One stormy Saturday, around the end of November, maybe in the early 1990’s, I made my first double traverse day hike of Grandfather Mountain. That is, I started at the bottom of the mountain at NC Hwy 105, climbed the Profile Trail, traversed the all the peaks the length of the mountain on the Grandfather Trail, to the Swinging Bridge, then back to the Profile Trail and so to the bottom of the mountain in the same day.
Compared to some 18 miles per day marathon hikes I have been on, the Grandfather Mountain double traverse is not that much distance – about 10 miles. And I have been other places on the Appalachian Trail, in the Tetons and the Wind River Range where I climbed more altitude. But this is a rugged trail, with many steep sections requiring hand-over-hand climbing, up and down, mud, slick rock and tight bushes to push through. Other places, the trail is so exposed, on the edge of rocky cliffs, as to require tight balance to keep from falling off the mountain. The ruggedness, combined with the mileage and altitude gain, is a tough hike, taking the entire day.
The weather on Grandfather Mountain is also a factor that can add to the difficulty. I have been in every month and season of the year – from summer heat, to winter snow, to blasting lightening storms.
On this first traverse, the conditions were probably the toughest of my career. It was still early enough in the fall for there to be tropical depressions. When I arrived in the parking area at the beginning of the Profile Trail, the ranger on duty warned me that the remnants of a hurricane were just passing through, and to expect winds on the summit in excess of 90 miles per hour. However, at the same time, it was late enough in the fall that there were sections of the trail under ice.
Sure enough, when I got to the top of the mountain, I encountered both conditions at the same time. There were sections where I was almost blown off the mountain by high winds on icy rock. Some places where I had to get on my stomach and crawl to keep my grip on the trail.
On the way up, just past Shanty Springs, I met a young couple from Appalachian State University. There were unprepared for the terrible conditions, cold, wind-blown, and somewhat disoriented. I found them when they had lost the trail and were calling to me from the adjacent woods. I love to play Ranger Bob. I guided them up the trail, and we stayed together until we got to the Swinging Bridge.
This trip was before the days of cell phones. At the store by the bridge, they called a friend to drive to the top and pick them up. They offered me a ride down, and in the dangerous circumstances, I probably should have accepted. But my pride would not let me take a ride. I gutted it out and crawled back over the mountain, to the safety of my waiting truck, tired but happy.