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Weekly Scoop (February 10-16) - Local Winter Camping and Hiking with Stuart Cowles ❄ Plus lots to do this week!

Local Winter Camping and Hiking
with Stuart Cowles

Photo by Beyond the Tent.

All of the holiday decorations are down and put away in a box by now, and many of us are working hard to keep up with our New Year’s resolutions. February should be the time of year when the snow is flying, and the biggest decision of the day may be whether to go skiing or sledding. One thing that those of us who have lived in this area a long time know is that winter in Appalachia can be tricky. One day it is cool, wet, rainy, or even snowy; and the next it is sunny and 60 degrees! I know some people love these fickle weather patterns, but this year it is seriously messing with one of my New Year’s resolutions: to get out and camp this winter!

I had the pleasure to go out West last month and camp in some of the nation’s most fabulous National Parks. The weather there was very cold, but also predictably stable. During that time, bundled up in my warm sleeping bag, I thought back upon some of my most memorable winter camping experiences I have had. Despite having many of those adventures all around the country, some of my favorite spots were right here in the good ‘ol Southern Appalachian mountains.

Camping in a tent on the cold ground during the wintertime is one of my favorite things to do.  There are far fewer people out in the woods during these months, and I find the challenge of managing all of the clothing and sleeping systems in order to maintain a cozy warm existence simply exhilarating! Despite what one may think, there is a whole lot more to surviving a cold winter night camping than just sleeping systems and clothing. Nutritious food, the right liquids, and map reading skills are paramount to a successful winter trip. Proper stove and extra fuel considerations, how one is going to get and treat water, and how to navigate over snowy terrain (where trails are not as obvious), are all big concerns when planning a winter outing. Yes, it is true that a little more planning, preparations, and considerations go into winter camping than a summer trip, but that shouldn’t keep you from going out there.

Being that the weather around these parts can be quite fickle, one should make trip preparation and proper planning a top priority when considering a journey into the wilds. Planning a route that is accessible in the winter and one that can be easily completed in the allotted amount of time, even if the weather turns bad, is an important consideration. Hiking “big mile days” may not be possible with the shorter daylight on snow-covered and icy trails, which can change a 3 mile-per-hour pace into just barely 1 mile-per-hour. Planning continues into clothing systems. Even if there is no rain or snow in the forecast, hiking with a heavy backpack can result in sweaty, wet clothes, which are basically enemy number one when the outside temperatures drop fast.

I have a few places that are really special to me when the snow is flying and the temperature drops low. I like to backpack up to the Sam Knob area from Highway 215. This unique bald mountain stands just short of 6000 feet elevation and is flanked with open fields that can gather a lot of snow. One can hike in on the Flat Laurel Creek trail for just under two miles and find plenty of camping sites near the creek. Beware, however, these trails can be covered with ice slowing the pace to just a crawl. From here it is possible to continue a small loop to Little Sam Knob and then to the Mountain to Sea Trail back to Hwy 215 and then a short road walk back to the car. This is a great short loop with good views and lots of snow and ice.

If “high and windy” seems a little too extreme, then a great short hike with easy access is the Cat Gap Trail to the Pickelheimer’s Field area. This hike has a much lower elevation than Sam Knob and is very easy access off of Highway 276 in the Pisgah Forest. Don’t let the lower elevations fool you though, it is not uncommon for the valley areas around here to have colder temperatures than that of the higher mountain tops. A less than 2 mile or so hike from the Fish Hatchery and Wilderness Education Center parking area will bring you to a big open field with plenty of camping options and a good water source nearby. From here there are a few loop hikes that one can do, or simply pack it up and head back the same way to the warm car.

Regardless of high or low, the key word to a successful winter camping trip is “plan” and “prepare.” 

Okay, I know that is two words, but they stand together to help make the difference between a cold and miserable trip, and one that generates great memories. So pack up the warm sleeping bag and waterproof boots, and pick a spot for a good adventure. If the weather is cooperating, one will fall asleep to a crisp, star-filled sky and wake to a snow-covered tent.

Photo by Enlightened Equipment.

Stuart Cowles is an avid outdoor enthusiast and nationally certified climbing instructor. He has been tromping around the Southern Appalachian mountains since the early 1980’s and has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and climbed big mountains all over the world for the past many decades. Cowles is also the owner and founder of Climbmax Climbing and Mountain Guides and the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center. When he is not working or taking people outdoors on adventures, there is a pretty good chance you may find him sneaking around the snow-covered mountains looking for that perfect pillar of blue ice to climb.

Below you will find one locally curated Scoop chosen for each day this week — but make sure to check out all the Scoops this week on our Dig Local Scoop Calendar.

Monday, February 10

Rush Trivia + Documentary Screening
at The Grey Eagle
Enjoy an evening of Rush trivia and stay for a special screening of the Rush documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage on the big screen! Trivia at 6pm, documentary at 8pm.
Registration and more details.
More to do Monday
Tuesday, February 11
Taco Tuesday
at Happy Cinco de Mayo
Try any Mexican-style taco for only $2.50 each, then wash it all down with $2 domestic bottled beers or $3 imported bottled beers!
More details.
More to do Tuesday

Wednesday, February 12

GameFreeze: Geeks, Games, and Ice Cream
at The Hop Ice Cream Cafe
Fun games, cool people, and a chill environment. Come on out and have a blast with some casual gaming and hang out with friends. Game on!
More details.

More to do Wednesday

Thursday, February 13

Unlucky: A Singles Night
at Asheville Retrocade

Celebrating Single Awareness Day? No problem! Treat yourself and have some fun with video games, speed dating, and drink specials. $5 entry for the ladies.
More details.

More to do Thursday

Friday, February 14

Valentine's Day Roundup!

Whether you're having a date night with your sweetheart, going out with the girls, or single and looking to mingle, we've got a whole slew of events to help you plan your Valentine's Day fun!

- Dirty Dalton Valentine's Day at Dalton Distillery
- Valentine's Day Demo at West Village Market
- Valentine's Day with Oil and Water at Sovereign Kava Bar
- Valentine's Couples Dinner at Twisted Laurel
- Share the Love Flight Night at The Creamery
-  Stardust Mine presents George & Tammy: Forever Valentines at Ambrose West
- Lucky in Love at Asheville Retrocade
- Valentine's Day Dinner at Golden Fleece Slow Earth Kitchen
- Galentine's Day at Beauty Bin
- Livers & Lovers Valentine's Day with the Trusty Hucksters at Jack of the Wood
- Valentine's Day Oysters and Rose at All Souls Pizza
- Lovely Treats for Your Valentine at the WNC Farmers Market
- Ham Night at Archetype Brewing Tap Lounge + Venue with Chop Shop Butchery
- Valentine's Day Foot Massages in the Salt Cave
- Valentine's Day Events with Biltmore Wines at Biltmore Estate
- Liz Teague Band: Valentine's Day Edition at Ginger's Revenge
- Valentine's Day Tarot Readings at Asheville Raven and Crone
- Valentine's Day Fun and Beer Release at Highland Brewing Company
More to do Friday

Saturday, February 15

2nd Annual Assembly Required Asheville Designer Toy Expo
at Highland Brewing
Assembly Required is the premiere Southeast destination for designer, bootleg and art toy artists and collectors. With molding and production techniques, designer toy artists echo the production methods of traditional toy manufacturers, and find inspiration from a variety of underground and subcultural elements. This toy expo honors this pop surrealistic art movement as the melting pot of artistic expression that it is. Head to Highland Brewing February 15th (11am-5pm) and February 16th (11am-4pm)!
Tickets and more details.
More to do Saturday

Sunday, February 16

Daily Kava Happy Hour
at Sovereign Kava Bar
$5 double shots of regular kava, $5 single shots of special kettle, and $9 double shots of special kettle.
More details.
More to do Sunday
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