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Trip Report Granfather Montain- Grand Indeed!

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This is a beautiful peak near Charlotte, at 5,946 feet (1,812 m), it is the highest peak on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, one of the major chains of the Appalachian Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes by the south side of the mountain and also passes over the nearby Grandmother Gap. It is located at the meeting point of Avery, Caldwell (highest point), and Watauga (highest point) counties. Keeping in mind my experience of the Smokies I had little expectations from this park, but I was truly pleasantly surprised!! :D
When Parivesh (my colleague and friend here in Charlotte) said he was going to Grandfather mountain this last weekend and asked me to join him and his friends on the trip, I was more than overjoyed. Everything I had heard about the place seemed just ideal for the trekking enthusiast in me. We couldn't get out on Saturday, so Sunday it was. We planned for an early exit initially thinking we'd catch the sunrise enroute. But since Saturday was such a rainy day, the downpour dampened our plan to a start time of 7AM. Even that got a bit delayed as Parivesh dutifully picked up his friends Sachin & Shubhra and then drove an hour to get me from Mooresville. We finally headed out by around 8AM. As we were heading out it was drizzling a lot and the weather seemed to be perfectly set to play spoil sport. And the GPS was playing truant refusing to pick up the address to the park entrance. None the less, the enthu gang that we were we went ahead. The drive itself was very peaceful, along the way I was getting acquainted with Sachin & Shubhra. Sachin had come down from Jersey to spend a week with his wife Shubhra and we were soon exchanging our tales of what brought each of to the US, where we worked and how long we planned to be here. Before we realized it we were at the Brown Mountain Overlook. From within the car it seemed cold and misty, when we got out we realized it wasn't cold at all despite us being in the clouds!! There was zero visibility from the overlook, so we quickly decided to make this our quasi breakfast stop. ;-)
Shubhra was amazingly sweet and she had made some pancakes for us. We gorged into the fluffy pancakes, she'd brought along some honey to go with it. Turned out we weren't the only ones smitten, soon a bee joined the 'party' and kept trying to get at the honey providing us with some comic relief! :)))
Good thing was there was no signs of rain so we decided to go on, we realized we were just a few miles from the Grandfather Mountain National Park entrance. Yayyyy!! The journey had been even shorter than what we had anticipated and Parivesh had gotten his 'outing' for his Honda Civic ;-)
Very soon we had reached the park entrance, we had to shell out $18 pp and they gave us the maps and very neat CD that guided us through the drive up. Our first sight was the meadow to the left and then we came upon the overlook. We stopped for some pics, Parivesh did his darndest best to avoid getting clicked 'in the act' (;-))and then we moved on. As we drove up the skies were clearing out, we drove through a couple of hair pin bends to reach the 'Split Rock'. Sham of a point really, it was just two boulders lining the road. So we drove past it without stopping. Then we reached the nature museum. We pulled over here and after the necessary pit stops we looked around the gift shop- I got some batteries for my camera. Then we stepped out and decided to see the bears, deer and cougars in the enclosures. At the bird feed we caught sight of a couple of humming birds, but no DSLR in hand when I tried getting close they flew far away!! :(
The bears were a pitiful sight really, they don't at all look healthy or happy. May be we just caught them on a wrong day. The cougars were nower in sight, so that was a disappointment!! :( The deer were peacefully sitting at the end of their enclosure, but for us Indians, deer is very commonplace. So we didn't spend too much time there. Couple of otters too in a pool enclosure too. Kids seemed excited, all I was excited about was this goldilocks gal with the prettiest of hair in pink flowery slippers. kept kidding with Parivesh that I am gonna whisk her off to India and tell AJ "Surprise Surprise" :D Thus laughing, we got back to our cars and contd our drive up the mountain.
Finally we arrived at the topshop parking lot. Soon we were ready to 'scale' the swinging bridge. By now the bridge had become crowded though. :(

The bridge itself is supposedly a mile high, it doesn't swing much- yes we did try swinging it :)) We took plenty of pics on the bridge, by turns. Once we walked across there is a path to the very edge of the rocks. Needless to say here too we took some pics by turns. We made the people behind us wait for almost 15 mins, but they were sportive about it. So it all ended in some laughs! :)

Way back to the parking lot too we stopped many times to get some pics. Since the skies had cleared up and the sun was out, the setting was picture perfect really! :)

Through out this trip we were on the look out for the 'Grandfather Trail', but when we got back to the parking lot we realized the trail was on the other side of the parking lot. We decided to have our lunch here before heading off on the trail, Sachin & Shubhra had packed some rice and fish. So they and Parivesh had that, I had the one remaining pancake from morning. Now we were all set to go, we picked up some water bottles and some snickers at the Top Shop and set off on the Grandfather Trail!
The sign at the entrance of this trail said 'This trail is very difficult' and despite the warning we optimistically began our climb. After a couple of minutes of ascent the trail gave way to some even land and we started thinking this can't be all that difficult. However another ten minutes down the trail and we came onto slushy uneven paths and that gave us an inclination of what was to come. At the first fork we met some folks who were returning and one look at Shubra's shoes and they were like "your feet are going to get dirty, there's a lot happening ahead". Shubhra of course was our undeterred champ and so we marched on. We reached a rock that we took some rest at and also clicked some pics. A small curve ahead and we had more ascending to do before we reached the Grandfather Gap. The breeze was a welcome break and we paused for a couple of minutes before heading on. The one beautiful thing about this trail was the vistas we came upon at every turn and every edge!! Unending rolling green hills surround the Grandfather Mt and when walking the trail we just couldn't get enough of this sight. It only kept getting better and better as we marched on. The ascent in itself is pretty steep, in a distance of 0.9 miles we went up by nearly 800 ft. That is what makes this trail strenuous.
So a few meters ahead we reached our first challenge- a ropeway to help us scale some pretty sheer rock and then our first of 3 ladder climbs. It was here that I inadvertently slipped and cut my finger. Thankfully it was very much just a surface wound that bled a little. I did get a lot of dirt on it, so was determined to get some antiseptic on it later on.
Finally climbed up the first ladder and then a short distance later there were 2 more literally vertical climbs (as shown in pic above). We managed that too and reached the ledge on top. Every 50 ft elevation that we scaled we stopped with a "wow! Look at the view" gasp. This trail indeed gives one many scenic views of the area! At some places it truly is dangerous, there is NOTHING that stopped one from falling down the peak and loose stones on the trail ensured we had to watch our step continually. We knew we weren't quite near Calloway peak yet, but all along we were dreading havign to head back the way we came up. A family of 4 who came behind us had all the drama they could take. The 2 boys decided to bypass the ladders and show us their heroic antics. Their mom and dad were naturally hyper ventilating. But as they caught up with us above the ladders I asked the lady if there was a way we could get back without returning on the same path and hallelujah!! She said "Yes!!", it seemed like music to my ears!! Even as I thanked her for that info she gave me a spare map she was carrying. But tray as we did Parivesh and I couldn't make much sense of the map!! =)) We just decided to carry on and after a couple of precarious ledges we reached the Mc Rae Peak. The one stone on top seemed to be beckoning us on top. We did climb the rock and spent over 3/4ths of the hour on the rock enjoying the 360 degree panaromic views of the gentle rolling hills around us. A strong and steady gust of wind made this stay rather pleasant. All in all, this moment made the entire effort of hiking the trail totally worth it! Another shout out to Shubhra for achieving this in her fashion shoes!! =))
When we reached the single standing rock Mr Rich was already atop the rock. He encouraged us to climb up and gave us advice on taking a photo while on top there- actually absed on his advice I stayed back down until the rest of the gang went up, took their pics (impressive ones I think) and then finally went up. Rich was a veterinary doctor in New York who'd retired and settled near the Grandfather Mountain. He gave us a very good orientation of the area and lent us his binoculars so we could spot a few other trails. Finally, thanks to Rich's advice we decided to brave the ladders and head back the same way we came up. In no time Rich had also joined us and he very patiently guided us back down. All his tips and tricks were truly helpful and we managed to reached the parking lot in nearly an hour. Truly THANK YOU Rich!
No doubt our legs were sore from this less than 2 mile hike, but all of us had a huge sense of accomplishment after this hike. We had not only scaled heights, but had also shown ourselves what we could achieve. The beauty of the place surely seeped into us and we knew this was only the first of many trips to these mountains while in this region.
Meanwhile we headed out of the park and into the nearest Italian restaurant for an early dinner. Once done, Parivesh drove us back. Shubhra and I managed to continue talking much to Parivesh's chagrin. Sachin meanwhile dozed off in the car on the way back.
All in all, this had been a wonderful day! Enjoyed every minute of the experience!! :)