June 1, 2015
We enjoyed a tasty and late breakfast in the Skycrest Restaurant. Then we got our hiking packs and sprayed down with Cutter. To thwart ticks, we both wore long pants. We ended up hiking 5.2 miles, setting out from the lodge along a side leg of the Signal Hill Trail to take the scenic North Rim Trail over to the park visitor center. From there we used the Greenfield and Mossback Ridge Trails to return to the lodge in a large loop. The overall hike had an elevation gain of 885 feet, with the trails generally descending on the path to the Visitor Center and then climbing steeply up to Mossback Ridge before descending back to the Signal Hill Trail to return to the lodge. The average slope on our hike was 5.7%.
Signal Hill & North Rim Trails
A fairly dry ascent up Signal Hill was followed by a muddy descent to reach a brief segment of the Mossback Ridge Trail, denoted by yellow badge blazes. We then shifted onto the North Rim Trail, which thankfully was drier, punctuated by occasional creek crossings. This trail featured wildflowers on the south side and a series of panoramic views to the north. The tree badges changed to red. We saw Spiderwort along with many Carolina Rose or Pasture Rose blooms. The aroma of the latter flowers delighted Wendy. We were afforded repeated glimpses of Cameron Bluff across the Gutter Rock Creek Valley, with the bluff’s towering layers of rock jutting from the tree cover.
Later we could see past the end of Cameron Bluff to the lowlands beyond, and Wendy enjoyed more Carolina Roses, holding one up to a Spiderwort for comparison. We passed a beautiful stream, and I shot video of the waterfall. Then we posed at Dill Point, enjoying the panorama during a trail snack break.
The trail wound onward, with a panoramic north view to our left.
Along the trail beyond Dill Point we passed trees covered in fungi and found a Fire Pink wildflower, more Carolina roses, and enjoyed more panoramas. Wendy spotted a spiderweb covered in droplets. The trail led on to Dill Creek, with its pretty little waterfall.
We found a Lanceleaf Coreopsis and rock with mold spots before we reached School Creek, which wound through the woods to a rocky ford for our crossing. Wendy got a picture of me from behind as I was considering shots along the creek. We were 2.5 miles into our hike when we reached the park’s Visitor Center.
We refreshed ourselves at the center, with Wendy browsing through the shop and purchasing a Mount Magazine coffee mug for herself and some local black raspberry jelly for me. Meanwhile, I surveyed the exhibits and found a side room with large lounge chairs and a bank of windows looking out over the forest. There we relaxed and watched hummingbirds flit at a feeder, including a ruby throated bird which warily eyed an intruding insect. Then we bought some sodas and snacks and ate them out front in preparation for our hike back to the lodge.
We walked across the highway to the Greenfield picnic area to find the matching trail. That area was once the Greenfield family’s farm.
Will and Lulah Greenfield established a home near the head of Bear Hollow in 1893. Nine of their ten children were born on the mountain. The Greenfields expanded their house to rent out rooms and, in addition, built seven cabins to accommodate tourists escaping the summer heat in the valleys below.
Wendy was less than delighted that we had a big climb ahead to make our way up Mossback Ridge. The little drawing she made on our daily log illustrates her viewpoint as I merrily traipsed up the slope, with a tick along for the ride on the outside of my protective clothing. We crossed Big Shoal Creek and admired a colorful tree fungus and a rock shining with crystals.
Mossback Ridge Trail
After about a mile of hiking along the Greenfield Trail, we turned west onto the Mossback Ridge Trail, which began as a straightaway of taller grass through the forest. There was moss on the ground, but that is not the true origin of the name for this trail and ridge; “Mossback” is actually a corruption of “Morsbach”:
Albert was the son of Friedrich August Morsbach. Friedrich was a Union veteran from the Civil War who hailed from Germany. He had arrived on the mountain in 1880 and was granted title to 80 acres on the northeastern leg of the mountaintop five years later. Like other homesteaders, he cleared his land for farming, a difficult task including removing an endless supply of rocks. All around his farm, these rocks were used to form fences and buildings. Friedrich’s son, Albert, and daughter, Clara, settled on what is now called Mossback Ridge. Albert’s first wife, Serena, died in 1896, and was buried on the northern slope of Mossback Ridge.
Albert married Susannah Walker the following year, and they raised four children. Children on the mountain attended classes in a one-room school house on the northern slope of Mossback Ridge not far from Serena Morsbach’s grave. The “Summer Home School” started in the late 1800s and had as many as 40 students. Albert Morsbach was one of the early teachers. Some of the students, like Tony Brown, became teachers in the school even though they lacked formal high school educations. The original building burned in 1920.
Along Mossback Ridge we saw many colorful butterflies flitting from one wildflower to another. The trail wound on for over a mile along the undulating ridge before descending to where we could cross the valley toward Signal Hill and the lodge. On the final stretch of the Mossback Ridge Trail we passed a small ruined building and other signs of abandoned park development.
Soon we were climbing the hill back to the lodge, where we carefully isolated our clothing and checked for ticks, and then bathed and rested. I know I was quite relaxed, since I actually sat out on the balcony with only my bath towel for modesty. It had been a great hike, and we wrapped up the day with dinner at the Skycrest and enjoyed the dusk view from the mountaintop, walking back to our room with the moon up in the evening sky.
The next day would be one of recovery, featuring a drive to the overlooks of nearby Cameron Bluff.