July 31 – August 1, 2021
Shining Rock Wilderness is quite breathtaking, chockfull of sweeping vistas, balds, and several peaks over 6,000′. It is also jammed with people hiking the trails and driving to the trailheads. Right next to Shining Rock, separated by Hwy. 215, is a gem. Middle Prong Wilderness has beautiful vistas, gorgeous trails, waterfalls, yet for some reason the masses do not descend upon the trailheads. In fact, in all the years that I have hiked these trails, I rarely see another hiker.
This is one of my favorite destinations, Mt. Hardy, the middle of the wilderness. Perhaps that is where the name comes from? While there are only five trails in total, the Mountains-to-Sea trail (MST) traverses the southern border and meets at a right angle with the Green Mountain Trail.
My good friend, Johnny and I met for a weekend backpacking trip at Haywood Gap. From there, it is only a 2.5 mile hike on the MST to Mt. Hardy. The original plan was to camp at the summit like we did in 2016. We summited early in the afternoon via a southern bushwhack, but there was too much blowdown to hammock camp. We descended and hiked a very short way up the Green Mountain Trail.
The vista that evening at sunset from the balds was breathtaking.
This is truly one of my favorite places to visit. In the morning, I hiked out with the cool mountain air wafting gently around me. This is truly a quintessence of hiking grandeur.
Total mileage is 6.1 miles.
2 thoughts on “Middle Prong Wilderness”
For hikers that are, shall we say, less intrepid than the author, here is a different look at Middle Prong, penned by a friend of mine with extensive experience extricating lost and injured persons from it’s beguiling grasp.
The Middle Prong Wilderness Is Not For You
The Middle Prong is not for you. There are no spectacular views to speak of. No waterfalls worthy of a name. No amenities, no parking, and it is difficult to access. What rooted, rocky, slippery trails there are change in an instant from benign to lung-bursting, muscle-tearing, soul-searing ascents of 1200’ per mile or more. The sides of the trails are littered with the bleached, broken bones of those who tried…and failed. No, the Middle Prong is not for you.
Off trail, it is even worse. Rhododendron abounds. Mountain Laurel and Greenbriar fills what spaces the Rhodo doesn’t. The lay of the abundant deadfall usually serves to frustrate any reasonable line of travel. 100m per hour is light-speed in this country. Pack a lunch, you’re going to need it. Per Peakbagger, the last recorded ascent of Bear Trap Knob is 1991. Think about that. 1991. Having been there recently, I can attest to that and there’s a reason. No, Dear Friend, The Middle Prong is not for you.
Cell phone reception? Um, no. Fugeddaboutit. GPS? Maybe. On a good day. Since this is a rain forest, good days are rare as hens’ teeth. Compass? Yeah, right. Head to the Bermuda Triangle in the saddle north of Mount Hardy and watch it spin like a top. That’s especially fun when there’s 50m visibility, it’s 40 degrees, the wind is howling, and it’s raining like the proverbial bovine urinating on a planar geologic formation. Did I mention RAIN FOREST? Nah, the Middle Prong is not for you.
Lastly, do not forget Oliver. 675 pounds of Satan-eyed slavering black bear. Human pressure has pushed him out of the Black Balsam area. Unfortunately, he still carries a taste for processed foods (in the wrapper, please, mind you) and young, tender flesh. You’ll know you’re in the Middle Prong when you see mountainous piles of bear scat with bits of torn-up cloth and buttons in it. Impervious to gunfire (I know this second hand), the only known defense against his ravenous appetite is waving an AARP membership card in his fetid face. He’s picky. Even so, the Middle Prong is not for you.
Looking for nice day hike near Asheville? Black Balsam. Sam Knob. Tennant Mountain. Ivestor Gap. Graveyard Fields. Sunny, happy, lots of parking, nice trails, and world-class shitters. When the Park Service and Forestry evicted the Devil from his Courthouse, Middle Prong is where he went. The Middle Prong is not for you. Trust me.
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Blessed are those who cultivate the rare ability to leave the chaotic mental chatter of the city behind when they enter the wilderness.
On the other hand, the initials “B.S.” are quite fitting for some of those who intrude upon the wilderness. I am so thankful for the quality time I spent in some very special places before they were overrun by noisy, officious smart-alecks.
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