Sunday, March 17, 2013

High Elevation Georgia – Brasstown Bald

Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia, but it is very easy to get to. I went there for the first time last weekend at the request of my friend Parrie. Located near the towns of Hiawassee and Young Harris, the mountain rises to 4,784 feet.

View from the summit on one side
From the observation tower you have great views to several valleys below and the beautiful waters of Lake Chatuge which straddles the Georgia-North Carolina border. Brasstown Bald is one of the mountains in the Blue Ridge mountain range. It is a great place to view fall foliage according to Parrie.

Observation tower in the background
There are trails that you can hike to the top – some of them as long as 7-8 miles. One is the Wagon Train Trail which goes from Young Harris College to the summit. We took the easy way: a paved path from the parking lot at the Visitor Center up to the summit. It is only 6/10 of a mile but is fairly steep in a few places. At one point it crosses the Wagon Train Trail. Parrie says that in the regular season, a shuttle will run from the Visitor Center to the Observation Tower for those that need transportation.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)
Our trip was too early to catch any blooming flowers. Parrie had hoped to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) in flower. It is a tiny little shrub that has a groundcover habit. We found it growing along the trail, but no flowers yet.

Even though we didn't have flowers, there was plenty of green to keep us company. White pine (Pinus strobus) was very common in the area, there was hemlock (Tsuga), fir (Abies fraseri), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and two kinds of evergreen Rhododendron. On the ground we also found some beetleweed (Galax urceolata); the shiny leaves were a mixture of green and bronze (bronze is their fall color; new leaves will emerge in late spring).

Moss was abundant as well. It decorated tree trunks and rocks throughout the trail. I loved finding some of the benches that nature created (there are plenty of man-made benches too).

Galax urceolata
Parrie passes a bench on the way down

In the shaded areas we found remnants of snow. It reminded us of just how high up we were. We saw kids throwing snowballs at each other at the edge of the parking lot.
Snow at the base of Fraser fir (Abies fraseri)

It was great to be out in the sun, enjoying the fresh air. I look forward to coming back to the area in late May or June to see the mountain laurel and rhododendrons blooming.

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