Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obstacle Course

Deep Creek Weekend – 9/7/08 – Day Three – Fork Ridge Trail/Deep Creek Trail to Newfound Gap – 9 Miles

Another relaxing evening at our Deep Creek campsite where everyone did their own thing for supper, rehashed the day’s events, tried not to talk politics (ask Cathy about Obama) and planned for the next day. Fortunately for me, Carolyn and Ken/Jeff were willing to hike with me again and shuttle to Clingmans Dome Road. Carolyn’s bee sting was still there but she was up for another day on the trails – that woman is amazing! The rest of the crew chose different adventures and Kim M planned to bug out early and get back home. This is one thing I love about the Bergs – everyone is independent and flexible. And as long as I get my way, I’m happy…seriously, I owe all of these people some major support hiking favors after my project is over.

So packed up and out early, with the promise of a clearer start than the day before. For those of you with a Park map in front of you, we left my car at the Deep Creek trailhead on Newfound Gap Road and took Jeff’s car to the Fork Ridge trailhead on Clingmans Dome Road. Our plan was to complete Hike #11 in the Deep Creek area of “Day Hiker’s Guide.” The sky was crystal clear and we fought the urge to go up to Clingmans Dome for the view that was totally socked in the day before. We crossed our fingers that it would still be clear as a reward after our hike.

Fork Ridge Trail is 5.1 miles long and descends nearly 3,000 feet. Just before its intersection with Deep Creek Trail we forded Deep Creek, which was knee deep even with no recent rains. (This is the hike that Carol and Judy and I had scratched during our wet August trip, when we hiked at Ramsey Cascades instead – good decision.) The water felt great and after we waded through we ate lunch and enjoyed the peaceful setting.

Then began the deceptive climb up Deep Creek Trail. The elevation gain is about 1,700 feet in 3.9 miles up to Newfound Gap Road, but the first couple of miles didn’t seem too bad. We were following the creek, catching glimpses of multiple cascades and swimming pools. Hiking beside water distracts you from the rising trail.

Earlier I had commented that I thought all the trails were extremely well maintained, no major obstructions, just occasionally some fun stuff to crawl over. When will I learn not to jinx things? A little more than halfway up Deep Creek we encountered a monster tree across our path (see photo: I wish we had thought to put a person beside the tree for perspective). The slope was steep and there was no question of bushwhacking around this obstacle. It was shoulder high and wide and there were no limbs on it to grab. We pondered and puzzled and came up with a plan to get us all over it: Jeff went first. Then we handed him all our backpacks and he helped pull Carolyn over, and then they both pulled me over. We were scraped up a little and pretty dirty and extremely proud of ourselves. We agreed that this was the best hike of the weekend. But it made me think: what do you do if you are hiking solo and come across an obstacle like that?

Then the hiking got serious as the trail got steeper. Jeff’s GPS tried to keep up with all the switchbacks, but it seemed like we kept going and going and going and…wait, I hear cars! It’s the road! Just 57 more switch- backs…The last mile of this trail whipped us pretty good. Finally we popped out on Newfound Gap Road…Dude, where’s my car?

After dropping Jeff off at his car and waving goodbye, Carolyn and I went to check out what Clingmans Dome looks like on a clear day and were not disap- pointed.  For those of you who have not been there, this is the observation tower.

And this was part of the view to the southeast with glimpses of Fontana Lake.

And so ends another great weekend hiking in the Smokies. Thanks, everybody!

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