Just finished the Art Loeb Trail along with my son and three other friends. You can check out some pics of the Hike on my facebook page. I haven't got all them posted yet but they are coming.
It was an awesome 2 1/2 days on the trail with some great guys. But I will tell you this, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life...period. boot camp at ft. bliss texas was a cake walk compared to this. I have hiked and backpacked for some 35 years and have yet to do a tougher trail. It is rated the 2nd hardest hike in the southeast the Black Mtn Crest Trail being number one, which we are planning in the Fall.
Art Loeb is one of those trails that just seems to "love you long time"!! it begins to hand your butt to you from the very start and continues to do so for the next 30 miles. One of the guys in our crew has hiked a good bit in the Linville Gorge and he said if you can do the "AL" you can definitely handle the the Gorge. He hasn't found a trail there yet that he thought was as tough. The first four miles is pretty much up all the way as you climb to the gap below Cold Mountain.
Thursday morning we hit the trail at around 8:15 and we hiked about 9 (TRAIL) miles to camp the first night in Ivestor Gap. This by far is a must. Ivestor Gap is breathtakingly beautiful and the sunsets and sunrises are indescribable. Pics are great...but sunrise at IVESTOR should defnitely be on your bucket list. I am not what you might say a physical fitness god but I can hoe the row for a big guy. I will tell you that even people who are in shape have a tough time with this trail. If you are going to do it...bring a "I ain't giving up" attitude with you...you are going to need it. There are some great hang spots around Ivestor. Also you may have been told there are no fires in the Shining Rock Wilderness and that would be good info. However Ivestor is just outside the line so fires are permitted.
Friday morning we were on the trail by 8 and we were headed to the Butter Gap Shelter 14 or so miles away. Be prepared for a long grueling day. This is some rough country. Once you cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and start toward the Deep Gap Shelter you get an overwhelming feeling of "there is no turning back now". The Art Loeb is clearly marked and blazed and I have seen and heard of many people say that they had a hard time knowing which way to go at times. Here's a tip...if there is an ANT HILL the AL goes over it. If you feel you are lost...Just look for the next highest hill and be assured that your butt is going over it. The AL does not miss a hill between Trailheads. Art Loeb was either insane or just loved high places, (i believe both). Some of the hills and climbs along the trail to me are just pointless cardio with no real payoff. Tennent is worth the climb because the reward is there, some of the climbs are just that, CLIMBS, with no view. If you are a peak bagger then Art Loeb is a must do. The last 2 miles into Butter Gap were some dead tired walking. I wanted to hang that night but it had been raining the last mile or so and it rained all night and I was just too plain tired to fool with it so we just put our Pads and bags on the shelter floor along with all the Black Widow spiders. I had resolved I was too tired to worry about them. If they wanted me they could have me...lol I had to force myself to eat my supper that night I was famished but every bite was forced. there have been few times in my life when food was undesirable but this was the case.
There is plenty of good water at Ivestor, Deep Gap Shelter and Butter Gap but plan smart.
Another piece of advice is make certain that your footgear and feet are tip top. Trim your nails for sure and watch out for toe bang. Uphills are bad, but the downhills are just as brutal and long. Make sure you keep your heels locked down because on some of the descents you could just about use a rope.
Saturday morning we were on the trail again by 8 or so and we were on the last 8 miles out. "AL" just kept on loving on us all the way to finish line. This section of trail from Butter Gap to Davidson river is somewhat boring and it is just my opinion but I feel that the trail is a let down because there really is no river miles included, and there easily could be. It would have been nice for the trail to have turned left at Cat Gap and gave you 3 or 4 miles of River Scenery but the last 3 miles is just UP, DOWN UP DOWN with very little reward. We were at the parking lot by 2 and we shucked our packs and took a swim/bath in the river while we waited on my wife to pick us up. We capped off the trip with a meal at Hawgwild BBQ.
I would recommend this hike highly but bring your "A" game. Make sure you start at Camp Daniel Boone and hike to Davidson. If you start the other way, You are THE MAN, and probably somewhat certifiable. Bring good company for encouragement (you are going to need it). If you are not concerned about pack weight you will be after this hike. I was under 30lbs with water. It can be done reasonably in 2 1/2 days but 3 or four would make for some shorter mile days. I suggest this trail for Spring and Fall. Winter if you have the proper gear. Summer not so much, heat and snakes would be a definite problem.
until our trails cross,