For my 30th birthday I decided to plan a vacation involving some of my favorite hobbies drinking & highpointing. This would be a weeklong southern affair, a region of the country I haven’t explored previously. We would bag the “Southern Six Pack”, hiking approximately 40 miles in the process, and enjoy some of the finest beverages this territory has to offer.
9/14- Bardstown, KY
In the morning we got right to it by visiting for tours and tastings 3 whiskey distilleries Jim Beam, Heaven & Hill, and Makers Mark. Then that evening attended several Kentucky Bourbon Festival events where I proceeded to drink vast quantities of bourbon.
9/15 – Bourbon & Black Mountain, KY
As to be expected I was very hung over this morning but we managed to hit up the remaining 3 bourbon distilleries on the whiskey trail, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, & Woodford Reserve. I could barely force down my samples but with completed whiskey trail passport I am entitled to a free t-shirt now so well worth it, plus the drive to Woodford reserve is in a very pretty area of Kentucky. After grabbing some lunch in Versailles we headed towards Black Mountain.
Now when we got off the highway to RT 160 we went the wrong way on that road and went up a different mountain which is very similar to Black Mountain and we wasted about 45 minutes looking for road to summit and we were running out of light, plus it was rainy, and very foggy so this was quite the treacherous mistake. This other mountain also had packs of stray dogs sleeping on the sides of the road and they just looked pitiful in the cold rain and it really bummed me out. We finally realized our mistake and backtracked, the winding roads were especially nauseating in my current state but we finally made it to this unspectacular highpoint, the road to which is right between the Welcome to Virginia and Welcome to Kentucky signs. There was broken glass, random nails thrown about, and a summit tower that was in disarray. No hiking and it was cold and rainy with no views this ties with Nebraska as the most hung over I’ve been on a highpoint oh well #14 in the bank.
9/16 – Mt. Rogers, VA
Fully recovered we drove to Mt. Rogers and the Elk Garden Trailhead for some actual hiking today. We met someone coming down the Appalachian Trail who spent a very cold and wet night in the woods. It was very surprisingly cold and windy this morning with light misting. Our route to the summit was the 4.5mile each way Appalachian Trail. This starts by crossing a meadow that was filled with very large cows of some sort, it was super windy on the meadow and quite uncomfortable, but once we reached the woods it was much more pleasant and I was able to remove a layer.
The hike is straightforward through the forest eventually you get a to large field where I assume the fabled wild ponies hang out however much to my dismay they were no where to be seen..
There are some nice views of the surrounding wilderness around the field however when you make it to the summit there is none.
.In fact we didn’t know we were actually at the summit since there is no sign or anything just a big rock and your in the middle of the forest, but we found usgs marker so we took our photos and relaxed for a few minutes snacking and getting some shut eye. Hike back down was uneventful highpoint #15 completed now on to Asheville, which would be our home base for remainder of trip.
9/17 – Brewgrass 2011
Today didn’t involve any hiking, however since Asheville, NC has been voted beer city USA 3 years in row its only fair we partake in that activity as well. Now Brewgrass is a beer and blue grass music festival that takes place each year in Martin Luther King Jr Park. We finally had some great weather for this gathering of 5 bands, 40 brewers, and local food vendors. These tickets I bought back in May and they sold out within hours but people were selling in line. Bluegrass music isn’t normally my scene however there is something about the banjo that lends itself perfectly to outdoor drinking. This was truly a blast especially since I’m a bit a beer geek.
9/18 – Clingmans Dome, TN
Woke bright and early and drove out to the smoky mountains for what would be the longest day hike of my career thus far. We decided to hike the 7.9-mile each way Appalachian Trail South Route from Newfound Gap. Now Newfound Gap had zero visibility when we first arrived in the morning however by afternoon upon our return we were treated to some nice views. This route has lots of ups and downs and you also bag Mt. Collins & Mt. Love, which while nice on the way there it really is kinda brutal on way back. There isn’t much views to speak of but it’s a nice a ridge walk. I have never seen so many upturned trees in my life; a storm or tornado must have really ripped through this forest. Quick tip you can actually pick this trail up 1.7 miles in at Indian Gap pull off this will save you 3.4 miles altogether and you won’t really miss much. .
We finally made the flying saucer and hung around the bottom for a bit and watched lots and lots of tourists gasping for air after their 1/2mile walk from the parking lot and dreading their walk up the ramp of the saucer. .
There was very little visibility at the top but you get a cool smoky mountain vibe to the treetops. HP #16 and about 2 miles into drive back to Asheville a black bear ran out in front of our car and to a river for a drink. I wish we could have got a picture as it’s my first wild bear sighting but he was too fast.
9/19 – Brasstown Bald, GA & Sassafras Mountain, SC
Today would involve the hiking of these two mountains; first on the list is the mighty Brasstown Bald. We decided to take the 6-mile roundtrip Jack’s Knob Trail. This is surprisingly steep in sections but is aided by 40 switchbacks I decided to try and keep track of them however I lost count somewhere between 4 and 10. Eventually you make it up to the parking lot, which is gigantic, I can’t imagine that many people ever coming to Brasstown. They are also building some new welcome center there which looks like it will probably have food and gifts etc. anyways it looks pretty cool. Then you walk up the paved half-mile trail to summit, which is also kinda steep.
Its awkward walking up this path with camelpacks and hiking sticks because everyone else there with you just parked in parking lot and judging by looks we got they assumed we had as well. At the top there is an exhibit with some local taxidermy and info about area, there is a film as well but we had no time for that with another highpoint on the agenda today.
Pretty decent views from here, I am not usually a fan of built up summits but this one is really nicely done by Georgia. HP #17 recorded we hopped in car trying to get to SC before nightfall.
We made it to Sassafras right around 4:30pm and wanted to hit the trail as soon as possible however it’s a tad confusing as to which direction on the Foothills trail to walk. When you get to Chimneytop Gap there is a large Foothill Trail map you want to cross road to the other side and hike there following white blazes, we wasted about 15 minutes figuring this out..
This is about 5-miles round trip and I forgot my headlamp so we wanted to hustle a tad. I enjoyed this forest hike as its surprisingly open around eye level and you get cool looks all around. We were only ones on mountain and were pretty concerned about bears so we made plenty of noise as we went up trail. My cousin’s knees were starting to bother him after all this hiking so our time was starting to slow. We finally make it to summit and again you wouldn’t realize it and it took awhile to find the usgs marker. This is an ugly summit with cell tower and no views and there is a sign with foothills map but no mention of being at the highest point of South Carolina, which is odd..
Anyways in the dusk we made our way back down the trail and at one point we definitely heard a bear, which made the trek a tad more nerve racking. We made it back to car happy to log highpoint #18 in the books and within 1/2mile a bear ran across street and scampered up the other side of road. My 2nd wild bear sighting and again we couldn’t get a picture.
9/20 – Mt. Mitchell, NC
Our final mountain of this trip and highest east of the Mississippi, Mt. Mitchell, would be the end of this adventure. Originally we were planning
on taking the 5.6-mile each way Mt Mitchell Trail however Jeff’s knees were in terrible shape and he wouldn’t be able to complete that long of a trek and our flight is early enough that we would have to hike in dark and wake incredibly early, factor in all the bears we’ve been seeing and we decided this option was a no go. Instead we opted for the 4-mile roundtrip Old Mitchell Trail, apparently this is a semi-new option it leaves from visitor center and traverses over Mt. Hallback and past the restaurant. I would describe it as moderate class 1 as you traverse over lots of rocks and roots, it’s was slippery so you really had to watch your step or you’d bust an ankle or fall and crack your skull. There wasn’t great amount of views on route but it’s a nice ridge walk that only occasionally is close to road. The top was windy and a little cold but a few views were to be had..
The walk back was slow as Jeff probably shouldn’t have been hiking with his knees in such bad shape but we made it back in time to hit up Asheville in time for lunch and a beer at the Bier Garden. HP #19 done and after a few hours of delayed flights made it back to NYC having accomplished all tasks we had set out to do and having excellent time in the process
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe