Spencer Branch (Upper)
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: Recently (~2015) reworked, Spencer Branch is a great combination of flowy trail with some chunky rock armoring sections and moderately narrow singletrack.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner - There are no major drops or high consequence features, however there are a few small rock rollovers and steps that might intimidate true beginners. All sections are easy to see coming and short.
Length/Elevation Change: ~1.5 miles, mostly downhill, to the Fletcher intersection
Notable features: There is an awkward alt line at the top that is high and narrow, but has a ride around to the left. The trail starts off with several small, rollable drops that run on a narrow section before a berm where the trail widens and opens up. From that point down, there are several rock armored sections, some of which can be a bit awkward and require rolling down small drops.
Spencer can be broken into two main segments:
The recently reworked upper segment, which is predominately flowy with some rock armoring
The lower, more natural section that stays fairly flat, but climbs a bit and has a few muddy/wet sections
As described in the directions, the second part can be avoided by taking upper Fletcher to the 4 way intersection with Fletcher Creek / Spencer Branch. We'll cover the first segment here, but as discussed in the directions, most people ride Spencer for the upper, reworked section rather than the lower part of Spencer.
Starting at the top, the trail is a slightly narrow bit of smooth singletrack:
The majority of the trail follows a similar character as above, although a bit wider. Where it deviates from this pattern, the trail has a few rock armored sections, although the first one you encounter is a bit different than the others:
This is the most significant group of features on the upper section. There is a right line and a left line here.
Going right, you see a rock armored section that runs along a narrow bit of trail and going left, you see a smoother, lower consequence line that has a few small rock drops (maybe ~1ft).
The line to the right is fairly tight and narrow, I'd only suggest riding it if you are familiar with it. The line to the left can be a bit awkward because it rolls down into a narrow section, but should be fairly easy for those familiar with riding in Pisgah and it's easy to approach slow.
The trail smooths out again and you'll hit a left hand berm before continuing down the trail, which remains relatively smooth until you reach a set of rock steps:
There are three main rocks here, they aren't terribly challenging to roll down, but if you are going faster, they can come up on you pretty quick.
After that brief section, you'll come up on the first rock armored section of the trail:
These types of sections are fairly common on Spencer and there will be a handful of them. They aren't overly technical or difficult, especially the first few, but they can kill your speed and momentum. If it's dry, some tend to loosen a bit. The first few you encounter are fairly benign, however there are two at the bottom of the trail that are more difficult. They are pretty well embedded in dirt by now, meaning there aren't any real spots you can stuff a wheel, but they could kill your momentum if you aren't ready for them and some of them roll down small rock stairs on the far side.
Moving on from the rock armoring, the trail will once again open up a bit and be flowy, before you roll down some more slightly awkward rock armoring that forms some rock stairs:
Once again, these aren't of major consequence, but true beginners may struggle to get down them without some sessioning and confidence.
Once again, the trail opens up here for a while until you reach a tight right hand berm, where you'll encounter the next bit of rock armoring:
This stretch is a little different because it pitches up briefly, which means you may have to put some pedaling in. It's not overly technical, but the rocks can be a little loose and tricky until it peaks shortly after it starts. I typically have to pedal through this to keep momentum, but similar to the others, the rocks are mostly embedded in dirt and there aren't a lot of awkward or bad lines.
From here, the trail really opens up for a long ways, weaving between trees and remaining fairly flowy:
This continues for a few minutes, until you reach a left hand berm:
This berm marks the start of the final rocky section, but also the largest sequence of rock steps on the route. You'll go left here and notice shortly after two rock sections that are close to one another:
The first, shown above, has a pretty well defined ride around on the right or you can plow into the rocks. In either case, there is a small drop off on the other side, no more than a foot or so and definitely rollable, but worth noting.
The next section is after the two trees you see further up in the photo above:
The photo above is looking back at it. You can see a cheater line on the left in the photo (please don't, walk or ride, but don't take that line) and the drop off down the center. It's fairly small and rollable, but may throw some off if they are really new to riding.
From here, the trail opens up again and weaves through the trees a bit more, before getting slightly narrow near the finish. Once you reach this bridge, the end is near:
After this bridge, there is a split where you can take an easy line on the left, a rock jump in the middle, or a skinny on the right:
Once you reach the road shown above, that ends the upper section of Spencer Branch and you can pick up either lower Spencer, upper Fletcher Creek, or Middle Fork. Looking to the right, you'll see lower Spencer:
The walkthrough ends here and picks up at either lower Spencer, upper Fletcher, or Middle Fork.
To start, climb Spencer Gap to the top and drop down from the top, which is to the right:
Once the upper, reworked section of Spencer ends at the road, there are a few options. You can either continue straight across the road (like this guide suggests) and continue on Spencer to lower Fletcher Creek trail or go right on the road and follow the road to upper Fletcher Creek or Middle Fork. In all cases, you end up at the same 4 way intersection shown here:
This picture is facing the intersection from the Spencer Branch side. If you continue straight, you'll continue on a section of Spencer Branch that's relatively flat and has a few tech sections, but isn't that interesting. Going right climbs up upper Fletcher to Middle Fork or back to the road. I recommend going left, which takes you to lower Fletcher Creek, which will end the ride on the final road climb out:
Once you reach the lower part of lower Fletcher and end on the road, go left and climb up the road to the Trace Ridge parking lot, where you can go left down the road to continue back to the horse camp lot or take lower Trace back to the same.