Monday, May 27, 2013

Standing Indian Loop-de-Loop

The Standing Indian area of North Carolina has several mountain peaks above 5000 feet and is drained by lively mountain streams.  The AT circles the Nantahala basin on the ridge, and I'd previously backpacked the classic Standing Indian loop.  Knowing the wildflowers are gorgeous up there in late May but wanting to avoid the Memorial Day crowds, I devised a route to maximize my mileage on blue blazed trails to form a meandering loop-de-loop route.  I ended up doing about 44 miles on 10 different trails plus the AT, FS roads, and an unmaintained trail that was more of a bushwack down a cliff face.  I visited two waterfalls and four spectacular rocky overlooks (including 2 lonely ones off the AT that I had all to myself), climbed the ridge and descended back to the valley 5 times, found tons of solitude, and plenty adventure.
Hopping off the AT onto a blue-blazed trail.
Some of the trails were much more difficult than the AT and are for those that really love elevation change.  But if you've already done the Standing Indian loop, are good at navigation and planning ahead for water, don't mind a few more blowdowns and brush, and want to see more of this wonderful area, pick up some maps and guidebooks and take some of these less traveled paths.  Many of these trails are also readily accessable by FS roads, and would make excellent dayhikes.
Canada mayflower was just one of many flowers in bloom on the lush Timber Ridge Trail.
Eying the swimming hole at the base of Big Laurel Falls.
Wood betony on the Beech Creek Trail.
What I loved most about my circuitous route was standing at an overlook and knowing the wonders that lay in the valley below and on the surrounding peaks, because I'd just traversed them.  It made me feel connected to the land.  It also fueled my sense of adventure and my curiosity for regions I haven't yet explored.
From Standing Indian Mountain, looking across to Big Scaly Mountain where I'd been the day before.
Route Details

Day 1- From the Standing Indian Backcountry Information Booth, I hiked 3 miles up gravel FS 67, and turned onto the Bear Pen Trail for 2.5 miles to the AT.  Then, I headed south for 1.2 miles on the AT past Big Butt Mountain.  At Mooney Gap, I turned off the AT onto the FS road for about a mile to the Pickens Nose Trail.  It was 0.7 miles to the rocky outcrop and viewpoint. 
Pickin' my nose on Pickens Nose.  With views of Rabun Bald and Betty Creek Valley.
I retraced my steps back to Mooney Gap, and took the AT for another 5 miles past lots of section hikers, on the way making a quick out and back detour down the Betty Creek Trail (0.1 miles each way), just because I couldn't pass a blue blaze no matter how short the trail. 

I hopped off the AT and onto the Timber Ridge Trail, and 2.3 mile later, took the Big Laurel Falls Trail out and back (0.6 miles each way) to the falls.  Back down at the FS road, took a left, for about 0.4 miles to the Beech Gap Trail.  The Beech Gap Trail led back up 2.8 miles to Beech Gap, where I slept very well after 22 miles.
Stealth campsite on the Beech Gap Trail right before Beech Gap. <note awesome new tarp with doors>
Day 2- It wasn't the miles, it was the elevation change that make this day challenging.  Dropped from Beech Gap (4490 feet) down the unmaintained connector trail to the Beech Creek Trail (guessing to around 3700 feet), which I followed for 4.4 miles (plus side trails) to High Falls and then up to the summit of Big Scaly Mountain (5,060 feet) on the "Scaly Nature Trail" (which was nothing like a typical nature trail, though it did feature plenty of nature), and back down to where it intersected the Deep Gap Trail at around 2900 feet.  Then took the Deep Gap Trail 2.1 miles up to Deep Gap (4340 feet), crossed the AT, and did an out and back along the 3.7 mile Kimsey Creek Trail down to my car at 3,380 feet (oops ran low on aquamira thank goodness I keep resupply in my car), and then another 3.7 miles back up to Deep Gap (4340 feet) where I met my friends briefly before they headed into town (hope we can hike together next time, my friends!), and I found another stealth campsite.  If I did the math right, that gave me 3830 feet elevation gain and 3980 feet lost roughly. 

Day 3- After another restful night in my hammock, I woke early and climbed Standing Indian in early morning light.  Then I took the Lower Ridge Trail 4.1 miles back down to my car.
Trillium along the Lower Ridge Trail.
Note of caution- the unmaintained connector trail from Beech Gap to the Beech Creek Trail, though short, is steep, totally rugged and wild, and drops strait down a cliff along a small waterfall.  Homan, the author of the excellent guidebook for the area, said it was the steepest trail he'd ever walked.  Which of course was incentive enough for me to want to take it.  I thought it'd be like the Deep Gap Trail or the Grassy Ridge Trail (both also go up to the AT from the southern side of the Standing Indian area)-- but this connector trail is in a league of it's own.  The faint trail required imagination and eagle eyes to follow.  There was one section that was so steep that I had to toss my pack down ahead of me and crabwalk down on all fours.  It has been recommended doing it going uphill, and that might have been good advice to follow.  I might also recommend not doing this trail alone or while carrying a heavy pack, and it's probably best to just skip it altogether.  Of course... I absolutely loved it!  The hunting through tangled trees for the (unsigned) trailhead, the searching for weathered blue-blazes that were just a few paint flecks dangling on bark, the jelly-legs, the heart-pumping exertion, the "what am I doing I'm gonna die" feeling, and finally the rush of making it over the final stream crossing without getting wet.  Trails like that give me confidence that I can handle anything.


  1. I'm diggin the new tarp and matching skirt

  2. Excellent adventure! Loving the trillium!