Winter is a season disliked more in anticipation than in reality.
That dislike begins the first day of summer. Though we generally do spend the summer solstice reveling in the most daylight of the year — 14 hours, 35 minutes and 8 seconds — in the back of our minds we know that it’s all downhill from here. The day after the solstice we’ll be down to 14 hours, 35 minutes and 6 seconds, two seconds that we won’t actually notice, but two seconds that we’re shorted all the same. read more
A patch and knowing you’re helping to save more special places to explore.
That’s what you get by completing the LandTrust for Central North Carolina’s just launched Hike & Paddle Challenge.
Here’s how it works. If you aren’t already a member of the LandTrust for Central NC, you’ll need to join, by going here. Memberships can be had for as little as $25 a year, says associate director Crystal Cockman. And that goes to supporting the LandTrust’s efforts to spare the especially special places in Anson, Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Iredell, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rowan and Stanly counties. Next, you sign up at the Hike & Paddle Challenge, which is here. Then, you’re ready to take either the paddling challenge, the hiking challenge or both.
What do you know about the 10-county area of the central Piedmont described above? That it’s got the Uwharrie National Forest, maybe that Morrow Mountain State Park is there? Beyond that … . And how much do you know about exploring the Uwharries. Not much, we’re guessing.
You need to complete eight hikes, the challenge gives you 20 options. Nine are described as easy,
six are moderate, five are hard.
Many, even the frequent Uwharrie explorer may not be familiar with. For instance, under the “moderate” category is Nifty Rocks, which follows the Troy Horse Trail up to Nifty Rocks at Badin Lake.
“It’s just a mile and a half, but it’s a lot of fun,” says Cockman.
What would be considered “hard”? One of our favorites, the Tot Hill Loop, an 11.25-mile lollipop loop that starts off Tot Hill Road, on the Birkhead Mountain Trail, then loops back via the Hannah’s Creek and Robbins Branch trails. Includes some of the more stout climbs on the Uwharrie Trail.
Each of the 20 options includes all the information you need to find the trail and take the hike.
For the Paddling Challenge, there are 12 options. Venues include Cabin Creek, Daniel Boone Heritage Canoe Trail, Hitchcock Creek, Little River, Mountain Creek, three sections of the Uwharrie River and more.
Again, everything you need to know to paddle each trail is included.
“We’re even doing a guided trip in Hitchcock Creek that would could toward the eight,” says Cockman. That trip is Oct. 19.
The challenge runs for the 2014 calendar year, meaning if you’ve done one of the trips earlier this year, it counts.
Take a trip, then log it on the LandTrust website.
Not all of the hikes and paddles are on property the LandTrust had a hand in saving. “We just wanted to highlight some fantastic spots in the area,” says Cockman. “We want people to now about the area.”
Not included in the challenge, but part of the LandTrust’s efforts in the region is a new stretch of trail extending the Uwharrie Trail eight miles north of Jumping Off Rocks, to Covered Bridge Road. That extends the Uwharrie Trail to 28 continuous miles.
“We’re working to connect with the Birkhead Mountain Trail,” says Cockman. That would get the trail up to 40 miles of continuous hiking, close to what it was in its heyday in the 1970s.
Mel writes: “I am the Hiking Merit Badge coordinator for Troop 395 in Raleigh and we are looking to put together our hiking itinerary over the next 12 months. As you may know, to earn this MB the Boy Scouts have to do five 10+ miles hikes and one 20+ mile hike.”
Mel goes on to mention that he has my “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina,” but that most of the hikes therein are shorter than 10 miles. Might I, he asks, have some recommendations on longer hikes, and might at least one of them be at the coast, three to four in the Piedmont, and one or two in the mountains?
I love a good, long hike, and do indeed have some thoughts on the subject. Since Mel has already opened the door to shameless plugs of my books, I will go ahead and add that many of the 43 trips in my “Backpacking North Carolina” (UNC Press, 2011) can be done as long hikes. I should also note that my soon-to-be released “Adventure Carolinas: Your Go-To Guide for Multi-Sport Outdoor Recreation,” available from UNC Press in May, does not have specific long hikes but does have a section on “Backcountry Exploration.”
Where were we? Oh, yes. Mel and the Boy Scout long-hike recommendations. I’ll start today with the Coast and Piedmont; I’ll add the mountains next week.
Without further delay, the nominees are:
There aren’t a lot of long trail options along the coast (unless you count the 301-mile “hike” along the beach from Virginia to South Carolina). But of the two long trails that do exist, both in the Croatan National Forest, both are good ones.
Croatan National Forest: Weetock Trail
The Weetock, located on the south flank of the Croatan National Forest along the White Oak River, was blazed between 2001 and 2003 by the Carteret County Wildlife Club. A significant portion of the trail was rerouted by the USDA Forest Service in 2007; the last time we tried to tackle the Weetock, the Weetock tackled us instead. The first few miles were good: a nice ramble through coastal forest on well-marked, well-maintained trail. But then the trail grew forgetful, frequently losing its place and meandering into the boggy woods or dumping us in a briary thicket. A recent report from Daniel with the coastal Fast Fox Running Co., however, suggests the Weetock has since gathered its thoughts. “The trail is actually in pretty good shape these days!” he reports. Good news, since we liked what we were able to see of the trail back in 2011: boardwalk passages through perpetually wet stretches, great sightlines through a mostly pine forest, creeks that carve surprisingly deep through the woods, and a bluff at one point along the White Oak River.
Trailhead: The easiest place to pick up the trail is from the Haywood Landing Boat Ramp off NC 58. Details here.
Preferred seasons: November to April, to avoid the bugs, slithery types and assorted other pests common in warmer times.
One thing about the recent weird winter weather: the breaks are, mercifully, falling on the weekends. Our upcoming one, for instance, is supposed to be dry with temperatures that’ll defrost your winter-weary soul. At least in the Piedmont and at the coast. The mountains, on the other hand, promise more winter fun.
Even Carolina Beach, where you can find the occasional palm tree (albeit an immigrant) was icing over midweek this week. Saturday, though, the high is expected to flirt with 50, and the sun is even scheduled to make an appearance in the afternoon. Sounds appealing, no?
Appealing enough, in our opinion, to check out Saturday’s Biological Wonders program. “Join a park ranger on this hike to see and learn about all the different plant communities here in Carolina Beach State Park,” promises the program description. Some of those plant communities — the brackish marshes, the cypress pond — will make the temperature seem a good five degrees warmer.
Logistics: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2 p.m. Carolina Beach State Park. For more info: 910-458-8206
Modesty aside, the best hike on the books for this weekend is our GetHiking! hike Sunday in the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness of the Uwharrie National Forest. The Birkheads present a nice challenge (bigger climbs than you’ll find elsewhere in the Piedmont) and long stretches of solitude. And, they’re centrally located in what the local boosters like to call North Carolina’s Central Park. All three of our GetHiking! groups — GetHiking! Charlotte, GetHiking! Triad and GetHiking! Triangle — will be participating in this hike.
For the more aggressive hiker we have an 11.5-mile option, for the stop-and-smell-the-flowers crowd we have a 7.4-mile option. Both start at noon, albeit from different locations.
Logistics: Sunday, Feb. 16, noon, Birkhead Mountain Wilderness area of the Uwharrie National Forest. For more info, check out the GetHiking! chapter nearest you: Charlotte, Triad, Triangle.
Sunday’s Carolina Mountain Club hike at Montreat has the potential to memorable on several fronts. On its merits alone, this is a fine way to spend most of a Sunday. This 7.5-mile circuit takes in Lookout Mountain and the Old Mount Mitchell Toll Road up to Pot Cove Gap. From there, it heads back down the mountain on the Graybeard Trail.
The kicker comes if the forecast holds true. Up to a foot of snow is forecast for the area through Friday evening, and light snow is forecast for the hike. Got snowshoes? Bring ‘em.
Logistics: Sunday, Feb. 16, 9 a.m. (carpool meeting time, from Asheville). Montreat. For more info, go here.
Sunday forecast: Light snow early, then clearing with a high of 48 at lower elevations.
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Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.
Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.
Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.
North Carolina Coast Host
Comprehensive calendar for the entire coast that lets you search for events by day, by region, by county, by city or by event (based on key word).
This Week Magazine
Primary focus is the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s coastal midsection).
Blue Ridge Outdoors
Searchable calendar lets you extend your reach to events throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeast (or you can just limit it to North Carolina). Also lets you search a boatload of categories, ranging from Hiking, Mountain Biking and Climbing to Trail Running, Triathlon and Road Walking.