Some friends of mine typically groan when Ramsay Cascades is mentioned. It’s a tough climb over rocks, they say. My three previous hikes this week have not been particularly hard trails, yet for whatever reason, each has simply worn me out, and, with their sentiments in mind, I considered not doing it. While there are likely many reasons for my exhaustion right now, apparently the main one is heat.
A cold front came through early Saturday morning bringing clouds, drizzle, and noticeably cooler temperatures. What a difference 15 degrees can make! I hit the Ramsay Trail like a new woman! This 4-mile trail seems easier than Porters the day before, and there is no comparing the two trails. Some portions of Ramsay Cascades are so steep that rock stairs were built into the trail, and it is so rocky in places that you are scrambling over huge boulders (geologic block fields). Nonetheless, I handle it quite well, all things considered, making the top in 3 hours with several photography stops.
The old roadway (1.5 miles) is easy going, lined with many spring wildflowers including Bishop’s Cap, a few Showy Orchis, and large swaths of Crested Iris just beginning to flower. They should be spectacular over the next few days. There is a tiny grotto with a small but powerful waterfall where a patch of Fraser’s Sedge (Cymophyllus fraserianus – a rare plant endemic to the Southern Appalachians) is in flower.
After the old road turnaround, the trail (2.5 miles) begins in earnest through an acidic Rhododendron tunnel. The bright faces of several painted trilliums bid welcome. There are stretches of reasonably easy hiking. It is not a solid hard slog to the top. Some of these moderate stretches have beautiful displays of wildflowers – Squirrel Corn, White Erect Trillium, Yellow Mandarin, Canada Violet, Long-spurred Violet, Dwarf Ginseng, Trout Lily, and Blue Cohosh. The floral spectacle today is Hobblebush or Witch Hobble (Viburnum lantanoides). In full flower, these shrubs are gorgeous, bearing numerous 4 to 5 inch flat clusters of tiny creamy white fertile flowers surrounded by an outer ring of large, snow-white sterile flowers.
Geology buffs will want to take note of the Thunderhead Sandstone on the trail. Huge block fields of massive boulders and impressive stream boulders give some hint of ancient origins. Closer inspection of some boulders will reveal shiny chunks of gray and blue quartz glinting in the sun. These coarse-grained boulders are sometimes called Graywacke, a sandstone with different-sized grains of rocks, quartz, etc., all mixed together.
Big tree buffs will want to take note of some of the large trees along the Ramsay trail. In particular, there are three enormous Tulip Poplars together in a cove forest where several of the wildflowers mentioned above flourish. Side by side, two of the poplars flank the trail creating a grand entrance to this beautiful area.
A fine mist of low clouds infiltrates the tree tops during the ascent and even swirls around the top of the falls. The cascading waterfall is an awesome sight, and there are great spots to eat lunch and gather friends for a group photo with a spectacular backdrop. Several visitors from Florida took advantage of that latter opportunity with a little help from me. Just as I am ready to head back, the clouds begin to lift and evaporate, and soon the sun emerges for a fine, warm (but not too warm!) afternoon.