Days 149-156 – Asheville, Week 7

The weather has remained just beautiful. Day after day of sunshine and, while the nights are cool, temperatures warm up to at least the high 50s, if not the mid 60s during the day.

We are determined not to waste a minute of this gorgeous weather and head off to a very popular local hike to the Looking Glass. It’s a huge granite pluton (geological speak for “big rock”) that can be seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is much-photographed. You can see a great picture of it on the Hike WNC website.

When we hiked John Rock on our first North Carolina hike in October, we passed the parking area for Looking Glass and noted the dozens of cars parked in the small lot and spilling out along the road. We decided then to hike it only mid-week. Good choice. We start out at about 10 a.m. and are only the fourth car in the parking lot, with another couple and their dog pulling in just as we head up the trail.

It’s still cool as we start but since there’s nearly 1,700 feet of elevation in a little over 3 miles, we warm up quickly. The trail is nowhere near as difficult as the Green Knob trail but it’s a nice little workout. We pass a few people coming down the trail as we head up and a younger couple resting on their way up.

When we pop out at the top, we get gorgeous views of the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even better, at least from my point of view, we have the entire rock to ourselves for about 15 minutes before the couple we had passed and the couple with the dog appear. The woman with the dog says she wants to hold him up like in the Lion King, which would be very cute. She doesn’t, but it’s a nice moment.

Walt and I have had a nice snack and break and are ready to yield our prime viewing spot to the others.

As we head down, we pass about a dozen more people on their way up and congratulate ourselves for having timed it so perfectly.

Sadly Dolly’s ice cream shop, which we so enjoyed after our John Rock hike, is not open mid-week in November so we stop at Ecusta Brewing for a beer instead.

A couple of days later (after a golf day), we head to the West Asheville River Arts District, a several-block area of converted warehouses where dozens of potters, glass blowers and other artists and artisans have studio and exhibit space. We wander in and out, taking a few cards of artists whose work we like enough to think we might want to purchase, when we have a house with our own walls someday.

The weather is holding so after another golf day, we head to South Carolina’s Caesars Head State Park for a nice 8 ½ mile loop hike of Raven Cliff Falls. The day is a bit overcast, but it’s still warm so we’re not worried. It’s only an hour or so drive to the park, through the town of Brevard and some mountains we haven’t been to before. I keep trying to find hikes that take us in different directions out of Asheville but also meet my requirements for a day hike: no less than 6 miles total and preferably 8-12 miles with at least 1,500 feet of elevation gain and a view, either of a waterfall or from the top of a mountain.

In addition to accessing various hiking websites, I have bought a hiking book, which is where I got directions for today’s hike.

We first head in along a beautiful old carriage road, looping gently up and down around the crest of a mountain before heading out to a lookout where we can see the falls. According to my book, Matthews Creek drops 420 feet over several levels to create one of the highest falls in the Southeast.

We turn around and head back up the trail a quarter of a mile to a junction where we will start to head down for the loop. There’s a family of four standing at the junction reading the sign nailed to a tree that warns it’s a strenuous, 4-hour hike with a major down and then back up to the ridge and not to start unless you have plenty of time, water and food. We have all of those and are not at all fazed by the sign. It’s not our previous to have the “down” part of the hike at the beginning and the “up” toward the end, but we’ve done these types of hikes before and we knew what we were getting into. The family has no intention of doing this hike, which is probably for the best, and look a bit shocked that we hadn’t even paused after reading the sign. “Good luck.” “Be safe.” They call after us as we wave.

It is a bit steep going into the gorge but it’s really not nearly as bad as Green Knob was. At the bottom, we cross the creek and immediately head back up. It gets pretty steep in some sections but it’s just about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Again, less than Green Knob.

At one point, there’s a 120-foot tall rock wall above us. Happily for us, the trail verges to the right of it and we continue up pretty easily to the top of the falls. We cross the falls on a nice suspension bridge and then stop to eat our lunch – PB&J and chips – on the rocks near the falls before heading up some more and completing the loop and heading out.

As far as we’re concerned, two hikes in one week, both in good weather, in mid-November is a huge point in Asheville’s favor even if we can’t find any post-hike ice cream.

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