A tangle of trees and rhododendrons

Glass hand dissolving to ice petal flowers revolving

Day 3, Tennent Mountain to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The temperature plunged well below freezing overnight, but I was prepared for the cold. My quilt, silk liner, and thick sleeping socks kept me warm.

Though the wind battered my tent all through the night, that also wasn't a problem. Despite my haste in pitching my tent when we arrived at the top of Tennent Mountain, I anchored it well. The ground was firm but not too firm. I was able to push my stakes deeply into the soil, and they stayed there even though they were constantly tugged by the wind.

Weather Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-20s to around 50; occasionally breezy
Trail Conditions Icy in several places at first; deeply eroded sections and some poorly marked sections
Today's Miles 10.2 miles
Trip Miles 30.1 miles

As a rule, a mountaintop is not an ideal spot to camp. For one reason, there's never any water there, so you must carry all that you need with you, plus more for the next day.

The biggest reason, however, is the weather. Peaks are always going to be windier and colder than lower elevations. You're also exposed to a greater risk of lightning and other weather conditions.

That's especially true when you're camped above the timberline, which is where we were on top of Tennent Mountain. I've always known mountain summits are not the best place to camp. It seems obvious.

Still, Polecat and I didn't have much choice in the matter. The summit was the only space clear and wide enough for our tents. With the sun quickly fading and the trail in bad shape, we felt we were at the best spot available.

Dawn sky, as seen from the top of Tennent Mountain

I woke up at 5:30 a.m., which was earlier than necessary. Sunrise wouldn't happen for about 90 minutes, and Polecat and I had planned to be ready to hike shortly before that time. I stayed under my warm quilt and relaxed for about 20 more minutes before I dug into my food bag for breakfast.

When I emerged from my tent at 6:30 a.m., the dawn sky was awash in rich hues of reds, violets, and yellows. These colors were spread above the darkened blues and brown of the mountains, where the sun's rays had yet to fall.

Sunrise, as seen from the top of Tennent Mountain

We left the top of Tennent Mountain at sunrise. The air was bitter cold, and it would be a while before the sun was high enough to make a difference in the temperature.

Ice on the trail

We hadn't gone far in our descent before we realized we made the right choice to camp on the mountaintop last night. If we kept walking instead, we would have had to pick out way steeply down in the dark on a rocky and sometimes icy footpath. The route was treacherous enough without the added trouble of fading light.

As it was, Polecat slipped once on the ice and injured his knee. It caused him pain the rest of the way down to the trailhead.

Ice ribbons

The sides of the trail were often lined with ribbons of ice. They're also called ice flowers or frost flowers, and sometimes rabbit ice. In fact, scientists can't agree on what to call them.

Ice ribbons only appear when the conditions are just right. The air temperature must be below freezing, and the ground temperature must be above freezing. Although the icy slivers often appear to be growing from the ground, they are formed in the stem of a plant. The plant's moisture expands and gets expelled through thin cracks, where it freezes as soon as it hits the cold air.

Polecat stops to make coffee

After walking for about 30 minutes, we reached a spot near Ivestor Gap that was enclosed in a thicket of rhododendrons. We could have camped here last night if we had known about it and were been willing to hike about a mile down from the top of Tennent Mountain.

Polecat said he wanted to stop and relax his aching knee while he heated water to make coffee. The low cover of rhododendrons made it a comfortable place to do that because we were protected from the breeze blowing across the gap.

Approaching Grassy Cove Top

After a 20-minute break, we left the rhododendron enclosure to begin a climb up Grassy Cove Top. This mountain was another of Pisgah National Forest's 6,000-foot peaks. It was also another of the many heath balds in the southeastern Appalachians.

The Art Loeb Trail didn't crest the top of this mountain but passed so near that I had to wonder why it didn't cross the peak.

I remembered hiking here once before, though I couldn't remember the year. My sons and I completed a short backpacking trip in Shining Rock Wilderness when we happened to catch some unseasonably warm weather just before Christmas.

A view from Grassy Cove Top

Sunshine was starting to take off some of the chill by the time we started the climb. The sky was clear enough to allow for distant views as we rounded Grassy Cove Top. Mount Mitchell was visible on the horizon. It was nearly 45 miles away.

Shining Rock Ledge and Flower Knob

We continued over two slightly shorter peaks, Shining Rock Ledge and Flower Knob. Along the way, we passed an occasional backpacker going the other way.

A tunnel of trees

The trail then dropped slightly to Shining Rock Gap before taking a route on the north slope of Shining Rock. This section was entirely covered in trees and rhododendrons. The footpath was mostly flat for part of this distance, which I'm sure Polecat appreciated because of his aching knee.

Polecat collects water

Water trickled off the slope in a few places. We stopped at one of the better flows to collect some of the icy cold water.

Polecat navigates through a narrow space between trees

The trail led us next over Stairs Mountain (5,764 feet). Truthfully, I should take back those words because saying we were "led" implies we had a footpath to follow. This section barely qualified as a footpath.

The trail wasn't marked, so we had to follow whatever part of the terrain looked like it had been trampled by hikers. The area was overgrown with weeds, frequently covered in rocks, and went in twisted directions. We sometimes were forced to guess where we were to go next.

Shining Rock Wilderness has a reputation for being an easy place to get lost. We were now seeing this was well-earned.

In Memory of Cpl. Chad R. Segar, USMC

We soon found more proof of Shining Rock's dangers, which this time came with a sad and sobering result. A wooden cross stood at the side of the trail. On it were these words: "In Memory of Cpl. Chad R. Seger, USMC."

Seger was hiking in this part of Shining Rock Wilderness just 13 months ago. Authorities think he became lost and perhaps disoriented. An unconfirmed report says the ex-Marine fell into a deep ravine.

A steep section of the Art Loeb Trail

The rugged conditions continued as we entered an area called the Narrows. The trail went up and down, over and between large, exposed rocks.

In one confusing section, Polecat went in one direction before discovering he wasn't on the trail. The route I followed appeared to be correct, but truthfully, my way was no better than his. Both paths were steep and sometimes required hand-over-foot climbing.

I felt sorry for Polecat because I knew some of these steep climbs and descents were painful. A short time later, after we finally made it past the Narrows, I slipped and wrenched my knee. Fortunately, the pain quickly subsided as I walked.

A view of a valley below the trail

By 11 a.m., we reached an opening where we could see a broad valley below us. The trail's terminus at Camp Daniel Boone, a Boy Scout camp, was located somewhere at the bottom, but we still had a long way to go to get there.

First, we had to hike down to Deep Gap. The trail made a sharp left turn there at a junction with a side trail. We could have followed that trail up to Cold Mountain if we had wanted. Neither of us had an urge to go that way. Polecat's knee injury was certainly a reason for that, but we were also concerned about the time. We had arranged for my wife to pick us up at 2 p.m. and were running a little behind to get to the trailhead by then. We still had 3.8 miles to go.

There was one other reason we didn't feel any incentive to make the climb. Cold Mountain's summit was at 6,030 feet high. To get there from Deep Gap required a steep, 1,000-foot ascent in 1.4 miles.

The mountain and this area were the setting for the best-selling historical novel by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain. The author has said he based portions of the novel on the life of his great-granduncle, who lived near this mountain.

Descending to a creek

Instead of making the climb, we took a well-deserved break. I don't know how much it helped Polecat, though. He was hurting.

Thankfully, the descent after Deep Gap to the trailhead wasn't difficult, but there was a tricky, narrow section that dropped to a creek before climbing from it.

Polecat arrives at the trail terminus

We arrived at the trailhead 30 minutes late, but Kim wasn't there. When she pulled up at 3 p.m., she told us she intended to get there 30 minutes before our scheduled pickup time but was caught in a traffic jam and detour on Interstate 40.

We didn't mind. Today and this weekend had been a strenuous but rewarding time in a beautiful area.

There was one unfortunate outcome of this hike, however. Days later when Polecat began to realize the pain in his knee wasn't going away, he made an appointment with a doctor. That's when he learned he had a torn meniscus, a hiking souvenir no one wants.

Mirror shatters
In formless reflections of matter
Glass hand dissolving
To ice petal flowers revolving
Lady in velvet
Recedes in the nights of goodbye

Shall we go, you and I, while we can
Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

This trail report was published on