On June 1,2016, I had spent my entire morning doing a botanical inventory for a property owner in Buncombe County. Having worked part of the Memorial Day weekend and with a busy work schedule facing me towards the end of the week at my real job, my day off was spent fulfilling an obligation to conduct this botanical survey. After a half day of climbing and crawling through rhododendron thicket, I was certainly ready for a break, so I drove down Highway 9 back down to Chimney Rock and grabbed a quick bite at the Old Rock Cafe and contemplated how I would spend the rest of the afternoon.
There were several species that I had managed to photo-document earlier in the day, but there were still a few that I wanted to try to find. Initially I decided to go to the Bat Cave Preserve because I knew I would find what I was looking for there, but then I thought, "Well, you know, I have never been to the top of Bearwallow Mountain. I should go up there."
I am almost ashamed to say that in the twenty-four years I've worked in Hickory Nut Gorge, I have never visited its second highest peak. Only recently has Bearwallow Mountain really fallen under my radar as "legally" accessible after Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy recently acquired a public right-of-way and constructed a trail up the mountain. I had always heard that there was some cool stuff up there and the view was really spectacular, so on this particular day I decided that I needed to put a new destination under my belt.
I hit the road hydrated and with a full belly, headed up Highway 74A to Gerton, took the left onto Bearwallow Road and drove to the Eastern Continental Divide, where I parked my car at the small parking lot on the side of the road. As an aside, this is also the location for the trailhead of the Trombatore Trail, another recently built trail that I have on my to-do list.
I crossed the road and squeezed through the narrow space between the gate and the fence post and made my way over to the trailhead. I saw the trailhead kiosk but didn't read it because my eye was immediately drawn to purple on the forest floor. I was happy to discover Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) in flower.
|Eastern Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)|
|Eastern Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)|
|Spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.)|
|Waxyleaf Meadow Rue (Thalictrum revolutum)|
I moved into a long, fairly flat section of trail where the forest began to open up with several large but weather-stunted oak and hickory trees, occasional patches of shrubs such as flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and an herb layer that consisted mostly of ferns and other acid soil-loving plants. As I moved along, the forest seemed almost ethereal in some ways, as clouds began to move in and the distant rumbles of thunder could be heard. I began to realize I needed to pick up my pace.
|Nice, flat trail.|
|A forest floor covered with ferns and low shrubs.|
|Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)|
|Azalea gall (Exobasidium vacinii)|
|Catawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense)|
|Northwest view framed by Catawba rhododendron.|
|The trail near the summit, surrounded by Catawba rhododendron.|
|Approaching the summit of Bearwallow Mountain.|
|Looking northwest across the ragwort-covered meadow.|
|Storm clouds and a rain squall to the south.|
|Rain in the lower Hickory Nut Gorge. Lake Lure can barely be seen.|
|Another Catawba rhododendron bush.|
|Looking across the grassy expanse of the summit ridge as the wind picks up.|
|Rain coming down just beyond the trees.|
|Heading back down the trail as raindrops begin to fall.|
|The unusual Lungwort Lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria)|
|A field of ferns along the trail.|
|Patches of Catawba rhododendron.|