Days 157-163 – Asheville, Week 8

Walt’s sister and brother-in-law have driven from Hilton Head, S.C. to enjoy Thanksgiving with us and we decide to take advantage of the continued warm weather to have a little pre-dinner hike. We head up the Blue Ridge Parkway and realize that we’re not the only people who have had this idea. There are cars and people and dogs at every overlook and parking area.

No matter.

We park at Craven Gap and head north. We’re on the Mountains to Sea Trail so we can hike as far as we’d like. We agree to hike for one hour, which gets us 2 miles to the Ox Creek Road parking area that Walt and I had used for our Lane Pinnacle hike a few weeks ago. We turn around for a nice 4-mile, two-hour hike, meeting lots of people and happy dogs on the trail on this sunny, warm day. We figure our hike is good enough to warrant a four-course Thanksgiving Dinner at the Red Stag Grill, which is excellent.

While Lisa and Dave were visiting, we also visited the Biltmore Estate for a Christmas evening tour. The house and grounds are decorated with about 100,000 lights (including 55,000 on the 55-foot spruce out front). There are 55 decorated trees inside the house, 1,000 handmade bows, over a mile of fresh evergreen roping, not to mention the hundreds of flowers, kissing balls, and wrapped “packages” under the trees. It’s all pretty spectacular.

After Dave and Lisa leave Friday morning, Walt and I head back out to the golf course to continue enjoying the weather.

On another beautiful day, we head off to Chimney Rock State Park. We climb the 499 stairs to the top of Chimney Rock, then go up another 330 to Exclamation Point before continuing for another mile to the top of Hickory Nut Falls and a view of the gorge below. We head back and, bypassing our parked car, we hike down another three-quarters of a mile to the base of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls.

What’s most striking to me is not the falls, which are not very effusive this time of year, but the large sign at the base showing pictures of four snakes: the venomous copperhead and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and two non-venomous, one of which is a water snake. The sign says to look for the water snake in the pools below the viewing platform. For once, I’m glad the day is a little chilly: no chance of a snake today.

We decide to give ourselves a day off and head to the Grove Park Inn (again) to view the entries in this year’s National Gingerbread Competition. There are nearly 200 entrants among adults, teens, youth and children. Some are incredibly clever, such as the baseball park (in the children’s category) and the gorgeous blue Victorian house. Many aren’t houses at all: there’s an owl, a swan, a group of ladies’ hats, etc. The winner was an incredibly elaborate setting of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” with “books” and figures that didn’t look at all like it was made of gingerbread, it was so cleverly crafted.

We wander to the gingerbread stand (structure? house?) standing in the great hall that serves beer, hot cocoa and gingerbread cookies. (I’ll post a photo of the ingredients used to make it as well as some people standing in front of it.) It’s still nice out, so we take our treats to the deck and enjoy the sunshine.

Since the weather has stayed unbelievably warm and sunny, the next day we head off in a new direction for a hike in South Mountains State Park. We have learned the hard way (an aborted hike on a different day) that during fall hunting season (bear, deer, turkey) we are better off sticking to a state park where hunting is prohibited. We could hike in other areas but blaze orange hats and/or jackets are warranted to let hunters know we’re not prey and we don’t have any of that. We did have a discussion with some other hikers one day who were all wearing blaze orange.

One guy suggested that Walt’s red jacket and my lime green jacket and hat should be enough to mark us as “non-prey” but another guy was very clear: if we weren’t wearing blaze orange, we were taking our life in our hands in any area where there were hunters.

So, to the state park, where all hunting is prohibited.

Our destination today is the High Shoals Falls loop. We can actually reach the base of the falls in only 1 mile with 200 feet of elevation gain, but that would be no fun. We admire the falls but quickly start up the stairs built over the huge boulders. Our goal is the top of the falls, about 500 feet up. You’d think after all the stairs at Chimney Rock, this would be easy but it’s never easy, it’s just more achievable.

My guidebook says most people turn around at the base, or at least before reaching the top of the falls. We continue and do see another group that’s out for the same hike as us. The path is less steep once we crest the falls, we’re on an old carriage or fire road, so it’s easy walking (wide with not a lot of roots or rocks).

We come down a gorgeous ridge between two gorges and complete our 8-mile, 1,745 feet of elevation gain hike in a record three hours. We consider it a day well spent.

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