This hiking weekend planned with members of the Carolina Berg Wanderers was shaky all week as we watched Hurricane Hannah forecasts, but by Thursday it looked like we were in the clear. Carolyn and Tarah and I hit the road at the ridiculously early hour of 7:00 AM to rendezvous with Jeff coming up from South Carolina for a hike near Bryson City. After a few where-are-you-now phone calls and a tour of Ela (the town, not the person) and its hardware store, we got directions for the Cooper Creek trailhead. Our little book said to look for an abandoned trout farm, but I am happy to report that the trout farm is up and running, as they did not want me to take up all their parking spaces…so we headed up the road in my good ole Honda Pilot. “Road” is a very generous term for the ground that we covered at .25 miles per hour so as not to bust a hole in my radiator from the boulders. Note to followers: pay the trout farm guy a few bucks and leave your car there.
So we began this crazy counterclockwise loop hike that changes trails a billion times (Hike #5 in the Deep Creek section of “Day Hiker’s Guide.”). Actually, I like that kind of hike because you’re constantly looking for intersections and the hike seems to go much faster. Carolyn started out in the lead, and after knocking down several thousand spider webs with her face, Jeff took over as Spiderman (foreshadowing: Jeff acquired several nicknames on this trip.) Being the only hiker with no poles, Jeff armed himself with a trusty spiderweb-knocker-downer.
We had a beautiful day and some speedy hikers, and after just a half mile on the Cooper Creek trail we turned right onto Deeplow Gap Trail. We climbed up to the intersection with Mingus Creek Trail, where I had been just a week-and-a-half ago on my solo hike. I thought about that rainy day when I sang to keep my nerves in check. Interesting to arrive at the same spot in the woods from a different direction. From here we turned left onto Mingus Creek Trail and began a steep climb. Now I was the tail end of the group and stayed far enough behind that they could not hear me gasping for air. On these steep uphills I am always asking myself, “Now, tell me again WHY we think this is so much fun?” The uphill mercifully ended shortly before the intersection with Newton Bald Trail where we paused for water and a little lunch.
Carolyn demon- strates the import- ance of hydration while hiking.
Then we cruised our way on the tiny section of Newton Bald and left onto Thomas Divide Trail for a long downhill trek. At some point Jeff gave up his post as Spiderman and slipped to the back of the pack, where he would disappear from time to time to shoot photos and then suddenly reappear. (Jeff is a fantastic photographer and all the good photos you see in the posts for this trip are his – the other ones are mine.) At the intersection we once again turned left onto Deeplow Gap Trail, and along here we discovered Little Creek Falls, a very nice surprise near the end of an otherwise not very scenic hike.
Somewhere soon after the falls I noticed that my right ankle was sore and found a very large bruise and swelling just above the bone on the outside of my ankle. This felt all too similar to the ankle injury I had on my first outing at Hazel Creek back in April. Sure enough, each step became more painful, not just in an ouch-that-hurts kind of way, but in a knee-buckling-I-don’t-think-I-can-walk kind of way. The last half mile backtracking on Cooper Creek Trail was rather miserable as I contemplated how I was going to hike for the next two days. I knew it wasn’t going to be with those boots on.
Back to my car, right where I left it, and we jostled over the “road” and waved to the trout farm, then headed back to Ela to retrieve Jeff’s car and made our way to Deep Creek Campground, one of the Park’s campgrounds accessed near Bryson City. I love this campground and this little town. There are many, many trails to access from this location and some great waterfalls. A couple of Bergs were already set up at our group site and the rest arrived over the next few hours. I wondered what to do about hiking the next day with my bad ankle, and finally someone suggested wearing my running shoes that I had tossed into my car at the last minute in case it was cold around camp.
Guess that’s what I’ll do.