Scout Camp Loop on Art Loeb Trail and Little East Fork Trail, Shining Rock Wilderness

Backcountry wilderness. If you really want to get a taste, then this hike is for you. Starting at the remote Camp Daniel Boone, the northern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail enters Shining Rock Wilderness immediately. As you begin the nearly 2,000′ ascent to Deep Gap, on the southern shoulder of Cold Mountain, you will cross numerous streams as you hike through hardwood forest. Expect extremely rugged terrain with exceptional long-distance views and evergreen and heath vegetation as you cross from Deep Gap to Shining Rock Gap on a razor-edged stretch of trail appropriately called The Narrows. The loop returns as you descend Little East Fork Trail and follow this prong of the beautiful Little Pigeon River back to the scout camp. Whew! This hike occurred on Thursday, April 17, 2014 beginning at 9:10AM and ending about 5:35PM. Our plan was to take the Art Loeb Trail to its junction with Little East Fork Trail, then return on Little East Fork to the scout camp to complete the loop.

Hike Length: 15 miles (est.) Hike Duration: 8.25 hours

Blaze: White on the Art Loeb, none on Little East Fork (wilderness).

Hike Rating: Quite difficult. Very long, rugged terrain, lots of elevation gain.

Elevation Gain: 4,250 feet Elevation Change: 2,550 feet

Hike Configuration: Loop

Trail Condition: Mostly easy to follow. Roots, rocks, creek crossings. Some all fours scrambling in The Narrows.

Starting Point: Daniel Boone Scout Camp on Little East Fork Road.

Trail Traffic: We encountered only two other hikers the entire day.

How to Get There: From Brevard, NC take Hwy. 276 to its junction with Hwy. 215. Turn left on 215 and continue for 5 miles. Turn left onto Little East Fork Road and go 3.8 miles to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp. The Art Loeb trailhead is well marked on the left side of the road near the back of the camp past the last building. If you cross the river you have gone too far.

I should make note here before starting on the trail report that the map above is not complete. About the time we reached the junction of the Art Loeb Trail with the Little East Fork Trail, the battery on my smartphone died, so the recording of the GPS track was terminated. It’s a shame too, because I had a battery charger with me. I was simply enjoying the companionship and beauty of the wilderness so much that I didn’t even think about the battery.

So, to complete the map above, I have hand-drawn the approximate track of descent along the Little East Fork Trail. The map statistics combining the actual track up, and the virtual track down, total a little more than 13 miles. It was our estimate, however, that this hike is actually closer to 15 miles.

It takes awhile to get to the Daniel Boone Scout Camp. It is truly out in the rural country, but isn’t that what you’d expect for wilderness hiking? The Art Loeb Trail is near the back of the camp, and is well marked with a large sign.

The morning was great for a long hike, brisk, with just a touch of overcast. When I was here once before, on the first mile or so of the hike, I could tell it is an area near a wealth of seasonal campers. The trail then was very well maintained with lots of rock and log stairs to aid with climbing. The camp counselors no doubt enjoy having the free camper labor to take care of trail maintenance.

This time of year, though, before the boy scouts show up in droves, all the debris strewn about by the heavy winds of winter left the trail littered with twigs and sticks, and several downed trees. It’s a steep climb right off the bat, then the trail takes a series of switchbacks, jumping nearly 1,200 feet in the first 1.5 miles.

Our crew of three two-legged and one four-legged pedestrians moved at a casual pace through a thick hardwood forest on the way to Deep Gap, and in mid-April with the leaves still off the trees, we could see some of the surrounding mountains, as well as what lie ahead of us on the trail. As we rounded each succeeding ridge, Deep Gap still looked a long way up there.

We crossed Sorrell Creek twice, the first time after about a mile and a half, the 2nd another mile later. It had been a very wet winter in the Blue Ridge so there was plenty of fungus, lichens, molds and mosses growing on everything that had a surface. What totally surprised us was the acres and acres of ramps we came upon. Now don’t you go digging them up just because I told you they are there. This is designated wilderness. The forest rangers will spank you.

Though I’ve yet to hike this stretch of the Art Loeb during the green season, I’m told that there is a great deal of poison oak in this area. So take your own precautions as appropriate.

The Art Loeb Trail climbs a total of about 1,800 feet to Deep Gap in roughly four miles with the first part and the last part being the steepest. In between is a gradual grade. There are a couple stretches where the trail meanders along as it follows an old logging road. There is a spring near Deep Gap, so when you come upon it, know that you are close… about 2/10 of a mile. That last bit, though, will severely test your legs and lungs.

Deep Gap is a perfect place to take a breather. There are logs there, and a fire pit, and an open area to stretch your legs. We all took off our packs and shared some nourishment while resting for the next climb into The Narrows. Deep Gap is also the way to the summit of Cold Mountain. There is a spur trail there that takes you northward the final mile and a half to the top of that famous 6,000 footer.

We took about 20 minutes at Deep Gap, to eat and drink, and to get ourselves rested for more serious climbing. There is no directional sign, but the Art Loeb turns to the right here, now heading due south and up. It’s another thousand feet of hard climbing between Deep Gap and the highest point in The Narrows, 5,869′ Stairs Mountain. We were in complete sunshine now on a glorious day for hiking the backcountry.

Pals for Life

As you pass through The Narrows, keep in mind that you are a long way from anywhere. There is no quick way to get to where you are. So be very careful as you traverse this extremely rugged and remote terrain. Obviously you don’t want to get injured, but think of the search and rescue folks who have to get to you from miles away in any direction. Just my public service please be careful when hiking in The Narrows.

Perhaps a half mile, or less, above Deep Gap, The Narrows begin. The terrain suddenly has many large granite outcroppings. It becomes apparent that you are on a precarious ridge. It isn’t cliffs, but if you fell, you would roll for quite some time. The laurel and rhododendron are thick and choking. The steps up will strain your groin and hip muscles. Sometimes you have to scramble on all fours.

When you begin to see the scattered spruce and balsam, you are nearing the first overlook, and oh my, what an overlook it is. We were graced with a crystal clear day that enabled us to see all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, more than 50 miles away. We could see Mt. Sterling and Mt. Leconte in the Smokies off to the west just as clear as if we were there. To the south is the massive hulk of Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Climbing to the northeast side of the overlook we were presented with the south summit of Cold Mountain, and far in the distance, the tower-topped point of Mt. Pisgah. The combination of the two is the photo you see at the top of this post. Cold Mountain on the left, Pisgah on the right. Click it for a larger image.

After this magnificent view, the trail begins roller-coastering along the razor-thin ridge line. You will drop down 100 feet, then climb up 200, then drop down, and then back up. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It is quite tiring. We had to stop for a number of breaks to catch our breath and rest our legs. The terrain is quite demanding.

After about a mile you finally get off the narrow ridge and back to more of a forested trail. Don’t think, though, that the worst is over, because now you have to climb up Stairs Mountain. I’m not afraid to tell you that by the time we reached the summit I was huffing and puffing. It’s tough. It truly tests your stamina. Fortunately for me, on this day I passed the test.

Once you cross over Stairs Mountain the worst of the exertion is over. It’s a rolling stroll for the next couple miles to Shining Rock Gap through a thick spruce and rhododendron canopy. You’ll know you’re getting near the namesake Shining Rock as you begin to see boulders of white quartz poking up out of the ground here and there.

The gap is a major trail junction. You can go up on Shining Rock from here. The Old Butt and Shining Creek trails meet here. The Ivestor Gap and Art Loeb trails also meet here. We continued southward on the Art Loeb for just a couple hundred more yards until the junction with the Little East Fork Trail.

Beech Saplings Line the Trail

The upper half of Little East Fork Trail is a gentle descent through the remains of a long ago fire. The forest changes from spruce and balsam to deciduous trees as it drops further into the drainage. Much of the trail is lined with young beech saplings, the last to lose their leaves. The golden glow of the still-clinging beech leaves brightens the path and prods tired legs ever onward.

After a couple miles you’ll begin to hear the faint rush of the river below. As you continue downward it gets closer and louder. The trail steepens and the terrain becomes more of a ravine as you approach the river. You’ll know you’re close when you start seeing backcountry campsites near the trail.

When you reach the river you have to cross. On this day, the water wasn’t particularly high, but high enough to cover my boot tops if I had just waded across. Scoping out crossing points, there looked to be two promising spots. One, that was in shallower water but with rocks that were further apart, and another with rocks that looked promising for hopping, but in deeper water. I chose the latter. Ken went first across the shallow crossing and made it without a hitch.

My first step from the bank to a big rock was a long one, longer that I had sized up. So there I was, straddling the current with one foot on the bank and the other on a slippery rock. As I swung my back leg over to join my front, I lost my balance, and you can guess the result. Sploosh! My whole left side, from shoulder to toes, was immersed in the cold mountain stream and my own adrenaline. It certainly was refreshing.

Y’know, the Meanderthals motto is, “If you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough.” Well, I toughed it out. Ken helped pull me out of the drink and I finished crossing to the other side. There didn’t appear to be any pain, just wetness, and a sheepish grin. Creeks are my nemesis. Dave made it across safely behind me with Grace, and then they all waited while I changed my socks and poured part of the river out of my boots.

Back on the trail in another 10 minutes, we were now hiking directly beside the Little East Fork of the Pigeon River, but about 50-60 feet above. There are an amazing number of waterfalls and cascades over the two and a half mile length back to the scout camp from the crossing. It is a stunning river. Too bad the trail is so high above the whitewater. Some day I will go back with a tripod and clamber down to river level just for photos of this magnificent stream.

With wet clothes and bruised ego, the last couple miles were kind of a slog for me. Thankfully I had the natural beauty of the river to take my mind off my inconvenient situation. The last quarter mile is on Little East Fork Road within the bounds of the scout camp. We passed hundreds of tent platforms along the way. This place must really be rockin’ in summer when the camp is in full swing.

In summary, this is a long, hard hike that offers rewards around every corner. If you like forest hikes, it’s got that hardwoods below Deep Gap and along Little East Fork and evergreens above 5,000 feet. If you like vista hikes, it has that too. The views on a clear day are remarkable. Expect to be able to see at least a 50 mile radius. And if you like water feature hikes, then the last few miles along Little East Fork are filled with waterfalls and tumbling cascades. There’s really something for everyone on this special wilderness loop. If you have the stamina to go for eight hours, then I definitely recommend this hike.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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