A night on the fire tower (Sterling Loop’GSMNP)

6:48 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Yes, I’m back to familiar haunts….if you’re tired of seeing the Southern Appalachians, look away now!


Leaving after work on Friday, I arrived at the Mt Sterling Gap trailhead about 6:30PM.







This was the launch photo taken on the gravel road used to access the trailhead. (Random note: I stopped to ask directions once years ago looking for a little known trailhead and a kind older country lady said “Son, what’s a “trail-head?”)






A little more than an hour later I made the 2.8 miles up to Campsite 38 and the peak of Mt Sterling.

A note about this fire tower from a local newspaper article (source link):

The Mount Sterling fire tower is one of four fire towers remaining in the park. According to Peter Barr, author of "Hiking North Carolina's Lookout Towers," it has the highest elevation of any true fire tower left in the eastern U.S. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, the Mount Sterling fire tower stands 60-feet tall. Until the 1960s, when aerial surveillance made most fire towers obsolete, the tower was manned five months out of the year by crews that worked in rotating shifts and lived in a nearby cabin.”


This tower was partially the object of my outing.

Well... not to see it (been there many times) but to do something audacious that I had wanted to do for some time: try to sleep on the roof for the whole night.

Unbelievably I had forgotten the one piece of gear that I knew I would need: my bear line! (poly rope).

Thankfully there was a really cool group of guys already at the campsite hailing from Alabama, Colorado, and Michigan. They were cool enough to give me a length of 550 line to use! Guys if you are reading this I apologize for the lack of group picture: the three I took were all blurry!







A view from the tower roof; accessed by climbing up the center antenna structure and through a lidless hatch.






And here you see why the line was needed. The tower “pill box” is only little more than 6 feet square (and I’m 5’7), forcing me to the edge. There is no foot side railing to keep a person guarded. So I wrapped that line around the corner posts to make webbing in case I rolled over and fell off the 60 foot tower.






I also thought it would be a neat place to use the Nemo Nocture bag that I’m currently testing for Trailspace. Notice how the end of my sleeping pad is raised by the wind. Yeah.






This picture was taken by one of the guys from Michigan after he took some pics with his phone. I was a bit of side-show that night I think.






This was a shot for my review perhaps.




Well, I did not make it through the night on the roof. The wind was unbelievable. Mt Sterling is listed at 5842 feet so I was lying at 5902 feet and well above the tree-line. I lasted until about 1AM at which time a gust of wind blew so strong that it actually lifted the foot end of my sleeping pad and legs about four inches off the roof. It was absolutely terrifying. I waited for a lull and very carefully climbed into the pill box where I stayed the rest of the night. It was still crazy windy and loud but I did get a bit of sleep.


Hey Alabama and Colorado friends, thanks for the line! (they let me keep it)






The next morning I climbed back up on the roof to catch the sunrise.






This was looking down at my neighbors tents (and shows how far above the trees it was).






 A parting shot of my one-time abode.






And the trip resumes by trekking across MT Sterling ridge in the "Boreal" forest. It’s a very level and nice hike for the most part.






I stopped here at Beech Gap to chat with a fellow soloist for a while. He was on a quest to bag all forty peaks above 6000 in NC. I almost turned around to join him in bagging Big Cataloochee but I already had a plan.







A mile later it was lunch time on the Balsam Mountain Trail between Beech Gap and Pin Oak Gap.






Could it be? Finally! Leaves are falling!







This was shot of Palmer Creek. I had two bear encounters with HUGE mature blacks on this trail. Good for me they both ran away.


I had considered camping at 39 that night but thought I might finish my loop since I was having a high energy despite the sparse sleep. So I took the Little Catalooche trail from Pretty Hollow. That trail had so much to explore and check out that before I knew it I had logged about 22 miles on the day. Well, I hit my energy wall and had to stop.



The next morning I passed this old preserved Church. The temps had dropped to near freezing the night before and it finally felt like hiking weather!






This was a scenic spot in the old settlement of Cataloochee.






This was the one of the most vivid lightining damage-paths I’ve seen (on the Long Bunk trail)






And I’ll end with a shot of one of my most favorite resting spots on the Long Bunk trail.




This was an outstanding trip and the weather has me itching to do more! Hope you enjoyed my report!


Happy Trails!

11:11 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Thats wild sleeping on the roof. The 2 I have ever climbed have had a serious sway in decent winds that gave me loopy stomach...........and thats inside the enclosure. On the roof in a real wind must have been freaky.

12:41 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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I love your trip reports. I moved from nc eleven yrs ago to nh. The hikin here is great but I miss the south when I look at your posts. Keep em comin please!

1:21 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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yeah it was a crazy thing to do. It was one of those "had to be there" things to apppreciate the pucker factor of it. lol




thanks for the kindness and the encouragement ....life gets busy and i don't post all my trips but I get a lot of satisfaction in blogging about the trips / get to relive them a bit/

8:29 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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That's a really cool trip idea, sleeping in a tower I mean! I would like to try that sometime.

I enjoyed the photos a lot Patman.

Stay safe and thanks for sharing.

Mike G.

9:40 a.m. on September 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Awesome, Patrick!

That exactly the kind of thing I would do! I've climbed a couple towers over the years, some of which had the lower section of stairs/ladder removed, which made for some fun climbing :)

The wind and sway up in them is quite exciting. Pucker factor, indeed!

I am planning to get up in the Citico/slickrock very soon. The weather changing is right powerfully driving me to the hills. 


1:27 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey Pat, I just joined to check out your post.  Nice pictures and no worries about the lack of group pictures.  I'll let the other guys know to check out the post.  Glad you made it through the night...I have to say every time I heard the windows and walls bang in that pill box up there, I shuddered at the thought of trying to sleep in there.  That wind was wild!  Props to you for attempting it. Nice meeting you up at the top that night, Happy trails!

3:51 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Hey Pedro!


Thanks again for the cordage that kept me on the tower! Glad you found Trailspace....


Feel free to send me a private message and I'll give you my e-mail if you guys want any more info about those other places we were talking about.

Hope the rest of your trip went well.



12:03 p.m. on September 28, 2012 (EDT)
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You sure are brave, Pat! I can't believe you tried to stay up there! Glad you didn't blow away!


I've always wanted to go up there, so I am really glad that you did this trip report! I am glad you got some nice weather!

We are headed up to Pisgah this weekend. Hopefully we have some nice weather. I think we might see a little bit of color, but it won't be out in full force yet.

I'll do a report when I get back. Have you ever been there? 

12:56 p.m. on September 28, 2012 (EDT)
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 Hey Ashleigh....not sure brave is the right descriptor but thanks all the same!


There are three (I think) different areas labeled as Pisgah in this general region  (which has always confused me).


I have been to the Pisgah in Western North Carolina that contains the Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Mountain, Cold Mountain (the same one from the book and movie with Nicole Kidman / Jude Law), Tenant Mountain etc...

If that's where you are going it should be grand!

The Art Loab trail runs through it as well as the Mountains To Sea Trail. One caution is that the trails are intentionally not well marked or blazed; you will see signs saying so and suggesting you learn to use a compass and map. funny stuff

Be careful on the trails near shining rock itself ;there is an intersection that is "non-intuitive".

10:37 p.m. on September 28, 2012 (EDT)
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What a crazy fun adventure, sleeping on the roof of that tower.  That was great!  Really enjoyed your photos and your trip report.  Cabin fever is gettin higher here.


Thanks for spreading it!

6:37 a.m. on September 29, 2012 (EDT)
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Yes, that is the same area we are going to. We go there more often than anywhere else because it is the closest "epic" area to us (3 hours). There are also all kinds of trails with beautiful panoramic views and waterfalls. Jay actually proposed to me on Black Balsam Knob. That place is amazing!

I am actually quite familiar with that intersection at Shining Rock! I read a horrible description of it the first time we went up there and it took forever to actually find the Art Loeb Trail again!

I actually have a new TR to do from a trip to Sam Knob and Black Balsam that we did a few weeks ago. Sam Knob is beautiful and a wonderful dayhike! You should check it out next time you are I'm the area!

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