I headed out to the Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest a couple of weeks ago. It was my first time there and it turned out to be a great trip. I’d heard reports that the area was pretty rugged and trails could be tough to follow but it wasn’t bad at all. There are definitely some areas where you want to pay attention to the map and where you’re at but I didn’t have any trouble navigating.
This trip also had me testing some new gear, which is always exciting. I used my Gossamer Gear Gorilla for the first time, and I have to say that I love this pack. Super comfy, light and very tough. I’ve been looking to downsize my pack and this guy, at 2800 cubic in., seems to be perfect for me. I’ve only done two-nighters with it so far but I’d say I could extend it to 4 nights, maybe 5 depending on how much insulation I’m bringing. I also tried out AquaMira for the first time and had no problems with it. My big concern was carrying around a bunch of water while it ‘cooked’ but, with a bit of planning, I haven’t found it to be a problem. This was also my first ‘real’ trip using my Snow Peak LiteMax which I also really dug. I actually switched to this heavy-weight after using MYOG alcohol stoves for a couple years. I find that, for me, the convenience of the canister stove is worth the extra couple ounces.
Here’s the complete gear list I used for the trip.
I parked at the trailhead for the Big East Fork Trail (#357) off of US-276. If you’re headed north, this is right before the ‘actual’ trailhead, complete with map-board, that starts you on Shining Creek Trail (#363). I hiked south on the Big East Fork Trail along the Pigeon River’s east fork to Greasy Cove Trail (#362).
After a couple of miles on Greasy Cove Trail I camped near a cool little drainage for the first night. It was a tight squeeze for the Contrail but I was tired and it was getting dark. The next morning I followed Greasy Cove Trail over Grassy Cove Ridge, which had a few cool campsites but no-vacancy (lucky I stopped when I did). Some great morning views from Grassy Cove Ridge:
Shortly after taking these shots I came upon what is, at least for me, the perfect example of ‘The Green Tunnel’ you always hear about when hiking around these parts and along the AT:
I made it to the intersection of Greasy Cove, Art Loeb and Ivestor Gap Trails and stopped for a snack and a few pics. Some great views at this spot:
I met up with a guy out on an overnight with his son who recommended taking the Ivestor Gap Trail north about a mile from this intersection as opposed to the Art Loeb. There is a little spur that connects the two after a mile that allows you to skip hiking over two knobs. I had heard that this chunk of Art Loeb could be a pain and I knew I’d have plenty of ups and downs when I did Cold Mountain later so I gave it a shot. It ended up working great and the spur pops you out on the saddle just south of Flower Knob.
I headed north a bit further and stopped to grab water and rest a bit at Shining Rock Gap. This area was pretty busy with folks but it does have a bunch of good campsites. From there I headed north on the Art Loeb toward Cold Mountain. This is a really fun and somewhat challenging little stretch and I highly recommend it. I stopped for some lunch at a little overlook on Stairs Mountain. ‘The Narrows’ are pretty cool as well. You don’t realize at first since there is so much vegetation but you really are walking on this knife-edge ridge for quite a while. The hike up Cold Mountain was a good work-out and worth it. There is a little piped spring right near the top that was trickling enough to re-up on water which you should keep in mind if you head up there. I met up with a couple dudes on my way up that had decided not to go all the way up since they didn’t have enough water. I told them that there was a spring but they weren’t having it – too bad since there are great views and campsites atop Cold Mountain. Here are few random pics from the hike up and the top:
On my way down I met a very cool hiker from Asheville making coffee at the aforementioned spring. We chatted for a bit and I began my descent. I will say that I preferred climbing up the mountain to going down – thank God for trekking poles. Once back at Shining Rock Gap I lounged around for a while deciding what to do next. While getting water, none other than Jeff, the hiker from atop Cold Mountain walked by and we chatted some more. He showed me a killer campsite on Flower Knob that we ended up staying at. It was cool to meet a fellow solo-hiker out on the trail and have someone to drink whiskey and swap stories with. The next morning with my coffee I caught some killer just-after-sunrise views from nearby the camp (pictures, as always, don't do the scene much justice):
I headed back via the Old Butt Knob Trail (#332) which was really great…until I got to the very end. It drops about 1300 feet in ½ a mile. Not that awesome – probably won’t be utilizing that particular route again. This connected me with the Shining Creek Trail which I took north for just a bit back to US-276. A short road walk and I was back to the truck. I took a quick swim in the Pigeon to rinse off some of the trail grime and headed to Asheville, where a giant citrus chicken burrito from Mamacita’s and a couple of cold beers awaited.
Thanks for reading the report – it was a fun hike and I highly recommend the area to anyone thinking about checking it out.