The Yellow Mountain Trail is an out-and-back hike near Highlands, North Carolina. It can combined with other area trails to make a weekend backpacking trip, but most people climb the mountain to visit the historic fire tower at the summit. The tower was originally built in the 1930s by the CCC and was restored in the 1990s. There is parking for a few cars on the roadside opposite the trail head. The map below will take you there.
I’ve been shaking down my gear and wanted to test my cold weather and rain system. I usually hike in shorts regardless of the temperature. Once I’m moving, I’m no longer cold. But near-freezing rain is a recipe for hypothermia, so I wore my thermal layer underneath my shorts. This proved to be a great layering system. As usual, I was living proof that there is no such thing as a breathable rain jacket. You can either be cold and wet from rain or hot and wet from sweat.
Yellow Mountain Trail is billed by most accounts as around 9½ miles total. I’m pretty good at knowing how far I’ve hiked by referencing my pace and the time. That gets thrown off every now and then by steep ascents that slow me down, but I’m usually pretty good at knowing where on the trail I am. After 45 minutes of thinking the fire tower must be just around the next corner, I realized that this was a much longer and much harder trail than I had anticipated.
I ran into two other groups of hikers who also made the questionable decision to hike in the cold, wet weather. They confirmed that, rather than being a mere 4.8 miles each way, the trek to the summit had been closer to 7. If the weather had been better, I wouldn’t have minded the miles. But the wet leaves and slick mud made the return ascent very strenuous. Combine that with the fact that I hiked a mile off-trail on the wrong spur, and you can understand how happy I was to get off the trail and back to my car.
Taking pictures in the rain (really the low light combined with dense fog) is a pain, so I only took a few. The fire tower was pretty cool, but it would have been better on a clear day. I took a video after the other guys left.
If there had been a panorama view, I think the payoff of the summit would have justified all of the climbing. But this was pretty miserable. The trail featured the hardest climb I’ve done since the Coosa Backcountry Trail. The Pinnacle Pass climb was steeper and more taxing, but the duration of strain was longer here.
The compressions sleeve I’m wearing on my left knee is really making a difference. I can feel some pain, but it never really gets too bad. I’ve actually ordered a second one for my right knee as a precaution. This is the first time in the past couple of months where I feel limited by my strength rather than my pain. And I’m surprised at how strong I feel.