Elk-Kings Mountain Loop

September 25, 2006.

What a day to be outdoors! For the past few weeks, we’ve gotten some scattered cloudy or rainy days and everyone kept saying, summer’s over, the rain is coming, bla bla bla. Well today topped out at 85 degrees and the sun beat down heartily with no clouds in sight. It was actually a little too warm, but that’s okay.

I chose to do this loop based on it’s reputation for being a real butt-kicker. It didn’t nearly live up to all the hype (they never do) but the hike was enjoyable for so many other reasons.

I began from the Kings Mtn. trailhead and followed the Wilson River trail along the road for 3.5 miles. The forest here was simply gorgeous. Lush ferns lined the forest floor while tall trees gracefully reached up towards the sun. Birds and squirrels chattered amongst themselves as I lost myself in the serenity of this place. With the exception of the traffic, of course… I didn’t know a forest road could be so busy.

At the junction with the Elk Mtn Trail, the trail’s character changes dramatically with a quick, steep uphill climb that flattens out a little and the gradually gets steeper as you ascend. Although the peak is a mere 1.4 miles away, these 1.4 miles feel like they go on forever. There are elevation signs at 1500 ft and 2500ft., which I found more annoying than helpful because I thought “I’ve only climbed 1000 ft between signs?!” I stopped several times to catch my breath and admire the lovely views that could be had all along the way. I had a face-off with a squirrel, listened for birds, and stepped around caterpillars. I’d only seen one person so far, and he darted up this trail while I was snacking at the bottom so I didn’t see him again. Wonderful.

After several false summits along this rough ridge I reached the top. From the wide, flat summit I enjoyed panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. I could see Kings Mountain, my next stop today, and the jagged ridge leading that way. I could also faintly see Mt. Hood looming in the distance.

Here I ate lunch, took a nice catnap in the sun, and then left for the next leg of the journey.

The walk over to the Kings Mtn trail changes from super steep to super flat and everything in between. Definitely a fun stretch for an A.D.D. hiker like me! Along the way I noticed patches of autumn reds and yellows, but sadly realized there will be no New England fall display here. It looked like the mountains really wanted to change colors, but they just couldn’t :).

The last uphill push to Kings Mountain involved plenty of steep ups and downs, but nothing too out of control. There were no fear-of-falling moments or treacherous downhill segments as described in just about every sign and trip report regarding this hike. I thought the “caution” sign and rope were a bit over the top. Perhaps I’ve just done too many really scary hikes to appreciate the challenges of this one!

I reached the top of Kings Mountain at about the same time as another hiker coming up from the other side. I quickly signed in and retreated down from where the other hiker came, running into her (presumed) husband along the way. He was all decked out in khaki with Scarpa mountaineering boots, calf-high red wool socks and a two-way radio. These folks don’t mess around! He was very nice, so I chatted with him for a minute before tearing down the trail. Oh, how I love those steep downhills after all that up!

The whole way down I thought, “this would be a KILLER winter hike!!!” I am now psyched to hit this loop again once it’s covered in ice and snow. There are endless glissading opportunities on the way down and probably some really fun axe/crampon climbing involved on the way up. Now I just need to convince someone else that this would be fun!

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