It sounded great: just 4.8 miles each way—which is a bit more challenging than usual, but certainly doable. Views begin at 1.5 miles, and there’s switchbacks that last a mile. Then there’s a little spur trail to Greybeard Falls (perhaps some treasure), and after returning, continue another mile to Walker Knob Shelter and a little view down a path behind the shelter. Greybeard Summit itself is another 1.5 miles further up the hill. This is the point, according to the internet author, where it gets steep.
Okay, that’s cool. Here’s what I didn’t read (because obviously I didn’t want to admit it):
Now, coming from California, this isn’t that big of a deal. It shouldn’t be. The Verdugo Mountain trail I used to take from Stough Nature Center in Burbank has a 1600 foot elevation gain over about 4.5 miles. It’s tough and I haven’t done it ages, but I could do it again working my way up to it.
Here on the East Coast, most elevation gains top out at 650-850 feet, and that’s considered insane. So I didn’t even think to look (or again, brain blind-spot.)
The drive there was a half hour and the little town of Montreat was cute and disturbingly concise. It had a conference center, church, and even an stone arched entranceway into the town.
Tucker and I have the trail to ourselves after what must have been the “morning hikers” had done their journey and were having lunch in town. Their faces belied any sort of strenuous journey. Or perhaps it was because none of them were an overweight, out-of-shape, 38 year old woman. For that demographic, I can tell you it was tough. The steep incline wasn’t just that last mile and a half. It was a steep incline from the very beginning.
There were some pretty streams, which Tucker enjoyed.
I'm pretty sure I said that outloud. We had been walking for over two hours. I walk 3 miles an hour on flat surfaces. 1.5-2 miles per hour when hiking. We should have been to Walker Knob by now, if not the Summit.
I took the spur trail which was only a few feet (in my estimation) to see the unimpressive falls and reassess if I had enough water and stamina to keep the journey going.
When I was about to give up, knowing full well Tucker would not forgive me if we did, two hikers headed our way.
“Hi! How much further?” I ask between beads of sweat and gasping for breath to the young man and woman who looked to be about ten years younger and in way better physical condition than me.
“Well, we only went to Walker Knob. We were going to the Summit, but by the time we reached Walker Knob we decided that was it.”
“I came to that conclusion about twenty minutes ago too. How much longer till Walker Knob?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the young man said. “Not far though. Keep going. You’re almost there.”
He smiled encouragement as did his silent female partner, and Tucker and I continued our ascent.
Indeed it wasn’t much further when we reached the Walker Knob Shelter. Someone kindly made a sign indicating that one trail led to the latrine, so I could only assume the other trail was to the lookout.
After spending over three hours just to go three miles, the little rock outcropping was a welcome reward. Tucker concurred.
“Yes, I just left Walker Knob. You’re almost there.”
“Is it worth it?” she asked. “I was about to turn around when I saw you guys.”
“Definitely don’t turn around. It’s worth going to Walker Knob. I didn’t make it to the Summit.”
She continued, and I restrained myself from saying, Yes, it’s worth it to go on from here, but if I met you half a mile in, I’d tell you to turn around.
That’s not to say the hike wasn’t worth it at all. Tucker and I got in some exercise. We spent the afternoon in the woods. We did reach at least one peak, and the view truly was grand--as it has been from every summit we've climbed.
That being said, the next day we opted for something more along my current fitness level--Warren Wilson College Creek, where the view from the parking lot (actually a patch of gravel on the side of the road) was this:
Whether your traverse the valleys or climb the mountains, a walk in the woods or in the meadows is as good for your body as it is for your soul. Some journeys are more difficult than others, but either way you end up right where you wanted to be: surrounded by, and a part of, the beauty of nature.