Monday, June 23, 2008
Cades Cove Weekend - Day One - Fire On The Mountain
Gregory Bald Trail/Gregory Ridge Trail Plus a Road Walk and a Side Trip - 15.7 Miles
Up at 6:05 AM (every minute of sleep helps) because we wanted a very early start on the fabulous hike we had planned. One of our secrets to happy hiking is we each have a customized food bag filled with our favorite hiking-friendly foods for the weekend and we just grab a few things for the day and go. We don't eat lunch but we snack all day, sometimes at every trail junction. Boots on and packs ready, we took off along the Cades Cove loop road to the far end and Parson Branch Road, a gravel road that is two-way to a parking area, then one-way continuing out of the park on the North Carolina side. If you get on the one-way part you face a multi-hour drive back around the western edge of the Park to Cades Cove
Today's hike was in the "Day Hiker's Guide" again, Hike #1 in the Twentymile/Fontana section (even though we were camping in Cades Cove). Jim and I wanted to hike up the Gregory Bald Trail and down the Gregory Ridge Trail, but there are four miles of walking between the trailheads at the bottom of the mountain - the one-way Parson Branch Road. We had only one car, so our brilliant scheme was to park at the end of the two-way portion and start walking along the one-way, hoping to hitch a ride (no, I would NEVER do this alone.) Soon a car approached....and passed us by without a glance. Now, keep in mind, there is no reason to be on this road at all except to get to the trailhead we are walking towards. I guess the half-eaten bagel in my hand looked dangerous.
Twenty minutes of walking and we heard another vehicle approaching. I turned to walk backwards facing them, thumb out, smile on, and fell straight into a ditch.
My ploy worked! They stopped to see if we needed help and were glad to give us a ride. We were all going to the same place, Gregory Bald. Thanks, Jerry and Richard, for saving us three miles of road walking. Jim and I headed up the trail, and as karma always comes back around, on the way up we passed the two guys who had passed us by earlier, smiling and saying, "Great day for a hike, huh?"
Our holy grail today was Gregory Bald, one of several mountain balds in the Smokies and famous for its profusion of flame azeala bushes at their peak bloom in late June, and our visit did not disappoint. The day was a bit hazy and my photography skills are still lacking, but it was a huge area of meadow grasses and azaleas taller than a person ranging from white to yellow to pink to every shade of orange imaginable, with a backdrop of rows of blue mountains. This is a sight to visit over and over and over.
During our leisurely hour on the bald we chatted again with Jerry and Richard and discovered that we both knew an avid Smokies hiker (hi Wendell!) who has completed his Smokies map and keeps on going. Hopefully I will hike with their Wednesday group someday.
Interesting story from "100 Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park" by Russ Manning: The bald is named after Russell Gregory, who lived in Cades Cove but also had a stone cabin on the bald where he tended his own and others' cattle in the summertime. "During the Civil War, Gregory was loyal to the Union, though his son Charles had joined the Confederacy. With the young men gone to war, Gregory organized and led the women, children and old men to confront a band of Confederate raiders who had been pillaging the area during 1864. Unknown to Gregory, Charles was part of the raiding party. No one was killed in the confrontation in which the raiders were turned back, but some of them returned in the night and murdered Russell Gregory in retaliation."
Past the bald, Jim and I came to Rich Gap (where cattle were kept and their droppings made for great fertilizer, hence the name - I'm not making that up) and the intersection with the Gregory Ridge Trail, but here we turned right onto a faint trail in search of Moore Spring, where a hiker's shelter was located until it burned in the 1970's. (Hey, sometimes you've got to get off the interstate and check out the world's largest ball of string.) This was a .2-mile out-and-back just to see if we could find it. Click on the photo for full size and you can see the water bubbling from under the rock. I felt like Jed Clampet finding his bubbling crude!
Back to the main trail and making a right turn, we followed Gregory Bald Trail to its terminus at the Appalachian Trail. Actually, Gregory Bald was part of the AT until a re-route in the late 1940's. Then we backtracked to Rich Gap once again and turned right onto Gregory Ridge Trail to head down the mountain to our car. By now we were getting tired and our feet were not happy so we were not looking forward to 5 miles of downhill. Hikers out there, which is harder, uphill or downhill?
Well, Jim says that my posts are sometimes too long, so I will wait until tomorrow to tell you about the bears.