Cashiers and Highlands, NC: Part I
Having successfully completed our inaugural hike with new team member Fitz Roy, we decided that it’s time to take him out to the mountains to see how he does on real trails. Fitz is of course part Shiba Inu…a type of dog specially bred for hunting in mountainous conditions in rugged central Japan. The mountains should be a second home for him!
So, we packed him into the car along with the rest of the gear and headed as far west into the Appalachian Mountains as we could. You can’t get much further west, or more Appalachian, than Cashiers, NC.
(By the way…The stated purpose of this trip was to celebrate the birthday of Minister of Expedition Planning — Brian…but this was basically a cover story. The trip was in fact ALL about Fitz, as Sylvia will attest.)
Cashiers is at least five and a half hours drive from Raleigh. When you have a dog in the car who requires walking, feeding, bathroom breaks etc, this can easily stretch out to well over six. Which in fact it did.
Cashiers NC is in the remote southwestern corner of the state, beyond Asheville. This rugged, rain drenched corner is home to the Nantahala National Forest. It is much less well known than the Pisgah National Forest, but locals and outdoor enthusiasts known it well as one of the best hiking regions in the state.
Just last year, Brian and Sylvia prepared for the Tour du Mont Blanc by doing the three day Standing Indian Loop near Franklin, NC, which includes a section of the AT. That hike is not far from Cashiers.
Following the Tour we also hiked to Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park…which is likewise just down the road from Cashiers.
There is only one road into this remote part of NC…the ubiquitous Route 64 which runs all the way from the Outer Banks to the Tennessee state line (where it continues on, all the way to Arizona. This would make a cool road trip someday…)
The question in our minds was: How much could Fitz Roy handle? And more to the point, could we handle him if he couldn’t handle it? Fitz is a spirited dog prone to doing things his own way; like any sled dog he likes to lead, and he pull on the leash. Since neither Sylvia nor I feel comfortable letting him roam off leash even in those areas where it is allowed, this means one of us must continuously manage him and reign him in at all times. No easy thing when you are tackling an already difficult trail.
We decided to chose some easy trails and see how well the little guy fared. The first of these was just a few miles down the road in the city of Highlands.
Glen Falls, Highlands NC
Glen Falls is actually a series of three falls on a small creek just outside the town of Highlands, maybe 25 minutes from Cashiers, and considered to be among the most scenic in the area. The entire vertical plunge of the whole cascades is several hundred feet.
To reach the furthest and most scenic of the three falls is a hike of just under a mile one way. Seemed simply enough, though there were warning that it was steep over the last section. We decided to see how Fitz did on this hike, but to not go all the way unless he performed better than we expected.
The result was so-so. Fitz was able to make it down to the first of the three viewpoints, but even that was somewhat sketchy. Two problems; the first having to do with the nature of waterfall hikes in general. They tend to be very popular, and this was no exception…there was a lot of traffic, including dog and human traffic, on the hike. As we pulled up into the parking area a man returning from the falls warned us that what lay ahead might not be the best thing for an excited dog, which Fitz clearly was.
At thirteen months of age Fitz is basically a teenager, still getting used to his new adopted owners, and we to him. We are all three of us learning the ropes. He is both easily excited and quite distrustful of strangers. The two factors combine to make him very combustible and, if he can’t be calmed down, prone to public meltdowns. We must always be vigilant of the situation around us; who is approaching, what is up ahead, is there a dog nearby, what area we might suddenly encounter a stranger, etc. A slippery, closed in and heavily trafficked trail is simply too much for him and for us under the circumstances.
Brian quickly took stock of the trail and became concerned that Fitz might unintentionally pull one of us off balance at a bad time, as dogs will sometimes do, leading to a serious fall. We decided to do the prudent thing and turn around; right after we did, Fitz did in fact have his first near meltdown of the trip passing two dogs and their owners on a tight corner.
After calming Fitz Roy down a bit, we proceeded a short way down the Chinquapin Mountain Trail, which leaves from the same trail head. This trail was a bit less steep and virtually deserted, so was a great place to give Fitz an intro to the woods. We proceeded down the trail a half mile without incident, had a snack and returned to the car. This is a nice trail; we may return at some point to climb the rest of the way up the mountain. There are some overlooks reputed to have nice views.
Afterwards, Sylvia urged that we locate the town of Highlands dog park and let Fitz run around for a while and burn off steam. We were lucky to arrive while the last few dogs and owners were still playing; Fitz was able to run about and play with a couple of new poodle friends and a Boyken Spaniel. Alas, he also located the only puddle of mud in the park and proceeded (as he usually does) to lie straight down in it. We had to run a hose over him before departing. Nevertheless, he’d had his workout. We retired back to our cabin to rest, regroup and gear up for day two.
He’s done it again!
Silver Run Falls, Cashiers, NC
For day two, Brian had it in his mind turn up the ‘easy’ a bit…and in fact, this one couldn’t be any easier to reach. Silver Run Falls is an impressive waterfall located very close to the road just south of Cashiers. We were able to find the trailhead with no difficulty, parked and started the quarter mile east walk into this scenic 25-foot high falls. Fitz, sporting his green backpack, looked ready!
Alas, he wasn’t quite, and we were not alone in our choice of trails. Despite the fact that it was a Monday, and Silver Run Falls is reputed to be a “less visited” waterfall…well, turns out it’s plenty visited enough.
Waterfall hikes – especially those near the road – attract huge crowds. This is especially true in these days of mobile devices the internet when anyone can pull up Romanticasheville.com or any number of other hiking websites (like ours) and find details about hikes that for many years were secrets known only to the locals.
By the time we arrived at the falls, a large group had beaten us there and showed no signs of departing. Silver Run Falls is located in a rather closed in cove; other than some very muddy side approaches, and a very steep and treacherous way that ascends to the top of the falls (which we do NOT recommend taking) there is only one really good viewpoint. This being a large rock located just off the trail. And the rock was presently occupied.
We waited patiently for the other group to leave but…they simply weren’t going anywhere. It began to rain…still, no signs of anyone leaving. We couldn’t just stand around in the trees, so we approached as slowly and calmly as we could. Fitz held it together almost until the end when the other group finally decided to leave. Then he proceeded to have his second public meltdown of the trip.
The view from the rock was certainly fine but we had only a few minutes to enjoy it before more people showed up, and behind them still more people, and several parties with dogs. We beat a hasty retreat down the trail followed along by the racket of baying terriers and barking hounds.
We had learned a lesson…best leave the waterfalls for another day!
We returned to our cabin to regroup for the final day. Fitz definitely enjoys rustic cabin life more than he does crowds!
But could we find a hike suitable for the three of us?
Next up: High up over Highlands