It was absolutely fun to start Saturday’s hiking in snow—even though it was a day old.
The mountains are in the middle of a deep winter, but spring is close. On this day, the goal was to hike to the top of Wesser Bald, located north of Franklin, North Carolina. From Tellico Gap, it is a four-mile round trip. The climb to the top is gradual and steady and up hill. The attitude gain over 800 feet—a pretty good hike for me.
Somehow, we keep leaving Toccoa late in the afternoon and arriving at summits at or near sunset! We did it again on this trip.
A 30-foot tall tower sits on the summit of Wesser Bald, whidch is only a few feet off the Appalachian Trail (AT). From there you have a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains like the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains.
On the way up, you are hiking on the Appalachian Trail, which is maintained by some pretty dedicated volunteers! I guess the person, who worked to clear this trail of a downed tree, decided to add a trail marker that was different than the usual white blaze. (smile)
In the summer the trail goes through dense forests with no mountain views until you reach the top (trees have overtaken the once bald summit). But on this winter day, we could see through the Rhododendron and the Mountain Laurel that lined the pathway.
At the higher elevation, there was plenty of hardwoods. This is such a typical view of the AT as it climbs up to the ridgeline.
Pat reached the summit first. If you turn left, you stay on the AT and end up near the Wesser Bald shelter. We turned right and headed to the old fire tower. And on this night, it was a crowded place!
Tents lined the ridge as a group of guys were having their annual “camp out” at the foot of the Wesser Bald Fire Tower. And they had plenty to say about the cold, the wind, and the remaining snow.
I love looking at the AT. I’ll never hike large portions of it, but I love its character—rutted and running along ridges and out over large open spaces. Something about it is so challenging and so determined!
So, at this point, you see the pure Appalachian Trail — a trail that so many have hiked. There are no roads, no commercial offerings—just the trail, the woods, and the sky. In a week, this trail will be teeming with hopeful hikers heading north to Maine. I pray they all make it! If not, that’s okay, too! It’s an adventure even if you hike a mile on it.
To the North, we could see the Smoky Mountains across a portion of Fontana Lake and the Balsam Mountains. To the east we had a view of the Tellico Valley, and the Little Tennessee River Valley.
At our south is the Nantahala Ridge, and not too far away is Wayah Bald. We’ve been there. We did see another tower in the distance and wondered if it was something we could hike to.
There’s an entire community devoted to hiking to these towers, many of which have been restored and some just a short hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway. They call these old towers “land lighthouses.”
I really didn’t know what I was doing with the camera at this point. The cold penetrated my hiking jacket. The wind whipped around my head, and once again, I realized that I had left my heavier coat at home. This has been a winter to remember: in the high 60’s one day and freezing with snow the next!
You have to love the mountains and these towers. Like many in this area, the original tower was built by the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC) as a live-in lookout stations. This one was built in 1936. It’s a metal frame structure. The live-in cab was destroyed by arson in 1979 and replaced in the early 1990s by the US Forestry Service with the current observation deck for hikers.
Pat and Anne. . . . Anne made it to the top this time. I think she was pretty determined to see the views at the top! This was a huge thing for her, since she doesn’t like heights. Now, to get her up to the top of the tower on Frying Pan Mountain this summer. What a view you have from there!
I looked below and could see the campers had started a fire—a huge fire.
They also had pitched their tents all along the ridge line. After talking to them and realizing that we would soon be without daylight, we decided to hike back down along the old fire tower road show on the right in this photo. The reason: it is a direct route back to the parking area.
I love this photo. To me it says winter in the mountains. The sun sets fast here, and I knew it would soon be a lot colder. As we left, the guys told us to beware of the wolves! I laughed and said, “Okay, but what about the bears?” One guy shouted back: “Wolves kill bears!” We were not afraid!
But at this point, I did feel like we would be alone on the trail. It was getting dark and we didn’t have headlights. (Headlights mess up your hair!) What were we thinking!
Suddenly, we heard people coming toward us. Two guys passed us on their way up to the top with cameras in hand They were hoping to catch the last few minutes of the sunset. They were quickly followed by a woman with a huge dog. You never know what you will see in the mountains and you are rarely alone on these trails.
Finally, here’s the sunset through the trees on our way back to the trailhead. So, for the moment I thought: “Good Night my sweet world!” This was truly a fun little hike and one that I’ll redo in the spring.