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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Geocaching the Lookout Mountain Trail, Montreat, NC

Montreat from the Lookout
We spent several days in Ridgecrest, NC with Rattlesnake Mountain looking down on us. Several years back sumajhuarmi and I climbed it to get a great view of the pass at Black Mountain. This time we were interested in more than the view, we were interested in finding three geocaches nestled along the ridge line that towers above Rattlesnake. We were interested in climbing Lookout Mountain to get these. At first I thought we would take Rattlesnake Trail from its namesake mountain over to Lookout Mountain. Then I saw the many geocaches that Montreat offers and decided to approach this mountain from the Montreat side.

Photo of the trail map
On the Lookout

We set out early on an overcast morning. The temperatures were in the 40's and the wind was moderate. We found our way up through the community of Montreat to the trailhead where we parked the car. With our hiking sticks, water, swag bag and GPSr we were off. The first leg of the climb paralleled Puncheon Branch which was completely enshrouded in Rhododendron. After about ten minutes the trail, embellished with yellow diamonds to mark the way, veered off to the south perpendicular to Puncheon. We slowly wound our way around the to the southwest, climbing higher as we went. The trail proved to be a moderate difficulty. We made good time. We reached the Lookout at 3629 feet elevation above mean sea level. This was a rock plateau of sorts sitting on a knoll which through another saddle connected to the rest of Lookout Mountain. It had taken us about 50 minutes to get here and we had gaining approximately 1000 feet in elevation. From there we had a gorgeous view of the Montreat Cove.

Unusual cache container near Lookout Summit
From the Lookout we passed down into the saddle and began a short climb to Lookout Mountain summit and a ridge line running northeast. When we reached the ridge line we were at the junction of the Lookout Mountain and East Ridge Trails. The first cache lay only a few hundred feet from that there. As we approached it I wondered what clue might be found in the name of the cache. Atypical #26: Rear Window? (GC1AC9K) was on the southeastern side of the ridge line but the trees would not afford us a view of Ridgecrest below. The search for the cache took us about ten minutes. The regular size container was a surprise. The clue said "Balboa-ish". Now I understand....I think. We signed the log, re-hid the cache and were on our way again. We passed a marker with the name Tyson Miller. Who was Tyson? Did he die in a fall? I'm used to seeing memorials to climbers at much higher elevation and cold than this. What happened here?

Lookout Summit and ridge line to Boggs Bunion in background
The next two caches were both within .2 miles of each other. As we began moving up the ridge line, the mountain sloped off in opposite directions, one towards Montreat and the other towards Ridgecrest. We could see the facilities of both retreat centers below us now. The hike was now ease as we only had a gradual change in elevation along the ridge. The second cache, a regular, was an ease find stashed in the open deep in the rhododendron just about 80 feet off the trail. Somewhere on Lookout Mountain (GC3AWX4) had a pair of Bushnell binoculars in it. At first I was scrambling to put together enough swag to trade evenly for the Bushnells. Then I discovered that the binoculars were damaged and changed my mind. We signed the log and returned the cache to its place on the open ground. It didn't matter as no one will ever see it unless they are specifically in this growth to find it.

sumajhuarmi, Montreat behind her
We joined the East Ridge Trail again and hiked to the next summit. It was only about half a mile to get to Boggs Bunion at 3887 feet elevation. Just a short distance beyond the summit on the northern slope we found the last cache, Montreat Treat, Mon! (GC1AC9X). This regular cache was out in the open. From the cache page I knew that either rain or an animal had dislodged it. We signed the log and then secured it in the intended location. We had made the climb, including finding three caches in 1.5 hours. Now the Sun was coming out and warming us up a little. sumajhuarmi and I pray together each morning. We had decided to save our prayer time for this summit. We sat in the warmth of the sun and out of the wind on the leeward side of the mountain.

Our hike down the mountain was easy. We stopped for several breath-taking views of the valley. I know that we could have run up our cache count by sticking to the micros down along Interstate 40 or in Asheville today. In the 2.5 hours we invested in this hunt we only found three caches. Yet the experience of hiking the mountain and finding the harder caches make a LPC (lamp post cache) or a guardrail cache seem like a waste of time.

I hope you'll get the chance to visit the North Carolina mountains. The trials are great and the caching is too!
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