Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Back to the Mountains

Starting with 196.6 miles, 25,850 ft. ascent    

MST6-Road cuts 2

Plott Balsam Overlook to Scott Creek Overlook
9.8 miles, 1,400 ft. ascent, 4:40 hours

Back to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the mountains. You may remember that Sharon and I finished at Plott Balsam Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in early December. Then the Parkway closed for the horrible winter. But now it’s open from the Smokies north for many miles.

I was supposed to meet Sharon at 10 A.M. at Scott Creek Overlook (Milepost 448.4) to shuttle north on the Parkway to Plott Balsam Overlook but I got there an hour early. So I went to find Old Bald where we will need to put our car tonight. Old Bald is not an overlook but just a feature on a blue blazed trail. I checked Walt Weber’s MST book which had the side trail at MP 433.9. I drove there and found a mowed trail on the north side and figured that was it. I didn’t have time to actually walk it so I just drove back to our meeting point.

MST6-Sharon in the rubbleToday we walked on the Parkway, wearing our orange vest and North Carolina flag. We walked on the grass or the road – there was little traffic. We passed several impressive rock slides. No wonder the Parkway just opened.
We waved to most cars and motorcycles but we did meet a family from Romania, taking a soccer break on the median close to Waterrock Knob. The mother is teaching in South Carolina and this was their fourth trip to the Parkway.
MST6-road cutsAs we looked out, we saw the damage that was being done to the mountains in view. A maze of dirt roads had been cut in the mountains, in the hope of developing the area for mountain houses. The picture at the beginning of this post shows it best. I wonder how many occupied houses there will be or whether all that will be left are road scars.

We arrived at Waterrock Knob for lunch and found some shade opposite the entrance to the side road. At this point, we were way over 5,000 ft. with lots of dark spruce trees. Then the road went down, down down to  Scott Creek Overlook.

We drove back to pick up my car and then investigated where to park in the Balsam Gap maintenance yard. A helpful worker suggested that we park where employees park. Heck, I’m not ready to do that at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Smokies where I volunteer every week.

We drove north on the Parkway to find the MST at Old Bald. By now, we had both taken off our boots – I had sneakers and Sharon wore flip-flops.MST6-Danny with view at overlook Well, we thought we were finished walking.

I showed her the roadbed that I discovered this morning. We bushwhacked up through the briars and weeds and saw plenty of evidence of garbage which was a good sign in this case; it meant that people had been there. But still no MST.

When we looked at Walt’s book again, we realized that we (or shall I say “I”) had interchanged the BRP and MST lines. The dark line is the MST, the important trail; the BRP is the dashed line. So we were looking on the wrong side of the road. But the road bed was here at MP 433.9.

We went down to 434.1 and found it on the correct side, complete with a blue blaze. Once we saw it, it was obvious. We walked about 0.1 mile to find the MST. But how to find it again, tomorrow, as we hike from the opposite direction? I wrapped an orange bandana on a post, just before the turn to the blue blazed trail.

I was dry and exhausted. We drove down to Sylva and checked in at the Sylva Inn, an old Comfort Inn.  
Three things we learned
1.  Get flagging tape, so we wouldn’t to sacrifice a bandana as a trail marker.
2.  Take the mileage in Walt Weber book with a grain of salt. I’ve written two hiking books and I’ve had mistakes pointed out to me.
3.  Learn the difference between the BRP and MST in Walt’s book.

Cumulative after Day 16 206.4, 27,250 ft. ascent   

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