This is my latest trip report, hope it helps anyone considering a trip on the Art Loeb Trail.
We started Saturday afternoon at the Daniel Boone Scout Camp, the north side of the trail. We used a shuttle service from Pura Vida adventures. Looking Glass Outfitters no longer does shuttles and refers all business to this company. We were shuttled by a guy named Joe who owns and runs the company in a fairly nice and comfortable minivan. He will take up to 6 people at a time and charges $125 split between however many are going. He was friendly and prompt and would recommend him, although I thought the price was a little high. His office is in Pisgah Forrest, just down the road from the Davidson River Campground, the other end of the Art Loeb. The shuttle took about an hour and a half to complete, it would have been quicker but we were stuck behind some Floridians until we crossed the parkway.
Four of us got started on the trail at 4:30 pm. I am a fairly experienced backpacker and make several trips a year. One of the guys I usually go with was with me and ran a 5k that morning which was the reason for the late start. One other guy had not been backpacking in 8 years but had spent some serious money on his gear. One other is also fairly experienced but a bit unconventional and was only with us for one night.
The first leg of the hike is all uphill gaining a little over 2 thousand feet in elevation topping out about 5,000ft. We got to deep gap at around 8:00 after a long and pretty tiring uphill hike. We made camp and dinner as the sun set. 3 of us use Claytor Jungle Hammocks one was in what looked like a skeeter beater pro. It was a warm weekend almost 80 when we started but cooler at elevation and as the sun went down. Deep gap was a great place to camp, plenty of places to hang or set up a tent and water was about a quarter mile away. The guy in the skeeter beater started the night dressed warmly but with no sleeping bag, tarp, pad, or underquilt. He used a larger camp towel for insulation. I was dumbfounded by it and I know he got cold b/c about midnight he got up and put up his tarp but slept through the night without a complaint. It was warm, but not that warm and the wind did blow at times.
The next morning we got up and hiked up Cold Mountain without packs. It was a little over a mile hike up and gained another thousand feet in elevation. The views were great and the hike wasn't too bad. We got back to camp and rested our feet in our hammocks ate lunch and then headed south on the Art Loeb. We didn't break camp and leave until 2. We hike south along a ridge line through what is called the Narrows. The trail was easy to follow but it was narrow. We passed some great views along the way and enjoyed the breeze on the ridge line. We arrived at Shining Rock around 430. In the wilderness area the trail is not blazed and at shining rock it seems like 5 different trails converge, none of which are marked. We made our best guess but ended up on the wrong trail but it went to the same place as the Art Loeb, Ivestor Gap. We made it to Ivestor in a little over an hour.
Ivestor gap is one of my favorite places I have ever camped. It is gorgeous with some of the best views in the blue ridge mountains. Camp sites are in a small grove of pine trees near the top of a mountain. Plenty of great places to hang and a couple places to cook as well. We took in a great sunset and then went to bed. The wind that night was vicious and seemed to blow over 50mph but that is just a guess. The temp that night inside my hammock read as low as 47 and as high as 55 but the wind made it seem colder. I use a wal mart ccf pad with a 30 degree mummy down marmot arroyo bag that is supposed to be wind proof. I didn't feel the wind at all and was a little too warm and slept only in my boxers.
The next morning we set out at 830 down to 3 hikers for the rest of the trail. Our fourth didn't take Monday and Tuesday off and had to go. From Ivester we hiked across several Southern Appalachian Balds including Tennent Mt. and Black Balsam knob, both over 6 thousand feet. Gorgeous and rare 360 views. We could see graveyard fields from the top of Black Balsam as well as cold mountain, looking glass rock, and countless other peaks. The wind on top of the balds was very storong and enough to knock you off the trail with your pack on, we also had to take our hats off. We took a spur trail off of Black Balsam and hiked down to get water at a parking area. It reaches a gravel road and then you turn right away from the parking lot and bathroom until you reach a pvc pipe coming out of the side of the mountain with water rushing out. We filled up and were told that the spring did not need to be filtered so we drank it straight from the pipe and it was delicious water and no one got sick.
From Black Balsam the trail descend a bit and crosses road 218. From there it goes into a dark pine forrest that would be great for hanging. It then descends sharply onto the parkway. I would not want to hike up this part of the trail, going down was hard enough. It is just steep switchback that never seems to end. We continued hiking, the trail seemed to just go up to the top of a mountain and then down to a valley and then repeated pretty much until the end. We passed trough the second Deep Gap which had a nice shelter and water as well as places to hang. We made camp between glouster gap and low gap in a small camp site. Our elevation was much lower around 3800 and we had leaves on the trees and green under brush. We made camp around 7 and it was a full day of hiking. Temps at night dipped into the low 50's.
We were back on the trail at 8 the next morning and made it to butter gap around 1030. This section of trail is well marked and blazed but we encountered some confusing blazes at butter gap and ended up on a rock climbers trail that did take us to some pretty cool cliff faces but it was a detour we didn't need on our last day on the trail. We got back on the trail after about a 40 minute detour and continued on. The trail was similar to the day before after we crossed the parkway. Not as many views and more time under a canopy going up and down. Although we did have much more down than up. The views we did get usually looked out towards looking glass rock or into the valley from which we came or were going. We got off the trail after another long day at 515 at the Davidson River Campground.
The Art Loeb is a great trail and filled with changing scenery, great views and challenging hiking. I would recommend it to anyone but take your time. Our last 2 days were pretty tough and long. This trip took place from Saturday afternoon at 4:30 on 4/25/09 and ended at 5:15 Tuesday evening on 4/28/09. The trail is about 32 miles long but with water detours and the hike up and down cold mountain you can expect about 36 or more miles when its all said and done. If you are looking to do just a section, visit shining rock to Black Balsam. Great trip and hope this helps anyone else planning a trip to the area.
Pura Vida Website http://www.pvadventures.com/