About 25 miles long, this high elevation southern mountain ridgewalk may be the most perfect LOOP (for us weekend warriors, at least) on the entire Appalachian Trail, a linear trail from Georgia to Maine (USA).
I’ve been able to hike and photograph this Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina) beauty four times: November 2010; February 2013; November 2013; June 2016.
Walk with me through time and seasons and let’s explore together!
WHAT AND WHERE INFO
Just west of Franklin, NC (western NC near the GA border) lies the Standing Indian Campground, part of the Nantahala National Forest. From this amazing car campground in the river valley rises the mighty Appalachian Mountains.
It’s not readily apparent when you’re driving into the Standing Indian Campground, but the Appalachian Mountains (and the Appalachian Trail that follows their crest) starts heading Eastward and South from Standing Indian Mountain. The mountains form a natural “U” shape that the Appalachian Trail follows. We can connect the “U” to make a perfect LOOP by using side trails leaving/returning to the Standing Indian Campground!
When you’re up on the Appalachian Trail, the hike is essentially a very high elevation ridge walk. However, you’re gonna climb out of Standing Indian Campground to get on the AT. And will descend steeply back to the Campground on the other end of your Loop hike.
Listen ya’ll. There are so many great data books, maps, and guides available for the Appalachian Trail and you’ll be SOOO happy with them. AWOL’s AT Guide seems to be the perennial favorite these days (a guy named Wingfoot was the top dog in AT guides when I hiked in 2005). Guthook (heard him talk on The Trail Show and I follow his Instagram) is a serious hiker obsessed with giving folks the best trail data apps on their mobile devices.
If you were to use my above maps and data from 2004, you’ll find out very soon that all of the shelter and water data is NOT current. Even being the thrifty hikertrash that you are (said with all the love in my heart), you should do yourself a favor and get good data and maps from the folks above and not just settle for the free stuff floating around on the internet.
When you get lost and die of dehydration, please send all emails confirming how right and/or smart I am to the email listed in my contact page.
Let’s GET ON THE TRAIL! (you’re supposed to bark this like D-Low from The Trail Show)
I want us to hike counter-clockwise. Starting at the Standing Indian Camground; climbing up to Standing Indian Mountain; eventually making our way to Albert Mountain; and then coming back to the car parked at the Standing Indian Campground (see map above).
I’ve hiked this Loop four times (November 2010; February 2013; November 2013; and June 2016) in different seasons. While the dates of the following pictures may bounce around, you’re gonna see the trail as if we’re walking it now together.
I know some folks don’t love “doing the same thing over and over again,” but every time I walk this Loop it’s different. I’m different. The things I see and touch and smell and perceive are different.
I like that! There’s an intimacy that comes with knowing someone in different ways and and at different times of their life. Same is true with trails.
The Standing Indian Campground (the start/finish of our Loop) sits at about 3,880 feet. Once you get on the AT via the Kimsey Creek Trail (at about 4,500 feet), the trail ecology changes dramatically just because of the increase in elevation.
I’ve always loved being up high on mountains. In particular, The Appalachian Mountains in winter are beautiful. Stark, leafless beauty. And views from the Trail that remind me of what folks out West must experience.
But flowers and sun and sandals ain’t bad either.
When you leave Standing Indian Mountain heading North on the Appalachian Trail (which is still moving counter-clockwise on the Loop we’re hiking), you stay up high and gradually climb and descend through “classic AT mountain terrain.” Gorgeous and relatively easy walking because you are not plummeting down to low elevations and climbing back up.
Carter Gap, 4,540 feet, has the remnants of an old shelter (mice party!); a new shelter that I’ve never slept in; amazingly spacious (for a relatively narrow Appalachian mountain ridge) campsites; and reliable water.
Makes sense that I’ve camped there a couple times over the years.
OK, we’ve woken up from a restful night’s sleep at Carter Gap and are gonna continue moving counter-clockwise on our Loop (north on the Appalachian Trail) towards Albert Mountain.
The VERY TOP photo (“featured photo”) of this blog was taken of my good friend and hiking partner Jonathon (his blog can be found here!) on our June 2016 hike. The photo isn’t able to capture the way the wind rips at you as you ascend the Albert Mountain firetower past the tree tops. It doesn’t show how SPECIAL Albert Mountain really is, despite NOT being as tall as Standing Indian Mountain (which gives the campground and our loop its name).
I’ve hiked the Loop 4 times, but have only summited Albert 3 times. In February 2013, I must have left the house with some sort of virus because I spent the ENTIRE night (our trips second night) clawing my way out of the tent, ever optimistic that it’d be before the next explosion of vomit erupted.
I was weak and hungry and dehydrated and staggering and made the terrible decision to bypass Albert Mountain’s summit via the Bearpen Trail and roadwalk back to the car, while I waited for my hiking partners.
You can see from the elevation profile that the climb (from the south side….the way we are hiking the loop counter-clockwise) is STEEP!
On my June 2016 hike, I started toying around with a 1.5oz tripod and “gripper” for my iphone (my primary hiking camera). Hopefully I’ll have some AMAZING video soon! Until then, how about some goofing off going up Albert?!
Albert Mountain stands at 5,250 feet tall, but the metal firetower takes you UP past the trees and into the sky!
From the cleared section of summit underneath the firetower, we look East/Southeast over the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) facility that has been around since 1934!! Wow, thank you National Forest Service and all other folks that continue to work towards our understanding of the world around us!
From Albert Mountain’s summit, we can see Scaly Mountain (NC) and Rabun Bald (GA), both amazing mountains of the Bartram Trail (check out my 8 month, 110 mile section hike photo report)!
Quick aside: Not only is Amber a badass Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (sobo 2005), but she’s also a Water Scientist! I’ve had the great fortune of not only being able to read about Coweeta on Albert Mountain, but also help with some of the University of Georgia’s field work that is conducted there!
Knowing that there are people who care so much about humanity and our environment that they dedicate their lives to studying human ecological impact, it’s particularly frustrating when others continue acting like selfish idiots.
I’m not sure if there is more litter on the AT since 2010 or I’m just more sensitive to it, but there is NEVER a good excuse for it. Just like there is never a good excuse to not summit Albert Mountain.
It’s a really amazing world we have the privilege to inhabit for just a little time.
After Albert Mountain, it’s a relatively short downhill hike to Glassmine Gap, the beginning of the end of our hike! From there, we’ll leave the AT (hopefully not for good or for forever!) and descend back to the Standing Indian Campground (our car) via the Long Branch Trail.
We’ve found that what we were looking for on the Appalachian Trail was with us the WHOLE time.
It just took something special to bring it out.
As we walk back, we think about our next adventure and how we too can give Visions of Eternal Freedom to all those around us.
Maybe if we’re lucky enough to learn something, we can share it with others!
Thanks ya’ll so much for hiking, reading, and looking with me! See ya’ll out on the Trails and out in our World!