Posted by: pjbarr | April 18, 2010

Towers of Madison County

Start: Hot Springs, NC
Finish: Rich Mountain Lookout Tower
Distance: 8.2 mi.
Trip Distance: 280.0 mi.
Side Trips: Duckett Top Tower, Lover’s Leap, Rich Mountain Tower
Side Trip Miles: 0.2 mi.
State: NC/TN
Highlights: Hot Springs, Duckett Lookout Tower, Lover Leap Rock, Mill Ridge, Rich Mt. Lookout Tower Sunset

I have yet to visit a fire tower on this hike that I have been deprived of its amazing panoramic vistas. Today I enjoyed the views from not just one lookout tower, but two. This makes the second time I have done this with Wayah and Wesser Balds being the first a few weeks back. Tomorrow I should start at Rich Mountain Lookout and also reach Camp Creek Bald Lookout mid-day.

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This morning began with a trip to my favorite lookout tower in all of North Carolina with the exception of Shuckstack. However, this tower is actually more visually appealing in its structure than Shuckstack, and itself is sentimental to me for various reasons.


Tom was kind and patient enough to pick us up and all of our effects from our cabin above the farm and drives us up the two mile, rutted and steep road to the Duckett Top Lookout Tower. Though not on the trail, I was so excited to include this lookout as a destination during my adventure – and on a perfect clear day. For once I was actually opposed to hiking up to the tower; this weekend was focused on rest and especially the recuperation of my somewhat damaged feet that were recovering from a few blisters and rubbed raw areas. The hike up to Duckett Top is rocky, rutted, steep, and would be exceptionally hard on the feet – especially on the decent.


I asked Judy for the favor of a drive to the tower yesterday and I was thrilled that Tom agreed to take us. This was no small favor – the drive despite a short distance, is hard on every 4 WD vehicle and takes nearly an hour roundtrip for only a total of 4 miles. Yet another example of the kindness and welcoming that I’ve always so generously received at Briar Rose Farm. Allison and I thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s conversation and stories during the drive. They are so numerous and so off the wall hilarious that I won’t even repeat them here, but needless to say they made for an entertaining drive.

The Duckett Top Lookout Tower built by the CCC in 1936, is a 10 foot two story former live-in stone lookout "house". Its quaint design is highlighted by its picturesque setting atop a small grassy bald summit of a peak known as Rich Knob. The sky was as it was the day I visited here to take photos of it for the cover of my book: Carolina blue and without a cloud in the sky. I enjoyed taking identical photos on this visit, but now with the towers attractive face lift. The NCFS put a new roof on the tower nearly two years ago and my FFLA Chapter member Wes Greene painted the lookout's exterior last fall. He generously allowed me to help briefly after driving me to the top. The project was his completely but I was grateful he let me be involved since it was a structure so dear to me. The tower now looks sharp and the photos turned out amazing.

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The views from it were especially rewarding – I could see the extent of the state divide ridge all the way from the Smokies to Camp Creek Bald and even beyond to Big Bald. Seeing summits so distant that I had recently stood atop – and gotten there by foot alone-was inspiring. MT. Guyot, Mt. Cammerer, Max Patch, and Bluff Mountain, I had all conquered in the previous days. They looked so massive and so imposing. I could see the lookout tower atop Rich Mountain, my evening destination for today. I love Duckett Top and it is a place in which I have difficulty leaving.

Allison and I departed for Hot Springs after parting from Tom and Judy. We are so endlessly grateful for their hospitality this weekend. We vowed to return following my hike to show them pictures and tell more stories of my adventure. I eagerly await a return to Briar Rose Farm.

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In Hot Springs, I used the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon to use my laptop to update my on line journal, fix its many problems, and add photos. As with two weeks ago, it led to great frustration and stress. I told Allison I wished I would have hired someone to oversee the journal web site because it isn’t worth my frustration. I hope people enjoy it because it is an excessive amount of work that goes into it. I wish I could find someone skilled at both Word Press and CSS to help me with its problems that I have no time to correct for obvious reasons. At the least, I am very encouraged that my Shuckstack fundraiser has exceeded $900 to this point, so at least the effort of the web site is having a great positive effect on my tower campaign.

We had lunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner across from the Sunnybank Inn. This is my third visit in about as many days – I sure do like their food. We made a quick visit to the adjacent grocery store for last minute resupply items.

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Allison and I bid farewell to each other on the steps of the Sunnybank Inn where they intersect the sidewalk that makes up the AT, which itself has AT emblems engraved in its cement. We hugged and kissed and then again after I saddled up my now heavy backpack. It’s always hard to leave her. I climb mountains all week and walk through pouring rain and baking sun, but the most difficult part of my hike is parting from her for another two weeks.

A sad moment was slightly uplifted when a familiar voice began mocking our farewell from down the sidewalk. I turned to see a familiar face, but one I hadn’t seen in sometime. It was Chef, whom I had last seen at Wallace Gap all the way back in the Nantahala’s. It was great to see again and to finally get to introduce him to Allison. Chef is an original 22’er and a member of the now scattered usual suspects. I was excited he had caught me and though I was leaving town now, he intended to leave tomorrow so he should be close behind. I hope to stay with him again soon – it has been too long and I miss his friendship.

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My walk with full pack and hiking sticks through the main street of Hot Springs was special. I had been to this town several times prior, each time imagining my future self hiking down this sidewalk on a quest from Georgia to Maine. I get goose bumps that it is finally happening. When I visit this town in the future, I will now always remember me and the past, thru-hiking through town. I adore the quaint town of Hot Springs and I did not want to leave.

I crossed the French Broad River on the highway bridge, another neat walk. I hopped the rail and followed the trail downhill and began paralleling the river on its sandy banks. The trail soon turned up hill, steeply I might add, and I climbed several switchbacks to Lovers Leap Rock. Here a Native American legend tells of an Indian girl flinging herself from its cliffs in heartbreak after her lover was killed by a jealous man. This is a nice story, but as it turns out, there are dozens of “Lovers Leaps” around the country with the same Indian legend. I’m skeptical to say the least. Nevertheless, the view was splendid and overlooked the entire town of Hot Springs, the French Broad River, and the highway bridge. It was a scene worth turning into a painting. It was one I had seen in photos and had been eager to finally witness myself. It was worth the precarious scramble down to the cliff over crumbling rocks to enjoy that view of a setting that I now hold dear.

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The rest of the climb up Lover’s Leap Ridge I actually spoke with Allison on the cell phone. I must be becoming a good hiker to walk steeply uphill and maintain active conversation without missing a step. This phone call helped ease my fresh absence from her. I cannot wait to see her again in Damascus.
Near Pump Gap I got a call from AWOL. I was elated to hear he was satisfied with the data that I sent him this weekend. I’m lucky to have the opportunity he has given me and I’m excited to continue to help him more as I continue to hike the trail.

I passed by a peculiar cement dam that formed a pond just before reaching Mill Ridge. At Mill Ridge the trail turned on to a dirt road and I followed it through a large, scenic grassy meadow. A sign indicated it was formerly used as a tobacco field and was now maintained for wildlife. I could see the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower to the west. It was still far off. Shortly thereafter, I lost the trail for the first time of the trip. The blazing north bound was shamefully poor as the trail apparently continued to follow the road before heading back into the woods to reach Tanyard Gap.

After crossing the highway on an overpass, I attacked the climb up Rich Mountain and I reached the summit in only an hour despite the 1000+ foot ascent. I made it with plenty of time for sunset, which itself paled in comparison to those I’ve seen in the past weeks thanks to low clouds on the horizon to the west. I enjoyed it nonetheless, and was excited to spend yet another night out in a fire tower. I also enjoyed the view looking down into Hot Springs. I can see Camp Creek Bald too, tomorrows big climb to another lookout tower. As the light fades, the lights of nearby Greenville, TN., in the valley below are glittering.

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Neil Ross, trail name Hawk Feathers, who thru-hiked in 1973, is an older guy here who grew up in Hot Springs. I have enjoyed talking history with him and he is well read on western North Carolina and its past – perhaps as well as me. He has a scope that he let me view a close up of the moon where I could see individual craters and other surface terrain. This was very cool. In the morning he plans to use the scope to zoom in on the Mt. Cammerer Lookout Tower so that I can see it up close. I am particularly excited about this.

Hawk Feathers is camping down the ridge tonight, but I am sharing the tower cab with Brooklyn and Stretcher, two good guys about my age whom I just met, and Grapevine, whose company I particularly enjoy after having stayed with him at Tri-Corner Knob Shelter last week. He had a sprained ankle then and was fearing he might have to get off the trail for a while. I’m excited to see he has improved and is well enough to continue strong.

It’s getting pretty cold tonight and my tower top perch is a bit breezy. Time to bundle up and hit the hay. Good night from the Rich Mountain Lookout.

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