SAHC’s AmeriCorps PR & Outreach Associate Anna Zanetti recaps a snowy “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike:
“Highland Brewing Company’s seasonal release of Devil’s Britches Red IPA kicked off the first “For Love of Beer & Mountains” partnership hike of 2014 at Cataloochee Ranch. Hikers trekked through deep snow to the top of Hemphill Bald (5,540 ft. elevation), where they leaned about SAHC’s first conservation easement as well as feral hog damage and the natural history of the area.
In late February the Southeast experienced a large snowstorm, accumulating 6 inches of snow in the Asheville area and more in higher elevations, but the Devil’s Britches hikers were undeterred. On the Sunday after the storm 17 hikers made their way out to tackle the mountain with SAHC, Highland Brewing and US Fish and Wildlife Service.
It was a beautiful morning, with fresh snow illuminated by a brightly shining sun and vibrant blue skies. Cataloochee Ranch was filled with people filing into the ski area, but we took the road less traveled — enjoying a deep appreciation for the quiet, calm and cool day along the switch-backing, snow-covered trail.
After the majority of the switchbacks we began a steep ascent, gaining high elevation views with every step. As the views grew larger the snowdrifts became bigger and deeper – eventually becoming knee deep – but we still pressed on. Trailblazing through the untouched snow was certainly something special.
As we approached the top of Hemphill Bald, hikers shed extra layers and cleared a spot on a bench to bask in the bright sun. We sat and ate our lunches, relishing views that seemed to stretch into infinity and snow outlining every crevice of the mountains. The clear day allowed us to identify mountains in the distance, orienting ourselves with landmarks like Cold Mountain, the peak of Pisgah, and even the Highlands of Roan.
Once everyone was settled I talked to the group about feral hogs and the devastating damage they have created on top of Hemphill Bald. Feral hogs, native to Eurasia, use their snouts to root up prime habitat. These hogs have the capacity to create acres of damage within hours. Hog populations also grow exponentially; two hogs can become 164 animals in about four years in the wild. North Carolina and Tennessee have had a difficult time managing feral hogs because of their capacity for damage and high population growth rate. Cataloochee Ranch is doing what they can to manage feral hog impacts on their property adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We took a few group photos at the top of Hemphill Bald and then proceeded to hike back down the mountain. This outing was unlike any other partnership hike I have led in the past; the smaller group of 17 embraced the snowy conditions for a delightful winter adventure. We were all so happy to be outside with white-capped mountains surrounding us — we really felt like we were on top of the world.”