The hike up to John Rock in Pisgah National Forest is a favorite of mine. It’s a five-mile loop with an elevation gain of 1000 feet and the payoff is the picture you see above.
“The choices we make lead up to actual experiences. It is one thing to decide to climb a mountain. It is quite another to be on top of it.” – Herbert A. Simon
Because it is a loop there are two ways too approach this climb, clockwise and counter-clockwise and they are both very different adventures. Saturday we went counter-clockwise, the easiest ascent. The reasons it is easiest would be referred to as local knowledge meaning I have done the trail, both ways, a time or two.
This trail has two entrances, or exits depending on the journey, and how you tackle it, if you don’t have local knowledge, depends on where you park at the Fish Hatchery. The signs at both trail-heads are basically the same showing a path burnt into a piece of wood with the trail names John Rock, Cat Gap Loop, Cat Gap Bypass etch in with the “blaze” color for each.
The reason counter-clockwise is an easier climb is because the steep grades are more gradual. You still have to climb 1000 feet no matter which side you start on but me and my heart prefer short burst of elevation gains with some flat spots mixed-in so I can get my heart rate back down rather than quarter and half-mile stretches of straight up over very rocky terrain.
Most people who lack local knowledge start the trail from the hard side. That entrance is more visible and more centered to the parking lot and my wife and I met many of these novices Saturday as we made our way down the mountain. As we passed young families with small children, College kids in flip-flops, and older couples who looked like they just stepped out of an REI catalog we were peppered with question like “How much further”, “Are we close” and “Does it get any easier”? My answers were “you still got a way to go”, “no” and “hell no”. My wife took offense to the “hell no” response. She thought I should be more encouraging rather than realistic, a battle we have fought for 32 years.
I typically stop at Bojangle’s before we drive-in to Pisgah and pack a picnic to enjoy when we finish. The thought of a fried chicken breast, biscuit, slaw and dirty-rice waiting on me at the end always motivates me to finish, fast and not lollygag around. As we sat at the picnic table near the hard entrance we watched one person after another that we passed along the way coming off the trail the way they started. Giving up.
One particular stylish couple that we had passed came by to see if I would be willing to impart a little of my local knowledge upon them which I happily did. I asked how far they had gotten and realized they were within 400 yards or so of John Rock. Sadly what they saw in front of them was another extremely steep climb rather than the glorious payoff of the view above. I complimented them on getting to that point seeing their dejection and detected that there had been a battle between the two with the wife wanting to continue and the husband wanting to limit his losses of lacking local knowledge.
I walked them over to other entrance hidden on the side by the river and told them next time start here. The distance and the view are exactly the same but the price of admission is way less. As I was walking back to my chicken breast and them to their red Porsche 718 convertible I admitted that the first time I did the John Rock loop many years ago I started from the same trail head that they did. Rather than getting some local knowledge from a ranger or someone coming off the trail I acquired that knowledge by experience, a very hard experience. But the difference between me and Porsche 718 that day? I sat on top of John Rock and saw Looking Glass Rock in the distance just like I did this past Saturday.
“Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle.” – Robert Anthony