Love at first hike


We weren’t on the trail five minutes before I was in love.

Man, this isn’t at all like the rest of the Eno. I didn’t mean it derogatorily. Some of the best hiking in the Triangle — in the Piedmont — is along the Eno River in Orange and Durham counties, mostly in the form of elongated loops that follow the rocky Eno out, return through hardwood forests along the adjoining ridge line. But this, this new 3.3-mile stretch along the Eno’s east bank between the Cabe Lands and Pump Station accesses of Eno River State Park takes in a section of bluffs rising higher, it seems, than elsewhere on the river.

In less than a mile and a quarter we hit three stout climbs rising more than 65 feet in less than a tenth of a mile. So they weren’t sustained climbs like you’d find a couple hundred miles west. But they were steep, they were bunched together, they did a good job of convincing your knees you weren’t in the Piedmont. And they ducked in and out of entertaining terrain: one moment you were in a bottomland forest, the next you were topping out in a green thicket of rhododendron and holly. There was a heavily bouldered ravine and the ruins of a hilltop homestead that, in the day, must have been one of the biggest along the Eno. There were footbridges that, judging from the smell of the treated lumber, couldn’t have been more than six months old. It was freshly minted Mountains-to-Sea Trail and I was ready to declare it my favorite stretch along the Eno (replacing the Laurel Branch Trail, which replaced the Buckquarter Creek/Holden’s Mill loop, which replaced the Cox Mountain Trail ... ).

My hiking partners, Robert S. Williams, who’s training for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer’s Ultimate Hike, and Sharon “Smoky Scout” McCarthy, who was on the last leg of her quest to become the 25th person to travel the entire Mountains-to-Sea Trail, were likewise impressed. The rollercoaster terrain was ideal preparation for Robert’s 28.3-mile hike on the Foothills Trail Oct. 1; the surprisingly mountainlike terrain created a full-circle effect for Sharon, who began her MST journey in October 2009 in the Smokies.

Such climbing usually leaves little spare air for chatting, but so taken were we that the terrain instead inspired a relentless exchange of hiking stories (a good mile alone was devoted to bear sightings). Before we knew it we had entered flatter, familiar terrain downstream, the new trail a happy blur. A blur I plan to bring into better focus with a return trip in the near future.




Go! Go! Go!

The accompanying map — click here for an interactive Google version — can help you plan a visit to this newest stretch of the MST along the Eno. I recommend starting from the Cabe Lands Access on Howe Street off Sparger Road in Durham and hiking downstream. If you don’t want to mess with a shuttle, it’s 2.6 miles to Cole Mill Road (the underpass you’ll pass under) and 3.3 miles to the intersection with the Pump Station Trail, for out-and-backs of 5.2 and 6.6 miles, respectively. Set a shuttle at the Pump Station Access for a 4.0-mile hike, or leave a car at West Point on the Eno city park for an 8-mile one-way.