Over this past weekend we had the chance to explore the area around Standing Indian mountain including Pickens Nose. This remote area offers extraordinary views of the Appalachian Mountains and the pristine wilderness that occupies this part of North Carolina. Come along as we explore rock outcroppings, a fire tower and get stung by a bug.
We gained access to the area by heading up 441 North and turning off on Coweeta Lab Road. This road winds past a few homes and gets very narrow before arriving at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. The Laboratory is used by multiple groups to conduct research in the surrounding streams and rivers. Signs in the area gave insight into experiments that were being conducted to determine how certain species of trees affected water levels in streams. We stopped at the weir closest to the laboratory to take a look at science in progress.
It was interesting to see how they were monitoring the water levels and I took the opportunity to examine the antenna they were using to relay the data back to the laboratory. The posted signs showed black and white photos of workers who had constructed some of the roads and buildings in the area during the early 1900’s. While we were parked here several pick up trucks came out of the wilderness area via the Forest Service roads with dog boxes in their beds. I know when traveling through Tennessee this is usually a sign that bear season has started. I’m not sure about North Carolina, however, and other than a friendly wave we didn’t have any interaction with the drivers.
After inspecting the weir we headed up Ball Creek Road toward the trail head for Pickens Nose. This trail head is easily accessible with well maintained forest roads leading to it and a small parking area at the base of the trail. When we arrived there were several vehicles parked including a few small sedans. The temperature had dropped from near 90 degrees when we turned off of 441 all the way to 72 at the trail head. This kept the bugs at bay and made for perfect hiking weather. We parked across the road from the trail head in a pull out that was large enough to fit the Tacoma and trailer without obstructing the road. We headed up the trail to explore Pickens Nose.
This is an easy hike with a round trip distance of roughly 1.5 miles in and out. On the way up you’ll feel like you’re walking through a tunnel most of the time as the mountain laurel and rhododendron bend over the trail trying to find any light filtering through the thick canopy of leaves above. I can image that in the spring when these trees are in bloom this would be a fragrant and stunning hike to make. The path is well worn and easy to follow. There are a few areas that might be deemed steep, but overall I’d say that anyone could make this hike. After just a short time we reached the first spur trail on the left that led to a rock outcropping that looked out over the mountains.
To find views like this in the Appalachians is rare in my experience. Generally the tree covered peaks block any view one might have. Even on many of the mountains that have balds at their summit the surrounding trees block out most of the view. Here the rock outcroppings prevent the forest from preceding any further and provide a solid platform to take in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges. After a few minutes we headed back to the main trail and proceeded further up. As you progress each spur trail you come across will take you to another rock outcropping with the views getting better and better until finally you reach the end of the trail and a spur to the right that leads to a 180 degree view of the mountains and valleys on the west side of the ridge.
We hung out on the rocks here for quite some time. A cool breeze was blowing across the ridge carrying the smells of the forest and drying the perspiration from our brows. Swallows and finches darted around the trees and would soar out on the thermal updrafts from the valleys below. Several crows played on the breeze before disappearing into the canopy of trees below us. Sitting on the edge of the rocks it was easy to feel like we were birds ourselves.
The hike back down was uneventful and we passed several groups heading up to the peak. As we approached the Tacoma, however, all was not well. We apparently had disturbed a nest of yellow jackets when we parked and they were taking out their aggression on the windshield of the truck. I had left the windows cracked so that we would return to a cool interior and images of sting crazy yellow jackets flooding out were going through my head. I quickly opened the drivers door, and not being met with a cartoon style cloud of bees, hit the ignition button so that I could roll the windows up. My daughter Skylar and hiking buddy Jeremy stayed across the road as I backed the Tacoma and trailer out. The yellow jackets sounded like rain hitting the windshield as they fearlessly tried to urge the metal trespasser from their territory.
After backing out and pulling down the road 20 feet or so the cloud of yellow jackets had diminished enough that everyone else could jump in and we proceeded down Ball Creek Road heading for the Albert Mountain Fire Tower. We had to let the windows down occasionally during the short drive to the fire tower as a stray yellow jacket would emerge from the a/c vents or behind the dash. One adventurous fellow came out from the glove box. I was concerned that there were a large number still under the hood. After arriving at the parking area for the fire tower I popped the hood to inspect.
A lone yellow jacket emerged from the engine bay and after a quick inspection I determined we hadn’t brought the entire nest with us. Just before closing the hood I reached to remove some pine needles and leaves that had wedged themselves in at the base of one of the wipers. As I did a yellow jacket crawled from under the debris and stung me on the knuckle of my left hand ring finger. Cursing the black and yellow pest I pulled my multi-tool out to remove the stinger embedded in my finger. Jeremy recommended I remove my wedding ring, but the swelling was instantaneous and the ring couldn’t be removed. Not being allergic to stings I decided I’d hold my hand above my head while making the short walk up to the fire tower and then ice it after we returned to the truck.
The hike to the fire tower is very short taking perhaps 5 minutes. It’s a little steep, but nothing worse than climbing a couple flights of stairs. The views far out weigh any discomfort you may feel from the walk up, even if your your finger is swelling to the point of devouring your wedding ring. We hung out for a few minutes, climbing the tower and taking photos. Jeremy was growing concerned over the swelling in my hand and we decided to head back to the truck. Once there I removed some ice from the cooler and, wrapping it in a plastic bag, placed it on my swollen finger.
We made our way down the backside of the mountain heading for Standing Indian Campground. This campground is managed by the Forest Service and contains 80 something sites on several loops. My family and I have stayed here in the past in an RV and have always enjoyed the facilities. The campground features a small camp store for any last minute items you may have forgotten, firewood and in case of bee stings they stock allergy medicine. I took the opportunity to replenish my first aid kit with some generic benadryl. We had planned to simply use the facilities here (as they have flush toilets and showers) and camp in one of the dispersed sites in the area, but Skylar decided she’d rather stay in the campground. We found a secluded spot in the back of the campground away from the RVers and their generators and set up camp.
After foraging for firewood we cooked a hot meal and sat around the fire ring solving the worlds problems until the wee hours of the morning. We were visited by an owl around midnight or so which sparked an attempt at spotlighting and night time photography. In the end though we ended up with a few grainy pictures of an owl and memories of a bird so silent it was spooky. Around 2am it began to rain, the temperature dropped and in a benadryl induced haze I passed out in the roof top tent.
All in all it was an excellent weekend adventure and I’d highly recommend exploring the Pickens Nose area to anyone. We plan on heading back up when the changing of the leaves peaks and the colors are at their brightest. It should make for quite the show.