Thursday, September 4, 2008

Singin' in the Rain

Elkmont Trip – 8/26/08 - Day Two – AT/Goshen Prong Trail/Little River Trail – 13.5 miles

Rain trickles
Rain pounds
Dawn glimmers
Car starts
Friends meet
Decisions made
Fog engulfs
Hikers persist
Boots slosh
Socks squish
Hats drip
Clothes soak
Creeks rush
Waters rise
Bridge delights
Flowers peek
Forest shimmers
Trees tower
Fairies hide
Houses appear
End nears
Darkness falls
Hikers rest
Rain trickles
Rain pounds

Our first night in Elkmont Campground was wet, but my good old beach canopy over the picnic table was great. The same cannot be said for my good old Quest tent. Carol’s side sprung a leak that we kept at bay with a towel and plastic garbage bags. We awoke to rain on Tuesday morning, which we thought was unfortunate but not the end of the world. We learned a lot that day about hiking in the rain.

We had plans to meet my friend Judy at the Clingmans Dome parking lot at 9:00 AM. The ride up took nearly an hour and there were few cars on the road. Clingmans is the highest point in Tennessee, in fact, the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail. It was August, but it was cold up there! A sunny day on Clingmans Dome is a rarity that we would not enjoy on this day. There was one other car in the large parking lot, and then Judy arrived. She hopped in my car and the three of us played chicken for a minute to see who would say, “Let’s bail.” Actually, we did discuss the safety of the hike, but the good old “what the hey, we’re here, let’s go for it” won out. The hike would be 13.5 miles downhill to the Elkmont Campground. How hard could that be?

All in all, except for the rain, it was an easy hike. This was Carol's first step on the AT as she prepares for her thru-hike a couple of years from now. Judy was also excited to set foot on the AT again, having hiked through here on a 900-mile section hike a couple of years ago. I was not too terribly upset because I knew I would pass this way again and hopefully get the views another time. The AT has a magical quality even in the rain, up there on the ridge where you know thousands of pilgrims have passed before you. When it rains it is sometimes referred to as the Appalachian River – today was a good example.

Goshen Prong Trail was tolerably steep and gushing and we were soon entirely soaked. The guidebook mentions a couple of small rock hops across creeks, but we were treated to a half a dozen more than that, plus some splendid mini-waterfalls and a couple of creeks that were very challenging. Judy and I had hiking poles but Carol did not, and at one crossing I went part of the way across, and in handing one stick back to Carol I slipped off my rock and into the water. Yes, it is possible to get wetter than wet! Hiking poles are indispensable for keeping balance while crossing water. This photo shows how swollen the creeks were from the rains.

When a tree falls in the forest…well, I don’t know if it makes a sound, but it does make a mess sometimes. Blowdowns are trees that have been blown over by wind, sometimes broken off along the trunk but most often toppled from the roots. You may think that tree roots grow really deep, but they actually spread out very far and nearer the surface. Judy is standing in front of a huge blowdown and you can see the chunk of earth that was ripped out when the tree went over. Over many years the soil will wash away and the bare roots will look like a sculpture.

We wound our way down the mountain and over Goshen Gate Bridge and to the intersection with Little River Trail. From here it was a walk on an old road bed through a section of houses known as the Elkmont cottages that were vacation homes. Some of the cottages are in the process of being restored, but not the ones we passed. These were overgrown and deteriorated, yet the benches in the front yard of one evoked a time when neighbors may have borrowed eggs and cups of sugar.

Judy was camping with us and made a fabulous real meal, angel hair pasta with a sweet and sour sauce, and now I am quite spoiled for camp cooking (by someone else). The rain persisted, darkness fell and we were heading for our tents by 8:30 PM. Carol decided to give up fighting the leaky tent and slept in her car. In the meantime, my side had also begun to drip, so I moved it all to the middle and lay on my damp pillow and snoozed away. Another good day in the mountains.

No comments: