As we neared the fire tower, I wondered if I could manage to hike one more giant step. I’d already eased myself up about a 1,000 in the relatively steep 1.2 mile ascent to the peak that, as the young energetic ranger had told me was “50 feet higher than Pilot Mountain”. How was it that I found myself struggling to make it those last 100 steps to a peak I didn’t even know existed before I entered the park visitor center. I attribute this to pride. Pride and a nasty habit of trying to finish as many trails as possible at a park.
We originally struck out to Hanging Rock State Park this morning to see the “Hanging Rock”. My husband had observed that I was hankering for adventure and Hanging Rock was both on our North Carolina bucket list and an easy 2 hour drive from home.
On our way to the park we passed Walnut Cove which has a lovely water tower and Dansbury – the streets bordered by lovely old brick buildings and a quaint white church.
Immediately outside of Dansbury we saw the sign for hanging rock and turned on to the park road. Our first stop was a reconnaissance mission to gather a trail map and route advice from the park ranger. I walked up to the counter, rested my hiking poles in front of me and asked for trail advice. The ranger took one look at me and said (I’m not kidding she really said this) “it looks like you’ve a serious hiker – our highest trail is Moore’s Loop – the one with the fire tower – that’s where you need to go. It’s 50 feet higher than pilot mountain.” A pleasant smile plastered on her face. I think I crushed a small bit of her soul by asking about touristy destinations like Hanging Rock – geez, it is the namesake of the park, after all – and waterfalls. I had disappointedly revealed that I was yet another bucket-lister. My hiker credibility a bit diminished in her eyes, she told me that yes, I could also see these things a short distance from the parking lot. Politely dismissed, I gathered my hiking poles and map decorated with yellow highlighter and wandered outside to find my companions for this adventure – my husband and our boxer, Desi.
Both now confused about how we should spend our time at the park, we took off on the Hanging Rock trail. Logic being that we certainly wanted to see the famous rock and other destinations may or may not happen. I was a bit disappointed to find the trail a wide and domesticated creature. In the beginning it was even paved in asphalt. And then the people – there were a lot of them. Pleasant enough and often with a friendly dog tugging at the end of the leash. But so many people, I can’t imagine what it’s like on a pleasant summer day.
We persisted, stepping a bit delicately in the recently melted snow and ice. Soon we came into a stand of hardwood trees and some vistas which afforded lovely views of the scenery below.
And after about 3/4 of a mile, we reached the beginning of the hanging rock formation. A nice lady snapped a photo of us under the rock.
A few hundred steps later, we walked out into Hanging Rock and took in the views. The air was still. The sky was blue. Most of the other hikers were polite and friendly. We paused for a snack and to enjoy the moment. I marveled at how my fear of heights is gone now. Thanks to the striding edge of Helvellyn!
On the way down we paused to do a bit Hanging Around ourselves. I simply couldn’t resist! Besides I have a goal to do 5 clean pull-ups this year so it was good training.
Now we reached a crucial decision point – would we take a leisurely turn, or satisfy the ambitions of the park ranger and tackle the fire tower peak? If you know me, you know what happened…
We looped around Wolf Rock and paused at the outcrop for lunch – Subway sandwiches we’d picked up on the way.
This section of trail was pleasantly narrow and we passed only a few people. One being a barefoot young lady with lilac-colored hair. We chatted with her about the surprisingly warm soil temp. A few moments down the path I reminisced about a friend who picked up a parasite through her feet once and happily kept my German-designed yak hiking boots strapped to my feet.
The path dipped down to a lake before we began the stairs of the giants climb to balancing rock and the fire tower. A gal with a Colorado ball-cap and a sunny disposition had suggested it was a good route as long as I had “good knees and was up for a strenuous climb”. Check that, I thought. We’ve climbed the fells of northern England and the Grand Canyon. This is kid stuff. Oh no, it was most definitely not.
A few hundred steps in I found myself remembering all those climbs to the top of church towers in Europe. Those climbs paled in comparison to this ascent. Also I began to ponder if it feels more difficult when you can actually see the top of when it’s obscured from view? Eventually, we made it to the top. As I sat down to quench my thirst and catch some air, we took in the views of Pilot Mountain.
A fellow Harley rider asked about our bikes and our Boxer. More Desi admirers arrived and I found myself thinking of our many mountain ascents and how they’re all unique.
The sun creeping westward, we finally made our descent down the long stretch of the loop. As promised by some hikers we met on the fire tower viewing deck, the terrain varied and the sunlight danced on the leaves as we carefully treaded through more black mucky trails and partially melted snow fields. We came across a pile of rocks that for all the world looked like a giant Jenga game to me.Eventually our path joined the fisherman’s path along the lake before ending our loop on the road. It was joyously flat as we admired views of the partially-frozen lake.
We all felt a bit like Desi, sleepy and satisfied with a day conquering mountains and ourselves. And if that ranger’s reading this, I hope she’s proud of what we accomplished!