Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Labor Day Camping Trip to Curtis Creek

Well, we did it. We finally took the family camping.

We set off in the 2011 Sienna, two adults, three kids, one dog, and about 600 pounds of assorted gear, food, equipment, clothes, stuffed animals (yes, seriously), and a healthy sense of adventure in the left seat. The healthy sense of trepidation sat in the right seat.

Notwithstanding the typical crowds that can be expected on Labor Day weekend in the mountains of Western North Carolina, we managed to snag a drive-up campsite at the NPS' Curtis Creek Campground, just a few miles up a dirt road from the small town of Old Fort, NC. Continuing up that same dirt road about 5 miles and 3000' of elevation gain, one will pop out on the Blue Ridge Parkway at around milepost 350 or so.

We stopped off at Curtis Creek and briefly set up camp at Site Number 11, then piled back in the van with GG, who met us at the campsite. We headed up that little dirt road, winding and wending higher and higher through the tulip poplars, oaks and laurels as we watched the outside temperature gauge on the van drop from 71, to 68, to 64, to 62 (you'll lose around 3 degrees per 1000' of elevation gain). Once we hit the Parkway, we rolled west and North about 5 miles to Hwy 128, the turnoff into Mt. Mitchell State Park. You gain another 1200' or so before you reach the summit parking lot - by the time we got there, it was down to 57 degrees and alternating between sunny blue skies and misty foggy interior of passing clouds.

Mt Mitchell Overlook

We had packed a picnic lunch and feasted among the stunted pines, spruces and firs on the north side of the summit. Once sated, we loaded up and trooped off through the woods for the 1 mile walk to the summit of Mt. Craig, 6647' high and just up the ridge from Mitchell.

The last time I had passed through these woods, Anna and I had just finished the Black Mountain Crest Trail. It's hard to believe that was more than 7 years ago. The trail, though short, had a lot more up and down than I remembered. We made it mostly up Craig to a nice little rock outcrop, took a break, and then turned back. The kids were amazed to be able to see clouds passing by and around us at the same altitude. They are some good little troopers, scrambling up and down the rocks and running through the pines and ferns. They almost made it back to the parking lot before the issue of being carried ever came up.


Basically atop Mt Craig

Amidst the boreal conifers, on the trail back from Mt Craig
Upon our conquest of the balsam highlands, we returned to "Base Camp" where evening preparations began in earnest. There was a lot of "Why don't we have a . . .?" and "It's over there . . . no, not there . . ." as Doc attempted to navigate Matilda's backcountry packing routine. We got to try out our new Kelty Trail Ridge 8 tent, which slept 6 comfortably (including Dean, GG slept in her new van). Then Matilda and the kids went in search of firewood - which quickly turned into Matilda collecting firewood, while the kids and GG went rock-hopping in Curtis Creek. I went ahead and got the fire started and cut up some wood, and then turned to dinner - Hot Dogs and Mac & Cheese, with fresh-cut Canteloupe and S'mores for dessert. Yes, this was what you would call an "all-inclusive vacation."

Doc bemoaned the lack of wine in our alcohol-free campsite - surely the only drawback of this location is being locating in the "dry" McDowell County. I will concede than GG and I shared a small nip of single malt, purely for medicinal purposes. Doc can't quite stomach the heavy peat odor.


Monday morning comprised possibly the best part of the trip, waking up early and cooking breakfast in the out of doors, brewing up coffee and cocoa for my ladies. Doc and GG took Caroline out for an early morning stroll beneath the hardwoods while I put the finishing touches on the bacon and eggs and pancakes.


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