Spencer Gap (Climb)
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Summary: Not to be confused with the Spencer Branch trail, Spencer Gap is typically climbed from Wash Creek Rd as a way to access Trace Ridge and Spencer Branch downhills. Spencer Gap is a singletrack climb that consists of several steep sections and a few short technical bits, offering a bit of a different climb than is typically available in this area.
Difficulty: Pisgah Beginner - No major high consequence features to speak of, however some sections will require moderately good fitness due to the steep grade and some technical sections near the end will require good bike handling. All of the steep and technical sections are short and easily walked if they are a problem, but true beginners will have difficulty particularly with the technical sections.
Length/Elevation Change: From the horse camp, 3.5 miles and 900ft of climbing, including the Wash Creek Rd climb.
Notable features: There are 3 distinct steep sections from the start of the singletrack trail, followed by several short technical sections that consist of off camber rootballs or tight turns. All are short and easily walked.
While not formally part of the Spencer Gap trail, the climb typically starts off Wash Creek Rd at the following gate:
From here until the formal Spencer Gap trailhead, the climb is basically a doubletrack gravel road with a brief steep sections, but consists of no real technical features.
The formal trailhead will eventually be on the right, starting with a fairly steep entrance:
The road continues ahead across that downed tree on the left side of the photo, off to who knows where, but if you take a right, you'll start the first of three steep sections on Spencer Gap. After climbing over a few rollers, you'll come into a bit of continued climbing through a meadow:
This bit is often overgrown during the summer, but has some berries during spring and early summer and is fairly clear during winter. The trail will wind through this fairly smooth section of singletrack, but remain a fairly steep grade until you reach a minor technical bit:
This section alone isn't awful, but after a bit of a gravel grind and starting on a steep singletrack climb, it can be a bit tiring especially if you've already done the trail once in the day. You could theoretically go right over the root, but most folks take some form of the left line, which is a bit easier despite a few low laying roots.
From here, the climb is a bit more mellow, just steep and sometimes loose:
This is the steepest climbing section on the trail and it is short, once you reach that root section after the meadow it's maybe a few minutes at a gradual pace before you reach the peak, where you have a nice steady flat section to catch your breath before the second of three steep sections.
The trail will wind around a bit, then you'll reach the second steep section:
The grade is slightly mellower than the previous steep section, but there are a few more small roots to contend with. Similar to the previous one, around the time you really start to feel it, it's over and back to mellow pedaling for a bit, where you can catch your breath.
The final section is not nearly as steep as the others and is a very nice, narrow section of smooth trail:
These three sections can be a bit daunting to newer riders, but they are over quickly and can easily be walked if need be. The key is to pace yourself and not blow yourself out, they are long enough that you can put too much effort in and blow up, so having a nice mellow pace up them will get you to the top of each section without blowing out your cardio.
After a brief downhill section, you'll climb up a short, loose rocky section that hits the first technical section of the trail:
This section is somewhat easy to pick up on, because it's a tight left hand turn and there is a large boulder on the left side, along with the trail getting a bit rocky before it turns left.
This section isn't too difficult, except for one rock in the center:
What I typically do is go as far right as possible when coming into the turn, which gives you plenty of space to straighten out before the rocks. The key is to avoid that one on the right side poking out, it's easy to stuff a wheel there and end up in an awkward spot.
From here, the trail smooths out again and briefly turns downhill, before hitting the next technical feature:
Similar to the prior, this one is short, but can be awkward especially if it's wet. You can get a fair bit of momentum coming into it since it ends on a downhill, but you'll lose it quickly due to the roots. If you get caught, it's not a huge deal, but you can pedal your way through if you start losing momentum.
From here, once again, the trail turns smooth and weaves along a narrow bit of singletrack before the final of three technical sections comes up:
This rootball extends a fair ways and will really try your climbing confidence, because it's narrow and fairly off camber, so it's easy to slip out. It also extends a fair bit beyond a small hump in the middle:
My trick to clearing this is to enter with a steady pace and pedal through, but also to stay as far right as possible, both because it's a bit of an easier line and because it gives you more room to move.
Alternatively, there is a recently expanded line on the left that's smoother and easier, aside from a small hump in the middle near the tree in the first photo.
In any case, this section is over with quickly and gives some opportunity to work on climbing roots.
Moving on, the trail weaves around some more smooth singletrack before hitting the second of three technical bits. The final two technical sections are connected, with the first being slightly easier then the previous section we discussed.
The challenge is tying the final two sections together, neither are particularly difficult on their own, but there are some awkward turns that makes linking them together more difficult.
So starting out, the next technical section looks like so:
Once again, here, I stay as far right as possible with a steady pace. It's a fair bit mellower than the first rootball on the trail, but still can be daunting especially near the end where the camber increases a bit.
The section that follows connects the final two technical bits of the trail:
After this connector, the trail cuts through two trees, then opens up again and looks like this:
Getting through the first bit is not terribly difficult, but getting up the roots on the connecting section and the final section can be tricky, especially with longer bikes. I typically go far right on the first tech bit, through the center of the connecting section, then cut around the downed tree and go right up this last bit. You can try to get over the root on the left, but it's more off camber and challenging.
The difficulty with this section is weaving through the tree on the left and the downed tree on the right, it is a tight turn to get far right. I've found going straight down the center of the connector and over that little root from the tree poking out sets you up the best.
From here, the trail is fairly mellow and ends after a short, relatively smooth section of trail. You'll reach a bit of gravel road where folks tend to hang out, drink a beer, eat some food, etc before either proceeding to Trace Ridge or Spencer Branch:
The trail on the right drops down Spencer Branch, which is marked, if you continue down the road briefly (left in the photo above), it'll start climbing again up to Trace Ridge.
The most common way to reach Spencer Gap is up Wash Creek Rd, generally by parking at the horse camp in North Mills River:
Facing the left side of the camp, you'll see Wash Creek Rd forks:
The fork on the left takes you to another parking area, if the bottom is too full then you can drive up there to park. Otherwise, go right up Wash Creek Rd. Be aware that the gate may be closed during the winter, but you can ride around it with your bikes.
You'll stay on the road for a few miles, which climbs and descends a bit, eventually it'll steepen slightly and you'll see a curve sign:
Once you see this sign, you know you are nearly to the trail. Continue on briefly, you'll see the gate on the left, which is where the walkthrough picks up: