July 8, 2017
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
One of the toughest trails I have ever hiked was the Long Trail in Vermont. During that 273 mile sojourn, the toughest section, physically and psychologically was Mount Mansfield.
The rocks, precipices and overall toughness of that section were daunting. As I wrote of that day: “As I stood at the juncture of the Forehead and the bypass, I didn’t move. I wanted to take the LT, I wanted to do it. I watched as a family came back down saying that it was too tough to do. As soon as they were coming down the Two Jews came up from the Lodge. Gregarious and fast moving, they saw me waiting. “Come on Paperback, do the Forehead, you’ll regret it if you don’t.” And they were right, I wanted to do it.” So daunting that I had walked 200 miles, yet nearly skipped an important and beauteous section.
It was a unique hiking experience, one that I had not seen before until last Saturday.
Based on my experience, I would vote the Grandfather Trail as one of the toughest in all of North Carolina. The sheer height, dangerousness and toughness are unmatched.
Starting bright and early at the new trailhead for the Profile Trail, I retraced the family’s July 4th hike. To many folks I’ve spoken with, they say the Profile is steep, tough and excruciating. It’s not. As I wrote previously, it is clearly an uphill hike, but it is steady, with many switchbacks. As I recently noted to a friend, my wife carried our 25 lb. daughter up the trail with little difficulty.
At the northern trailhead, the Profile intersects the Grandfather Trail. To the left (east), .4 miles the Grandfather summits Calloway Peak and then becomes the Daniel Boone Scout Trail. There is also a wonderful vista from Watauga View, with glimpses of Boone and Beech Mountain.
I summited Calloway, braving 40-50 mph gusts. This started my traverse of Grandfather, with plans to reach the swinging bridge and return via the same route.
I say this with all candor and seriousness. The Grandfather is no joke. It caught me off guard with its austere beauty and toughness. The trail from Calloway to the swinging Bridge is only 2.4 miles. It hikes like 4-5 miles. There aren’t any nice trails or switchbacks. The trail (when there is one) is muddy. Most of the hike consists of scampering up rocks, down ladders and following a network of blue blazes painted to the rocks. This trail is not for the faint of heart. After passing Alpine Meadow, I peered down the precipice of a cliff beside the trail, it was 150-200 feet of sheer drop to the forest floor.
When I hiked Mount Mansfield last year, I was afraid of heights. In some small way, that particularly confrontation and defeat has tamed that fear. I leapt up rocks and crab walked down slippery granite without even thinking about it.
Just past a spur to Indian House Cave, you reach Attic Window. Looking down, I was unsure if the trail even went there. The trail can’t reach down at a 45 degree grade. It was the trail and it was a monumental scampering among a boulder field to the base.
From Attic the trails even out a little more, with fixed placed ladders to aid the descent. As soon as I saw more day hikers, I knew I was close to the swinging bridge.
Grandfather Mountain State Park does not extend to the bridge, that portion is a privately maintained attraction. For people driving up the mountain, it’s $20 per head to visit. For dirt bag, cheapo hikers (like me); it’s free if you hike there.
I quickly turned around and headed right back up the Grandfather Trail for another dose of ladders and climbing. I can’t say enough about this trail; it’s one of my favorites.
Total mileage is 12 miles.