Now in its third year, the Bearwallow Beast, dubbed the “Southeast’s fiercest 5K,” returns on Sunday, May 4. Climbing more than 1,400 feet in just 3.1-miles, the course takes runners up steep switchbacks on a 1.1-mile trail in the woods, and up asphalt forest service roads to the bald summit of Bearwallow Mountain, which rises to 4,232 feet. Event organizers say that even though it’s only a 5k, the race offers a challenge for even the most experienced runners.
Bearwallow Mountain is on the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge, about halfway between Asheville and Lake Lure . It’s one of only a handful of places in the area with 360° views of some of the southern Appalachia's highest peaks, including Mt. Mitchell to the Northeast and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams range to the west, plus views of Hickory Nut Gorge, downtown Hendersonville (only 10 miles away) and the French Broad River. A fire tower was built at the summit by the Citizen Conservation Corps in 1934 and for many years was manned continuously. Now, there are satellite dishes near the fire tower (off limits to visitors) and cows graze across the grassy summit. The Beast was designed both to raise awareness about the property— a conservation track —but also to bring an event to the tiny town of Gerton, with its modest population of 165. The race was named “Best Footrace” by the local independent weekly magazine, Mountain Xpress in 2012. Part of the popularity of the race, organizers say, is due to the view, a rewarding payoff for the effort of the climb.
Racers over 21 who cross the finish line get a free local beer from Hendersonville’s Southern Appalachian Brewery (and soon-to-be-local Sierra Nevada). There's also plenty of fun to be had for non-racers as well. Food vendors, including Sweet Monkey Bakery and Underground Baking Co., will be there, and there will be live local bluegrass music from Brushfire Stankgrass. After the main race, the kids’ fun run gets underway at 3:20 pm.
The Bearwallow Beast Benefits Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy , a non-profit that works with landowners to conserve and protect parcels of forested wilderness, farmlands and waterways in six Western Carolina counties. The Conservancy acquired a conservation easement on 81 acres at the summit of Bearwallow in 2009, forever protecting it from mountaintop development. The Carolina Mountain Club constructed the route that the race uses. They also plan to create a 12-mile loop trail in the area, and the race entry fees for the Beast are helping raise the necessary funds (the entry fee is just $35). These race fees will also go towards acquiring an additional 480 acres of land on Bearwallow Mountain's ridgeline, in the hopes that this too will be conserved.
Parking for the race can be a little tricky on this stretch of mountain, but volunteers will be available to guide participants and a shuttle is available. For more information and to sign up for the event, check their website.