Our trip to Asheville was sort of a quick one. We left our house on Saturday morning, drove to visit with my family in KY until Monday morning, and then headed south to Asheville for three nights. Breaking up the trip like that was great – it kept the car rides to under five hours each day, and I thought we spent just enough time there to do the things we wanted to do without completely breaking the bank. One of our must-do things was to spend the day hiking in the mountains. When I was a student at Clemson University, we would frequently drive up to NC for a long day of hiking and waterfall climbing, and I knew the rest of the family would enjoy doing the same.
We had a ton of choices for hiking, but eventually we decided on Graveyard Fields, particularly because of Lauren’s recommendation. We chose Wednesday for hiking because it was the only partly cloudy day of our trip, and hiking can get pretty hard in the sun, especially for little ones. The weather was terrific – even though we were at a really high elevation the breezes were light, the sun hovered behind the clouds most of the day, and we all felt really comfortable in the clothes we were wearing. The water was too cold to get into – in fact, there was still a little bit of ice at the top of the upper falls – but it was really comfortable to be around it.
Graveyard Fields got its name from a possible major wind event between 500-1000 years ago that caused the spruce trees to overturn, and their roots to resemble gravestones, though some say it was a result of more recent logging practices. A massive fire occurred in 1925, destroying the valley and wiping out all vegetation. The valley is starting to grow again, and it’s full of grasslands and small shrubs, plus the occasional evergreen tree here and there. The paths are lined with rhododendron that were just starting to show signs of the eventual flowers that must be breathtaking when in full bloom.
We did the routes shown in red on the topo below, starting at the Trailhead, heading down to the lower falls, and then back up towards the bridge crossing point. Up until that point the trail had been rated “Easy”, with some really nice bridges and staircases to aid in the hiking.
The trail to the upper falls was moderately difficult, and just under a mile (one direction) containing some serious elevation changes. I might also point out that there were some informational posts about black bears in the area, something that never really left my mind as we traipsed through these grassland areas of low shrub growth between the mountainside and the gurgling river below. It sort of seemed like, well, springtime – a good time for some mama bears waking (hungry) from a long winter’s rest. The trail wasn’t very busy, but it was nice to occasionally cross paths with other humans – you know, to increase our survival odds!
The girls were doing great though, especially the little one, so we decided to give it a go. It wasn’t an easy hike, but the girls are used to hiking, and did really well. We made it to the slide area of the big falls, and F and I staked out a couple of relatively flat rocks to rest on between the rushing falls. E and M decided to make the complete ascent together, and they headed off up the falls and out of sight, where they eventually scaled the rocks vertically at the dry edges of the waterfall until they reached the very top.
When they came back about half an hour later, they convinced us to climb the slide area – a slightly damp area of seriously sloping rock – to an area just around the bend where we could see the very top of the upper falls. It was worth it, and I can say that now with confidence because we all survived it.
Thumbs up for surviving!
We retraced our steps back to the original loop and then completed the other half of that looped trail. It was another stretch that felt like it went straight up, and by this time F was pretty tired. She held my hand for the last portion and only threatened to sit down in the middle of the path forever once or twice before we made it back to our car for the fifty minute drive back to downtown Asheville. The drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is breathtakingly beautiful, curving and steep, but not terrifyingly so, with almost a dozen tunnels to drive through, and three times as many scenic overlooks for stopping.
As we were hiking along, I kept thinking about where I was exactly one year ago, lying in bed, unable to stand or walk on my own. It felt so good to walk and climb and jump between rocks for hours on end this spring day. Not a bad way to mark a year.