We didn't plan to go to Grandfather Mountain, but in our search of ever-nearer weekend backcountry trips we headed to Boone, NC (which is about an hour closer to the Triangle than Asheville is) to ask some locals where they'd go backpacking. We were interested in Harper Falls, but on the recommendation of someone at Footslogger's, we decided to take advantage on the perfectly clear day to climb Grandfather instead.
We took the Daniel Boone Scout Trail with Calloway Peak (the highest peak on Grandfather Mountain) as our destination.
The first day was perfect and clear. We made it to the top of Calloway Peak and started to head down the other side to find a place to camp for the night.
The camping spot we were hoping for, which was on the edge of a cliff, was already in use, so we pressed on until we reached Calloway Gap. We made a great-but-gross dinner of freeze-dried macaroni mixed with cheese-flavored boiling water. We watched the sun set from a viewpoint near our camping spot.
I go back and forth about my feelings for North Carolina, but at this moment I was basking in the beauty of my adopted home state and feeling pretty content to be sitting right where I was. Back in New York, I used to de-stress in the middle of the day by riding the elevator to the top of my building and looking out from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the city sprawling in every direction. This was better than that.
That night after rigging a makeshift bear bag far from our tent, James rushed back to tell me I must-must-must go look at the stars. I put my shoes back on, grabbed a headlamp, and slogged through the mud back to the peak where we had eaten dinner. I looked up and saw a blanket of stars like I'd never seen before. It wasn't so much the brightness but the sheer number of them. Normally, looking at the sky feels like I'm peering into a vast nothingness. With the stars swarming above, this was more like being overwhelmed by everything-ness, of infinity. I had to tear myself away.
The next morning we woke up to roaring winds whipping the walls of our tent. The temperature had dropped and the top of the mountain was enclosed in a cloud.
It was awesome.
A note about taking dogs to Grandfather Mountain: Tilly has always gone camping with me and is a really careful and surefooted hiker (despite her frenetic Jack Russell tendencies), but I would have thought twice about bringing a dog if I knew what we were in for. There are five ladders, a knife-edge rock climb, and some steep scrambles that require pulling yourself up with a cable. The ascent to the other peak (MacRae Peak) is even more treacherous. Three of the ladders were short enough for one of us to climb up first, with the other ready at the bottom to pass Tilly up to the person at the top.
But the other two were precipitous and required more engineering. Going up, she patiently waited on the rung just above me while I climbed below her. I'd climb a rung, lift her up to the next rung (back paws on one, front paws on the rung above it), then I'd climb up to the next rung and repeat. On the way down, James climbed down first, dropped his pack off at the bottom, then climbed back up and carried her down under his arm. I don't think this would work with a dog much bigger than her.
The peak and several of the lookouts had abrupt dropoffs, and once Tilly got dangerously close to the edge. After that, I tied her to a tree while we ate and hung out at the top, just in case.
And finally, my futurephone made this video by itself: