Clawhammer Mountain - Brevard, NC
September, 2008 - Although this ride starts and ends at Clawhammer Mountain, it is really a single-day epic which strings together a handful of quintissential Pisgah trails, including Black Mountain, Turkey Pen and Squirrel Gap.
To get there, take highway 280 Southwest of Asheville into the small mountain town of Brevard. In Brevard, turn right onto highway 276 which is also the entrance to Pisgah National Forest, one of the country's first, and where Gifford Pinchot started his career in the late-1800s. Pisgah covers over 510 thousand acres of rugged, forested mountain terrain in western North Carolina. Turn right onto Forest Road 477 until you reach horse stables after a mile or two on the right hand side. Park here.
Begin the climb behind the stables up the winding forest road traverse and take the first unmarked cuttoff on the right after about 1.5 miles which eventually takes you to Black Mountain. Our ride climbs to over 4100 feet before the first 5 miles from a starting elevation of under 2500 feet. Once at the top of Black Mountain (no grand summit moment as you're still under a thick canopy with limited visibility), we begin our downward shot along the ridgeline and some very steep drops on Turkey Pen Trail. Eventually we come out at the parking lot for Turkey Pen. It's on these final drops that my new Avid Juicy Seven brakes were fully broken in; I swear I saw smoke coming off the rotors! From here we drop down further to cross the South Fork of the Mills River on a hanging bridge, which the real bikers rode across. We then pick up a climb on Mullinax Trail, over Laurel Mountain and thru Laurel Gap until we reach the famous Squirrel Gap Trail.
The Squirrel Gap Trail section, at about the halfway mark, is extremely remote and rugged. You screw up here and you're in deep %$*& because there's no way to helivac you out - there are no landing pads and the 100 foot trees on 30-to-40 degree slopes with a very thick, dense canopy for miles and miles and miles ensures that your only exit is the way you came in. The terrain is reminscent of the California coastal mountains but with big hardwoods instead of redwoods. Although the views are limited by the thick canopy, the underbrush is open and consists mainly of rhododendron and large ferns. The trail here is a benchcut traversing steep slopes that disappear down into nowhere. The trail itself, however, is open and fun; mostly a gradual descent over many miles. There are some roots and rocks, but hardly as technical as other North Carolina trails.
At the end of Squirrel Gap we reach another river crossing at Wolf Ford, also with a cool hanging bridge. Here we pick up Buckhorn Knob Trail. Buckhorn Knob is a wide open forest road at times, a benchcut traverse at other times, and an old road bed through massive grooves reminscent of riding in the center of an arroyo out West. Here I saw a few piles of bear poop near some stream crossings, but never did we catch much wildlife here, including any bear sightings. Eventually we come to an intersection with an open, gravel forest road back down to Clawhammer. The 3-to-5 mile descent over a couple thousand feet of elevation is a just reward.
We spent most of the day climbing, descending, and climbing again for the chance to release our potential energy in one fell swoop down Clawhammer at the end. Nothing technical here, just a forest road, but a welcome run nonetheless. At the horse stables we take in the trials of our 30-mile, 6 1/2 hour slog and head to Jordan Street Cafe in Brevard for a burger and beer.
In case it is not obvious from the description so far, this ride will test your mettle, and while it has some fun sections like Squirrel Gap, it's overall a test of endurance and technical skills. Everyone should try it at least once. Your thirst for beer afterward will thank you.
Clawhammer Ride Photos
Mountain Terrain in Pisgah
Yeti Sighting in the Deep, Dark Woods
Our Friend's Awesome Mountain Home
Clawhammer Mountain on Google Earth