Monday, November 6, 2017

Glassy Mountain

It’s Pickens. It’s only a mile or two long. It’s at 1,700 feet compared to Caesar Head’s 3,215. Whatever the reason for the Glassy Mountain trail’s relatively unknown status, it only adds to the charm of one of the best views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment to be had in the Upstate; and all within a 30 minute drive of Greenville.

The drive to Pickens was scenic, the bright foliage of autumn lining the roadsides as we headed west out of Greenville on Farrs Bridge Road. The Glassy Mountain Heritage Preserve is a straight shot – only on the approach to Pickens did we make the right turn on South Glassy Mountain Road that appears shortly after crossing Wolf Creek. Google tends to direct visitors in on N Cedar Rock Rd; this route allows you a view of the cell tower-covered top of Glassy Mountain before you make the hike up.

Coming in up South Glassy Mountain Road, park on the west side opposite the trailhead just after passing the intersection with South Glassy Mountain Church road. There’s more parking at the top of the mountain if needed, but we prefer start our hike at the bottom, saving the downhill portion for last. The trail isn’t blazed, but sporadic signs point the way in the few spots you might take pause.

The trail winds around the east side of Glassy Mountain, named for the glassy appearance of the exposed rock face when wet. The Preserve was established on May 8, 1990, the 65 acres today managed by the SC Forestry Commission. What makes this hike special are the multiple rare plant species that grow on the unusual land form; Glassy Mountain is a Piedmont Monadnock, an isolated mountain in the Piedmont with associated granitic dome plant communities. The north face has extensive bare rock areas that in places drop up to 400 feet, and the relative uniformity of the surrounding countryside ensure fantastic views. With leaves already starting to drop there were immediately glimpses to be had of the country to the east, Paris Mountain providing the backdrop for rolling countryside and colorful autumn forests.

Continuing around we saw many flowers, ferns and other interesting plants, despite the chilly October temperatures. The exposed rock outcrops provide up-close looks at dozens of mosses and lichens, although please be careful to stay on the trail, to help conserve the fragile plant communities that call these outcrops home.

From a rocky pine/oak forest we entered sugar maple woods, corroborating evidence that the soil on the north side of the dome is surprisingly rich, a result of thousands of years of weathering without the high elevations typical of granite domes. Stay on the lookout for all sorts of wildflowers that love these fertile and moist soils.

About ½ mile into your hike you’ll reach an intersection: the two trails to the right make a loop out to the edge of the dome, the trail to the left climbs up to the top of the mountain. We went straight, and the trail soon curved around to the most stunning view; stretched out in front of awed visitors is the Blue Ridge Escarpment, punctuated by Table Rock and Pinnacle mountains.

Closing the loop back to the intersection and taking the remaining branch of trail you’ll find that the last bit up to the summit is the steepest; however 2/10ths of a mile from the scenic viewpoint you’ll reach the open area at the Glassy Mountain summit. Various communications towers dot the top, an old fire tower standing vigil over the gravel parking lot.

If you’ve got the time, descend back to the trailhead the way you came, winding through the forest to catch all the things you missed on your way up. Or you can just head down the road, enjoying the views of some of the exposed rock surfaces from a different perspective and cutting about ½ mile off your hike. Either way, you’ll promise yourself that you’ll soon be back: in the winter months to take in unobstructed views once the leaves fall, in the spring to admire the biological diversity of this incredibly rich natural resource, in the summer for the wildflowers and verdant understory. Or again in another week, as the progression of fall color creeps down the Blue Ridge Escarpment!  

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