Curtis Creek to Green Knob
I went on a seven-mile hike with my pals Andy and Bob. This would have been a most confusing hike if my son had come along, as then there would have been two different Andys and Bobs along. But my son, Andy, chose to stay home when he learned the hike involved a vertical climb of about 3300 feet in less than four miles. “Screw that,” he said. Wise words, perhaps.
The trip began eventfully, for as we left I-40 and took the Forest Service Road leading to the Curtis Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest, we spied the largest flock of wild turkeys any
We then continued the short drive to Curtis Creek where the National Forest has an excellent campground suitable for tents and travel trailers. Several trails lead into the high country from this spot, including the one we were going to use: The Snooks Nose Trail.
While the temperature was quite comfortable at the trailhead, I had asked Andy if he thought I’d need a scarf. He thought not and I agreed and left it in my truck. Alas.
The trail begins innocently enough, climbing the slopes above the Curtis Creek Campground at a reasonable angle, but soon it becomes apparent that the trail engineers were either mountain goats or insane or diabolical; perhaps all three. For the track soon begins to tackle the mountain head on with no switchbacks or an attempt to find a milder gradient.
We passed through forests of beech and hemlock and poplar and oak and pines. A strange and oddly spectacular waterfall lies to the right of the trail on the way up—consisting of what is, for all practical purposes, a
Did I mention that the trail is steep? Indeed, it is extremely steep. But there was nothing to do for it but put your face into the mountain and slog upwards. Ever upwards. We discovered that there were two extremely long and steep pulls with only a short distance of mild hiking between them. Otherwise it was just a thigh-burning, lung-bursting effort to achieve the ridgeline. After some time, we made it to the first of the peaks—a rocky outcropping called Snooks Nose, and the namesake of the trail. This was a really grand place to see the surrounding peaks. To our right was the huge double peak of Mackey Mountain, and to our left was the Blue Ridge Parkway and the beginning of the Black Mountains visible beyond it.
After taking several dozen photos we pushed on, achieving the top of Laurel Knob after a long and arduous climb. By this time, we had climbed 2,500 feet. Laurel Knob is a relatively prominent peak of roughly pyramidal shape, but there’s not much of a view from the summit. Its main claim to fame is that it is home to quite a number of acres of old growth forests with some truly impressive specimens within those groves. I hope to return to this area in the future to bushwhack to some of these trees—one of them being a poplar that is said to the be the largest of its species in the entire Pisgah National Forest.
From there, we descended very briefly into a shallow gap and began another more moderate ascent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Pausing again to drink some water and take a few photos and don our jackets (it was getting noticeably cooler as we neared the 5,000-foot elevation), we walked down the Parkway a hundred yards or so and caught the trail that would take us to the top of Green Knob.
At the end of the climb of a couple of hundred vertical feet, the observation tower of Green Knob came into view. It’s quite an attractive structure of simple design. It once had a series of large glass windows in it, but these of course have been shattered out by assholes and idiots. As we climbed the tower stairs we felt the biting wind and realized that we had not merely hiked about 3,300 vertical feet, but had also hiked from early spring into late winter. Standing on the catwalk of the tower I peered across at the looming mass of the Black Mountains, shrouded in clouds, and realized that the upper elevations across the gulf were frozen in rime ice.
It was cold!
We hunkered down inside the tower room and got out the lunches we’d brought along. I drank lemonade and ate a roast beef sandwich. I fed our canine companion, Saucony, some cheese and we poured her a couple of dishes of water while Andy fed her some yummy dog biscuits.
Our intention had been to linger on the summit for about an hour, but it was so cold none of us felt comfortable up there. The wind was biting and the temperature was just too damned low. Even my hands, beneath my gloves, were growing numb with the cold. So we packed up and headed back down to lower elevations and warmer temperatures.
The hike back down was a bit dicey, as we all slipped several times on the extremely steep slopes. These kinds of trails are actually easier hiking up than down. They’re hard on your toes and the risk of falling is high. In fact, Andy fell twice and I came close to tumbling several times.
But, in short order, we were down the mountain and back at Curtis Creek