November 21st, 2018
On Wednesday, after meeting up with my hiking companion Pam, the two of us headed back to Franklin, NC and to the trails at Standing Indian Campground. For me, this would be the third time that I had been there since August and I think Pam’s forth.
On both of my previous visits, we had hiked to the summit of Standing Indian Mountain, each time via a different route. We wouldn’t be returning to the summit today, but would instead do a hike that forms a loop by joining the Beech Gap and Timber Ridge Trails with a short section of the A.T.
After arriving, we parked at the Beech Gap trailhead, put our gear on and began hiking. Within about a tenth of a mile, we came to and crossed this wooden footbridge over the Nantahala River.
This is the view of the Nantahala from the center of the bridge. More than twenty-four years ago, on our honeymoon, my wife Joann and I had done a two hour rafting trip along a different stretch of the Nantahala River. A couple of days later, we also did an all day rafting trip down the Chattooga.
Here, Pam is hiking along a rutted section of the Beech Gap Trail. The Beech Gap Trail climbs moderately-steeply for about three miles, then terminates at the junction with the Appalachian Trail.
Much of the leaves have already fallen from the trees as evidenced in this photo. Last time I was here in August, this would have been a green tunnel.
There literally was not a cloud to be seen on this particular day, just beautiful clear blue sky.
We had to cross this small stream as we hiked along the A.T. portion of our hike. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, except that my boots have a lot of miles on them and are showing signs of wear. Especially my right boot, which is beginning to come apart where the leather meets the sole. This makes keeping my foot dry a bit of a challenge sometimes, lol.
The day had started out cold. It was 27 degrees when we began to hike. Here, we passed a small patch of Needle Ice. Though it was cold, it wasn’t long before I had warmed up from the exertion and removed my jacket.
This is a burn area along the Appalachian Trail. In November of 2016 there were a number of fires raging in the region due to what had been an extended drought. My guess is that this had burned during one of those fires.
After hiking 6.1 miles, we reached our next junction. Since it was past midday, we decided to take a break, sit on a log, and eat our lunches. When we had finished eating, we put our packs back on and headed down the Timber Ridge Trail. The Timber Ridge Trail, except for a couple of short climbs, was all downhill.
At roughly 7.5 miles, we crossed another footbridge, this one over Big Laurel Branch. There is a very nice waterfall downstream from here. Later, time permitting, we intended to follow a spur trail that would take us out to the falls and back.
By 8.4 miles into our loop, the trail had descended to Hemp Patch Branch. Slightly further downstream, and still on this side of the branch, is the path that leads to Big Laurel Falls. From this point, we were actually pretty close to the gravel road and the Timber Ridge trailhead parking. So, if you wanted to just go to the falls and didn’t want to do the loop, that’s where you would begin.
As we approached the falls, we came upon this nice cascade along Big Laurel Branch. Big Laurel Branch, together with Kilby Creek and Gulf Fork, converge near here to form the Nantahala River.
This is Big Laurel Falls. The falls are about 35 feet high, set back in the hillside, and emerge from the midst of a thicket of Rhododendron.
The path to the falls was approximately 1.2 miles for the roundtrip and well worth the effort. Once back at Hemp Patch Branch, we crossed our last footbridge.
Thanks at least in part to recent rains, an impressive amount of water rushed by beneath us.
Nearing the gravel road, we passed this tree painted with a blue blaze and covered with lichens.
Once we reached the trailhead, all that was left was a roadwalk of about four-tenths of a mile back to Pam’s vehicle.
In all, we had hiked 10 miles. Our total vertical elevation change was a little over 3,600 feet, including 1,811 feet of climbing. I would rate the overall difficulty as only moderate. Though you could do the loop in the opposite direction, my preference is to do it in the direction that we chose, leaving the waterfall as a highlight at the end of the hike.
Thanks for reading, Joe (aka Scout, aka Biscuit Joe, aka Biscuit)