but sometimes I just pull out my Nikon Coolpix that I always have with me and take a shot or two.  I do take the smaller camera with me on hikes because it weighs less and I don’t worry as much about destroying it out in the woods or falling into the water with it!   When I do take my Sony, I have had to promise not to pull it out until we get to our destination because it will slow us down too much.

For me, photography is about seeing first.  If you don’t see something, you will never take a picture of it.  You have to see the leaf on the sidewalk, the raindrop on the window, or the leaves blowing down the street.  That is one shot I am going to try for next Fall!  I often stop to listen to the birds when I walk but I don’t have a camera lens that is suitable for birding. No matter. 

I once led a downtown hike where we explored the city with our senses which I guess to some people would seem rather odd.  But since I have the option of being able to experiment, I really enjoyed trying to see if I could get people to think about what they heard, and felt, and saw in a different light. There were a couple people who did get it so maybe I will try it again.  One of my fellow hikers took a photo on that hike and I could see she got me! Very encouraging. 

Every story is supposed to have an ending but every day is a new beginning and another picture waiting to be taken. Inspiration is everywhere!

Happy hiking!

TD Stage and Peace Center, Greenville, SC

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