Max Patch Mountain has been one of the places I have wanted to hike for quite a while now. The location – west of Asheville, NC -has been out of my normal day hiking range due to the driving time. The Thanksgiving weekend afforded an opportunity to do an overnight hike with Tommy and this seemed like the perfect place. The weather forecast promised “sunny and delightful” with highs of 65F and lows in the 30s. This was going to be a great trip. We would park at the Max Patch trailhead and head northbound to our turn-around point at Lemon Gap.
The drive was nice and we arrived just after 10 in the morning. We spent a bit of time getting our packs set and all the gear together that we would need for the overnight. We met a family who was out for the day who were Geocaching on their trip. There were 5 caches in the area that we would pick up on our trip. There was a small puzzle cache there at the parking lot that we found with little trouble.
We started up the Max Patch loop trail which had a nice gradual slope. This trail met the Appalachian Trail just .1 miles north and 150 feet below the summit. We headed south on the AT and up to the top. The views as we crossed the bald were spectacular – a full 360 degrees. Mountains visible included the eastern Smokies and Mt. Mitchell. There was not a cloud in the sky! I pieced this panoramic together from the pictures I took at the summit.
We gathered a couple of caches on the bald and headed north on the AT. The trail had a nice gradual descent of the mountain, passing through areas of woods and pastures. The trail met up with the Buckeye Ridge Trail a few times as it continued down. There were nice views of the bald from the cleared areas of Buckeye Ridge. We re-entered the woods and crossed the Buckeye Ridge Trail again – here an old woods road. The trail entered the Roaring Creek valley passing over a small branch near the top of the valley. The trail would cross numerous branches and bridges during the trip. We reached the end of an old woods road where there was a small campsite and sign indicating a water source. We stopped for a rest and ate our lunch.
After lunch we continued on, quickly reaching the Roaring Creek Shelter. This was a very nice shelter which had a “basement” where additional hikers could camp out if the shelter was full. No one was there when we passed but this was one of the nicer shelters I have seen along the trail. This shelter was built in 2005 and replaced a shelter that had been previously located further north near Lemon Gap.
The trail continued on, continuing the gradual descent following the creek, but also going into each side cove to prevent any pointless ups and downs. This made the trail wind pretty wildly. The start and end of our hike were only 2.5 miles apart as the crow flies, but covered over 5.5 miles over the trail. We covered ground pretty quickly and we reached Lemon Gap by 3 in the afternoon. The sun would be setting around 5 so we decided to camp near the creek at Lemon Gap, near where the old shelter had been located. This was a nice site and had a bench and fire ring. We set our tent up on a nice flat spot. I began cooking dinner while Tommy gathered some wood for a fire. Dinner was good – we had a Chicken Enchilada meal. It gave me pretty bad heartburn later that night, so I think I won’t get this one again. I started the fire and we enjoyed the sunset together. We took our best guesses when and where the first star would appear. Tommy spotted Jupiter just past 5:30. It was very bright! The other stars were not far behind, and by 6:00 the sky was full of stars. The new moon and clear skies afforded a great show including views of the Milky Way even though we were located in the forest. The fire eventually died down and we decided to head off to bed.
Sleep came easy to Tommy, but I struggled with an increasingly bad cold and the heartburn from dinner. I was up and down all night, but managed to get some sleep due to the length of darkness. The temps did not get too cold and I was able to stay warm in my 40 degree bag with the sleeping bag liner. Tommy was snug in my 20 degree down bag. Around 7 the next morning, it was bright enough out to start moving around. I set out to cook breakfast, making red beans and rice and some coffee. I managed to break the bag open while it was heating, spilling some of it on the ground. It was not a lot and there was plenty for us to eat.
We broke camp and were ready to set out at about 8:30. We stopped at the creek and filled up on water. It was clear and cold – wonderful. My filter has continued to do a good job and we pulled 4 liters quickly. Completing this necessary chore, we headed south and back toward Max Patch. The trail back was just as good going up as it was coming down the day before – well graded, easy hiking. There were a couple steeper spots, but these were relatively short stretches leading to more level trail. We covered the distance back to the shelter quickly and managed to cover the 3.5 miles in 2 hours. We took a break at the shelter and continued on. When we reached the Buckeye Ridge Trail, we decided to take it back to Max Patch Rd. and the trailhead. The trail followed a gated old woods road and was pretty easy hiking. We grabbed a cache along the road, but could not sign the log. The cache was soaked. We reached the road and passed a nice fishing pond on the final stretch back to the car.
We dropped off our packs at the car and ate some lunch. We fueled back up and headed back up to the summit. We were both getting tired and ready to head home. We snapped some more photos and looked for one more cache. There was no sign of it so we headed back to the car. I saw the loop trail and headed down the mountain toward it. I did not realize how far it was and that the plants all around heading toward it were full of thorns. I regretted this decision, but it was too late. Much easier to head down through the thorns than to climb up through them. A short hike brought us to the car and we headed home.