April 11, 2015
For years there has been talk of a monster haunting the woods of the Plott Balsams. According to Mountain Ghost Stories*:
“As the Abominable Snowman haunts the Himalayas, Boojum hides in the woods… at the edge of the Plott Balsams in Haywood County. Boojum was said to be larger than a bear, and just as hairy.”
While we didn’t find the elusive Bigfoot, we did find a crazy fun, difficult bushwhack of a hike over five (5) peaks above 6000′ in the Plott Balsam mountain range.
We started at the Waterrock Knob parking lot off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 10:00 am. The initial hike is uber-easy; a slight uphill hike on pavement to Waterrock for a 1/2 mile. Before the summit we veered left and a slight manway appears. As soon as we stepped into the woods we saw a small laminated mileage sign: Plott Balsam 3.5 miles.
“Perry, this is beautiful.” The trail descends rather quickly to the gap between Browning Knob and Waterrock Knob. Moss, balsam, roots tripping you as you sidestep downward at 40 degree angles. It’s rugged and it’s gorgeous. We started to summit Browning Knob (elevation: 6,240′) a beautiful mountain. In the clearing a pudgy military man stood. ” Well hellllo there!” I said. Grunt in return. “How are y’all?” (to son and military dad). Grunt back. “Nice day for a hike.” Grunt. “Are y’all camping?” (they were wearing heavy duty backpacks). “No, we’re training.” We pressed on from Browning, where we descended and ascended several ridges en route to Lyn Lowry. I say this was a bushwhack, but if I’m honest there was enough red tape marking the manway that no one can get lost. After 1.3 miles we reached Mt. Lyn Lowry (elevation: 6,240′). The actual summit is 200′ west of the memorial cross.
Once we rested we started the descent from Lyn Lowry. At the end of a very steep manway there appears a fork. Take the left logging road for a little over a mile. The trick is to know where to leave the road. After a mile you come to Oldfield Top, a self-explaining field on a mountain. Continue on the road and keep Oldfield on your left. You will start to go up a little. After a quarter mile you see these gnarly old oak trees. Be on the lookout for some red ribbon to the left. This is where the ascent of Plott Balsam (elevation: 6,088) begins. It’s a quarter mile tricky-hike. The actual summit is marked by a small rock. You can tell you’re there because there is no higher ground around. Even though we saw the red tape marking a trail down towards Maggie Valley, we headed back the way we came. To our surprise as we came off Plott (literally in the middle of nowhere) a group of four hikers came up the mountain. We were both happy to see each other. They were not training…
The trip back was incredible. The smell of balsam and sunshine wafting into your face as you crashed up a mountain, brushing aside the firs and thickets. The sound of grouse exploding from the underbrush, rocks as old as time ridden with green moss. Solitude. My companions the trees and chirping birds. Coming out at Waterrock we instantly saw hordes of people. As we made our way to the summit (elevation: 6,292′) a woman actually looked at me come out of the woods and shuffled her child along in a hurry. Hilarious.
From the parking lot we hiked down to the BRP and crossed to the trailhead for our last peak: Yellow Face (elevation: 6,032). This trail is only .6 miles to the summit. A wonderful, pleasant hike. A slight ascent, but after going up, I took my time coming back down. There was so much hidden moss, the trails were so lovely. As I peered back, I saw rocks with a yellow hue against the sun.
We made it back to the car at 5:00. As I was packing up, a lady came over: “hey, where did you get that air freshener hanging from your rear view mirror? My son loves Bigfoot!” I did in fact have a Bigfoot air freshener. Perry let out a chuckle.
Total mileage is 10 (very hard) miles.
* Mountain Ghost Stories. Randy Russell & Janet Barnett, 1988.