A group of eight Central Indiana Wilderness Club members got along really well on a recent hike on Section III of Art Loeb trail in the Pisgah National Forest. However, since none of us had been there before, we had to work our way through a few challenges.
The 31 mile trail is a memorial to Art Loeb, an activist from the Carolina Mountain Club, and a man who “deeply loved these mountains.” It is located southwest of Asheville, North Carolina. We drove to the trailhead along the Blue Ridge Parkway and even in mid-September, the fall colors were already peeking through. The loop trail we completed extended mostly along ridge tops from Black Balsam to Cold Mountain (of book and movie fame). One thing that worked well for us, and that we recommend, is to start this three day week-end hike on Thursday if you can. By doing this, we had the back country camping areas to ourselves before the numerous week-end hikers showed up
Starting the hike in the afternoon, our first campsite was at Ivestor Gap. This grassy area about 2 ½ miles from the Black Balsam parking area was such a lovely site. The meadow permitted us to enjoy unobstructed views of both sunset and sunrise. The vistas of the Appalachian Mountains were so gorgeous.
A clear night also gave us an awe-inspiring look into the Milky Way and the constellations. Campfires are not permitted in the Shining Rock Wilderness section of the Pisgah Forest, but we got along just fine enjoying the celestial display.
One of our first challenges was food storage. As required, we brought bear canisters, but not nearly enough to store all food and toiletries for eight of us. Three of our strongest hikers made the trek back to the van before our morning hike to obtain food we had to leave there. For future trips, we will take additional canisters to save the back-tracking. Nearby outfitters in Brevard rent them, so it’s an economical option.
Finding water sources on the Art Loeb and surrounding trails is another challenge, especially in September, a dry time of year. Leaving the parking lot on the Ivestor Gap trail (a side trail to the Art Loeb), there is a free flowing spring tapped by a PVC pipe that flowed abundantly. Though it was beautifully clear, we made sure to treat it with Aqua Mira or a Sawyer Squeeze system. There is also a good water source just east of Ivestor Gap. We had read the next water source for our route would be Deep Gap, which was about 6 miles ahead. However upon arriving there, no spring was to be found.
Walking west about a half mile further on the trail we finally found a trickling stream, quite dirty, that was the only apparent source of water. Digging out a small reservoir and letting the sediment settle in the pooling water was step one of a treatment process. The next was to filter the cloudy water into clean containers. This labor intensive process had to be completed several times while we camped at Deep Gap.There is another spring on the route up to the top of Cold Mountain, but it was a slow drip, so it’s a good thing we didn’t depend upon it. With patience and perseverance, we managed, but obtaining water is something to plan carefully if you go to this area. You should make use of every water source you come across to prevent getting stranded. Our return route took us by a good water source just north of the Flower Gap area.
Descriptions of the trail indicate that navigation is sometimes necessary to stay on it. We didn’t have much trouble, but we did stray a couple of times because we missed pink flags on the trail. This caused some minor backtracking and scrambling. Even though we had a good map and had researched the area extensively before the trip, we did pull out our compasses a couple of times just to confirm the trail. Those pink flags may or may not be replaced each season, so you do have to look carefully for the most obvious passages at times.
The last thing you should know is that this is an incredibly beautiful trail. There are mountain tops, clearings and promontories that allow amazing views of the mountains. The climbs are stiff at times, but hikers can attest that the views are worth the effort.
We also found the wildflowers to be stunning. Even in this fall season, nature was putting on quite a flowery show. Another trip back in the spring or summer will provide a different floral display and most in this hiking group are hoping to take that opportunity in the future.