Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crowders Mountain State Park: Crowders Mountain (Blog Hike #375)

Trails: Tower and Backside Trails
Hike Location: Crowders Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: west of GastoniaNC (35.24062, -81.26921)
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2012
Overview: A fairly steep climb to an excellent viewpoint of downtown Charlotte.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike begins at the park’s Linville Road Access.  To reach it, take I-85 to Edgewood Road (exit 13).  Exit and go south on Edgewood Rd.  When you cross US 74, Edgewood Rd.becomes Archie Whitesides Rd.  Take Archie Whitesides Rd. to its end at Linwood Road and turn left on Linwood Road.  The signed trailhead parking is on the right in less than 0.5 additional miles.

The hike: For my general comments on Crowders Mountain State Park, see the Kings Pinnacle hike.  The hike described here uses mostly wide gravel trails, which subtracts from the scenery but also from the difficulty.  This hike is not easy by any means, but it is the easiest route to get to one of the park’s twin summits.           
Trailhead
            Start at the rear of the parking area where a wooden sign says, “Tower Trail, Backside Trail, Closes 9 p.m.”  The gravel trail heads into the woods and quickly intersects a two-track gravel road.  This gravel road, used by technicians to access the TV tower atop the mountain, also serves as the treadway for the Tower Trail and as our route to the summit of Crowders Mountain.  Turn right to continue the Tower Trail, which is blazed with plastic blue squares.
Backside Trail exits right
            At only 0.1 miles, the Backside Trail exits to the right.  The Backside Trail will be our return route, but for the easiest climb to the summit, continue straight on the wide Tower Trail.  The Tower Trail heads southwest on a gradual grade with a recently burned area on the right.  Common trees in this forest include maple and sweetgum.
            At 0.8 miles, the trail passes through a power line right-of-way that provides your first view of Crowders Mountain’s rocky summit uphill to your right.  Shortly thereafter, you pass the carsonite post that serves as the 1 mile marker.  Distances along the Tower Trail are marked with these posts in half mile increments.
View of summit up power line right-of-way
            Just after passing the 1 mile marker, the grade intensifies as you take on the steepest part of the climb.  Three switchbacks lift the trail above the cliffline you saw earlier.  At 1.4 miles, the rocky and difficult Rocktop Trail joins from the left as you top the third switchback.  Turning left on the Rocktop Trail would lead over a rocky knife-edge ridge to the park’s main Visitor Center, but it does not return to trailhead for this hike.  Thus, this hike will remain on the wide gravel trail as the combined Rocktop and Tower trails head for the summit of Crowders Mountain.
            Some pines make an appearance in the forest as you get closer to the summit, which will be reached after climbing two more switchbacks.  An opening in the trees just below the Channel 30 TV tower provides your first summit view, this one of farmland and woods to the south.  One final push will get you to the mountain’s summit right beside the fenced-in TV tower.
Approaching the summit
            The wide gravel Tower Trail ends at the tower, so to continue you have to pick up the Rocktop Trail for a short distance as it passes to the right of the tower and makes a brief rocky descent to arrive at the main overlook.  By climbing around on the rocks, spectacular views open up in three directions.  On a clear day, downtown Charlotte can be seen some 25 miles to the east.  The day of my visit was not clear enough to see Charlotte, but I was able to see the Catawba River and Spencer Mountain, a small knob to the northeast.  You have earned these views, so take your time to see what you can see.
The rocky Rocktop Trail
View east from Crowders Mountain summit
            To begin the journey back down, pick up the Backside Trail; it starts at a wooden sign at the overlook and is blazed with orange hexagons.  The Backside Trail used to be a steep, rocky, difficult descent, but the construction of 330 wooden steps has made the journey easier.  As I neared the bottom of the steps, a mountain laurel tree in full bloom brightened my path.
Bottom of steps on Backside Trail
            After descending the last step, the trail follows a wide gravel path and continues to descend at a moderate to steep rate.  The cliffs you were standing atop now loom above you to your right.  At 2.4 miles, the Crowders Trail exits to the left, and a bench provides an opportunity to rest should you need it.  After more descending and a sweeping right turn, the Backside Trail ends at its intersection with the Tower Trail 2.7 miles into the hike.  A pair of left turns will return you to the Linville Road Access and complete the hike.

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