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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rattlesnake Lodge: hiking, history and a cache

On the trail
Switchbacks along the trail

Historical information at the site of the lodge
sumajhuarmi and I were traveling back home to High Point, NC from middle Tennessee. We made the decision to leave out at night with the goal of making it to Ridgecrest, NC for the night. We made good time, arriving at Ridgecrest to spend the night at about 2 a.m. The next morning we looked at each other and decided that the place was so full of spring and so inviting that we'd stay an additional night. That gave us time to do some more exploring.  At first we wanted to get up to Mount Mitchell, highest
Rattlesnake Lodge Ruins
peak east of the Mississippi River. Parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway were still closed so we couldn't get that far. Quickly I looked on to see where some nice caches were along the parkway. We settled on Rattlesnake Lodge. We left Ridgecrest on Interstate 40 going west towards Asheville. Just before entering Asheville we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north. My car GPSr told me that our destination was only about ten minutes further. It was right on the money. We parked in at a trail head on Ox Creek Rd., geared up for our hike and set off. The trail started out with about seven switchbacks as we worked our way up the first part of the mountain. There are three geocaches hidden in the general vicinity of the old Lodge. I was tracking to one of them but with all the switchbacks for the longest time we weren't shaving off the miles very fast. Finally the trail began to work its way around the mountain to the north, exposing a beautiful valley off to our right. We began to meet other hikers either coming down from the lodge or hiking through along the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. From where we parked up to the lodge the Rattlesnake Trail and the Mountain-to-Sea Trail are one and the same. We continued a gradual climb along a beautiful and well prepared trail.  Soon we were approaching the ruins of the lodge. The first thing we saw were the ruins to the barn followed by the ruins of the old swimming pool. Then we stopped to read the historical marker. Built in 1903/4 as a summer home for Dr. Chase P. Ambler and family, it served as a family getaway until 1920. One note said that the lodge got its name because of the high number of Rattlesnakes that were killed on the property during its construction. Additionally, the doctor took an interest in rattlesnakes and apparently paid a bounty on rattlesnake skins. The lodge was sold and in 1926 caught fire and burned.

There are two hiking trails that get you to the lodge. The one we took is the gradual 1.4 mile hike. There is one that comes directly from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is just under half a mile but is steep. As we hiked up I wondered if the Ambler family had to make a similar hike every time they visited. Later I read that there was a small road that their automobiles and wagons could travel to get into the secluded mountain getaway.

Now for the geocaches. The first one we went for was downhill from the site of the main lodge building. We found a small creek and followed it down. After a search on the wrong side of the small creek I forded the creek to find Ambler's Ramble (GCE0B6), placed in 2003 and with only 87 finds before us. It had been about four months since it was last found. As I reached into the
Ambler's Ramble cache
rock crevasse to retrieve the cache I couldn't help thinking about those 40 some rattlesnakes killed constructing the lodge. Fortunately my walking stick revealed a safe hole and I was able to retrieve the cache, sign the log and replace it. Be sure to check out the images on the cache page. This is a neat place! Next we climbed back up to the trail and begin to track towards another cache entitled, Near Rattlesnake Lodge (GC1MPZA). This is a more recent cache placement with a date of 2009. We climbed up to the GZ and began our search. Soon we had the cache in hand. Now for the last cache near the lodge. This one was called, Atypical #50 (GC1ZCC7). A local geocacher named OzGuff is famous for his Atypical series of caches. You always know you'll be looking for a strange container when it is one of the Atypical series. We began the climb back down below the lodge to a small creek with lots of downed timber. As we descended to the cache I wondered if I was looking for Tim the Toolman's good neighbor Wilson or if I was looking for Tom Hank's companion from his shipwrecked days. I'll let you find out for yourself. The cache was easy to find as I examined the most obvious places. The name fits the cache well.

I didn't have a map but reckoned that our best bet was to go back down the main trail and then when the trail dipped lower angle off in a straight line to the last cache on the mountain. This would take us up on the ridge line. My reasoning was that this would likely be easier than climbing up to the cache from the main trail. Our first hundred feet were steep. Once on the ridge line there wasn't much climbing though we had a little bit of up and down. We were amazed by the large amount of timber that had been blown over. Up on the ridge line the winds must get pretty strong. We were constantly climbing over downed trees. Although we walked on a carpet of grass and weeds, the ground seemed to swarm with small black bugs. We didn't know what they were. There had been none near the trail. By now sumajhuarmi was lamenting out loud my decision to take this "easier" route to the cache. We were on a deer trail part of the time. At the end of the .15 mile trek from the trail we found ourselves descending a steep cleared area down to Mickey's Cache (GC113JD).   It took some searching but after about 20 minutes we came up with the cache. Dirty and sweaty, we headed down to the trail. "Surely all our effort must have been worth it", I thought. But no, the cache had been within about 300 feet of the trail on a steep climb. I had turned a 3/3 cache into a 3/5 cache by my decision to go along the ridge line. It would have been 10 times easier to have stuck with the trail. A lesson learned, I think. The hike back to the car only took about ten minutes. What a great experience, even with the less-than-efficient detour! I recommend the Rattlesnake Trail hike and the caches near this historic site.

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