Today was a good day. I accomplished two things. I tested out a new pair of hiking boots and I stretched myself physically to see if anything was going to break. So far, nothing has.
We are visiting our daughter in North Carolina. I have been looking forward to this visit for several reasons – one of them being the hiking terrain that’s available there. Today was Julia’s day off from work so we went looking for some mountains.
About an hour from Greensboro is Hanging Rock State Park and there are mountains there very similar to other places on the AT that I have hiked in the past. The rock outcroppings at the tops of these wooded ridges are so dramatic. I couldn’t help but thinking of the violent seismic forces that must have pushed them up at such angles. And what a beautiful ride there! North Carolina is all leafed out and green, fields are planted, and rhododendron is blooming along the roadside as you get to higher elevations. The sun was shining and there was just enough breeze to keep us cool.
The state park has no admission fee so we drove in, parked near the visitor center and got a trail map. The girl manning the information desk marked out a trail for us. I told her we were ambitious and wanted some up and down time, so she suggested an 11 mile route that visited five outstanding spots. We honestly had no idea how this was going to feel for us, and I was glad there were several optional places to quit our route and get back to the car.
We set off around 1 pm, Julie had Tess the dog with her, and I carried the backpack with water and snacks. We soon peeled off our first layer of jackets, mostly out of embarrassment as we passed people in shorts and tank tops, and partly because we started climbing and sweating right away. The main feature, Hanging Rock, was first on the list. We saw lots of people on this trail, all ages and hiking abilities. There were benches at convenient resting spots. The trail is well maintained but it is rocky in places with uneven footing. It’s sometimes steep, but the view at the top is worth the climb. The rocky outcroppings allow one to see wide expanses of the valleys on both sides, east and west. Although there is ample room at the top for people to spread out and rest awhile on the rocks, there are no barriers anywhere and the vertical drops are scary. (What I’m saying is that if you had carried your young child up there, you would want to hold on to them. Every. Minute.)
We had a snack and then doubled back on the trail to the next outcropping, Wolf Rock. It and the next two, House Rock and Cook Wall, were reached along the next five or six miles along a ridge. Ridgewalking is somewhat of a relief because it has fewer steep climbs or descents. This trail is forested and shady except on the outcroppings. The path varies from soft forest floor to tangled root stair steps and ragged rock slabs and boulders. You spend a lot of time looking down for safe places for feet to land. There were fewer people to share the trail with us after Hanging Rock since the other features are visited less. However, they were all worth seeing. We decided to head back without going to Moores Wall, the last on our route. Our feet were beginning to feel the rocks and over eight miles (five hours) of unaccustomed hiking were making my legs feel a little rubbery. Besides, the dog was really tired.
It is true that the descending path can be harder or as hard as the climb up – you feel the strain in other places though. The last mile was mostly level ground that followed a clear brook, spilling out of Magnolia Spring and emptying into a beautiful lake. I saw there a sign for a trail I hadn’t heard about before, The MTS or Mountain to Sea, not that I need another trail to add to the list.
Julia is a wizard at finding her favorite treats and evidently a milk shake had been on her mind for the last few miles of the hike. We found one of those at the Milk Bar in Walnut Cove. It was the perfect end to a great day of hiking.