With afternoon thundershowers again in the forecast for Sunday (June 1) we decided to play it safe and ascend a fairly safe peak - Allsmoke Mountain.
We had tried to do this last fall, in fact, but the access road (Ware Creek Road) was so icy I couldn't even get close to the trailhead and probably shouldn't have even gone as far as I did. This time around I wasn't worried about ice, but the road was in terrible shape! Trucks likely wouldn't have a problem, but the ruts and holes in spots were big enough that had I fallen into them I would've done some damage to the car.
Once we reached the trailhead (Ware Creek Recreational Area) the hike started very well - crossing a large field with shooting stars blanketing it thicker than the dandelions on my lawn! After about a kilometer of this the old road/trail enters the forest, and while the trees are old and nice the entire area is a muddy, swampy mess. There are calypso orchids, however, so that helped our mood a small bit.
After a kilometer of mud and slippery logs the trail begins to ascend steeply and gets much better. While you're in trees much of the way and views are non-existent, the forest is reasonably open and the going is very easy. About 2/3 of the way along the ridge the trail enters some meadows and disappears, but the going remains easy. (You can also avoid the meadows and stick to the ridge, although there is a bit of routefinding and bushwhacking involved with this).
The view from the summit, while certainly not 360 degrees due to trees, is still very nice and offers a view to the west that I've never seen before, despite having hiked quite a bit in the area. An interesting trip would be to continue from Allsmoke Mountain to Volcano Ridge and then out the Sheep River Road via any number of routes. I can't see why this wouldn't be fun and not too difficult; perhaps an interesting early-season backpacking trip? (Speaking of early season, we did capture a tick on this trip, so watch for them!).
With showers closing in at 11 am (quite early!) we rapidly headed back to the car, but the final bit was made more exciting by some people taking target practice in the field at the trailhead. While I have nothing against this in principle it's a bit unnerving when you don't know which way they're shooting or if they have enough brains to shoot into a proper backdrop (as in a hillside in full view to stop the bullets). One group had this concept down, but another group didn't quite seem to get the idea that they couldn't really see where their bullets might end up were they to aim just a bit too high.
Nearing the road and car I was a bit tense from the gunfire and didn't notice a great grey owl perched about 20 feet in front of me! Sandra managed to get my attention, then my camera from my pack (it had been raining), and the owl cooperated for a few photos and then a hasty video of it flying silently away. I've certainly never been that close to an owl and it made up a bit for the mud earlier in the day and the present gunfire.
A few photos:
Calypso orchids attempt to distract us from the swampy mess.
I am fascinated by these enormous piles of pine cone bits amassed by squirrels.
A great grey owl. Our guidebook describes them as tame and this one certainly was!
Summit view to the northwest.
More photos, etc. on my website: http://mattclay.zenfolio.com/allsmoke_mountain