"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Chutes & Ladders Hike on Grandfather Mountain - NC

Ashville, North Carolina
Taps RV Park


If you're in the Ashville area and want a challenging hike, try the Grandfather Mountain Trail.  It is known to be one of the most technical mountain hikes without climbing gear east of the Mississippi.  Sounds like a great challenge, we're in!  There is bouldering involved where progress is hand-over-hand and extra steep sections, like MacRae Peak, where you will need to use cables and ladders to scale the sheer rock face.  It is a little over 5 miles round trip to Calloway Peak at 5964'.  The gain is 1722 feet.

 
While it was sunny when we started out with just a cloud or two in the distance, we knew there was a possible thunderstorm expected later in the afternoon so we were keeping a very close eye on my weather app while we climbed.  We hoped to make it to Calloway Peak.



 
It was a great hike and we loved the terrain, views and the fun stuff thrown in.  More on the fun stuff later.


 
The fragrance in the air was wonderful.  Sort of a boggy, pine, flowery scent.


We started out on the extension trail and then took Grandfather Trail.

 
What was weird was even though you're up in these beautiful mountains with great views all around, most of the mountainsides were built up with homes or businesses.

 
There were plenty of boulders to climb along the way.  Just follow the blue streak marking the Grandfather Trail.

 
We were only about 1/2 way but the storm was moving in quicker than expected so we knew we wouldn't make it to Calloway.  We were not crazy about coming back down the steep ladders if it was raining so we figured we would return via the Underwood Trail which only had one ladder.



 
Here's the first cable.  Not bad.  I was more comfortable going up without the cable until the little wall at the top.

Steve's turn.
 
We were taking a breather and came across two couples that were on their way back down.  They said to make sure when we get to the top of the ladders to take a little side trail to this amazing point for a picture.  They assured us it was not as scary as it looks in the picture.  We'll see. I'm glad I took a picture of their picture because the thunder started just as we finished what seemed like the final set of ladders and we never did see that side trail. There are supposedly 16 ladders, but we lost count.

 
Gotta admit, it was a great picture!


 First ladder.  These are 4x4's and spaced far apart if you're a short person.  We actually saw one young guy run up it.
 
The Chute.  Not too bad. You just had to watch your head and your pack on the rocks as the chute was pretty narrow and on an angle.
 
Me going up the Chute.

Now these ladders might not look so bad in the pictures below, but they were straight up and there is a cliff to the left side.  Some of the ladders tilted towards the cliff which was a creepy feeling.

First you had to climb up the rock wall which was challenging on its own.  The ladders are very long with some more rock climbing in between some of them.  I just concentrated on the top and tried not to think about those bolts holding the ladders to the boulders.  Who checks those things?
 
I was ok until I got to the one at the top in this picture (above).  The angle of the tilt and the cliff right there to your left had me doubting myself.  I had a death grip on that ladder!  It's nice when there are others there to give you moral support.  A nice younger couple was there that had climbed it several times before.  I like getting a description from someone about the ladders and words of encouragement.

We both did ok on these sets and the view at this point was really amazing.  Best views we've had in these mountains for sure!  The alpine flowers and plants were all blooming.


 
The trail is easy enough to follow, but the rock scrambling up on this ridge was also borderline for me.  Very steep.


 
It was hard to see ahead where the trail might lead without some scouting.  Again, it was pretty scary for me and I wasn't so sure I wanted to continue.  At this point the storm was rolling in quickly and we heard a couple claps of thunder.  Well, that settles it, time to turn back (thank God!)  The clouds were actually blowing in right past us.  We really did NOT like the idea that not only would we have to go back down those ladders but we might not even be able to see them either.

 
I have to say we've noticed different types of people on these trails.  For the record, I'm not picking on other ethnicities, just something we've noticed that happens frequently. They appear to be visiting from other countries wearing sandals or flip flops.  Yet some bound right up and around these mountains like it's nothing.  Then there are parents that bring their little kids.  Kids like 3 years old.  Their parents are handing them up these ladders and barely watching them when they are cliffside.  It freaks me out to see kids this young up here.  I literally can't watch.  Then there are the multi-generational familes of 10.  Judging by their clothes and shoe choices, one would think they've never hiked before.  When they ask us about the trail condition as we were heading back down at a quick pace, we honestly tell them (in our opinion) the conditions and that with the thunder and lightning they might want to head back down.  Yet up they all continued.  There are huge warnings on the sign at the beginning:
 
THIS TRAIL IS VERY DIFFICULT.
BE PREPARED FOR STEEP INCLINES WITH CABLES AND LADDERS SCALING ROCKY CLIFFS.
WEATHER CAN CHANGE WITH LITTLE WARNING CREATING HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS.
THIS TRAIL IS FOR EXPERIENCED HIKERS.
HIKERS NEED BOOTS WITH GOOD TRACTION.
 
But they ignore the warnings. Just crazy!  We all hear about the people that have to be rescued or life flighted out.

I think even if the weather didn't take a turn for the worse, seeing the two guys that had just passed us up on the next rock face was enough to make us want to stop.  Again, you can't see it because the rocks in the foreground are blocking it, but that rock they are on, MacCrae Point, juts straight up with another fun ladder.  Nope.  No thanks.  They called to me, "Don't worry, there's a ladder to help".  Yea... uh... no.
 
Once off the steep stuff we practically ran down.  Then the sky opened up and the rain couldn't have come down any heavier.  We didn't even have time to put rain gear on.  We were instantly soaked.  The trail turned into a river.  I was just thankful we were on a firm trail and off those ladders.  I felt so bad for those others that were probably trying to climb down them wet and probably slippery.  We did see the large family later but never did see the family with kids.  It took us an hour and 1/2 to get back to the truck.  My hat couldn't even keep the rain out of my face.  Unfortunately we had no spare clothes in the truck.  Just a sweatshirt of Steve's that I changed into.  I do always have extra towels though.  So we blotted off best we could and covered our leather seats with the rest.  It was not a fun drive back in soggy clothes.

Looking both ways off the old swinging bridge.  It was replaced almost 20 years ago when it really was a swinging bridge.  Now it's very stable.  Last time we were here was with the kids when they were little.  No, we did not take them on that crazy hike.  The bridge is at the base of the trail with a visitor center.

On the way down the mountain you pass a sign stating that this is where Forest Gump, played by Tom Hanks, jogged by in that famous part of the movie.  I'd have liked to see him climb those ladders!

 
We'll be in Tennessee next!
 

18 comments:

  1. Great post. Challenging hike for sure. Wish I could have been there. Glad you decided to turn back when you did.

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  2. Glad you followed your and knew when it was time to descend.....CRAZY!!!!

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    1. I sure don't want to be a helicopter rescue!

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  3. Definitely an interesting hike with lots of variety. That is a few too many ladders for me. I think the coming down is far worse than going up. The steepness makes it crazy hard for me to get from one rung to the next. Glad you made to level ground before the big rain came. Loved the videos!!

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    1. I agree. Coming down that type of ladder was hard for me at 5'4". And it didn't help that I held flat to the ladder. It was hard for me to relax. I would NOT have wanted to try to come down those ladders during the rain. There also is not much cover up there. Not a place to be with the lightning all around you!

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  4. What an interesting hike with plenty to keep you going. IT can get slick when wet.

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    1. Yes, we enjoyed it and would like to do it again if we're ever in the area.

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  5. Good for you guys - I would NOT have done those ladders - scary stuff!

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    1. The first couple weren't bad. Then you get to the third and it's Oh $hit!

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  6. Wow, what a hike. I loved the picture of the rock overhang. Thanks for bringing us along on your adventure.

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    1. It would've been fun to take a picture there too but I guess we were to focused on the ladders and missed the little side trail.

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  7. Looks like a fun BUT challenging hike. I hear ya on seeing all kinds on the trails. Al and I did a day trip to the Grand Canyon last month and after 15 minutes of strolling the rim, Al had had enough. He couldn't watch the stupidity anymore. Amazing more people don't fall at the GC especially kids.

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    1. We thought, maybe they're from very mountainous countries and do this all the time? I still couldn't take it. Even the rock climbing parts they had to be pushed up. There's a cliff right there, hello!

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  8. Beautiful area and views - but the route is so far outside my comfort level! Just looking at the cables and ladders had me holding on tight!! Love the blue/gray layers in the mist!!

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    1. It was petty intense! We can't get too lax with these low elevation hikes because we still have Katahdin in Maine to do!

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  9. Sounds like a crazy hike!! And a reminder I need to get a poncho or something to throw in my backpack!!

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    1. It was as challenging as Flat Iron! Some type of poncho good idea as is a spare change of clothes in the truck!

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