Sam Knob, Chestnut Bald, & Mt. Hardy, NC (5-24-13)
This grand undertaking was to mark my completion of the Southern Sixers in the Great Balsam Range of Pisgah National Forest and my 15th, 16, and 17th summits overall. I knew from the start I would be pushing my endurance limits with this hike but it made more sense to include all three of these peaks in one giant loop than exert myself on multiple hikes. The three peaks in question were Sam Knob (6,050'), Chestnut Bald (6,025'), and Mt. Hardy (6,110') of which only Sam Knob has a maintained summit trail or, for that matter, summit views. It would be a grueling hike that I would certainly not recommend undertaking unless you're looking to bag 6,000K-ers or are in better shape than, apparently, I was.
The plan was ambitious to say the least. By trail there's no way to make this loop. My only options were to be dropped off at the Flat Laurel Creek Trailhead and hike back to my car or, as I decided, park at Buckeye Gap and then bike the 3-miles down to the Flat Laurel Creek Trailhead where I could start the hike. The biking portion wasn't all that hard as it was mostly downhill but it added mileage to an already long 15-mile+ hike. It had been a long, long time since I had planned such an ambitious day hike but the payoff seemed to outweigh the potential drawbacks. As it was the hike was one of the most beautiful and varied I'd been on in a while. The only problem I ran into, and it was a big one, was the resurfacing of a severe ligament injury to my knee that I had suffered in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore about 10 years previously. Sometime after about the 12-mile mark, past Chestnut Bald, that old familiar pain started to return making the final miles over Mt. Hardy quite a frustrating challenge. Overall, I am glad I was able to accomplish this hike (and, happily, I healed quite quickly afterwards)...it was quite simply an amazing experience. It also did me the service of showing me exactly where my limits are for upcoming hikes as there are potentially a number of these high-mileage days ahead of me before I can complete the South Beyond 6,000 Challenge...
So grab your boots, plenty of water, and a knee brace if you need one...and come on along with me on one of the most epic hikes I've accomplished in quite some time...
Route Type: Hike/Bike Loop Difficulty: EXTREME (Petzoldt Rating: 23.70 )
Hike Length: 18.0 miles (~3.0 by bike) Hike Duration: 8:30
Trailhead Temp: 55'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 5,040' Max. Elevation: 6,110'
Total Vertical Gain: 2,850' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 220'
Trails Used (blaze color): Flat Laurel Creek (orange), Little Sam (yellow), Mountains-to-Sea (white), Sam Knob (blue), Sam Knob Summit (unblazed)
Dan Weemhoff (dwhike)on November 20, 2014
Thanks so much for the info on the area Sylvia. I'm always fascinated by how much the mountains have changed over a relatively short period of time...those must have been quite the roads to ride on!
Sylvia Mon October 14, 2014
"Yet another short crossing, I think this is the same stream I crossed a short time earlier down on the Flat Laurel Creek Trail.." This is Flat Laurel Branch. Over 30 yrs ago and up until the MTS trail was cut through and over Chestnut Bald, there was a trail called Flat Laurel Branch Trail that started to the left halfway up the Devil's Courthouse trail (with signs even). The trail went to the right over the tunnel and climbed to the summit of Chestnut Bald where it followed the ridge of Chestnut Bald and went down to join Little Sam Trail close to Flat Laurel Branch. You would go right on Little Sam and would be at Flat Laurel Branch very shortly.
Sylvia Mon October 14, 2014
A little over half a mile in you come across a rather unusual bridge, considering the setting, that crosses a tributary of the West Fork of the Pigeon River beneath a large unnamed waterfall you'll see in the next shot... About 40 yrs ago Flat Laurel Creek Trail was an open gravel road from 215 to Black Balsam Parking. People were allowed to drive and camp on this road.