Grandfather Mountain / Highland Games 2011

6:32 p.m. on July 14, 2011 (EDT)
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I’ve been to GM just to see the games for the last five years and this time I decided to work in more hiking than usual so I actually took off a Thursday and Friday to create a long weekend. I hadn’t explored much more than the main touristy sections of GM before, and didn’t take the time to make much of a plan. I pretty much just downloaded a map of the mountain, called about permits, loaded up and took off.






It was a three hour drive from Knoxville to the Profile Trailhead. I had started after work on Wednesday so I made my record “latest hiking start ever”: 9:02 PM. I held out from using the flashlight as long as I could but after a few stumbles I gave in and turned it on.

In retrospect this was totally the wrong place to night hike; the trail was almost entirely covered with large slick rocks. Having never hiked that trail before I began experiencing some anxiety about finding the Profile campsite at night; I forgot to ask if it was marked. After the first mile, my headlamp began sputtering in and out and caused further anxiety when a battery swap didn’t fix it. I think it was getting wet from sweat.








Well the campsite was marked after all and quite well at that, (thanks park- people, I appreciate you!).  Finding the most level tent spot by flashlight was a challenge.







The next morning I snapped this pic of the site with some daylight. I think I had found the only level tent spot.







Heading up the Profile trail: this is an example of this super-rocky-stair trail.








Right away I was treated to the Profile view of the Old Man looking out across the valley. It’s funny that as many times as I’ve stared at this mountain from the ground I could never quite see the Old Man. You really have to get up here to this view to get the full effect.







Nice flowers on the way up…








Well, if the sign says so I guess it was time to fill up the MSR 6L Dromedary and the Nalgene 1L bottle.







I like working out in the mornings so for me it’s good thing to get all sweaty before 7:30 AM.

I slipped, jolted and slid my way on up the mountain. I took a left on the Grandfather trail and went towards Calloway peak; creating a plan as I ambled. I didn’t get a picture but I passed a wonderful campsite called Cliffside that looked really comfortable.









I turned off to follow a spur trail to the Watauga View before going on up. It was just awesome to perch there gazing at the misty valley below, feeling the heat of the morning sun being gently pulled away by the light breeze. (OK, I wanna go back right now.) 

I reluctantly moved on.







But just around the corner was this view. What a great mountain.







It was time to climb!







I turned around for a perspective pic of where I had just come from.






Approaching Calloway Peak.









Views from the peak; man that place was great. I believe it’s nearly a 6000 ft peak.







I headed out to explore further and went as far as this ladder before deciding to turn around and head back towards the other high peaks on the map.







I stopped in to check out the Calloway Gap campsite. This is the first backcountry site I’ve ever seen with platforms. Very nice touch.







You may have to click on this picture to see the trail marker but the trail actually goes up this rock face! That kind of routing makes this such a special place to hike.







Again this is the trail.








Again I stopped in to check out an established campsite. This is Alpine Meadow.







Another view from this most excellent trail.









 I found it very hard to decide which pictures to post. I’ve got so many good ones!







These ladders are so very handy.







I took a spur trail down to see Indian Horse Cave.







Yep just another part of the trail







Looking down the Attic Window. It’s hard to tell from the picture put this is at least a 100 foot “chute” with a pretty severe angle. This place is quite a workout with a backpack.









 Chutes and ladders is more than just a game. To you climbers out there I’m sure these kind of trails are no great shakes, but for backpackers this place is like an adult jungle-gym! I’m 39 but I felt like a kid on this mountain.









More assisted scrambling.







I recognize that ladder as the access to MacRae Peak( I approached it from the other direction last year).





Nice peek on the way up to the ladder.









Views from MacRae Peak.







The pack had a view too.







I decided to head back down and hook up with extended family at MacRae meadow so I trekked back to the Profile trail. There will be a whole lot of folks car-camping and RVing for the next three days for the Highland Games. It’s a very good time every time. I was tempted to be anti-social and stay on the mountain but hey the games are only once a year…







Here is an up-view of the Attic Window / boulder scramble of a trail on the way back.

My camera batteries died here so no more pictures until I got off the mountain.







Here is the next pic after bumming some new batteries for the camera and making camp on a hill side near the meadow.









When camping with these Clans and you hear the cry of “Make Ready!” look out. Something is about to be hurled through the air at someone. In this case it was a bottle of ketchup at my cousin’s tent (with him in it).  This is why I put my expensive backpacking tent way up on the hill. J








You know you’re among Scotsmen when you see bagpipes and kilts, but the true sign is a beer in one hand a bottle of scotch in the other.

I’m sort of off forum topic from this point forward (although I did a bunch more hiking).



If you like Celtic Rock then this is the place for you! I love it, and Grandfather always has the “Groves” setup well. There are usually at least three stages for music; one traditional, one contemporary (or rock), and one for larger orchestral types groups.









Some random game photos….notice the hill top in the distance on the last one. That’s the next hiking destination.








Several hours later, here is the view from that hilltop of MacRae Meadow with Grandfather in the distance. Those are the peaks I crossed the day before.

Shortly after this I dropped and broke my cheap Sanyo camera. The next several days were full of fun, fellowship, and more great hiking. It’s just as well that the camera broke: like the Rose and Thompson Clans always say, what happens on the mountain stays on the mountain. See you next year Old Man!

7:29 p.m. on July 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Grandfather used to be in my neck of the woods when I lived in Boone and I hiked the Profile and Tanawha trails but never considered it to be a worthy backpacking destination until now, after looking at your fotogs.  I always thought the tourists would drive me nuts, not to mention the racing motorcycles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, hiway 105, and route 221.  And then there's a road all the way to the top at the swinging bridge and the zoo.  In fact, a buddy of mine built the "new" swinging bridge back in the late 1990's.

When I was on my Mt Rogers trip last month, I looked off the high peaks of Wilburn Ridge and actually saw Grandfather Mt from Virginia---I recognized it by the presence of Sugar Top, an ugly ten story condo scar built on top of Sugar Mt to the alarm of most of the mountain residents.  After the travesty, NC passed a law to ban all such ridgetop highrise developments in the 1980's.

At one time local developer Hugh Morton "owned" the mountain, but apparently now it is a North Carolina State Park.  It's a rugged 6,000 foot peak surrounded by prolific tourism and sprawl---Boone, Foscoe, Linville, Newland---and only the rich can afford homes at its base and in many of the gated communities surrounding it.  I think General Westmoreland of Vietnam-infamy had a house in Linville at one time as I met him in a local bookstore.

It also should be remembered that Grandfather gets some severe winter weather.  In April '97 they recorded a wind speed of 195 mph. 

BTW, tell me about the water situation on the trails you hiked---did you find ample springs during your trip?  Did you have to hump in all your own water from the bottom?

9:16 p.m. on July 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Oh cool, I don't have time to go through the whole report tonight, but I will get to it this weekend. I'm going swamp hiking tomorrow and then have to go see a movie with my family tomorrow night, that is if the gators don't get me haha.

Nice photos Patman.

9:44 p.m. on July 14, 2011 (EDT)
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Wow, I never knew that history of the area or the mountain. Thanks very much for sharing that! In fact, I did see some signs about transitioning to State Park management.

195 mph wind? Good grief! That’s wild…

You know, I debated whether or not to mention the road noises because it does prevent any sense of remoteness for much of the trail but isn’t so bad as to be too distracting when engaged by the trail features. Although, the Alpine Meadow campsite was quiet; it was shielded by peaks on each side.

This certainly isn’t a mountain a person would want to spend any extended time on if they sought a wilderness or solitary experience, but it has other things going for it (depending on what a person is after, I guess).

There were only two places to get water: Shanty Spring or the “Top Shop” gift shop near the bridge, otherwise you have to hump it up the mountain. I stayed away from the touristy bridge area this time myself.

I started coming for the music at the games (car camping) five years ago but only discovered the hiking trails on top of the mountain last year; I hiked from the touristy swinging bridge area to MacRae Peak and became absolutely enamored with the jungle-gym trail routes. Someone did a fantastic job of routing the trail over fun rocks to climb with ladders and cables and such.

I’m pretty well addicted to endurance exercise and this offered a great work out by climbing between the peaks with a pack on. But really for me the experience is completely intertwined with the games and good times I’ve had there.

It is shame about those condos, I didn’t know about the history of that but I did in fact wince when I saw them.

9:02 a.m. on July 15, 2011 (EDT)
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As always Pat, thanks for sharing. These are special photos. Reminds me of conquering Grandfather Mountain in 1970-1972 in the summer and winter. The Scottish Highlands Games were great too. Camping, participating and viewing were unforgettable! Glad you experienced it all and shared the photos.

3:04 p.m. on July 15, 2011 (EDT)
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You’ve piqued my curiosity about “swamp hiking”. Please be prepared to tell about that. J


Thanks, I agree that is a special place. Were the ladders and cables there in 72 or did you have to do it the hard way?

4:41 p.m. on July 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Great report, thanks for posting. I just added another area to my list of destinitations I am definitely gonna hit. Thanks for the pics.

I honestly would have to steer clear of the ketchup luanchers. I don't think if they hit my tent I would handle that very well.

7:03 p.m. on July 15, 2011 (EDT)
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Ok, gonna have to read the whole report as soon as I get the chance. But DANG, I am simply have to go hike that trail! That's my kind of trip :)

I haven't been to the Highland Games yet, but I plan to as soon as make a career shift and have more time. Good stuff.

2:53 p.m. on July 19, 2011 (EDT)
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Patrick, You have showed me another place I am going to have to explore.  The pictures are outstanding.  They really show off how rocky the terrain is and what rewarding views there are at the top.

Hope to see you on the trail soon.

6:52 p.m. on July 19, 2011 (EDT)
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I would not have been suprised to have seen you up there! lol


I think was my first hike in a couple of months that we didn't cross paths...


Thanks for the kindness!




9:58 p.m. on July 19, 2011 (EDT)
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What a great trip and awesome way to journal it.  Thanks so much for sharing your adventure!

9:35 a.m. on July 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Another good trip report, Patman.

I've always wanted to attend some highland games, so that was a nice bonus.

2:39 p.m. on July 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Patman- Another great trip report. Are you of Scottish descent, or just there for the fun and music? My father in law plays is a Class A pipe and drum band with Glen Healy (former nhl goalie), we're heading to see them play this weekend, always a fun time. I wish I were able to mix in some hiking, that would be cool.

2:57 p.m. on July 20, 2011 (EDT)
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I’ve been told that I am of Scotts/Irish decent (not really sure what that means), but I don’t know which name to trace genealogy on (both parents are deceased and my siblings don’t know).

Honestly, I started going because I love the music. I then discovered that my wife has a cousin that has been going to this event for 20 consecutive years. There are several clans that camp together and they graciously invited me to join them after visiting once (and didn’t require that I prove my heritage).

PS I haven’t gone so far as to purchase a kilt, but I may if I can complete valid research on finding the proper Tartan.


Sounds like a fun trip coming up for you!

3:08 p.m. on July 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Patman research both family names. You will be surprised at what you may find as a relative or ancestor. Myself am 1 generation American. My father was a immigrant from Ireland. Mother is 1 generation her side from Ireland. So my father sounded like the lucky chimes guy. LOL But was fluent in 7 languages.. Not bad for someone with just a highschool diploma..But your trip reports are Rocking my friend...

3:51 p.m. on July 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Denis, my Gealic-American ancestry took a much different path. My forebears came over from Ireland a loooong time ago. One of them, at least, fought in the American Revolution. But the family name has held, with the decendants in the southern mountains for generations. Of course, Scots, Germans, Native Americans, etc, have married into the Goggans name many times over the years. I have yet to visit the isles, but will someday.

6:20 p.m. on July 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Nice Gonzan. we still have relatives on my fathers side who own the family farms In Ireland. As for the spelling of my first name many a teacher have said I had misspled it in different parts of the US. My father had to explain that they needed to travel oversea's and learn where the  spelling came from. Hence they truly were not was his point of contention and my grand father on my mothers side who came over with a College degree as well. My ancestor's on my motherside are quite well known in American history.We never knew but it's a big thing to trace your ancestry in VA. Thats how we found out. But her maiden name is well known in Ireland.

9:28 a.m. on July 21, 2011 (EDT)
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Denis- My girlfriends name is Siobhan (phonetically Sha-von), I can only imagine what she got as a kid/still gets. Its always a little adventure if, we're somewhere where her name needs to be called out. We always leave her name with dinner reservations just to watch the person squirm, unsure of themselves as they call it out. Its a little cruel but we get a good laugh out of it.

Patman- You should look into it, was there no one at the games that researches that info for you? Theres always a couple of them here, although we do have a high Scottish immigrant population.

Gonzan- I've never been over either. Siobhan has been a couple times as her dad has family over there. I'm working on getting him to do the TGO Challenge with me next year. He's an ex marathoner with bad knees, so I'm not gettin very far in convincing him!

4:55 p.m. on July 21, 2011 (EDT)
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You’re right; there are booths that will research ancestry based on the name you give them so as to associate it with a Tartan; the line is usually really long and I’ve never felt like waiting for them. When I’m ready to try I’ll probably start with some genealogy services instead. Those booths usually just have some books in front of them.

6:10 p.m. on July 21, 2011 (EDT)
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Jake- Yeah totally know what you mean.I have a friend in Texas with the same first name as your girlfriend. Has your girlfriend had to explain her origin of her name to people? My friend did because they didn't get it. I thought it was way cool, not to many people with it. In Europe when I was there it was easier for them to grasp the pronunciation of my name which is ( Den-na) in Europe equivalent. In Gaelic it is Donnagan. My dad play the pipes for the Emerald society for about 10yrs.

Patman- I think it would be way cool for you to check out both sides. In the Appalachians generally it was the protestant Irish that settled in the hIlls..The catholics looked for large cities to migrate to. But Love the trip reports....

6:50 p.m. on July 21, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey Thanks Denis! I was really inspired by Tipi (and his great reports) when I found this website back in January. Of course it took some time to work up the courage to post. This is indeed a cool place on the web.

This discussion has also served to push me towards a little genealogy research too....


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