As I’ve noted in previous stories, this has been an unusually mild winter. In fact, here in central North Carolina, it hasn’t felt like winter so much as monsoon season, due to the almost incessant rainfall we’ve had since November — one of many aspects of climate collapse which I’ve noted in the past.
Even so, there was a brief interlude of winter weather on February 20th, 2020 when we got about three inches snow. Of course, being in North Carolina, I knew it wouldn’t last. So I decided to make the most of the opportunity by heading down to Cox Mountain in Durham, North Carolina.
Leaving my house around noon on Feb. 21st, I reached the Fews Ford access — from which Cox Mountain is accessible — at Eno River State Park by 12:30 and found a mostly deserted parking lot. After parking and getting out of my car, I took Buckquarter Creek Trail and headed south.
Hugging the edge of the Eno River, I made my way over debris from recent storms and found a veritable mudpit waiting for me around every corner, due to the rapidly melting snow. Crossing paths with a couple other hikers — who, thanks to their winter clothes, looked like mobile overstuffed easy chairs — I soon made it to the suspension footbridge that marks the beginning of Cox Mountain Trail. Climbing up the stairs to it, I took the moment to collect myself.
Now, as you may have guessed, this suspension footbridge is a little sketchy under normal conditions. But with the addition of melting snow and ice, it was starting to look positively treacherous. Even so, my confidence was bolstered by the woman who crossed just before I arrived. She was clearly no Olympic athlete, and she made it across in one piece.
So, putting one foot in front of the other, I took my first step.
Of course the trick to crossing this suspension footbridge — or any other movable elevated structure for that matter — is simply to keep going. As long as you do that, you’re fine. But the instant you stop to look around and get your bearings, the bridge starts to sway, not only back and forth, but also left and right. And it’s that swaying from left to right that’s especially unnerving.
After making it across the suspension footbridge, I joined Cox Mountain Trail itself. Now, despite the name, Cox Mountain isn’t so much a mountain as a large hill. Even so, this trail is one of the longest at Eno River State Park, measuring 3.75 miles in length and gaining 270 feet in elevation from the lowest to highest point. As such, it’s of moderate difficulty, but the elevation gain is very gradual due to the winding course of the trail, making it less intimidating than it sounds.
A quarter of a mile into it, I reached the first fork in the trail and took a left. Starting up the hill, I was pleased to see how the snowfall had transformed the landscape. Due to the encroaching canopy, Cox Mountain Trail is usually somewhat dim and drab, making photography spotty at best. But the snow had utterly transformed everything, taking what was once dim and drab and making it bright and breathtaking.
With thick, wet snowflakes dropping all around me like confetti at a wedding, I looked around and marveled.
After a mile of uphill trekking, the forest around me started to thin, and I noticed a clearing up ahead. Eager to reach the overlook from Cox Mountain, I quickened my pace.
As the trees receded from either side, I looked right and left, taking note of the massive power lines and their attendant clear cut. Tracing the trajectory of the power lines to the south, I stood quietly and admired the beauty of the land, draped in snow.
After several minutes of quiet admiration, I resumed my hike.
Within a tenth of a mile, I reached the pinnacle of Cox Mountain, which is really just an elevated plateau covered in an abundance of pine, oak, beech, and maple. Due to the remoteness of the location, there was hardly a sound to be heard.
After a quarter of a mile, the land started to descend, marking my arrival at the west side of Cox Mountain. Winding back and forth, I followed the trail over the landscape, taking note of occasional bursts of sunlight through patches of open canopy overhead.
Reaching the base of a small valley with a quietly gurgling creek, I heard the sound of heavy footsteps behind me. Turning around, I noticed another hiker. Then, as he approached, I nodded and stepped out of his way.
After admiring the scenery for a few minutes, I resumed my hike, turning north to follow Cox Mountain Trail on its way to the banks of the Eno.
In a matter of minutes, I was standing at the edge of the river, watching its peaceful progress to the east. Continuing down Cox Mountain Trail, I soon reached the location of the historic ruins of Holden Mill, which are on the opposite bank and therefore somewhat difficult to make out.
After spending several minutes teasing out the best photographic angles, I returned to Cox Mountain Trail and headed north.
Before long, the trail pulled away from the river and climbed up a ridge, where the forest drew close on all sides and obscured the view into the distance. This continued for about a quarter of a mile until I reached another clear cut, where power lines extended to the north and south once again.
Trekking through the clear cut, I returned to the forest and passed a historic home site before descending once more to river level.
After another quarter of a mile, I reached the juncture with Fanny’s Ford Trail and turned right. Following Cox Mountain Trail for another half mile, I made my way back to the suspension footbridge and crossed once more, making sure not to attempt any gymnastics along the way.
Reaching the east bank of the Eno, I turned left and headed north, back toward the parking lot. Before I reached it, however, I arrived at Fews Ford and caught a glimpse of the Eno River that took my breath away.
All in all, it was one of the most enjoyable hikes I’ve ever had, with or without snow.