July 21, 2018
The Qualla Boundary is the designated land for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (ECBI). The land is nestled on Jackson and Swain Counties and abuts the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP).
Before starting the Lookout Tower Challenge, I had never been hiking on the Qualla, hell, I didn’t even know there were trails.
Mount Noble is located right beside the Oconaluftee Indian Village. In fact, the tribe has recently constructed a series of very nice mountain bike trails named the Fire Mountain Trails. I don’t mountain bike, but if you do, it may be worth your time.
According to Peter Barr in his book Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers, Mount Noble was constructed in 1957 to replace the smaller wooden tower on the site. Used for fire detection until the 1960’s, it now houses a series of FCC and radio towers. The hike is not strenuous, but it is uphill for 2.4 miles, gaining 1,600 feet.
My good friend Perry and I started the hike in the early morning, as thunderstorms were expected in the afternoon. Soon the humidity kicked in, and we sweated and trudged up the terrain. Slowly the fauna of the lower elevations and pine trees were replaced with the lush forest and ferns of the more temperate zone. The tower itself is not accessible, as a chain link fence now bars entry. Even if the fence wasn’t there, I don’t think I would have hiked up. The railing is missing in parts and the cab looked as if it were about to fall down. We took some pictures, looked around for views to the south and headed back down.
The next fire tower on the Rez is Barnett Knob. To find the trailhead, we left Qualla and drove towards the GSMNP. Once on the the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), proceed to mile 462.5 (between the Thomas Divide and Big Witch Overlooks). Soon a dirt forest service road will appear on the right. We parked at the bottom, even though the gate was open and hiked .6 miles to the top. The road is not hard at all. Soon we passed under some power lines and looped back around to the tower. As luck would have it, the gate was open, so I bounded in to walk up the tower. About 20 ft. up the tower, I felt a slight rustling in my hair, then my beard. I swatted it away and then I felt the hot needle sensation go through my head. I had walked upon an undisturbed hornet’s nest. It probably didn’t help that I jumped up and down to test the structural integrity of the tower. I started yelling profanities and running down the tower steps. “Run, Perry, Runnnnn.” With stings pounded my forehead and jaw, I looked back to the tower, sure as the world a huge ass hornets nest was in the corner with a swarm of the devil creatures whipping around in a frenzy.
The saddest thing was on this clear afternoon, the views would have been tremendous, but I sure wasn’t going to venture back up. After going back to the car, we went back to the Rez for a late lunch at Paul’s Family Restaurant for Elk Burgers and fries.
Total mileage is 6 miles.