This is my first hike in the Pisgah National Forest, and I was looking forward to experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the forest as I traversed the Butter Gap Loop. The temperature was in the lower 40’s, and it was overcast with a good chance of rain. Perfect for an overnight trip. According to the trail guide, this was an 8.3 mile loop. However, somehow I managed to hike 9.5 miles, so I was happy with the workout I got as well.
I passed several waterfalls on the way up Butter Gap, some I saw and some I only heard. Once I reached the top (or at least one of them), I joined the Art Loeb Trail for several miles. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Butter Gap Shelter because it is the first shelter I have ever seen on any trail anywhere in the world. It was right at the half way point of my hike and would have made a great place to stop for the night, but I didn’t.
I wanted to continue on for another few miles so I would be nearer my car the next morning. I hiked past several good campsites and several streams and creeks before making a pretty steep climb up to Cedar Rock, which is where I was planning on staying for the night. After a lung and leg busting climb, I finally reached Cedar Rock. It was a great place to rest for the night, and it had a small stream nearby that I hoped would be filled with beautiful, clear, running water.
I located the stream, and although the water wasn’t running it looked pretty clear from what I could see, so I set up camp, relaxed, and sat back to enjoy the views. After setting up camp I went to fill up my water bags. I wasn’t too happy with the yellow colored water, but I wasn’t prepared to break camp and move either, so I just accepted the situation and moved on. I had brought my awesome Trail Designs Caldera Cone Fusion stove setup with the Zelph alcohol stove instead of the one that it came with initially. As far as I’m concerned this is the Rolls Royce of stoves (except for the Jetboil but that’s a gas canister system), and as always it worked flawlessly. A short time later I was sat eating my home made dehydrated dinner and sipping on hot coffee enjoying the world.
After packing up my cook gear and hanging my food, I still had an hour or so of daylight left. For safety’s sake I had purchased a Delorme In-Reach SE 2 way satellite communication device as I will be travelling alone most of the time since I moved to North Carolina. I turned it on and it found the satellites very quickly.
The SE pairs with my phone via Bluetooth so I can send and receive text messages with my family. It also sends out preset messages and pinpoint locations so they can see where I am at every night. I turned on my phone, fully expecting to have no service, and was just about to turn on the Bluetooth when I noticed that I had a signal! In fact, I had full 4G service, which I found amazing and certainly wasn’t expecting. So I turned off the SE and just used my phone to tell my wife where I was and that I was okay.
It was pretty cold now I was just sat around doing nothing, and my Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer down jacket was doing a stellar job at keeping me warm, but the clouds were rolling in and it was about to start raining, so I retired to my shelter for the evening.
It rained all night long. Not particularly hard, just constant. This was the first time I had ever slept in a shelter made of Cuben Fiber so I was very interested in seeing how it fared in the rain. One thing I liked immediately was the fact that Cuben Fiber doesn’t stretch like SilNylon. That meant that I wouldn’t have to fiddle with the guylines during the night to re-tension the tent because it was sagging due to the rain. The rain sounded louder than it ever did on my SilNylon shelters, but it was completely watertight and in fact I enjoyed the sound of the rain on the canopy. There is plenty of room inside the Six Moons Designs (SMD) Skyscape X, both length and sideways. I had ample room to sit up, even when I was sitting on top of my 2.5 inch NeoAir sleeping pad.
One mistake I made was when I first pitched the tent. I am still coming to terms in getting this shelter up quickly and efficiently, and I never noticed the slight gradient on the flattest piece of ground I could find. It looked flat when I was pitching it!!
Once it was up I noticed that the foot end was slightly higher than the head end so I switched my sleeping gear around and slept the opposite way around to what is normal in this tent. The head end is much wider than the foot end so I was a little more cramped than I normally would be, but I was fine. I don’t move around too much during the night and I had no issues whatsoever with being the wrong way around.
The other new gear I had with me was my Zpacks 20F quilt and my pillow system. It was predicted to get down to the low 30’s during the night and I was toasty and warm all night inside the quilt. I really love this quilt and will never go back to hooded sleeping bags again. I get very claustrophobic when they are fully zipped up so the hood is always redundant for me in any case. I just wear my down beanie and my head and ears are warm and happy all night long!!
The final piece of new gear was my pillow system, for which I thank Chad Poindexter from Sticks Blog for the idea. I bought a 3oz overstuffed down pillow from Goosefeet Gear that had a pouch on the rear to hold my Exped air pillow that I have used for a few years now. I used shock cord and mitten hooks to attach my pillow system to the air mattress so that the pillow was firmly held in place. In the past I have always spent half the night chasing my pillow around the tent, so I really loved this system. It was soft, warm, and is the nearest thing to pillow heaven I have ever experienced in the outdoors. So, thanks Stick for that!!
The next morning I woke up early and was soon packed up and ready to hit the trail. It had conveniently stopped raining just in time for me to get up without getting wet, and I took full advantage of it.
The hike back to the trailhead was uneventful, and downhill all the way. Before I knew it I was back at the car and heading home. I will do this hike again in my buildup towards the Foothills Trail thru hike in April, but next time I will do it as a day hike so I can work on my trail fitness.
I thoroughly enjoyed this hike, and I will be spending a lot of time in the Pisgah National Forest over the next few years.