Saturday, May 24, 2014

Art Loeb Trail: Section 1

Trail (Section) Length:  12.3 Miles, Difficult. We hiked a total of 15 miles (approximately), going past the Gloucester Gap and continuing up toward Pilot Mtn. before turning around and coming back to the gap. We split this section into an overnight trip:

Day 1: Davidson Trailhead to Butter Gap shelter (8.8 miles).
Day 2: Butter Gap shelter to Pilot Mtn. (approx 5 miles)

Trail Location: The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1 mile trail located in Pisgah National Forest, and is divided into four sections. We started at the Davidson Campground parking area and headed west. The trailhead is located 0.2 miles south of the Pisgah District Ranger Station of of US 276, outside of Brevard.

Trail Description: The entire Art Loeb Trail is one one of the most difficult yet most popular trails in North Carolina. Each section of the trail offers a unique experience and gorgeous ridge-line views. Section one starts at the Davidson Campground trailhead and heads west, traversing over steep ups and downs over ridges. Views in this section are best seen during the winter when the trees are dormant offering spectacular views of Cedar Mountain and other nearby ridges.

Map Created By Rachel Albritton with data from the U.S. Forest Service & Google Earth

 After a four year hiatus from doing an overnight backpacking trip, I finally made it back out to my home away from home. It was challenging, beautiful, and eye opening.

We arrived at the Davidson Campground at 2pm and made our way west. The first 15 minutes followed a wide, gravel, flat path along the Davidson River after which the trail crossed a short footbridge and started a steep ascent up Shut-In Ridge.

Two hours layer we reached Cat Pen Gap, sat down and took a quick water break. I decided to pull out the maps and get a sense of where we we were. I opened up my first map and realized it was for the second half of the trail (sections 2, 3 & 4). No big deal. Pulled out the other map, open it up and my heart sank to my stomach. In the last minute rush of packing I grabbed two copies of the same map (a newer  version and older version). Such a rookie mistake. Again, not to big of a deal. By lunch time tomorrow we would be on the map, and based on time ( approx. 2 miles an hour) we were about halfway to the shelter (8.8 miles from Davidson Campground) where there should be a reliable water source and established campground.

We grabbed our packs and continued up the trail...then down... then up and back down again. Running definitely has increased my endurance but carrying 20 lbs. up steep, difficult terrain told me that I haven't been working-out hard enough. My calves were on fire, and while I never had to stop to fully catch my breath I was still panting like a dog. Woof.
Photo by Cori Holladay
We crossed over several dried creek beds before reaching our first water source (approximately 8 miles north of the Davidson trailhead). We filled up both our bladders plus an extra two liter sawyer squeeze bag and hiked another mile to Butter Gap Shelter , passing Cedar Rock Mountain along the way. Through the dense trees, the sunlight reflecting off the mountain side made the mountain look like a enormous waterfall.

We reached the shelter around 7:15 where we were greeted by an enormous group of high-school students. I had suggested hiking on to the next campsite but we were informed that there was another group of high schoolers at the campsite up the hill. It was getting late and we were both tired and hungry. There was a tent site toward the back. We made our way back, threw up the tent and cooked dinner. Tonight we were feasting on Mary James Farms bear burrito.  Delicious!

By 9pm the sun was set. I crawled into the tent momentarily, but when I scooted my way back out I was greeted with a floating sea of fireflies. It was like being in the middle of natures dance party. Cori tried to take a video but you couldn't see anything.  After a while of admiration I crawled back in and passed out.

The original plan for day two was to hike to Ivestor Gap, 12.7 miles from Butter Gap. After a breakfast combo of a protein shake with coffee and a granola bar we were back on the trail by 8:45am; a little later then we had planned but we still had plenty of time to reach our goal. We started the morning with a small climb out of the gap, and then continued on over both Chestnut and Rich Mountains. We were stopped a few times along the way by snakes (of the non-venomous variety) and one toad sunning themselves on the trail.

Snake photos by Cori Holladay

We welcomed the breaks to sip on water and momentarily cool down. Despite the dropping temperatures over night the day was warming up quickly and within an hour we were both nearly soaked in sweat. As we made our way up pilot mountain our water was running low and we hadn't passed any water sources yet. As we crossed FR 475 and continued our never ending climb up Pilot Mountain we began to ration our water. Despite our best efforts we both ran out as we reached a rocky outcrop posing as the mountains summit. It was nearing lunch time. We were both incredibly hot and thirsty. As a result of my map debacle we had no idea when we would reach water again, and if we did reach a source we weren't confident there would actually be water given the number of dry sources we had passed the day before. Even the "reliable" source at Butter Gap looked low. What to do? I wanted to press on despite the fact that I was clearly becoming dehydrated. I was thirsty, hot, and beginning not to feel well. I kept thinking that we knew there wasn't any water behind us for at least five miles, therefore, our chances of finding water going forward were clearly greater...Right? I had set out the do this entire trail in one go and come hell or no water I was determined to do it.

Climb up Pilot Mountain and Views from False Summit
 Before reaching the summit of Pilot Mountain we crossed what appeared to be an old forest road. We stopped for a few minutes while I went down other adjoining trails looking for water, to no avail. I was starting to feel defeated. Cori was already there and despite her headache was clearly more rationale in the moment then I was. I really wanted to believe there would be water on the way down from Pilot, but wanting to believe in something doesn't make it real. It was time to think things through. It was hot and we were both becoming dehydrated. We couldn't eat lunch without water because we needed to rehydrate our refried beans (thank goodness for plenty of snacks), and pressing on meant maybe or maybe not finding water. The afternoon consisted of hiking "The Narrows", a very technical, exposed section. Without water nothing was possible. There was a well traveled forest road back down the mountain (FR 475) where we could be picked up early. After facing reality, I gave in. Cori had already called our wonderful friend Jonathan, who literally just moved to Asheville the day before, to come rescue us.

We made our way back down Pilot to Gloucester Gap where we waited to be  rescued. Fore the next two hours Cori and I passed the time playing uno, staring at the trees above and tried not to be eaten alive by the bugs.

Despite the unintended ending of this trip, I had a great time and I learned a few important lessons:
  • Carry more electrolites;
  • I need to spend more time hiking with a pack on;
  • I need to strengthen my knees; and most importantly


  1. I'm so glad that you are both safe. Dehydration is serious. Jonathan is such a wonderful friend. SO happy that you were able to reach him.

    1. Me Too! Hope you'll be able to visit soon!

  2. It was great fun! But perhaps more fun for me than for you, at least at the dehydration stage... Visit again soon???

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    1. I'm glad you found it useful, and I hope you enjoy your trip!